Chess is a royal game of strategy which has sharply grown its popularity over centuries. It is a classic abstract board game that requires tactical, analytical, calculation, and visualization skills. To defeat one’s opponent, one needs to endorse these skills and master them with perfection.
For the initial stages of the game, chess openings, or simply an opening move, in a chess game holds the utmost importance to secure an advantageous position in the middle game. However, as a beginner, there are numerous misconceptions regarding the complexity of the chess opening moves. To nullify this misbelief, we have listed some of the best chess opening moves in this article so that one can treat this strategic game in the way it ideally should be.
- Principles of the Opening Move
- 16 Best Chess Openings
- Choose 1.e4 as your chess opening
- Black’s most popular: Sicilian Defense
- Preferred by World Champions – 1.d4 move
- Tactical and powerful Catalan Opening
- Reti Opening
- The English Opening
- The Italian Game
- The French Defense
- The Ruy-Lopez
- The Slav Defense
- The Scotch Game
- The Queen’s Gambit
- King’s Indian Attack
- Caro-Kann Defense
- King’s Indian Defense
- The Vienna Game
- Chess Opening Moves – FAQs
Principles of the Opening Move
Before learning the principles of chess openings, one must know their importance. Generally, the best chess opening moves do two things:
- Fight and control the center of the board
- Develop a piece to get it to better squares.
As we sit in front of our opponent and start the game, we should plan. The game plan may sometimes work or may not in some positions, even for the masters of the game. But, without any game plan, we would get frustrated and end up staring blankly on the board. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the three phases of the game of chess:
- Initial phase
- Middle phase
- End phase.
For a beginner, the best chess opening moves are 1. c4, 1. d4, 1. e4, and 1. Nf3. These moves attack at least one central square. Moreover, they either develop a piece or make it possible to do it on the next move.
16 Best Chess Openings
The following chess opening moves should be kept in mind to start well in the initial phase.
Choose 1.e4 as your chess opening
1.e4 is considered as one of the best chess opening moves for White, even at grandmaster tournaments, since it immediately sets up a possibility to develop two pieces. These pieces are the Queen and the Bishop at f1. The 1.e4 move also makes it more challenging for the Black to play 1…d5.
If the Black does so, then we can capture the pawn. And, when the Black pieces recapture the queen, then by playing 3.Nc3, we can attack the queen and develop our knight simultaneously without any extra moves. This strategy is known as ‘developing with tempo’.
The 1.e4 chess openings are also declared as ‘best by test’ by Bobby Fischer.
Black’s most popular: Sicilian Defense
Sicilian Defense (1…c5) is one of the best chess openings for Black against 1.e4. It is regarded as an aggressive chess opening for the Black pieces and is also very popular. Often, when a White plays 3.d4 and 2.Nf3, that will acquire them central space, but it will ultimately benefit the Black if they interchange a central pawn for a bishop’s pawn.
Many beginners get confused and disheartened by the amount of theory involved in the Open Sicilian. However, the theory can be minimized by playing one of the Anti-Sicilians. Also, players who prefer open positions can choose to play the Alapin (2.c3).
Take a look at this article that talks about Sicilian defense variations.
Preferred by World Champions – 1.d4 move
For many World Chess Champions, including Anatoly Karpov, their most preferred opening move is 1.d4. Even though it is always better to develop the other pieces before bringing the queen out, playing the move 1.d4 opens the way for the queen and the c1 bishop. A familiar advantage that we can assure while playing the 1.d4 move over 1.e4 move is that the pawn gets instantly safeguarded.
When we continue to make the 1.d4 move, our decision to play the mainlines will immediately make us courageous.
Tactical and powerful Catalan Opening
The Catalan opening move is an effective weapon for both attacking and positional players who enjoy playing 1.d4. It usually begins after the moves 1.d4, Nf6, 2.c4, e6, 3.g3, but there are also possibilities of other move orders such as 1.d4, d5, 2.c4, e6, 3.Nf3, Nf6, 4.g3. This is what the move will look like:
The Catalan opening is considered a dangerous weapon for the White, and understanding the piece placement and plans would allow us to safely guide the opening.
In Catalan chess openings, the primary focus is on the White fianchettoing on the kingside after having played the usual queen pawn chess opening moves d4 and c4 when the Black plays ..e6. Therefore, instead of a direct kingside attack, the White aims for positional pressure on the Black’s queenside and in the center for the long term.
