I am new to chess and I am very confused by all the opening choices. What openings can I adopt for tournament play that require minimal study time?

  • 3
    Only you can tell which style you prefer. Best way to find out is to try out everything [that looks like you could like it, if you want to invest less time] and then make up your mind. – Annatar May 25 '18 at 6:12

If you are new to chess, you should not be concerned with openings at all.

Several reasons for this:

  • As a beginner player you are much more likely to lose a game because you blunder a piece or because of some other simple tactics than because of lack of opening knowledge.
  • It is essential to have a decent understanding of chess before you start studying openings. This will allow you to learn an opening together with its typical plans (and not just learning moves by heart.) If you do this, you will know how to punish an incorrect move of your opponent and also how to continue the game in the middle game (when you are on your own). Contrary, if you just learn moves by heart you will not know what to do if your opponent plays a move that is not in your memory.
  • You have not developed a style yet, so would not be sure which opening suites you best.

What should you be doing now?

Focus on tactics, i.e. solve tactics puzzles. First and foremost avoid blundering pieces in one move. When solving tactics puzzles make sure that you always recognize the pattern(s) that are used in the puzzle.

Get a feel for how the pieces move. I am sure you know how they move, but you need to be able to quickly assess a position, seeing what is attacked, where pieces can move, etc, without having to consciously think about each and every move. This is also sometimes called "board vision" and it will improve as you play or train chess.

Learn some basic general principles like "piece activity, king safety, central squares control, ...". Reading/watching annotated/commented games and recognizing these principles in the games of master players will help you a lot.

Studying basic endgames can be instructive as well.

  • 2
    While it is true that just learning moves by heart is not helpful, some early broad look at what to do in the beginning of a game does not hurt (as long as you don't overdo it). Gradually following the trail of the masters (random->open->semi-open->closed->hypermodern) is a sound idea. – Annatar May 25 '18 at 12:52
  • 1
    While I agree that beginners should avoid studying specific openings, I think that beginners should learn about the basic principles of opening play, such as fighting for central control, piece development and king safety. Based on your answer as it's formulated right now it's not entirely clear to me whether you agree with this opinion or not. – Scounged May 25 '18 at 12:54
  • @Scounged: I agree (and it is also in my answer). – user1583209 May 25 '18 at 13:07
  • @user1583209 Ah ok. Are you referring to the paragraph about basic general principles? – Scounged May 25 '18 at 15:17
  • @Scounged: Yes. – user1583209 May 26 '18 at 7:48

"The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings", by Reuben Fine might help you. If you understand the ideas you don't need to memorize a bunch of variations.


I suggest the Stonewall. The first 10 moves are the same in almost every opening. The general middle game plans are easy to learn. Since it is such a closed opening, the chance of you leaving a piece en prise is very low.

  • 2
    Playing 10 moves on auto-pilot (while thinking that everything is safe because the opening is closed, and thus not properly paying attention to what the opponent does) is a good way to already lose the game in the opening phase though. – Annatar Jun 4 '18 at 7:23
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    Not saying that the Stonewall is bad, but it can be a trap for beginners if they fall into that autopilot mindset (plus it will hurt their long-term progress if they always play the same "lazy" setup). – Annatar Jun 4 '18 at 7:24
  • I didn't suggest to play the opening on autopilot nor to always play with this lazy setup. It is a safe opening that will get you to a playable middle game. The easy to learn is what the OP asked, and I answered that question. Although I agree with both statements, but it's a good opening for beginners and, after spending some time studying the middle game, allow them to study an opening,. that they will feel comfortable playing, when they grasp the game better. – Fred Knight Jun 6 '18 at 0:51
  • Beginners should not be studying any opening, Stonewall or otherwise. – foiwofjwej Jun 10 '18 at 18:31
  • 3
    The beginner would be better advised to just play 1.e4 and develop pieces, and spend their time on middlegame concepts anyway. The first thing you should learn in chess is active piece play and open positions, and you will not get that in the stonewall. Novices should also learn not to put pieces en prise by actual vigilance, not by playing an opening so closed and stodgy that there is little scope for them to do anything with their pieces, good or bad. – foiwofjwej Jun 11 '18 at 8:43

Short answer: the Ruy Lopez, shown in the last of this answer's five diagrams, suits your requirements.

A longer answer follows.

Study helps all openings as far as I know, so I can only tell you which openings might want comparatively more or less study.

The London System, which seldom occurs in my games (so I do not personally know a lot about it), has the reputation of wanting comparatively little study.

[fen ""]
[startflipped "0"]
[startply "5"]
[title "London System"]

1.d4 Nf6 (1...d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4) 2.Nf3 e6. 3.Bf4

The King's Gambit would not be my first recommendation to you (the Ruy Lopez, discussed later, is better), but attempting the King's Gambit, at least occasionally, is surprisingly instructive. I mention it here for this reason. The King's Gambit cannot be competently played without any study at all, but with moderate study becomes dangerous and double-edged without being overly formulaic. (Not a few masters have regrettably concluded that the King's Gambit is probably slightly unsound, but this does not necessarily make the King's Gambit a poor opening in submaster play. Anyway, even masters sometimes play it.)

[fen ""]
[startflipped "0"]
[startply "3"]
[title "King's Gambit"]

1.e4 e5 2.f4

If you try for the King's Gambit or for a more sober king's-pawn opening, but 1.e4 c5 happens, then you can steer into the Closed Sicilian with 2.Nc6, which is a quite different kind of game than the King's Gambit but is playable without excessive study.

