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I am at the point where I want to learn some simple openings for White and Black. By simple, I mean, openings that do not have a deep theory and don't take a lot of moves to get into. Currently, I have been playing the Evans Gambit, Smith-Morra Gambit whenever I get a chance. I have heard that the Colle System and London System are good beginner openings (I am confused by the word "system" here, are these actual openings?), so if anyone can elaborate on this, that would be helpful. If I don't get a chance to play the Evans Gambit or Smith-Morra Gambit, I just play to the Opening Principles.

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6 Answers

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There aren't really any good openings without theory, but that doesn't matter -- you don't have to know the theory.

As white, I think you should play 1.e4. The Morra and Evans gambits seem fine to me at low levels, although the latter can be avoided. If 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6, you will play against the opening I recommend you to use as black below. The game is likely to be quite equal for a while and the best player will win. Against 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6, there are a lot of gambits to play along the lines of 4.d4 or 4.0-0, 5.d4 that may be interesting.

Against the French and Caro-Kann you can get experience with isolated queen's pawn positions, more or less the most important of open positions at all levels. Isolated queen's pawn positions are tactical and show up in lots of openings. Play 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 and 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.c4, and develop quickly (knights first, castle short, etc).

As black, play classically -- answer 1.e4 with 1...e5, and 1.d4 with 1...d5. Against 1.Nf3 and 1.c4 and the like you can usually play 1...e6 and 2...d5 to get something similar to your 1.d4 lines. The idea of the classical openings is to get a good foothold in the center, trying to get an equal game first and worry about getting a better position later.

Against 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3, why not the Petroff 2...Nf6. Black doesn't have many problems in the lines after 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5, and can try to keep his knight actively placed on e4.

Against 1.d4 d5 2.c4, play 2...e6. The goal is to stay strong in the center and develop, e.g. by Nf6, Be7, 0-0, Nbd7, b6, Bb7.

There are of course many many more lines, but I won't put more in a single answer to a really broad question...

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With 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6, I usually go for the Fried Liver Attack which works most of the time. –  xaisoft Jan 21 '13 at 15:19
Yes (you mean the line 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5?! 6.Nxf7!?). The reason I didn't recommend it is that after the most popular 5...Na5, it is black who has sacrificed a pawn getting active play in return. It makes for a somewhat inconsistent repertoire if you're sometimes playing a gambit and sometimes defending against one depending on whether your opponent chooses 3...Bc5 or 3...Nf6. –  RemcoGerlich Jan 22 '13 at 10:58
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  1. d4 and 2. Nf3 as White, and 1...c6 then 2...d5 as Black, comprise about the simplest system I can think of
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Can you elaborate on these openings? If you are referring to 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3, what opening is this or what opening does it normally lead to? and I am also assuming you are referring to 1. e5 c6 (caro-kann) and 1. d4 d5 or 1. e4 d5 (Scandavian) in your other examples? –  xaisoft Jan 20 '13 at 6:42
1. d4 and 2. Nf3 can be followed up with e3 or g3, and then development of the KB, followed by Kingside castling. This is quite solid and you don't need to know any theory, but the former would essentially be the Colle, and the latter a Kings Indian Attack. As for 1...c6 and then 2...d5 you are correct about the Caro-Kann but notice I did not mention 1...d5 (especially the decidedly UN-solid Scandinavian after 1. e4 d5), but rather 2...d5 as a follow up to 1...c6 -- if White plays in typical 1. d4 fashion this may then become a Slav Defense. –  user76 Jan 20 '13 at 13:44
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In my opinion, the Scotch Game is an opening for beginners who play as White. Indeed, it's opened game that permits to player having two bishops free easily. Theory of this opening I know well is simple. Moreover, there are several traps for Black it's fun to play.

For Black, there is Sicilian Najdorf that is not hard to learn for beginners. It's strong against 1.e4 in general. Theory of this defense is a little bit harder than the Scotch Game.

