5 Winning Opening Strategies in Chess to Use Now!

The best opening strategies in chess are:

  • Control of the center of the chessboard.
  • Development of chess pieces.
  • Pawn structures.
  • Prophylaxis.
  • Chess tactics.
5 winning opening strategies you can use now blog image

Opening strategy is a fundamental part of the game for three reasons:

  1. They guide your play into the middlegame and sometimes even the endgame. 
  2. You can use them to find the right move because you are working with a plan. 
  3. Even without knowing the moves or move order, you can apply them to your game. 

When you think about the openings you play, see if you recognize any of these opening strategies in them.

Think about the opening strategies in chess that you use in your games while watching the following video on the classical Ruy Lopez Steinitz Defense. In the Ruy Lopez, both sides employ sound opening strategies to reach a playable middlegame position.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

1) Control Of The Center – The Controlling Opening Strategy in Chess

There are many pawn structures, each with its own opening strategy in chess. There are also lots of different types of openings.

For example, tactical openings, gambits, and positional openings are three different types of chess openings.

Yet, they all share one common opening strategy in chess – central control!

The Four Pawns Attack in the King's Indian Defense uses the opening strategy of controlling the center with your pawns.
The Four Pawns Attack in the King’s Indian Defense uses the opening strategy of controlling the center with your pawns.

The center of the chessboard usually means four squares – e4, d4, e5, and d5., but you will often hear the term “broad center” as well.

A broad center includes pawns on both or one of the c4 and f4 squares for white. Black’s broad center will consist of the c5 and f5 squares. 

A broad center is an opening strategy in chess used by white against hypermodern openings. These include the Pirc Defense and Alekhine Defense.

Against the Pirc Defense this is called the Austrian Attack (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4), and in the Alekhine Defense it’s known as the Four Pawns Attack (1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4).

In the Sicilian Defense, black will often establish the small center with pawns on e6 and d6. The pawns on e6 and d6 are called the small center because they have only advanced one square instead of the usual two squares.

sicilian defense richter rauzer uses the small center to fight for control of the critical central squares. Control of the center is a common opening strategy in chess found in every opening.
The Sicilian Defense Richeter-Rauzer Attack. Black establishes a “small center” in his opening strategy of central control.

You Can Control the Center With Pieces or Pawns

The Grunfeld Defense uses pieces to implement the opening strategy of controlling the center.
The Grunfeld Defense uses pieces to implement the opening strategy of controlling the center.

During the Romantic period of chess, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many chess players believed you must use your pawns to control the center.

Then along came players like Nimzovitch, Grunfeld, and Alekhine, to name a few, who suggested a new opening strategy in chess. 

They believed the center could be controlled by pieces.

This lead to what are now called hypermodern chess openings. For example, the Nimzo-Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4), Grunfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5), and Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6).

2) Development – A Mobilizing Opening Strategy in Chess

Development, as an opening strategy in chess, involves bringing your pieces into play. This opening strategy in chess works very well with our first opening strategy – central control.

You can develop your pieces in a way that allows them to control some of the central squares. For example, a knight on f3 will control two center squares – d4 and e5, but a knight on e2 will only control d4.

Chess is a complex game, and your opening strategy in chess must also consider your middlegame strategy. In the English Opening, white will often fianchetto his bishop on g2.

From g2, the bishop covers the e4 and d5 central squares. Developing the knight to e2 means white avoids blocking the bishop.

if one piece is bad the whole position is bad Siegbert Tarrasch

The harmony among your pieces is a critical factor in being successful in chess.  

Knowing the best squares for your pieces will allow you to save time by ensuring your pieces are developed on their best squares as soon as possible.

Harmony Is One of Three Important Factors

Time and space are two other crucial elements in chess. Along with harmony, these three elements are the cornerstone of the Krush method.

Saving time is achieved by minimizing the number of times you move the same piece in the opening. In many openings, a piece will get moved more than once.

Usually, there is a good reason behind moving the piece multiple times. Understanding why you are making a move is essential to implementing a good opening strategy in chess.

When you develop your pieces towards the center, you will effortlessly increase their activity simultaneously.

A knight on f3 controls eight squares, but a knight on h3 only controls four squares.

Castling is another great dual-purpose move that gets your king to safety and makes your rook more active. 

One of the greatest players when it came to using a lead in development was Paul Morphy. Here he shows us how to totally destroy an opponent. White finds himself two pawns up but in a lost position.

 Schulten, J – Morphy, P, New York, NY 1858, 0-1

3) Pawn Structure – A Structural Opening Strategy in Chess

Before you can adopt any opening strategy in chess, it is essential to know your own personal playing style. Philidor called pawns the soul of chess, but they also form the skeleton of the position.

