As stated in the title, I have always wondered whether it is better to move a pawn or knight first. Which one makes you generally more likely to win?

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The question seems to imply that the very first move is directly influencing one's chances to win. This is not the case, the first move alone does not do anything in terms of improving or worsening your chances, as long as you follow correct opening principles. So either a Pawn (i.e. 1.d4) or a Knight (i.e. 1.Nf3) is O.K. in my view. A better question would have been, IMHO, which Knight or Pawn move would be better according to general opening principles? (i.e. 1.Nf3 vs 1.Na3, or 1.e4 vs 1.h4).

You can see statistics at a site like this one.

There are four pawn moves (1. d4, 1. e4, 1. c4, 1. g3) and one knight move (1. Nf3) that form a top tier of first move choices.

The other twelve pawn moves and three knight moves vary in terms of viability.

  • On the other hand, if you are a beginner (as the question suggests), the first move has very little influence on the outcome since games are typically decided by simple tactics not positional considerations (for which the opening/1st move could play a role). – user1583209 Nov 10 at 7:47
  • Still it is recommended for your chess development to stick with the more popular/better moves mentioned in this answer. – user1583209 Nov 10 at 7:49
  • Also looking at the statistics after the first move is a bit meaningless because of transpositions, e.g. you can get to the same position with different move orders. – user1583209 Nov 10 at 7:53
  • 1
    For "fourteen" read "twelve". – bof Nov 10 at 11:54
  • Thank you for the help with counting. – Cleveland Nov 10 at 16:23

Neither is better. It's mostly a matter of opinion. However, there are certain themes that a lot of the commonly played moves all have in common. They try to get the center, to develop their pieces to useful squares, and often king-safety is achieved by castling either king-side or queen-side.

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