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I don't think that Najdorf falls into "simple" opening category. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 white has 6.Bg5 which leads to very complicated positions, often not very intuitive ones, black needs to know theory pretty well. 6.Be3 and 6.f3 usually end up opposite side castles, very tactical, and one needs to know the theory too. Other moves 6.Bc4, 6.Be2, 6.f4, 6.a4 can be more positional, but one would still need study theory here too to know the common plans. –  Akavall Jan 19 '13 at 20:21
I will agree with you on the Scotch Game, but as @Akavall pointed out, I always hear that the Sicilian in general is complex in theory. –  xaisoft Jan 20 '13 at 6:34
I practice Sicilian Najdorf (I don't speak about Sicilian) for many years and I find games are very similar against beginners. That's why I said it's not hard to learn. –  Zistoloen Jan 20 '13 at 10:25
+1 as for the Sicilian Najdorf NOT falling into the category of "some simple openings for ... Black". Zistoloen's opinion is apparently skewed by experience with it "for many years". I have played the "Cunningham" 3...Be7 defense against the King's Gambit (1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3) for many years, and though I am exceedingly comfortable with it, I would never describe it as simple –  user76 Jan 20 '13 at 13:46
Beginners can't even play the Najdorf, as most of their opponents won't play 2.Nf3 and 3.d4. He's especially asking for openings that "don't take a lot of moves to get into". –  RemcoGerlich Jan 21 '13 at 13:34
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You could learn the hedgehog system for black, and the King's Indian attack as white.

Both systems/setups are quite easy to learn, and are also generally easy to reach, regardless of what your opponent does. Although they both have a decent amount of opening theory, it is nowhere close to the volume of opening theory in say, Sicilians or Queen's Gambits. But here's why they're helpful to you. The move order to reach these setups is generally very flexible, so you don't have to worry too much about subtleties in their move order, which you may have to in other openings.

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Usually, an opening can be considered "difficult" to learn if it has many variations, if its branches are very deep, and if it hides many tactical complications that can lead to unseen "traps".

Colle System and London System are pretty good for beginners since they don't have none of the above.

The drawback is that they don't put pressure on Black, that can easily reach equality (especially against the Colle). Of course if your only objective is to reach a playable position after the opening, these will do the work.

But as Black you will have less options. You'll have to learn at least 2 "simple" responses to 1. e4 and 1. d4 (and eventually also to 1. c4 and 1. Nf3). And usually "simple" responses are a little bit passive and slightly less effective than popular ones.

Against 1. e4 you can try the Scandinavian or the Philidor. They are probably the most popular Defenses among "simple" ones. You won't have to study plenty of books to master these Defenses.

Against 1. d4 you can try the Old Indian or the Old Benoni (sometimes called also "Czech Benoni"). They are both kinda passive, but they are solid and give perfectly playable positions.

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The truth is, that all the openings have deep and complicated theory. Even the relatively "elder" openings such as Evans gambit, Italian game or 2 Knights Defense used to have their theory to be developed real deep in 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. But luckily there are openings that are relatively sound, but they are rare nowadays so by learning basics of such openings you can go well against the opponents who didn't learn these opening.

What I use:


  1. Vienna Game
  2. Italian Game
  3. 2 Knights defence

The vast majority of your opponents after 1. e4 e5 would expect Ruy Lopez, so many are not ready to old good Italian or 2 Knights. Of course these openings are not as good for white as Ruy Lopez and Black if plays correctly can have equal chances, but the point is that few people actually know how to play in these openings and I quite often managed to achieve superior positions against much stronger players than I am.

Also when playing 1. e4 you of course should be ready to Russian game.

Against Sicilian I play 1. e4 c5 2. c3. A sound and good variation that is not that complicated as the main lines of Sicilian. Also it can often end up as a classical variation of French defense (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5).

Against French defense I play just mentioned above classical variation. This allows me to feel comfortable in both variations as they can be very much alike.

Against Karo-Kann I play 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. ed cd 4. c4. Panov's Attack. Gives white a strong and active position and it is you and not your opponent who chooses the variation, so you don't have to study anything but this variation.


Against 1. e4 I always play Sveshnikov variation, though it is far from being "not deep" :)

Against d4 I like using Volga gambit, you sacrifice a pawn but get 2 open lines for your rocks and your queen. In my memory I cannot recall loosing a single game in this variation except when I played against IMs and GMs.

Against c4 I play as was advised above the hedgehog system. Which is also far from being "not deep" :)

So to make a conclusion, I would suggest you to choose variations that you can enforce (such as Panov's Attack in Karo Kann, or Vienna Game after 1.e4 e5). When doing so you limit the number of variations you should learn and you can concentrate on learning them deeply. This will give you a huge advantage over an unprepared opponent especially when an opening is full of tactical tricks and traps such as Vienna Game, Sveshnikov variation or 2 Knights Defense.

Good luck!

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