Where to Study Chess Openings?
Chess openings are the first moves of a chess game, and they can determine the course of the whole game. Chess openings are not just random moves, they are based on well-established principles and theories that have been developed and tested by generations of chess players. Chess openings are also a matter of personal preference and style, as different openings suit different types of players.
But where can you study chess openings? How can you learn the best moves, the ideas behind them, and the traps to avoid? How can you build your own opening repertoire and master the openings that match your style?
In this article, we will answer these questions and give you some tips and resources to help you improve your chess opening skills. We will cover the following topics:
- The benefits of studying chess openings
- The basic principles of chess openings
- The main types of chess openings
- The best sources and methods to study chess openings
- The common mistakes to avoid when studying chess openings
The Benefits of Studying Chess Openings
Why should you study chess openings? What are the advantages of learning the theory and practice of the first moves of a chess game? Here are some of the benefits of studying chess openings:
- You will gain confidence and save time in the opening phase, as you will know what to play and why.
- You will avoid blunders and pitfalls that can cost you the game or give your opponent a big advantage.
- You will understand the typical plans and strategies for both sides in different opening systems, and be able to apply them in your own games.
- You will develop your tactical and positional skills, as well as your creativity and imagination, by exploring different variations and ideas in the opening.
- You will expand your chess knowledge and culture, as you will learn about the history and evolution of chess openings, and the famous players who contributed to them.
The Basic Principles of Chess Openings
Before we dive into the specific types and sources of chess openings, let’s review some of the basic principles that guide the opening play. These are general rules that apply to most situations, and they will help you make good decisions in the opening. Of course, there are exceptions and nuances to these principles, but they are a good starting point for beginners and intermediate players.
The basic principles of chess openings are:
- Control the center: The center of the board (the four squares e4, e5, d4, d5) is the most important area in chess, as it allows you to influence other parts of the board and launch attacks or defenses. Therefore, you should try to occupy or control the center with your pawns and pieces as soon as possible.
- Develop your pieces: Your pieces (especially your minor pieces: bishops and knights) are your main tools to fight for the center and create threats. Therefore, you should try to bring them out quickly and place them on active squares where they have more scope and mobility.
- Castle your king: Your king is your most valuable piece, but also your most vulnerable one. Therefore, you should try to protect it by castling (moving your king two squares towards a rook and moving that rook over the king) as soon as possible. This will also connect your rooks (the most powerful pieces) and prepare them for action.
- Don’t move the same piece twice: In general, you should avoid moving the same piece twice in the opening, unless there is a good reason for it (such as capturing an enemy piece or avoiding a threat). Moving the same piece twice wastes time that could be used to develop other pieces or control more squares.
- Don’t bring out your queen too early: Your queen is your most powerful piece, but also your most exposed one. Therefore, you should avoid bringing it out too early in the opening, unless there is a good reason for it (such as creating a checkmate threat or winning material). Bringing out your queen too early can expose it to attacks by enemy pieces or pawns, forcing you to move it again and lose time.
The Main Types of Chess Openings
Chess openings can be classified into different types or families, based on their pawn structures, piece placements, and strategic themes. There are hundreds of chess openings, but they can be grouped into a few main categories:
- Open games: These are openings that begin with 1.e4 e5, leading to open positions with many pawn exchanges and tactical possibilities. Some examples of open games are: Ruy Lopez (Spanish Game), Italian Game, Scotch Game, King’s Gambit, Petrov’s Defense (Russian Game), Philidor’s Defense, etc.
- Semi-open games: These are openings that begin with 1.e4 followed by a move other than 1…e5 by Black, leading to semi-open positions with asymmetrical pawn structures and dynamic play. Some examples of semi-open games are: Sicilian Defense, French Defense, Caro-Kann Defense, Pirc Defense, Modern Defense, Alekhine’s Defense, Scandinavian Defense (Center Counter), etc.
- Closed games: These are openings that begin with 1.d4 d5, leading to closed or semi-closed positions with solid pawn chains and positional play. Some examples of closed games are: Queen’s Gambit, Slav Defense, Queen’s Gambit Declined, Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Tarrasch Defense, etc.
