Right From Start: How To Learn Chess Openings?

Just like any great show, chess begins with a captivating opening act. Picture it: knights in shining armor, queens strutting their stuff, and pawns vying for a moment in the spotlight. But where can you master your way through openings? And why should you?

You can learn chess openings by reading books, watching video courses, joining discussion forms, and practicing on board. Learning chess openings is crucial to set the stage for the rest of your game. Having a weak opening can jeopardize your winning.

In this article, we unravel a lot about chess openings and how to master them. So, grab your popcorn (or chess pieces), and let’s roll out the red carpet to opening success!

What Are Chess Openings?

To simply define openings, let’s say it refers to the initial moves made by both players at the start of a chess game. Of course, there’s more to tackle in detail in the following sections.

What are some key points about chess openings?

These moves are critical because they lay the foundation for a player’s overall strategy and development throughout the game. Why go with the flow when you can meticulously plan your every move from the beginning? 

Here are key points to understand about chess openings:

  1. First Moves: Chess openings start with each player’s initial moves, which often include the central pawns and knights. These actions prepare the ground for the upcoming piece development.
  2. Opening Theory: Chess openings have been studied and recorded in great detail for many years, which has resulted in the creation of the opening theory. This body of knowledge contains tried-and-true move combinations, techniques, and tactics for a variety of openings.
  3. Goals of Openings: Chess openings’ major objectives are to take control of the center of the board, develop pieces onto active squares, guarantee the safety of the king (often through castling), and preserve flexibility for future moves.
  4. Variety of Openings: There is a wide variety of chess openings, each with its own name and characteristics. Common openings include the King’s Pawn Opening (e4), Queen’s Pawn Opening (d4), and the Sicilian Defense (e4 c5). Players can choose openings based on their style and preferences.
  5. Importance of Opening Choices: The middle and final phases of the game can be considerably impacted by the opening decision. Some possibilities result in tactically advantageous open positions, while others produce confined positions that allow for strategic maneuvering.
  1. Transpositions: Chess openings are not set routes; instead, they can take players to many situations through transpositions, or changes in which players move from one opening into another. For flexible play, understanding transpositions is crucial.
  2. Learning and Memorization: Memorising move sequences and comprehending the concepts underlying them are necessary for learning chess openings. Opening theory can be studied by players using books, videos, and online resources.
  3. Adapting to Opponents: Successful chess players modify their opening decisions in response to the preferences and actions of their rivals. Understanding various openings enables more adaptation and flexibility.

How do openings set the stage for the middle and endgame?

Think of a book or a great play. The creators of such things typically put too much thought into how they start presenting their content to the audience because it pretty much sets the stage “quite literally in case of a play” for the rest of the content. 

Chess openings are the same; you need to carefully plan your steps in order to set the stage for the rest of the game. 

Here’s how openings influence the subsequent phases of the game:

  1. Controlling the Center

Central chessboard square control is frequently given top priority in openings (e4, d4, e5, d5, etc.). 

Controlling the center permits more piece mobility and influence over the board, thereby offering a strong basis for launching attacks and carrying out strategic plans in the middle and end games.

  1. Piece Development

Knights and bishops are frequently developed in opening moves to release them from their starting positions. To make sure that all of your pieces are engaged and prepared to contribute to the middle and endgame, it is crucial to develop them properly.

Effective piece development in the opening phase ensures that your pieces are well-coordinated and can be quickly deployed to strategic squares in the middle and endgame.

  1. King safety

Castling, an essential aspect of most openings, is primarily aimed at ensuring the safety of the king  in later stages of the game. By moving the king to a more secure location, typically behind a wall of pawns, you will be reducing its vulnerability to threats in the middle and endgame. 

  1. Pawn Structure

The choice of opening can influence the pawn structure on the board. Some openings lead to open pawn structures with fewer pawns in the center, while others result in closed positions with a solid pawn formation. 

The pawn structure established in the opening phase impacts the types of pawn breaks and strategic plans available in the middle and end games.

  1. Initiative and Planning

Certain openings provide players with an early initiative, allowing them to dictate the course of the game. For example, an aggressive opening can set the tone for an aggressive middle and endgame strategy. 

The choice of opening can also signal a player’s intentions and preferred style, influencing their planning in the middle and endgame.

