Chess Opening Principles

Chess opening study is a minefield. It doesn’t need to be, if you play a simple opening repertoire based on themes and positions, rather than deep technical lines and variations.

However, even the simplest repertoire still requires some memorisation of moves and ideas. This is an ongoing process for me, so in the meantime I have to rely on opening principles. These principles, or variations on them, are well documented, but I think they are worth referring to regularly. Keep in mind they are principles, not rules, so use common sense above all else.

1.  Control the centre of the chessboard by occupation or attack.

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  • What is the centre?  The four squares e4, e5, d4 and d5.
  • What is occupation?  Being on a square with one of your pawns or pieces. Example, playing White, after 1. e4 you occupy the central e4 square.
  • What is attack?  Being able to move to or capture on a square. Example, playing White, after 1. Nf3 your knight attacks d4 and e5.
  • What is control?  When the sum of your army’s occupation and attack is bigger than the sum of your opponent’s.

2.  Get and keep you king into safety as soon as you can.

  • Castle early.
  • Don’t move the pawns in front of your castled king unless you feel compelled to.

3.  Develop your pieces in these ways:

  • Quickly – as soon as you can.
  • Knights before bishops – because knights can’t jump far and they normally know their destination (f3/c3/d2);  then you can decide where to let your bishops roam.
  • Once only – don’t move your pieces more than once in the opening.
  • With a threat – if the opportunity arises.

4.  Move your queen off the back rank, so that your rooks are connected. Then occupy open or semi-open files with your rooks.

5.  Leave pawn grabs, tactics and combinations until you have developed all your pieces and placed your king into safety.

6.  Try to stop your opponent from sticking to principles 1-5.

Welcome to the middle game!

5 thoughts on “Chess Opening Principles

  • 15th October 2015 at 11:05 am

    I would like to say that these principles are an excellent basis as a “standalone” understanding of chess openings. Even enough to start playing tournaments. Once knowing and practicing them this becomes far easier to understand / learn specific openings.

    I can verify on my systematic computer based analysis that my opening play is starting my games in a better way than I did before. This is a pleasure to check that I make only inaccuracies when I used to fall into mistakes or blunders simply by psychologic pitfalls like “what will be the mistake in my next opening move”.
    Here is a useful link I use to visualize my own game performance/analysis :
    And then you can see a result (where I outplayed a +200 opponent in tournament conditions) :
    The “Computer analysis” tab at the bottom of the screen is just awesome.

    About opening repertoire range, it is important to know that Karpov was known to reach and maintain his world champion title with an extremely tight repertoire (and sharp defensive skills).
    As commented by himself : NO PLEASURE BUT EFFICIENCY in the opening.

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