- Semi-closed games: These are openings that begin with 1.d4 followed by a move other than 1…d5 by Black, leading to semi-closed positions with flexible pawn structures and complex play. Some examples of semi-closed games are: King’s Indian Defense, Nimzo-Indian Defense, Queen’s Indian Defense, Grünfeld Defense, Benoni Defense, Benko Gambit (Volga Gambit), etc.
- Flank openings: These are openings that begin with a move other than 1.e4 or 1.d4 by White, leading to flank or hypermodern positions with fianchettoed bishops and delayed central control. Some examples of flank openings are: English Opening, Réti Opening, Bird’s Opening, Larsen’s Opening (Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack), Polish Opening (Sokolsky Opening), Grob’s Attack (Spike), etc.
The Best Sources and Methods to Study Chess Openings
Now that you have an overview of the basic principles and types of chess openings, how can you study them in more depth and detail? There are many sources and methods to study chess openings, but here are some of the best ones:
- Chess books and DVDs: These are traditional and reliable sources of chess opening knowledge, as they provide comprehensive and authoritative information and analysis on various opening systems. You can find chess books and DVDs for all levels and tastes, covering specific openings or general opening principles. Some examples of chess books and DVDs on chess openings are: Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul van der Sterren, Modern Chess Openings by Nick de Firmian, Chess Openings for Black Explained by Lev Alburt et al., Chess Openings for White Explained by Lev Alburt et al., The Grandmaster Repertoire series by Quality Chess, The Move by Move series by Everyman Chess, The Power Play series by Daniel King, etc.
- Chess websites and apps: These are modern and convenient sources of chess opening knowledge, as they provide interactive and accessible information and tools on various opening systems. You can find chess websites and apps for all levels and devices, offering different features such as opening explorers, databases, lessons, videos, puzzles, etc. Some examples of chess websites and apps on chess openings are: Chess.com (https://www.chess.com/openings), Lichess (https://lichess.org/opening), OpeningTree (https://www.openingtree.com/), YottaBase (https://www.yottachess.com/openings-statistics), BoldChess (https://boldchess.com/learn/openings/), Chessable (https://www.chessable.com/openings/), ChessTempo (https://chesstempo.com/chess-openings.html), etc.
- Chess engines and software: These are powerful and advanced sources of chess opening knowledge, as they provide objective and accurate evaluation and analysis on various opening systems. You can find chess engines and software for all levels and platforms, offering different features such as playing strength, opening books, analysis modes, etc. Some examples of chess engines and software on chess openings are: Stockfish (https://stockfishchess.org/), Komodo (https://komodochess.com/), Houdini, Fritz, ChessBase, Aquarium, etc.
The best way to study chess openings is to combine different sources and methods according to your level, goals, style, and preferences. Here are some tips on how to do that:
- Start with the basics: Before you dive into the details of specific openings or variations, make sure you understand the basic principles and ideas behind them. You can use chess books or videos that explain the general concepts and themes of chess openings in a simple and clear way.
- Choose your repertoire: Based on your level, goals, style, and preferences, choose a set of openings that you want to play as White or Black. You can use chess books or websites that offer recommendations or suggestions for different types of players. You don’t need to learn every possible opening or variation; just focus on the ones that suit you best.
- Learn the main lines: Once you have chosen your repertoire, learn the main lines or variations of each opening that you want to play.
You can use chess books or websites that provide the main lines or variations of each opening, along with explanations and examples. You can also use chess engines or software to check the accuracy and validity of the moves, and to explore alternative or sub-variants.
- Practice the openings: After you have learned the main lines or variations of each opening, you need to practice them in real games or exercises. You can use chess websites or apps that offer opening puzzles, drills, quizzes, or tests, where you have to find the best moves in different opening positions. You can also use chess engines or software to play against different levels of opponents, or to analyze your own games and see where you made mistakes or missed opportunities in the opening.