One of the most commonly known chess opening moves for positional players with White is 1.Nf3. It is also known as Reti Opening. In this 1.Nf3 move, both the d4 and e5 squares get controlled and provide extra security to the king, especially if we castle kingside later. 1.Nf3 develops a piece instead of moving a pawn to begin the game. The knight develops into a good square, controlling the center while keeping variable options with the central pawns.
The Reti opening is the best chess move for beginners because the plans are straightforward to remember, the king is safeguarded early, and we develop our pieces quickly into strong squares.
This is what the opening looks like:
The English Opening
1.c4 is the English opening, and it is also one of the best chess opening moves. The English Opening move is an opening wherein the White progress their c-pawn to two squares instead of the d or e pawns. 1.c4 attacks the center (d5) and allows Nc3 to be played in the next few moves. It is an extremely transposition opening. In several cases, the game will get to a similar position that arises from different move orders and other chess opening moves.
The English opening is most suited for medium and advanced players, and it also demands a thorough understanding of positional concepts.
Among several elite World Champion players that have adopted English chess openings are Mikhail Botvinnik, Howard Staunton, Bobby Fischer, and Grandmaster Garry Kasparov.
The Italian Game
The Italian Game is commonly used today despite being one of the oldest chess openings. This classical 1.e4 opening move can guide positional and slower players with open, tactical battles. It starts after the moves 1.e4, e5, 2.Nf3, Nc6, 3.Bc4. White sensibly develops their kingside pieces with the bishop, putting pressure on the Black’s weak f7 pawn. It is done through the central d5 square, with the knight controlling the center of the board. Here is what the move looks like:
With the Italian Game opening, White obeys the basic opening principles of fighting for the central position and taking care of the king’s safety. From there, the game can advance into either positional or tactical strategies.
Therefore, in a nutshell, with this move, we can play our natural game with rapid development and focus on the center.
The French Defense
It is one of the most admired and best opening moves for the Black, in response to 1.e4. The French Defense is also one of the most loved chess openings for positional players and has always been in the reserves of grandmasters since the 1800s.
The French Defense opening chess move starts after 1.e4 e6.
The strategy of this move is that Black wants to counter White by playing d5 in the next move, instantly challenging White to control the center. 1…e6 also opens the lines for Black’s dark-squared bishop and queen. It is a strong move for Black as it generally leads to closed positions in the mid-game.
The main drawback in this opening is that Black will possibly struggle to develop their light-squared bishop. The reason is the Black’s pawn structure blocking it in. But the French Defense opening is easy to learn and possesses sharp counter-attacking possibilities.
The Ruy-Lopez opening is also commonly referred to as the Spanish Game or the Spanish Opening. It is the most analyzed and one of the best classical openings in chess history. This opening is similar to the Italian Game, but the bishop is on b5 instead of c4.
The Ruy-Lopez chess opening move starts after the moves 1.e4, e5, 2.Nf3, Nc6, 3.Bb5.
White prepares to castle short after completing the development of their kingside pieces. White also fights for controlling the central d4 and e5 squares and indirectly warns the Black e5-pawn by attacking its only defender.
Despite being a flexible opening, Ruy-Lopez leads to tactical battles and makes the game pretty complex. But in this opening move, White develops rapidly and castles very fast, giving good lines for positional and tactical players.
The Slav Defense
The Slav Defense chess opening is one of the most aggressive chess openings and has been highly used by World Champions like Magnus Carlsen, Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik. This opening move is a good choice for players playing at all levels.
After the moves 1.d4, d5, 2.c4, c6, the Slav Defense opening move is started. To firmly hold on to the center, the Blacks keep away from capturing the White’s c4-pawn, particularly the e4 square of the board. Move 2…c6 helps the d5-pawn while unblocking the light-squared bishop inside the pawn chain. The c7-c6 pawn hit is not helpful to develop any pieces, and the pawn restricts the knight’s most natural development square.
Here, the Black’s development is slower, but they maintain a strong central position.
The Scotch Game
An alternative to the Ruy-Lopez chess openings is the Scotch Game opening. It is a traditional 1.e4 opening for the White, and the main advantage of this move is that it covers empty space rapidly, especially for their two bishops, that are both given open diagonals.
