I decided to start learning some opening theory, so far I have only played online and studied a couple of end games. Seems that a correct approach might be to chose one opening for white and two for black (answers to e4 and d4), and stick to those three openings for a while, since that is a fairly low number so you can keep up with the variations with some work, and also large enough so you can use your preparation in a good amount of games.

So the question would be, what do you think is easier to start with, as a first timer learning any theory, e4 or d4? (I usually prefer d4 for no particular reason). And which defenses would you start with against those two moves as black.

  • 1
    Are you a beginner or an intermediate player(I assume that you're not an expert or master, since the question would then be very strange)? If you're a beginner or somewhere between beginner and intermediate player, you shouldn't focus too much on specific opening theory, and rather play according to the basic opening principles. If you're an intermediate player you could study some theory, but try not to get too bogged down in concrete variations, and rather try to learn the basic ideas of the openings you intend to study.
    – Scounged
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 18:03

5 Answers 5


They say that beginners should learn 1. e4 as White first, and the "natural" response 1... e5 as Black. But I think it's a matter of personal taste.

Usually for beginners the easiest openings are those that simply stick to the basic principles: pieces development, occupation of the center, King safety, tempo.

In my opinion, at this stage you should avoid openings having somewhat "complicated" strategic ideas, such as 1) "control of the center without occupying it", or 2) "induce pawn advances and center occupation in order to attack it later", or also 3) "lose tempo to gain positional compensation". To me, it's important to grasp the basic principles before you go and break them, even if the resulting openings are sound.

This rules out most of the Indian Defences against 1. d4, as they fall in both categories 1 and 2. Same goes for the Sicilian against 1. e4 as its main purpose is to avoid White having an e4 d4 pawn duo in the center, thus falling into category 1 (center control without occupation). Many other openings fall into these categories and should be avoided, such as the Scandinavian Defence (cat. 3), the Alekhine Defence (2), the English (1), the Dutch (1), and all the "unusual" openings for Black and White (Bird Opening, Indian Attack, Lasker Opening, etc.).

Note that this doesn't mean the opening I just mentioned are bad: they are sound, and some of them are really a lethal weapon if you can handle them well (I'm thinking about the Sicilian and most of the Indian Defences, for example). But you should first try the "most basic" ones, before you go and dig deep into these.


To me, the most basic openings to study as a beginner are the "symmetric" openings, thus 1. e4 e5 and 1. d4 d5, as they stick to the basic principles of the openings.

On 1. e4 e5 I recommend

  • Italian Game, classical variation 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5
  • Italian Game, Two Knight Defence 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6
  • Four Knights Game 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6
  • Ruy Lopez 2. Nf3 Kc6 3. Bb5

On 1. d4 d5:

  • Queen's Gambit Declined 2. c4 e6
  • Slav Defence 2. c4 c6

Of course if you are a beginner you shouldn't go too deep into these lines, but just have an overall grasp of the resulting positions and the ideas behind them.

  • This have been extremely helpful. Now I was wondering if you know any free software that allows you to create your own "opening book", were you save the lines you have learnt. Something that looks like a tree, were each branch is a line in response to a certain movement.
    – Smurf
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 14:08
  • 1
    I usually recommend SCID... it doesn't allow you to "see" a graphical tree, but you can write your own opening database and keep track of it :) maybe there are other tools as well, but I know very little in this field ^^" Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 11:52

For a beginner, the goal of the opening is simply to avoid losing material and blundering; don't stress playing a perfect opening just yet. However, here are some general (and not at all exhaustive) distinctions between the openings:

  1. e4

    • Often leads to open games

    • Bishops are slightly more valuable, as they have more space on the board to play

    • Through the midgame towards the endgame, entire files may be left open - because of this, Rook positioning is key and often can be make or break

    • Openings to study: Ruy Lopez, Sicilian (although I'd avoid playing the Sicilian as a beginner)

  2. d4

    • Often leads to more closed games

    • Bishops and Rooks are relatively immobile throughout the midgames, and serve passive (but still important!) roles

    • Knights form the basis for strong attacks and exerting control in the center of the board

    • Openings to study: Queen's Gambit, Indian Defenses (fianchettoed bishop)

Ultimately, you should decide which you prefer better. However, I personally find 1. e4 to be a simpler opening to play, with less chances for blundering. Hope this helps!


It depends on what kind of chess player you are, whether you like open more tactical positions, or rather closed positional play. So can't give a general advise what you should learn.

You could take a look at typical positions of different openings around move 10-15 and see what kind of position you like best.

In the end you cannot go wrong with e4 or d4 and any major opening. If you want to become serious with chess, avoid obscure gambit lines and other strange openings like 1. g4... Learn an opening with the aim of fighting for an advantage, not with the aim of avoiding theory or surprising your opponent with a suspicious side line.

Not to be overwhelmed by theory, when learning any opening, I recommend to start with the main line first and look at side lines later or when you encounter them in play. Make sure not only to learn the moves by heart but also to understand what they do and also what typical plans or motifs are in the particular opening you learn.


It's true that 1. e4 and 1. d4 are the two most common opening moves by White, and there is nothing wrong with playing one of them. The other answers provide good explanations on which one might suit your playing style better, and what common openings they will lead to.

However, if you have a limited amount of time to study openings and want to pick one up that will serve you well at the beginner levels, I would suggest checking out the Bird's Opening, characterized by 1. f4.

Now, 1. f4 is less popular than 1. e4, 1. d4, or even 1. c4 among top players, and there are concrete reasons for this, some of which are discussed in this question. However, at the beginner level these nuanced considerations tend not to matter too much. On the other hand, adopting a less common opening has its advantages when you're just getting started, namely:

  1. You have fewer variations to learn, and
  2. Your opponent is more likely to be unfamiliar with the opening and make early mistakes.

After 1. f4, you will likely face one of two main variations:

If Black response 1. ...d5, your goal will be to establish control over the e5 square and probably launch an attack on your opponent's kingside.

[FEN ""]
1. f4 d5 

The other common response by Black is 1. ...e5, known as From's Gambit, which can lead to some very complex and dangerous tactical situations. The best way to prepare for this response is to study some concrete lines coming out of this variation and identify common tactical pitfalls.

[FEN ""]
1. f4 e5

Now, I want to caution that as your play improves and - more to the point - as you start to play tougher opponents, at some point you'll want to switch to a more standard opening, since as the level of play improves those "nuances" I mentioned earlier start to become more relevant. However, I would suggest trying out the Bird if:

  1. You don't want to commit the time to learn all the major variations to a more common opening
  2. You're not afraid of getting involved in sharp, tactical lines, and
  3. You're prepared to learn a more common opening later on as your level of play improves.

I suggest two openings for white and black which I find simple and easy to study. Ruy Lopez as white

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 

and Caro-Kann as black

[FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.e4 c6 2. d4 d5

Caro-Kann may sound difficult but it has easy patterns to learn because you can always answer white's second move with 2.. d5.

  • Welcome to Chess SE! This answer isn't complete without an answer to 1. d4.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 13:09
  • @Glorfindel Thank you for welcoming. Yeah it's incomplete and I'm surprised for being 1700 rated without knowing any good theory for black with 1. d4. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 13:23
  • 1
    What if white plays 1 d4 or if black responds to 1. e4 B with anything other than e5 or c6? Also you don't explain why a beginner should learn these two openings. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 13:28

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