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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 and 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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  • The Center Game (1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. Qxd4 Nc6 4. Qe3) is very light on theory and is alright.
    – B.Swan
    Feb 28 at 17:09

8 Answers 8

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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, 2013 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. Jan 22, 2013 at 10:58
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The truth is, that all the openings have deep and complicated theory. Even the relatively "older" openings such as the Evans Gambit, Italian Game or Three Knights Game had their theory developed really deep in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. But luckily there are openings that are relatively sound. But they are rare nowadays, so by learning the basics of such openings you can go well against the opponents who didn't learn these openings.

What I use:

White

  1. Vienna Game
  2. Italian Game
  3. Three Knights Game 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3

The vast majority of your opponents after 1. e4 e5 would expect the Ruy Lopez, so many are not ready for the good old Italian or Three Knights. Of course, these openings are not as good for White as the Ruy Lopez and Black if they play 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 face the Russian game [Petrov's Defence, 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6].

Against the Sicilian I play 1. e4 c5 2. c3 [the Alapin Variation]. A sound and good variation that is not that complicated as the main lines of the Sicilian. Also it can often end up as the Advance Variation of the French Defense (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5). [1 e4 c5 2 c3 e6 3 d4 d5 4 e5 transposes to the position after 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 c3 in the French Defence, Advance Variation]

Against the French Defense I play the just mentioned above Advance Variation. This allows me to feel comfortable in both variations as they can be very much alike.

Against the Caro-Kann I play 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4. Panov's Attack. This 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.

Black

Against 1. e4 I always play the Sicilian Defence, Sveshnikov Variation [1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e5], though it is far from being "not deep" :)

Against d4 I like using the Volga gambit [the Benko Gambit, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5]. You sacrifice a pawn but get 2 open lines for your rooks and your queen. In my memory I cannot recall losing 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 the Caro-Kann, or the 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 the Vienna Game, Sveshnikov variation or Three Knights Game.

Good luck!

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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, 2013 at 6:42
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    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, 2013 at 13:44
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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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In my opinion, the Scotch Game is an opening for beginners who play as White. Indeed, it's an open game that permits the player to have two free bishops. The opening theory (I know it well) is simple. Moreover, there are several traps for Black. It's fun to play.

For Black, there is the 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, 2013 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, 2013 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, 2013 at 10:25
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    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". Jan 21, 2013 at 13:34
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    The Scotch Game also avoids the possibility of closed lines where you have to plan more strategy. If someone is just starting out, the different variations can be a lot to throw at them. With the Scotch, Black pretty much has to play exd4, which lets/helps White play naturally.
    – aschultz
    Apr 17, 2017 at 16:27
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I would suggest for White sticking with e4 games, and since you're already playing the Evan's Gambit, I would second the recommendation of adding adding the Scotch Game. Given you seem to like gambits already, you might also like the Scotch Gambit and the King's Bishop Gambit. You should play the Ruy Lopez at times as well. Don't be put off by the amount of theory there is for an opening though, unless you're a top rated player you really don't need theory as much as you just need games under your belt. All openings will have theory that you will eventually look into, but for now concentrate on open games that get very tactical to sharpen that aspect of your game. In all of these, you're working on centre control and rapid development of your pieces, which are good habits to develop.

If you want to limit the number of defences to learn, then Petroff's against 1. e4 and the Dutch against 1. d4 are both perfectly playable. But don't be afraid to play the Black Side of the openings you're learning (you'll have learned those lines anyway as you study the White side after all). If you want to side step lots of theory in the Ruy Lopez for a while you could play an offbeat line like Bird's Defence (3. ... Nd4), but eventually you'll want to explore more usual options.

At some point, after playing lots of games, you'll reach a point with an opening where you recognize you're generally reaching a point where things just aren't going your way, and that's the time to start looking at that particular opening more closely. You don't need to study every possible line though, just find the line you're tending to follow already and find the point where you're deviating from it and compare the "book move" to the one you normally make and try to work out why your move isn't the "book move" (what weakness does it create for you). That will build up your repertoire of theory based upon what lines you naturally gravitate to, which will make it easier to remember things.

Anyway, it's most likely that your opponents aren't going to know the openings all that deeply either when you're just starting out, so when you start thinking you want to spend a bunch of time learning a number of lines really deeply, my view is that you probably would find that time better spent concentrating on tactics, pawn end games, and memorizing the basic mating patterns first.

  • Jeff
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A "system" is an opening where you strive to put your pieces on the same squares almost regardless of what your opponent does. Systems aren't as dependent on move order as openings that aren't systems. Systems can also often be played more easily than other openings without learning a lot of theory.

I would recommend that beginning and intermediate players play systems and cut down on the amount of opening theory they have to know. Choose openings that require less branching. I would recommend players with lower ratings spend most of their time learning/practicing tactics, learning theoretical endgames, playing lots of slow games, analyzing their own games, and reading analysis of master-level games in order to learn middlegame concepts. Such players just need enough opening knowledge to get their games started. Follow general opening principles. As you get more experiences, you can learn more openings one at a time.

As White, I'd recommend learning one of: the Colle-Zukertort System, or the London System, or some other system with 1.d4. Or you could learn the King's Indian Attack. Playing 1.e4 is difficult for intermediate players, because you have to be prepared for 1...e5, 1...e6, 1...d5, 1...d6, 1...c5, 1...c6, 1...Nf6, and 1...g6, all of which are very common, and each one of those moves may lead to a lot of branching. Of course, if you don't mind learning as you lose, you could dive in and learn all of those moves by playing.

As Black, you need to steer the game into your territory. If you respond to 1.e4 with 1...e5, then you need to be prepared for the Italian, the Spanish, the Scotch, the King's Gambit, the Bishop's Opening, the Vienna, the Ponziani, among others. So, pick something other than 1...e5.

A good combination of openings to play as Black are: the Pirc and the King's Indian Defense, which often lead to similar play and middlegames. Then you'll be covered against 1.e4 and 1.d4. You might also transpose into one of these openings after 1.Nf3 or 1.c4.

But whatever you choose, steer things into your territory and minimize the amount of time you have to spend on the openings. For example, against 1.d4, you could specialize in the Budapest Defense.

Eventually, a good chess player will have to learn the classical 1.e4 e5 and 1.d4 d5 openings, and the Sicilian Defense, etc. but take it one step at a time. Good luck.

Caveat: take everything I say with a grain of salt (I'm not a very strong player).

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