What are the benefits of mastering chess openings?

Chess players of all skill levels benefit greatly from understanding chess openings. 

Fundamentally, it’s about laying a solid groundwork for the rest of the game. Players get an early advantage in positioning and mobility by managing important squares and guaranteeing effective piece development.

The emphasis on king safety via castling also promotes the monarch’s security, lowering vulnerability to potential threats in later periods. As players dive into the nuances of pawn structures, piece activity, and specific plans associated with various openings, strategic understanding also flourishes.

In the end, understanding openings gives you a competitive edge, a psychological advantage, and a higher chance of winning tournaments.

What factors should players consider when selecting their opening repertoire?

The opening repertoire is not totally the be-all and end-all of winning chess games. You need lots of other factors. However, selecting the right opening repertoire in chess is a crucial decision that can significantly impact your games. So, what should you consider?

  1. Playing Style: Your choice of openers should be influenced by your preferred playing style. Do you favor a more positional and strategic approach, or are you a more aggressive player who enjoys tactical battles? Having a clear understanding of your style can help you choose opportunities that play to your skills and preferences.
  2. Strengths and Weaknesses: Analyse your chess-playing skills, both strong and weak. Think about the positions you are best in and the areas where you need to develop. 
  3. Study Commitment: Some openings require more extensive study and preparation than others. Be realistic about the amount of time you can dedicate to learning and maintaining your chosen repertoire. Complex openings may demand greater preparation.
  4. Versatility: It is advantageous to have a broad repertoire that enables you to play against a range of opponent reactions. Think about openings that are adaptable to various play circumstances, opponents, and styles.
  5. Popular and Established: Established openings with a rich history of theory are often a safe choice. They have been thoroughly studied and tested in high-level play, providing a wealth of resources and guidance.
  6. Current Trends: Stay aware of current trends and developments in opening theory. Some openings go in and out of fashion as top-level players experiment with new ideas. Keeping up with trends ensures your repertoire remains relevant. 
  7. Practicality: Consider the practicality of your chosen openings. Are they suitable for rapid and blitz games, or are they more suited to classical time controls? Ensure your repertoire aligns with the types of games you typically play.
  8. Opponent Expectations: Be aware of your opponent’s likely openings and preferences. This can help you prepare specific lines to surprise or counter them.
  9. Long-Term Commitment: Your chosen repertoire should ideally be a long-term commitment. Continuity in your opening choices can lead to a deeper understanding and mastery of those openings over time.
  10. Experimentation: While consistency is valuable, don’t be afraid to experiment and try new openings occasionally. Exploring different openings can expand your horizons and challenge you to grow as a player.

How can players effectively study and practice specific openings?

This might be the most important part of all. How can you effectively study and practice openings? Effectively studying and practicing specific openings in chess requires a systematic and structured approach. Here are steps and strategies to help players in this process:

  1. Choose Your Opening Repertoire: Begin by selecting a set of openings that align with your playing style, strengths, and preferences. Consider both White and Black openings for a well-rounded repertoire.
  2. Acquire Learning Materials: Gather learning materials, including chess books, videos, databases, and online resources, that cover your chosen openings. High-quality resources provide valuable insights and guidance. More about that later!
  3. Learn the Basics: Start with the fundamental principles of your chosen openings. Understand the key ideas, typical pawn structures, and piece development plans associated with each opening.
  4. Memorise Opening Moves: Memorise the initial moves of your chosen openings, known as the “opening theory.” Focus on the main lines and common variations. Use flashcards or repetition techniques to reinforce your memory.
  5. Create Opening Repertoire Files: Now, this one is not very common but it’s been helpful to lots of beginner chess players. Maintain a digital or physical repertoire file for each of your chosen openings. Include key variations, annotations, and notes from your games and analysis.
  6. Build a Repertoire for Black: Last but not least, don’t ignore your Black openings. Build a strong repertoire to react to different White openings. It’s important to be 100% prepared for all scenarios.

What are some recommended sources for opening theory and practice?

