The best opening chess moves do two things:
- Fight for the center,
- Develop a piece.
Each player wants to control the center of the board (the d4, e4, d5, and e5 squares) because pieces placed here will control more squares than if they were nearer the edge.
Developing your pieces means getting them to better squares. For instance, at the start of the game, the bishops, rooks, and queen cannot move. You need to move a pawn to open the way for them.
The best opening chess moves are 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.Nf3, and 1.c4. These all attack at least one central square and either develop a piece or make it possible to do so on the next move.
Other similar-looking moves like 1.f4 and 1.Nc3 aren’t as strong. Moving the f-pawn weakens the king’s protection, and 1.Nc3 blocks the c-pawn from being moved. In addition, 1.Nc3 doesn’t really control the center as Black can still play 1…d5.
Every one of these four best chess opening moves is suitable for a beginner to play.
Before deciding on one of the four best opening moves to focus on, it’s a good idea to learn how to study the openings. In the popular Master Method Course, “Smash the Barriers to Your Chess Success,” IM Anna Rudolf shows us how to learn the opening, build a repertoire, and much more.
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Opening Moves to Avoid
In order to figure out the best chess opening moves, we put the cart before the horse. First of all, we will take a close look at some bad and dubious opening moves and try to understand the different downsides of these moves. After that, we can analyze better approaches to start the game.
In the following article, we investigate the moves from White’s perspective. The article discusses three categories of chess moves, starting with White’s weird first moves and building up to rare or semi-mainstream options. The aim of this article is to help you learn theoretical sound chess opening chess moves. Of course, if you are completely new to chess, you should first check out our guide on how to set up the chessboard.
Worst Chess Openings
One of the worst first moves for White to play is 1.g4. With this move, White does not fight for the center – an important concept in chess – and gives Black a clear target to attack. If Black responds to 1.g4 with 1…d5! he occupies the center and directly attacks White’s loose pawn on g4 with his bishop on c8.
If White, for example, defends his pawn with a move like 2.f3, this can lead to a quick mate. The move 2…e6 looks harmless but threatens a deadly checkmate on h4 with the queen.
White can defend by playing 3.h4, but with 3…Bd6 Black renews the threat of mating White on the e1-h4 diagonal. The move 4.Rh3 (defending against …Bg3++) results in a beautiful mate in two. Black can sacrifice his queen with …Qxh4 and after White takes the queen with 5.Rxh4 (there is no alternative), Black ends the game with 5…Bg3++.
Admittedly, this example might be a rare occurrence in practice, but it illustrates that Black can take advantage of these bad opening moves by playing the most simple of moves in response.
Another bad chess opening move is 1.f3 as it irrevocably weakens white’s king position without doing anything useful.
Moreover, bad moves include 1.Na3 and 1.Nh3. These chess moves ignore two basic rules at the same time – not only that “a knight on the rim is dim” but also they force White to move the same piece a second time in the opening, losing valuable tempo, after Black plays 1…e5 or 1…d5 threatening to double White’s pawns by capturing the knight with his bishop.
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Unusual Chess Openings
1.h4, for example, is a dubious move. The move is not as bad as 1.g4, but it does nothing to assist in gaining control over the important central squares. Furthermore, castling kingside is less attractive after the move h4 as the kingside is already weakened. Thus, the move is rarely seen among serious chess players.
Obviously, White can’t fight for an advantage with this move, but it shouldn’t be too bad as it doesn’t create any weaknesses.
Chess moves such as 1.e3, 1.d3 or 1.c3 are playable and do not weaken White’s position, but there is no particular point to play them except for avoiding theory and your opponent’s preparation. Due to the fact, however, that we’re looking at all the moves from a beginner’s perspective, we don’t need to fear preparation at an amateur level at all.
Thus, such chess moves waste time, get in the way of developing all of your pieces into useful squares and they don’t fight for control over the center.
1.g3, for instance, is not a bad move at all and it can transpose to other openings such as the English. The main drawback of this move, however, is that it enables Black pieces to occupy the center with any moves they wish to play.
In essence, it is recommendable for any beginner to avoid the mentioned weird chess opening moves right from the beginning of their training because they can lead to quick losses and disadvantageous positions from the very start of the game.
Strong Chess Openings
As we’ve seen, if White does not occupy the center with their pawns, Black has the opportunity to do it! Therefore, it is recommended that White plays active, space-gaining chess moves right from the start.
Choosing 1.e4 as Your Best Opening Move
What makes 1.e4 one of the best chess opening moves is you immediately create the possibility for two pieces to develop. These are the bishop on f1 and the queen.
