Chess openings occur in every chess game. You can’t avoid or sidestep them.
It’s important to have a clear plan of what to do during the first few moves of the game, especially if you’re a beginner.
The opening phase builds the foundation for the rest of the game.
Knowing the openings you play not only helps you to avoid falling for cheap opening traps but also helps you to get a good position in the middlegame. That is the purpose of the opening – not to win in 5 moves with a crazy attack but to reach a good position entering the middlegame that you can work from.
Today, we want to take a closer look at one of these chess openings – the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Most chess openings for beginners, such as the Italian Game, the Ruy Lopez, the Four Knights Game and the Two Knights Defense, all start with 1.e4.
However, as you probably already know, 1.e4 is not the only good first move in chess. Another great opening move you should familiarise yourself with is 1.d4. Even though you may feel like there is not much difference between the two, they lead to very different opening systems with totally different strategies and ideas.
With both moves, 1.e4 and 1.d4, White occupies the center with a pawn right from the word go. However, there is a major difference between 1.e4 and 1.d4. The move 1.e4 liberates White’s light-squared bishop and queen.
The move 1.d4, in contrast, liberates the dark-squared bishop and – to some extent – the queen. Moreover, after 1.e4, the king’s pawn isn’t protected, while after 1.d4, the queen’s pawn remains defended by the queen.
These nuances change the opening strategy quite a bit. Each of these moves also forces Black to react differently. Most chess games between beginners start with the moves 1.e4 e5.
However, after 1.d4, Black can’t simply play the move 1…e5. White could simply take the pawn with 2.dxe5 and Black would be a pawn down.
Players have argued, and continue to debate, whether 1.e4 or 1.d4 is the best opening move, however it really boils down to the style of the player. Both have their pros and cons, and both have been seen right up at the top of chess, played repeatedly by the very best players and World Chess Champions throughout history.
The Queen’s Gambit Declined
The Queen’s Gambit Declined is one of the most classical responses to 1. d4, and has been played by almost all of the great players in history from both sides of the board. It is definitely one of the best chess openings for beginners. Let’s investigate this opening step by step. The Queen’s Gambit begins with the following moves:
1.d4 d5 2. c4
With the move 2.c4, White threatens to exchange the c-pawn (a flank pawn) for Black’s d-pawn (a center pawn). At the same time, by moving his pawn to c4, White also offers a pawn sacrifice as the c-pawn is unprotected.
This is why the first opening moves are called the Queen’s Gambit. Black can simply capture the pawn with 2…dxc4. However, this is not a true gambit since Black cannot hang on to the pawn.
White easily wins it back with 2…dxc4 3.Qa4+, recapturing the pawn one move later) or plays 3.e3, threatening to capture on c4 with the bishop on the next move. Black has to be careful to not desperately hold on to the pawn:
Instead of accepting the pawn sacrifice with 2…dxc4 (the Queen’s Gambit Accepted), Black plays another logical move:
This is what’s called the main line of Queen’s Gambit Declined. Black declines the “pawn sacrifice” and builds up a solid position as the pawns on e6 and d5 secure Black strong central control.
Almost all of Black’s pieces can be developed to natural squares. Moreover, the move 2…e6 frees the dark-squared bishop on f8 so it can be developed to e7, bringing Black one step closer to castling.
However, the downside of 2…e6 is that it blocks in Black’s light-squared bishop for the moment.
Once White establishes a solid pawn center, it is time to develop the minor pieces. 3.Nc3 is a logical choice since it completes multiple objectives at once: it takes control of the e4 and d5 squares while preventing Bb4+.
At some point, White wants to play e2-e4 gaining an even greater share of the center. The knight on c3 is there to support this plan.
3…Nf6 4. Bg5
Many beginners would try resolving the pressure in the center immediately by exchanging the pawns. This is not a good idea for either side. Black doesn’t want to take on c4 because White can play e4, creating a ‘perfect pawn center’. White definitely doesn’t want to take on d5 because after …exd5 Black ends up with both bishops open and ready for action.
Black brings out his king’s knight preventing White’s plan to advance the e-pawn to e4. White responds by pinning that knight to the queen, temporarily immobilizing the knight. White is ready to play e4 on the next move, so Black needs to come up with something new to prevent that.
Black unpins his f6 knight, developing the bishop and getting ready to castle. Technically, White could exchange his g5 bishop for the knight and play e4, but that will only give Black an edge in terms of quicker development and a bishop pair.
It is important to mention that apart from 4…Be7, Black has another tricky move at his disposal – 4…Nbd7. At first glance, this move looks bad. Can’t White simply win a pawn with 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Nxd5? Take a look at the PGN below to see why cxd5 isn’t a good idea!
Let’s go back to our look at the main line. Next, White plays 5.Nf3, and we reach the position in the diagram below:
White simply develops another minor piece. From this point on, there are various ways for both sides to proceed. Let’s take a look at a logical sample variation:
5…h6 6.Bxf6 Bxf6 7.e3
Black forces White to commit with his bishop on g5. There are variations where White simply chooses to retreat to h4, but those are more complex and that’s why we don’t recommend it as one of the best openings for beginners. Instead, White simply captures on f6.
Plans for White:
After the bishop exchange, White plays e3. This is a very good move which sets up a strong c4-d4-e3 pawn chain, allowing a battery of light-squared bishop and queen on the b1-h7 diagonal.
White is getting ready to castle. His plans would include relocating the rook to c1 and playing e4 at the right moment, generating a strong central presence. This is a very good position for White to play because he has a space advantage and can get some activity going in the center with the e4 advance.
Plans for Black:
Black is slightly behind in development. However, he has the advantage of the bishop pair and can castle straight away. On the other hand, Black has a problematic bishop on c8, blocked in by its own e6-pawn. Black needs to figure out how to free it. One idea to play for with Black is with a well-timed c5-strike.
Chess Opening Traps in the Queen’s Gambit Declined
Finally, it is important to take a look at some of the most frequently occurring opening traps from the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Here are the most important ones:
Opening Trap #1:
Opening Trap #2:
Opening Trap #3:
The Queen’s Gambit Declined: One of the Best Chess Openings for Beginners
The Queen’s Gambit Declined is one of the best openings for beginners to try, especially if they don’t want to play e4 openings for one reason or another.
It is playable for both colors and can either lead to a slow, positional or a sharp tactical game depending on the choices made in the opening. It is always a good idea to go over grandmaster games played with the opening you are studying.
It is key to keep in mind that the opening is only one aspect of the game.
In order to be successful in chess, you need to understand middlegame positions, have solid endgame technique, be able to spot chess tactics and a lot more.
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