You can choose to learn from books like The Great Grandmasters of the past or choose a more modern way that most chess players are relying on now. Here are some diverse resources you can choose from:


  1. Modern Chess OpeningsOpens in a new tab.” by Nick De Firmian: A classic reference book that provides a comprehensive overview of various openings.
  2. Opening Repertoire: The Caro-KannOpens in a new tab.” by Joshua Doknjas: A detailed guide to the Caro-Kann Defense, suitable for both beginners and advanced players.
  3. Chess Openings for White, ExplainedOpens in a new tab.” by Lev Alburt, Roman Dzindzichashvili, and Eugene Perelshteyn: A series of books focusing on White’s opening choices.
  4. My Great PredecessorsOpens in a new tab.” series by Garry Kasparov: Offers insights into the opening choices of world champions throughout history.

Not a fan of books? You can commit to a more dynamic way of learning by watching these video courses:

  1. The Great Courses: “How to Play Chess: Lessons from an International Master” – A video course taught by an International Master that covers various aspects of chess, including openings. It’s on YouTube so it’s highly accessible anywhere.
  2. Chess.com’s Opening Explained Series: A collection of video courses on specific openings and repertoires, taught by grandmasters and international masters.
  3. The Master Method by iChess.netOpens in a new tab.: Offers a range of video courses on openings, middlegame strategy, and endgames, taught by renowned grandmasters.

If you learn by having feedback and discussions about what you learn, then online forums and chess communities might be your best option. Here are some helpful ones:

  1. Chess Stack ExchangeOpens in a new tab.: A question-and-answer community where you can ask specific opening-related questions and receive expert answers.
  2. Chess Forums: Online chess forums like Chess.comOpens in a new tab.‘s forums and the Reddit chess community provide spaces to discuss openings, share knowledge, and seek advice.

What are some errors that players make in the opening phase? 5 common ones to look out for

As a beginner, you might face some common blunders when it comes to openings. Here are the most common five opening errors that players tend to make:

1. Neglecting Development

Failing to prioritize piece development is a fundamental error. Players should aim to get knights and bishops into active positions and avoid moving the same piece multiple times in the opening.

Prevention: Prioritise piece development in the opening. Knights and bishops should be developed into active squares before advancing pawns excessively.

Correction: Make a conscious effort to develop your pieces early. Avoid making pawn moves until your knights and bishops are developed.

2. Pawn Moves in Excess

Moving too many pawns in the opening can lead to weaknesses and limit piece mobility. It’s important to strike a balance between pawn moves and piece development.

Prevention: Limit pawn moves in the opening to facilitate piece development and maintain pawn structures. Move only the pawns necessary to support your development.

Correction: Review your games to identify unnecessary pawn moves. Focus on minimizing pawn advances that weaken your position.

3. Failure to Control the Center

Neglecting central control (e4, d4, e5, d5) can allow the opponent to establish dominance in the center, restricting your pieces’ mobility.

Prevention: Always consider central control as a top priority in the opening. Aim to occupy central squares (e4, d4, e5, d5) and contest your opponent’s central presence.

Correction: Pay close attention to central control. If you’ve neglected it, work on repositioning your pieces to central squares

4. Not Ensuring King Safety

Castling is a crucial aspect of the opening. Failing to castle or delaying it unnecessarily can leave the king vulnerable to attacks in the middle game.

Prevention: Make king safety a priority. Ensure your king is safe by castling early and taking precautions to prevent open lines of attack.

Correction: If you’ve delayed castling or compromised king safety, consider castling as soon as it’s safe to do so. Be cautious about advancing pawns in front of your king unnecessarily.

5. Overlooking Opening Principles:

Players often forget basic opening principles, such as connecting rooks, centralizing the queen, and maintaining pawn structures. Ignoring these principles can lead to awkward positions.

Prevention: Study and internalize fundamental opening principles, such as piece development, central control, king safety, and pawn structure.

Correction: In your games, assess your adherence to opening principles. Identify moments where you’ve strayed from these principles and work to correct them in future games.


In chess, nailing the opening moves sets the stage for a dazzling performance. Remember, knights before pawns, king’s safety, and central control rule the opening act. Avoid common mistakes, and soon you’ll be composing your own masterpiece on the chessboard. Keep those pieces dancing!

Harikrishnan A

I am an International Fide Rated player with 10+ years of experience. Played many International Chess Tournaments and Commonwealth games.

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