1.e4 also makes it more difficult for Black to play 1…d5. If Black plays …d5, then we can take the pawn and, when Black recaptures with the queen, play 3.Nc3 – developing our knight and attacking the queen at the same time.
Black has to move their queen, and it’s our move again. We have essentially developed our knight without it costing us a move. This is called “developing with tempo.”
1.e4 is the most popular opening move, although 1.d4 is played nearly as much. The legendary Bobby Fischer declared 1.e4 to be “best by test” and opened his games this way nearly exclusively.
After 1.e4, Black can respond in many different ways. They might mimic your move with 1…e5 – the so-called “open games.” Other possibilities include attacking the center from the wing (1…c5, the Sicilian Defense) and delaying the fight for the center by preparing first with moves like 1…e6 and 1…c6.
One of the most feared defenses against 1.e4 is the Sicilian Defense. Many beginners are put off by the amount of theory in the Open Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4).
However, you can minimize the theory by choosing to play one of the Anti-Sicilians. Players who like open positions can play the Alapin (2.c3), while positional players can play the closed Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nc3).
Instead of entering the heavy theoretical workload in the Ruy Lopez, you can choose to play the Scotch Game or the Four Knights Opening.
Know Your Pawn Structures
Another good reason to make 1.e4 your best chess opening move is to play the Advance Variation against the French Defense and the Caro-Kann Defense – two popular defenses for Black against 1.e4.
The French Defense Advance Variation begins 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 and the Caro-Kann Defense Variation starts with the moves 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5.
Playing variations with a similar pawn structure helps you reduce your opening theory because you can focus on the common strategies associated with the pawn structure.
Another standard pawn structure for White that arises in chess openings is the isolated queen’s pawn. You cannot reach an isolated queen’s pawn structure against all of Black’s defenses to 1.e4, but it happens more frequently than you might think.
What makes 1.e4 one of the best chess opening moves is that you can start off by keeping things very simple and look to play more complex openings as your middlegame and endgame skills improve.
The added safety is knowing if you play the mainlines arising from 1.e4 will reach a solid middlegame position from the opening.
Another of the Best Chess Opening Moves is 1.d4
1.d4 is one of the best chess openings and is the preferred first move of many World Champions, including Anatoly Karpov.
1.d4 opens the way for the c1 bishop and the queen, although it’s better to develop the other pieces before bringing the queen out. One advantage 1.d4 has over 1.e4 is that the pawn is immediately protected.
When you begin making 1.d4 your best chess opening move, make the courageous decision to play the mainlines.
If you are a beginner who wants to improve in chess, then playing the mainlines will benefit your overall chess improvement.
Classical Development is Always a Sound Approach
If you choose 1.d4 as your best opening move, you will need to learn a system against defenses where black plays …Bg7. The most common of these is the King’s Indian Defense and Grunfeld Defense.
For beginners playing in the classical style is an excellent way to start. Against the Kings Indian, you place your pawns on d4, c4 and e4, your knights go to c3 and f3, and you develop your bishop to e2 where it doesn’t block the queen from defending d4.
Against the Grunfeld, you can achieve a good position by seizing control of the center with 5.e4, develop your knight to f3, and look for an opportunity to advance your d-pawn.
Play might begin 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Rb1
The classical development of the knights to c3 and f3 is a sound system against the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Slav Defense, and Semi-Slav.
The game is much easier for beginners if you keep your pawn structure from being damaged. Against the Nimzo-Indian Defense, you can prevent having your pawns doubled by playing 4.Qc2.
This variation is named after former world chess champion Jose Raul Capablanca.
The Benoni defenses and Benko Gambits are formidable defenses to meet. Fortunately, understanding Black’s plans will help you safely navigate these openings.
The Catalan Opening
Although the variations with classical development are sound, it is possible to play in a more positional style with a kingside fianchetto. When White adopts this Catalan-style approach, he often delays the move c4 too.
A powerful opening for both positional and attacking players is the Catalan Opening. Vladimir Kramnik, a former world chess champion, used this powerful chess opening with great success.
Here is IM Mat Kolosowski to take you through one of the crucial tactical opportunities in the Catalan Opening.
Learn more about the Catalan Opening and the tactics available to both sides in an iChess exclusive 80/20 Tactics Multiplier The Catalan Opening course. IM Matt Kolosowski will guide you through the opening and ensure you are familiar with the tactical opportunities you must know to win games.
