Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Simple Chess Opening Guidelines

How do we select moves in the chess opening? There are four things to keep in mind during the opening moves of a game of chess that can help you pick good moves:
Tactics (Think!)
The Center
King Safety

Let's talk about each one of those.

Tactics (Think!)

What do we mean by tactics? On every move you must pay attention to see what your opponent is threatening. If he or she can checkmate you, then you must prevent that at all costs even if it seems to violate one of the other guidelines! If he or she moves a pawn to attack one of your pieces you probably need to protect your piece from capture. If you can checkmate your opponent or win his or her queen you should do that instead of castling your king away to safety. Always think about your opponent's most recent move - is it threatening something of yours or did it uncover an attack? Can your opponent put you in check and if so, is it something to be concerned about?

But we also turn that around. Are you threatening to take something? Can you give check and is it a good idea if you can? Can you create a double attack (fork) with your Queen or Knights?

Always be on the alert for your and your opponent's tactical opportunities.

The Center
We mean the four squares in the center of the board: e4, d4, d5 and e5. In the opening you should build your center and attack your opponent's center. You can do this by moving pawns into the center of the board to stake out territory. You can also move pawns near the center so that they are attacking one of the center squares. For example, White can move a pawn to c3, c4, d3, e3, f3, f4 in addition to e4 and d4 and attack a center square. Pieces can also participate in the fight for the center directly and indirectly (by attacking the opponent's pieces that are attacking the center).

You want to develop (move) each of your pieces to a good square. What's a good square? First, remember the two guidelines above. A "good square" is not good if your opponent can just take it! A piece on a good square attacks, protects or influences the center. A good square for a piece in the opening is one where it has lots of options (mobility) and serves a useful purpose. You want to develop all of your pieces so you should not move a piece twice until you have moved each piece once unless you have a good reason. A goal in the opening is to move each piece just once but to pick the perfect square for it the first time! Because your opponent gets to move too and he or she can make threats that you must defend and make mistakes that you want to take advantage of you will often have a good reason to move one piece twice before moving all of them once. That is perfectly fine as long as you have a reason.

Sometimes the game will unfold in such a way that a piece is on a good square without ever moving. If that is the case just leave it there until moving it makes sense.

The knights will most often be best at c3 or f3 for white (c6 and f6 for black). From there they attack two center squares and a total of eight squares. In their initial squares they only attacked three squares so this is an improvement of 5 squares. Knights are short-range pieces; to attack the center they must be near the center.

Bishops are harder to figure out where they should be. That is part of the reason that people say you should develop knights before bishops -- let a little of the game unfold to see where the bishops belong. Bishops often participate in the fight for the center by attacking an opponent's knight. A Black knight at c6 or f6 is attacking the center so a White bishop attacking it (and maybe taking it) from b5 or g5 is participating in the fight for the center. A White bishop at c4 or f4 is directly attacking the center. Sometimes a bishop will need to be at d2 or e2 to protect your knight that is attacked by the opposing bishop and pinned to your king or queen. Bishops can also be fianchettoed by moving the the b or g pawn and playing Bg2 or Bb2 (Bb7 or Bg7 for black). From there they attack two center squares and are on the longest diagonals on the board. Bishops are long-range pieces; they can attack the center from a long distance away.

Rooks want to be on open files (no pawns on that file) or half-open files (one pawn). If those open or half-open files are in or near the center that is even better. Rooks are long-range pieces; they can attack the center from a long distance away. In the early opening they usually stay on the first rank and just move left or right towards the center. One of the rooks will move towards the center when you castle and the other you will have to move by itself. Sometimes even early in the game you will want to double your rooks (put one in front of the other on a file) in order to control an open file or to attack a target in the enemy camp.

The queen is the most powerful piece. If anything attacks her she usually needs to run away because she is too important to trade for a rook, bishop, knight or pawn. So, she usually stays close to home until some of the other pieces have been traded off. Otherwise the little guys can chase her all over the board. Sometimes she will make early forays into the enemy camp but be sure she does not get trapped or has to beat a hasty retreat. Her first move is often a modest one to d2 or e2 (d7 or e7 for Black). If you see a clear reason to bring her out, go ahead, just make sure that you have thought it through.

Where should the king move? We'll talk about that under king safety.

King Safety
The king should be castled in most games. Attacking the opponent's king and protecting your own are what the game is about. A castled king is usually harder to attack. In games with open lines in the center a king in the center is very vulnerable. Get him out of there by castling as soon as you can. Likewise, if you can prevent your opponent from castling by making the king move or attacking a square he needs to castle through then you have a fixed target -- go for him!

Think on every move and consider the immediate tactics. In addition to the tactics consider the center, piece development and the long-term king safety in making your opening move selection and you'll do great!

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