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A Beginner's Garden of Chess Openings

A guide by David A. Wheeler.

The first moves of a chess game are termed the "opening" or "opening moves". A good opening will provide better protection of the King, control over an area of the board (particularly the center), greater mobility for pieces, and possibly opportunities to capture opposing pawns and pieces.

The possible opening moves of chess have been extensively studied for hundreds of years, and many of these sequences have been given names to simplify discussion of a game.

This document briefly lists a few of the more well-known chess openings, so that when you see the first few moves you can at least say "Ah! That's the X!", where X is some well-known opening. Many books and encyclopedias give "how to play" information on each opening; here, we'll concentrate on at least knowing some common approaches to starting chess. This is a small subset of well-known openings; many others are not covered here. Before you play a particular opening, you'd be wise to study it in more depth than given here. Pictures show the opening position; selecting the picture will show the opening moves animated one move at a time if you have a PGN viewer installed.

In all openings there is a struggle for key territory, in particular the center squares, and an effort to deploy pieces and pawns in useful positions. Some are direct, while others are more subtle and indirect approaches toward these goals.

There are three groups of openings covered here:

  1. White can start by moving his King's pawn 2 spaces, i.e. playing "e4". This move has many strengths - it immediately works on controlling the center, and it frees two pieces (the Queen and a Bishop). This is a popular first move, leaving Black with two options:
    1. Black may choose to mirror White's move and reply with "e5" for the same reasons, leading to openings such as the Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano (including the Evans Gambit variant), and King's Gambit.
    2. Black can also try something other than mirroring White's "e4" move, leading to openings such as the Sicilian Defense, French Defense, Caro-Kann, Center Counter, and Pirc/Modern.
  2. White can start by moving the Queen's pawn to "d4". This leads to openings such as the Queen's Gambit, King's Indian Defense, Nimzo-Indian, Bogo-Indian, and Queen's Indian Defense, and Dutch Defense.
  3. White can start with some other move than "e4" or "d4". One example is the English Opening.



 Here's a video on how each piece can move.

How to play Chess

The Pieces


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Here's a video on how each piece can move.