The Best Chess Flank Opening Move 1.Nf3
One of the best chess openings for positional players who enjoy active play is 1.Nf3, commonly known as the Reti Opening.
White avoids staking a claim in the center with his pawns and starts by developing the only piece he can without a pawn move – his knight.
1.Nf3 controls both the d4 and e5 squares and provides extra protection for your king, especially if you castle kingside later.
The move 1.Nf3 is sure to catch a lot of club players by surprise. They are more likely to devote their opening studies to meeting 1.e4, 1.d4, and 1.c4.
Flank openings frequently avoid early exchanges, which means you will enter the middlegame with more pieces to launch an attack.
The move 1.Nf3 is usually followed by 2.c4. White will often fianchetto both his bishops to put pressure on the long diagonals and target the center.
A fianchetto is where a player moves the b- or g- pawn one square and puts the bishop on b2 or g2. This places the bishop on the longest diagonal – potentially the most active line.
By playing c4 and then Nc3, White adds to the pressure against the d5-square. Exchanging the c-pawn for the d-pawn will give White a pawn majority in the center.
What Makes the Reti Opening A Good Choice for Beginners?
The Reti is an excellent opening for beginners because you develop your pieces quickly to strong squares. Early castling protects your king, who is well-defended by the bishop on g2.
The advance e3 gives the White queen the option of going to c2 or e2, depending on where Black positions his rooks. On e3, the pawn also defends the d4-square.
Along with placing the bishops on long diagonals, centralization forms a crucial part of White’s strategy. The rooks will support the White pawns as they advance and open the center.
1.Nf3 is one of the best chess opening moves for beginners because the plans are easy to remember, your king finds safety early, and your pieces focus on the center.
The English Opening Is One of the Best Chess Opening Moves – 1.c4
1.c4 is known as the English opening and can be traced back to the famous British chess player from the Victorian era, Howard Staunton. More recently, fifth world champion Mikhail Botvinnik contributed a lot to the development of the English opening.
1.c4 is one of the best chess opening moves because it attacks the center (d5) and allows Nc3 to be played in the next few moves. Since the significant drawback of 1.Nc3 is it blocks in the c-pawn, playing c4 first is logical.
Cutting back on theory isn’t the only advantage to making 1.c4 your best chess opening move. The English opening offers you lots of attacking possibilities while being based on sound positional principles.
The Botvinnik System
The Botvinnik System is a great attacking weapon at the beginner and club levels. There is little Black can do to interrupt your ideal development.
White will place pawns on c4, d3, and e4 before playing the f4-f5 advance to attack the kingside. Developing the knight to e2 instead of f3 keeps the long diagonal open for the bishop on g2.
Another advantage of placing the knight on e2 is it covers the hole on d4 while supporting the advance of the d-pawn.
What makes 1.c4 an excellent chess opening move is you get to play across the board. White can play on both flanks and in the center, depending on the defense chosen by Black.
The English opening is a versatile chess opening you can play against almost every Black set-up whether it’s 1….e5, 1…c5, or 1…Nf6.
Knowing where to place your pieces and the strategies for White is more critical than learning cutting-edge theory.
1.c4 is one of the best chess opening moves because it is a dependable opening that offers good attacking options. The English opening is an opening you can play for many years as you become a stronger chess player.
Interestingly enough, Garry Kasparov chose to play the English Opening against Karpov in his must-win world championship match.
Kasparov, Garry – Karpov, Anatoly, World Chess Championship, Seville, Spain, Round 24, 1987, 1-0
Building on the Best Chess Opening Moves
The explained fundamental concepts are here to help any beginner improve their chess game and start their games with an appropriate chess opening. If you keep these strategies in the forefront of your mind and refresh and deepen your knowledge from time to time, nothing will stand in your way of advancing at chess.
Don’t forget the basics of chess openings: fight for the center from the beginning as White (if you don’t, the best you can get out of your opening is an equal position), don’t give up your first move advantage – (play actively).
All four of these best chess opening moves have proven themselves over time. They all offer beginners the opportunity to create an opening repertoire they can rely on.
No matter which one of these four opening moves you choose, you are sure to find openings to suit your style of play.
Breaking down your repertoire into smaller bite-size pieces will make the task much more manageable.
As a beginner, you don’t need to know the theory of your best chess opening move as well as a titled player. You only need to know enough to reach a good middlegame position.
Sticking with any one of these four best chess opening moves for any length of time will slowly but surely deepen your understanding of the typical opening positions.
Over time your knowledge of the opening theory will naturally expand as you analyze more of your games.
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