I have seen a ton of questions on how to choose an opening repertoire, but I haven't really seen anything on once you choose an opening, are there specific variations that one should start off with that are easier than others. I will use the French Defense as an example. Every time I played the French Defense, I instinctively played 3.e5 (The Advanced Variation), but it was pointed out to me by stronger players that as a beginner, I should try to stay away from the Advanced Variation for now and stick to theMain line3.Nc3or The Exchange Variation3.exd5 exd5`. Is the above true regarding the French Defense? What variations of other openings are usually good for beginners to learn?

4 Answers 4


I would say that it almost does not matter. I think that anyone under 1700 USCF will get far more out of the study of the basics of the opening phase of the game and the general strategic ideas of the specific opening she or he has chosen. From a practical perspective it is too difficult to say what you are going to get 13 moves into an under 1600 USCF game to really dedicate too much time to an opening.

So the exact variation simply does not matter at the beginner level (assuming that is players under 1400 USCF). Notice in my terminology I consider a novice to be someone completely new to chess who has never played in a tournament and really only knows how the pieces move and the basic rules. I distinguish this from a beginner who knows a bit more about chess, may have played in a tournament, has a rating under 1400 USCF as mentioned before. I know these terms are generally synonymous but I think that it's important to distinguish between these two types of "beginners".

So my suggestion would be that at the beginner level one just shouldn't be too concerned about picking the exact variation but instead dedicate more time to learning about the general ideas of more openings by studying GM games from a variety of openings in addition to the openings you have chosen to play and keep your memorized book to a minimum.

Here are some suggestions on how to study the opening from Dan Heisman: http://www.chesscafe.com/text/heisman37.pdf

When a player first starts out to learn the openings, he gets the most efficient use of his time by learning:

  1. General opening goals and guidelines,
  2. A few main opening sequences (tabiyas), and
  3. How to avoid making the same mistakes over and over.
  • Thanks for the link. By your definition of novice, I must be an expert :)
    – xaisoft
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 19:31
  • 2
    Well, I consider novice someone who's just starting out, a beginner up to USCF 1400, Intermediate is probably up to about 1800 and from there is advanced. Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 19:33

it was pointed out to me by stronger players that as a beginner, I should try to stay away

I find such approach extremely boring and destructive. Are you playing 3.e5 and feel comfortable with it? Keep playing like that then! Don't get me wrong, it's ok if at some point you will feel the need to try another variation. That may happen because you played 3.e5 in 100 games and didn't achieve a desired result (a certain overall score), or didn't achieve a certain desired positional picture (pressure on kingside flank of black due to your advanced e5 pawn). This way you'll have a serious reason to consider alternatives, more serious than just "stronger players told me".

Your goal as beginner is to make progress in understanding the positions on the board, not to blindly learn some long variants which are being told to give you advantage.

  • Nice; I think this spells out a really healthy outlook on the matter.
    – ETD
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 9:00
  • While this reflects Nimzowitsch's attitude towards openings, I didn't bring this up as his quote, because it just feels natural to me. Playing the same opening variant (even if it's a less common one) over and over really starts giving a better understanding at some point. Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 9:41
  • 3.e5 just looks natural, but I was told by stronger players that I should play the main line or the exchange because the advanced is too advanced for a beginner, but I get your point, I am not too worried about long or short variations, I will just continue to just play it.
    – xaisoft
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 14:45

Well-I'm amazed at the advice you have had! If as White you play against the French defence, imho the Advance variation is a fine variation to use! This variation has been played many thousands of times by GrandMasters and is a good opening! I believe the theory for the Advance for White is less complicated than the mainline 3.Nc3 where you can quickly get mired in the very tricky Winawer variation-which I do not believe is suitable for beginner chess players! The Advance gives an interesting game for both sides.I find the Advance variation as White interesting to learn and play, and as a lower-rated player very suitable and I get enjoyable games with it! The Winawer however is fine for GM's (Bobby Fischer's favourite against the French defence) but imho not for beginners. The French exchange variation is imho borderline alright! I find it a dull variation to play and I never play it as White. As Black when White plays it against me I am prepared for a boring game & generally get one.

As for other openings you may want to decide if you like 1.e4 or 1.d4 or 1.c4. I like 1.e4 and my favourite opening is the Scotch as there is so much less theory than the Italian or Ruy Lopez and not many people play it. For 1.d4 many players use a system opening such as Colle-Zuckertort and this is well suited to beginners; check it out. 1.c4 is the English opening - I have even less experience with this than 1.d4.

In the main you need to decide what opening suits you and develop and study the principal variations from there. As a 1.e4 player I often get 1...c5 (Sicilian defence) played against me. There is a huge range of variations for Black in this opening-so to take Black out of some of the main variations I play 2.c3. This often unbalances Black who was hoping to play his pet Sicilian line and I am learning how to play this 2.c3 Alapin variation and it is very interesting. You need to find similar opening variations you are comfortable with.

Hope this helps-happy chess! :-)

  • Thanks for the answer. Most have told me that the advanced is not for beginners? Maybe it is not advanced to you :). I usually try to avoid the French anyway.
    – xaisoft
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 11:14
  • Well as 1.e4 is my main opening move I am very used to 1.e4 e6 and playing French as White & I definitely at the moment prefer the advanced variation. Coincidentally as Black vs 1.e4 my main move is 1...e6 and so I play French defence as Black. This is something I highly recommend-to play an opening with both colours-you learn the opening thoroughly, seeing it from both sides. Viva la French! Don't avoid it -embrace it if you will and you will get great enjoyment from your French games-mais, chacun a son gout! :-)
    – rpd
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 19:07

I'd say, play the variations that best suit your temperament. 3. e5 is a tough, fighting variation that will likely lead to victory for one side or the other. On the other hand, the exchange variation is an "easier" variation more likely to lead to a draw (although White does retain the advantage of the first move).

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