The French Defense usually leads to a locked central pawn structure. Pawn breaks are an essential element of the opening strategy in this chess opening.

Another opening strategy you need to learn in the French Defense is how to activate your light-squared bishop. 

The closed nature of the center makes the French Defense a counter-attacking defense. Black accepts a cramped but solid position with the potential to break free later.

Players who enjoy staking their claim of the center from the start are likely to adopt a more classical opening strategy. There is no reason you can’t meet 1.e4 with 1…e5 or 1.d4 with 1…d5. 

Black immediately claims an equal share of the center and creates space to develop his pieces. Unlike in the French Defense, both bishops can get developed outside the pawn structure.

Knowing Your Preferences Makes Selecting an Opening Much Easier

If you prefer to play without a pawn weakness, you won’t want to play with the isolated queen’s pawn. However, if you like piece activity and easy development, you can get both in typical isolated queen pawn positions.

A typical position in an Isolated Queen Pawn opening. This opening strategy in chess provides easy development and good piece activity.
A typical position in an Isolated Queen Pawn opening. This opening strategy in chess provides easy development and good piece activity.

There are numerous strategies for both sides in positions with an isolated queen pawn. Studying the opening strategy will help you decide if openings leading to this structure are ones you want to play.

Overall the chances for either side are very balanced in isolated queen’s pawn positions.

4) Prophylaxis – A Restraining Opening Strategy in Chess

The purpose of your opening strategy in chess is to reach the middlegame with a playable position. A crucial element in achieving this goal is prophylaxis.

Many chess players think of prophylaxis as a middlegame strategy, but you can place more pressure on your opponent by stopping his plans early.

what does my opponent want? what is his threat? These are two very good questions to constantly ask yourself to include prophylaxis as one of your opening strategies in chess.
These are two outstanding questions to constantly ask yourself to include prophylaxis as one of your opening strategies in chess.

Prophylaxis is a strategy you can use in all three phases of the game and not only in your opening strategy.

By including prophylaxis in your opening strategy in chess, you can limit your opponent’s piece activity and enter the middlegame with a slight advantage.

This could be a space advantage or better piece placement. Achieving either or both these advantages means your opening strategy in chess is a success.

Prophylaxis was an opening strategy in chess used by Anatoly Karpov in his career. A career that included becoming a world chess champion! Take a look at how he uses it to restrain his opponent in this game.

Karpov, Anatoly – Hernandez, Roman, Las Palmas – ESP, 1977, 1-0

Learn From Children and Get Into the Habit of Asking “Why?”

Chess is a game played between two people. That means another player is doing their best to implement their own opening strategy. 

An excellent habit to cultivate is to ask “Why?” every time you and your opponent make a move. Asking “Why?” as a part of your opening chess strategy will make your transition to the middlegame more pleasant and secure.

5) Tactics – A Fighting Opening Strategy in Chess

No matter what, your personal style of play tactics is an essential element of chess you must master.

Including tactics as part of your opening strategy in chess will ensure you don’t miss the opportunity to score an early win! 

Every opening has its own tactics unique to it. Learning the tactics for both sides will make sure you don’t miss a win or fall victim to a tactical blow yourself. 

Even openings that are extremely positional in nature offer some tactics that might surprise you. Good examples of such openings are the Queen’s Indian Defense and the Catalan Opening.

Remember, tactics are not always about delivering checkmate or winning large amounts of material. Tactics as part of your opening strategy in chess can be called a success if they gain you a positional advantage!

In the opening, tactics can help you gain better piece activity or establish an outpost for a knight.

Being aware of the tactics that are part of your opening strategy will also help you decide between favorable and unfavorable exchanges.

White’s light-squared bishop is often a critical attacking piece in positions with an isolated queen’s pawn. That is why white will often play a3 to prevent a black knight from attacking it from the b4 square. 

Another important tactic is shifting the focus of attack from the b1-h7 diagonal to the a2-g8 diagonal. The bishop on a2 often takes aim at the black king while supporting the pawn advance d5.

Final Thoughts

Learning the opening strategy in chess will provide you with a solid foundation for your opening repertoire. 

Understanding the plan will make it easier to remember the moves of the opening because you will have a point of reference. 

An excellent approach to incorporating these strategies is to focus on one of them while playing rapid or blitz games online. For example, you might make piece activity your chosen opening strategy and continue it through the game.

Each of these five opening strategies in chess can stand alone and allow you to practice them. Your results are sure to improve when you start including multiple opening strategies in your games.

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