Best Chess Openings for Beginners: Two Knights Game (#4)

Best Openings For Beginners: Two Knights Game (#4)It’s no surprise that most beginners’ games start with 1.e4 e5. These are the two most commonly played opening moves in chess.

Previously, we have studied some of the best openings for beginners starting with 1.e4 e5: the Italian Game, Four Knights Defense and Ruy Lopez.

Today, I want to introduce another very popular opening for beginners called the Two Knights Defense. Don’t let the word “defense” mislead you.

This is not a passive, overly protective opening. A more appropriate term for this opening would be the Two Knights Counter-attack! In fact, sometimes it is referred to as the Chigorin Counter-Attack.

The Two Knights Defense starts with the following moves:

1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6

Best Openings For Beginners: Two Knights Game (#4)

Both players occupy the center and develop a pair of minor pieces. Black has both knights developed by move 3, which is why the name of the opening is the Two Knights Defense.

Note: If you are serious about learning the best openings for beginners I suggest reading the 7 Most Important Opening Principles.


Best Openings For Beginners: Two Knights Game (#4)

The idea of this move is fairly obvious. White attacks the weak f7 pawn with both knight and bishop. Black needs to do something about this threat and there are 3 ways to deal with it: 4…d5, 4…Nxe4 and 4…Bc5. The first option is the safest and sound.

The second option is pretty bad for black and should probably be avoided altogether. Finally, the last option ignores the threat and leads to a wild game. Feel free to explore those in your spare time. For the sake of this article let’s go with the most tested and reliable option of them all:

4…d5 5. exd5

Best Openings For Beginners: Two Knights Game (#4)

After 4…d5 both white’s c4-bishop and e4-pawn are under attack and white is forced to take on d5. He doesn’t want to exchange his light-squared bishop for a knight so he simply captures with the pawn, 5.exd5. It is usually good practice to preserve the bishop pair and to avoid exchanges such as bishop for a knight early in the game, unless the position is closed or it is part of a bigger plan.

The bishop pair is generally stronger than a knight and a bishop. Unless you absolutely have to give up the bishop pair, you should keep it!

5…Na5 6.Bb5+

Best Openings For Beginners: Two Knights Game (#4)

The knight attacks white’s bishop which jumps out of the way with check. White should keep in mind that the d5-pawn is hanging. Attempts to save the pawn with moves like 6.d3 lead to a strong initiative for black, therefore I do not recommend this option.

After the main move 6.Bb5+, black can block the check with either 6…c6 or 6…Bd7. Both options are playable and fine for white.

As you can see, the Two Knights Defense is a fairly straightforward opening with logical moves. This is the main reasons I have chosen it as one of the best openings for beginners and recommend trying it in your own games.

6…c6 7.dxc6 bxc6

Best Openings For Beginners: Two Knights Game (#4)

Blocking the check with c6 is the strongest response. The alternative 6…Bd7 is inferior, since it leads to the exchange of bishops, giving white an edge because of his extra pawn.


Best Openings For Beginners: Two Knights Game (#4)

White simply retreats the bishop to e2. The position is fairly equal. Black has some pawn weaknesses on the queenside but has better central control and a small edge in development as compensation. White has an extra pawn, but his g5 knight is misplaced and can easily become a target, allowing black to develop quicker and perhaps launch an attack.

The plan for white:

White needs to solve the problem of his g5 knight. It can be retreated to f3 but that runs into an unpleasant e4 push. Alternatively, white can play Nh3, but that makes the knight vulnerable to being chopped off by the c8 bishop.

Next, white will try to castle (short, ideally), develop his b1 knight and the dark-squared bishop. At some point in the game white will push d3 or d4 to challenge black’s central dominance.

The plan for black:

Black is a pawn down but ahead in development. He needs to act fast and prevent white from resolving his knight problem. One way of doing that is to play …h6, followed by …e4.

Depending on white’s response, black needs to decide whether to exchange the light-squared bishop for the knight or position it on b7. Black will also develop the f8 bishop and castle short soon afterwards.

Overall this is a great opening, with a lot of activity and chances for both sides. It is fairly tactical and backed up by easy-to-understand plans. In other words, the Two Knights Defense is one of the best openings for beginners that you can find!

If you are uncertain what to play in your games, this is something worth considering – regardless of whether you are playing white or black.


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