The Scotch game-opening move starts after the activities 1.e4, e5, 2.Nf3, Nc6, 3.d4. Here, the White hits on the center instantly, forcing the Black to give up their central e5 pawn, effectively guaranteeing a space advantage to the White. This move is pretty good for beginners and players of different strength levels.
Grandmaster Garry Kasparov was one of the most prominent players to have utilized this opening move.
The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit is one of the most reputable and classical 1.d4 openings for the White. It has recently become a trendy opening for beginners after the latest Netflix hit show, The Queen’s Gambit. It basically involves a strategic game plan rather than an all-out tactical fight.
The Queen’s Gambit opening move starts after the moves 1.d4, d5, 2.c4. The White’s second move puts pressure on the d5 pawn, increasing control over the center. Now, if the Black plans to capture the pawn with 2…dxc4, White will have easily blocked one of Black’s central pawns to the board’s wing. Since the Black cannot keep the extra pawn safe, the Queen’s Gambit cannot gambit a pawn.
King’s Indian Attack
This chess opening move involves an abundance of White systems that involve pawns on d3, g3, and e4, knights on d2 and f3, a kingside fianchetto, and a kingside castling. The King’s Indian Attack is the fastest way to castle and fianchetto the king’s bishop. It is the only chess opening not starting with d4 or e4.
When referring to a particular opening, the King’s Indian Attack (KIA) usually starts with either 1.Nf3, Nf6, 2.g3. or 1.Nf3, d5, 2.g3:
It is very flexible and may lead to a kingside attack, but it does not immediately strike Black, thus giving Black a strong center and many viable options.
The Caro-Kann Defense is popularly known for its firmness, and it is one of the most favored responses to e4. This opening is quite similar to the French Defense as here the Black usually wants to play 2.d5. It quickly challenges the White’s e4 pawn for controlling the center.
The Caro-Kann Defense opening move starts with 1.e4 c6 with a standard continuation alternative 2.d4 d5.
One of the critical advantages of the Caro-Kann Defense chess openings, compared to the French Defense, is that Black’s light-squared bishop isn’t under pressure and doesn’t get blocked, though it stops the Black from moving their knight to the c6 square.
This opening move was a particular favorite of the world champion Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.
King’s Indian Defense
The King’s Indian Defense is a typical sharp opening for the Black against the White’s d4 and c4 moves. It follows a hypermodern principle where the Black permits White to set up a strengthened pawn center to counter-attack it later.
The King’s Indian Defense opening move starts after the moves 1.d4, Nf6, 2.c4 g6.
Here, Black tries not to control the center with pawns; instead, the plan lets the White build a powerful center with pawns and then counter-attack it using pawns and pieces.
When fighting to victory with the Blacks, grandmasters like Gary Kasparov and Bobby Fischer consistently employed this chess opening.
The Vienna Game
The Vienna Game chess opening move is unusual, but it is more theoretically sound than the Italian opening. This 1.e4 opening is an excellent move for the beginners to surprise their opponents.
It starts after the moves 1.e4, e5, 2.Nc3, where the White tries to develop the queenside knight. White’s second move empowers a rapid f2-f4 pawn-push and keeps the d1-h5 diagonal open for the queen, which may go to f3 or h5. But it blocks the c-pawn, which enables c2-c3 to make the d2-d4 push more challenging.
The Vienna Game has suited experienced players like Alexander Shabalov and Viswanathan Anand.
While we conclude this article, it is evident that the opening moves in chess matter a lot to decide the overall progress of the game. We must practice the above-given chess openings repeatedly so that we don’t wobble while playing with any good opponent. Also, the best chess opening moves that we have read above are very beneficial to achieving a crucial position at the start of our game and amazing our opponents.
Below are some of the frequently asked questions that may pop up in our minds. These could also provide a recap of some significant chess opening moves.
Chess Opening Moves – FAQs
The five best opening moves in chess for Blacks are 1…c5, 1…c6, 1…d5, 1…e5, and 1…e6. Whereas, for the Whites, the best chess openings are 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4, 1.g3, and 1.Nf3
In a game of chess, we can make 20 possible first moves from each side. Out of these twenty possible chess openings, the main options for a White’s first move are only four – 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4, and 1.Nf3.
There are basically four principles of chess openings:
1. Controlling the center squares, i.e., d4, d5, e4, and e5.
2. Developing the pieces
3. Getting the king to safety
4. Not wasting too much time moving the same piece more than once in chess openings.
Take a look at the 8 fundamental strategies of Chess.