Early-game Principles

I am a novice player who is trying to brush up on the core principles for successful chess.

Instead of focusing on specific openings in the beginnings of a game, I am trying to play to certain principles, namely:

• Control of the centre by a combination of pawn and minor pieces.
• Early development of minor pieces
• Not losing momentum, or hindering development, by having to move the same piece twice.

Specfic Problem: I am currently having trouble with tripping over myself by moving pieces in the way of each other so that I end up not adequately defending pieces, or defending pieces come under attack. I often lose a pawn in the center which I was trying to defend, i.e. I failed in taking a square I wished to hold (d4, e4). This tends to happen by a pawn being taken and then the attacker pawn is defended by another pawn, so that my developed minor pieces can't retake without losing material in the exchange. So I think I might be pushing forward too early with my pawns. (I usually move e4, then some variation of knights, then bishop. I also don't know where to place my bishops (the only places I know for tactical/strategic advantage are pinning an opponent's minor piece against queen or king, or to aim them at the opponents weakest square (f2, f7).

General questions: Are there any other early-game principles? What order do you generally develop? How many turns does it take you to make a push for the centre? What squares do you move your minor pieces to for strategic or tactical opportunity?

• Welcome to the site. Do you have an example or two that you could share of things going wrong as you described in your specific problem? Seeing exactly how things unfold might help others provide advice.
– ETD
Sep 13 '12 at 2:44
• I think you have a great question (and you are on the right path), but it is a bit open ended very difficult to answer in this limited space. If you want a set of simplified / humorous guidelines aimed at beginners, my brother threw this list together a while back, which may be helpful since he often goes into the rationale behind each statement. Sep 13 '12 at 14:07

You can probably benefit greatly by improving your tactical calculation. Doing some exercises on chesstempo.com will help you get used to calculating out those exchanges. What you are describing seems like a tactical issue and generally can't be addressed using strategic ideas.

That said, a good way to avoid those difficulties may be to specialize in some less complicated openings until you get comfortable with the tactics that appear in the opening. Maybe the London System (`1. d4` ... `2. Nf3` ... `3. Bf4`) for white and the Center Counter Defense for black (`1. e4 d5`). Both have some traps, but there are less to deal with.

Personally, those are the two openings I liked to use to get "used" to chess without having to really deal with the openings much. Especially if you are a more strategic, positional player, these two openings should feel pretty natural.

• This video helped me alot. youtube.com/watch?v=WtBMFWuwv1E. Sep 15 '12 at 1:19
• Have just won some really good games with an agressive attack off a solid base with the London System. Thanks. Sep 15 '12 at 1:20

Aron Nimzowitsch's book My System has more early game principles which give excellent guidance. Two important ones which would help you fix your problems are:

• Over protection. If you over protect your central pawns then you aren't going to lose them

• Prophylaxis. This means trying to anticipate your opponent's plans and good moves and trying to prevent them. This starts by asking yourself after every move of your opponent "Why did he do that?" It is an important step to becoming a better player.