[fen ""]
[startflipped "0"]
[startply "3"]
[title "Closed Sicilian"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3

(Like many players, I usually prefer to play the other knight, 2.Nf3, in Sicilian games, but playing the other knight leads to just the sort of game you wish to avoid.)

If you try for the King's Gambit or for a more sober king's-pawn opening, but 1.e4 e6 happens, then you may be in some trouble. That is called the French Defense and, as far as I know, most lines that follow from it reward study. However, the Exchange Variation, diagrammed below, might be reasonable for you to attempt.

[fen ""]
[startflipped "0"]
[startply "5"]
[title "Exchange French"]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 (3.Nc3)

Probably a little better than the 3.exd5 of the above diagram, yet still not extremely theoretical, is 3.Nc3, which leads to a different kind of game.

The King's Gambit is interesting as far as it goes, but even given 1.e4 e5 most players I know come to prefer less speculative openings. Arguably the most basic, principled such opening is the Ruy Lopez. At the master level, the Ruy Lopez greatly rewards study, but at submaster levels the Ruy Lopez is an inherently sound opening in which straightforward play usually leads to interesting games.

[fen ""]
[startflipped "0"]
[startply "5"]
[title "Ruy Lopez"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5

Much better chess players than I am prefer openings I have not even mentioned; so, to be clear, I make no recommendation for or against any of the above openings to the general player. The above openings are recommended to you because you state that you prefer to minimize study time.

I will say this, though. Unfortunately for you, the nature of chess is that, even for a nonmaster, a moderate quantity of opening study goes a long way. Opening study isn't everything, but a moderate quantity of opening study complements almost everything else a chess player tries to do, from midgame tactics to endgame targets. (Other answers recommend that you focus on tactics now and worry about openings a little later in your chess career. Those other answers are not wrong, but you seem to feel that you cannot even reach the tactical stage of a game of chess until you have chosen an opening! You are not wrong, either, so your question is a reasonable one in my view.) If someday you decide that you have more time and you decide to study openings a little more, why, many nonmasters find such study interesting. You might try it someday, at your discretion.

Meanwhile, if you want a single anti-studying recommendation, then, in light of your stated requirements, go for the Ruy Lopez. If Lopez does not suit, and if you feel certain that you will never change your mind regarding study, then give the London a try. Good luck.

  • Opening study is completely unnecessary below around 1600. Tactics, endgames, and basic positional concepts are all that is needed for a beginner. – foiwofjwej Jun 10 '18 at 18:34
  • FYI, Ruy Lopez and Sicilian are the openings with the most theory. They are at the other extreme of what OP is asking for. – Cyriac Antony Nov 30 '18 at 12:20
  • @CyriacAntony, your point is well taken. You are not wrong about the Sicilian and the Ruy Lopez. However, if OP has the White men, then he can avoid the Sicilian only by avoiding 1. e4, for he does not control the Black men. If 1. e4 c5 occurs, then my advice tells him how to proceed. Regarding the Ruy Lopez, I would say that that opening is freighted with theory only at higher ratings. At lower ratings, the Ruy Lopez plays nicely without theory. This would be my experience, at any rate. Thanks for the comment. – thb Dec 1 '18 at 8:23
  • @foiwofjwej: below around FIDE 1600? I wholly disagree. You're off by 1000 points. Simple opening study is interesting and profitable all the way down to FIDE 600 or so. If you doubt me, then next time you encounter a young player whose strength is 600 to 800 or so, try teaching the first three or four moves of some common openings. See how they react. They like it. Moreover, their play profits. – thb Dec 1 '18 at 9:34
  • @thb, Your statement that Ruy Lopez is freighted with theory only at higher rating is a new info to me (I don't have much experience with Ruy Lopez). Against Sicilian your advice makes sense for a beginner. Too bad we don't know what someone means when saying he is new to chess - absolute beginner or a humble casual player. – Cyriac Antony Dec 3 '18 at 15:31

As a beginner, you shouldn't be studying specific openings, and you absolutely should not be trying to memorize opening moves. Until you reach 1600 or so, you only need to follow basic opening principles.

  • Move your king or queen's pawn to let your bishops out.
  • Develop your knights and bishops (i.e. move them off their starting squares) - the general rule of thumb is knights before bishops, and kingside pieces first so you can castle quickly.
  • Don't move a piece twice unless to make a capture, and don't send your pieces off on an adventure while others are still on their starting squares.
  • Castle your king to safety within the first 10 moves.
  • Don't waste time moving side pawns.
  • Don't bring the queen or rooks out too early.
  • Pay attention to what your opponent does - you may need to break the above rules in order to respond to a threat. Players of all levels get into trouble playing the opening on auto-pilot.

Lists of opening guidelines usually also say "Control the centre", but this is actually a fairly complex subject for someone new to chess to understand. All you need to know is that moving at least one of your centre pawns 2 squares is usually good, both is great if you can get away with it, and your knights and bishops can easily be moved onto squares where they "attack" the centre.

Obviously, at higher levels, opening play is more complex than this, but you need to realise that, at low levels of chess, how you play the opening is not massively important. Games will be decided by tactics and blunders, usually very simple ones. If you play against other novices, they will not know openings either.

What you should really be studying is (in order of importance) tactics, endgames, and positional principles. If you focus on this, and don't worry about the opening beyond the general guidelines above, you will see much more improvement than if you waste your time studying openings. It really does not matter how you start a game if it ends on move 15 when you drop a piece or overlook a simple checkmate. New players blame this on the opening, when in fact it has nothing to do with the opening and everything to do with tactics and elementary blunder checking.

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