- Review and update your repertoire: As you practice and play more games, you will encounter new challenges and discoveries in the opening. You will also develop your own preferences and opinions about different openings or variations. Therefore, you need to review and update your repertoire regularly, by adding new lines or variations, discarding old ones, or making adjustments based on your experience and feedback. You can use chess books or websites that offer updates or reviews on chess openings, or chess engines or software that show you the latest trends and developments in the opening.
The Common Mistakes to Avoid When Studying Chess Openings
Studying chess openings can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be frustrating and confusing if you make some common mistakes. Here are some of the mistakes to avoid when studying chess openings:
- Memorizing without understanding: One of the biggest mistakes that many chess players make is to memorize a lot of moves and variations without understanding the ideas and principles behind them. This can lead to confusion, boredom, and errors in the opening, as you will not be able to apply your knowledge in different situations or remember it for long. Instead of memorizing without understanding, you should try to understand why each move is played, what are its advantages and disadvantages, what are its alternatives and consequences, etc.
- Studying too many openings: Another common mistake that many chess players make is to study too many openings at once, or to switch from one opening to another without mastering any of them. This can lead to inconsistency, lack of confidence, and poor results in the opening, as you will not be able to play any opening well or with authority. Instead of studying too many openings, you should try to focus on a few openings that suit your level, goals, style, and preferences, and learn them well before moving on to other openings.
- Studying only openings: A third common mistake that many chess players make is to study only openings and neglect other aspects of chess such as tactics, strategy, endgames, etc. This can lead to imbalance, weakness, and disappointment in your chess skills, as you will not be able to play well in other phases of the game or cope with different types of positions. Instead of studying only openings, you should try to study all aspects of chess in a balanced and harmonious way, as they are all interconnected and interdependent.
Conclusion on Where to Study Chess Openings
Chess openings are an important and fascinating part of chess, as they can influence the course and outcome of the whole game. Chess openings are not just random moves, they are based on well-established principles and theories that have been developed and tested by generations of chess players. Chess openings are also a matter of personal preference and style, as different openings suit different types of players.
To study chess openings effectively and efficiently, you need to follow some steps and tips:
- Start with the basics: Learn the basic principles and ideas behind chess openings.
- Choose your repertoire: Choose a set of openings that suit your level, goals, style, and preferences.
- Learn the main lines: Learn the main lines or variations of each opening that you want to play.
- Practice the openings: Practice the openings in real games or exercises.
- Review and update your repertoire: Review and update your repertoire regularly based on your experience and feedback.
You also need to avoid some common mistakes when studying chess openings:
- Memorizing without understanding: Don’t memorize moves without understanding them.
- Studying too many openings: Don’t study too many openings at once or switch from one opening to another without mastering any of them.
- Studying only openings: Don’t study only openings and neglect other aspects of chess.
By following these steps and tips, and avoiding these mistakes, you will be able to improve your chess opening skills and enjoy playing chess more.
We hope you found this article helpful and informative. If you have any questions or comments about chess openings or anything else related to chess, please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading this article. We wish you good luck and success in your chess journey.
(1) Chess Openings and Book Moves – Chess.com. https://www.chess.com/openings.
(2) Opening • lichess.org. https://lichess.org/opening.
(3) Chess Openings – Learn How To Play The Top 80 Openings. https://www.thechesswebsite.com/chess-openings/.
(4) OpeningTree. https://www.openingtree.com/.
(5) Chess Openings Mastery | Complete Free Course – BoldChess. https://boldchess.com/learn/openings/.
(6) Chess Opening Explorer & Database – Chess.com. https://www.chess.com/explorer.
(7) Chess Opening Explorer – 365Chess.com. https://www.365chess.com/opening.php.
(8) YottaBase – Opening Statistics – YottaChess. https://www.yottachess.com/openings-statistics.
(9) Creating an Opening Graph – Chess.com. https://www.chess.com/article/view/creating-an-opening-graph.
Benjamin Miller is the founder and editor of The Extra Game. He plays chess, scrabble and Monopoly at a masters level. He is a board game enthusiast, publisher, designer, and reviewer with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He loves to share his passion, knowledge, and recommendations for board games with the world.