In the middle and the end of a chess game, there are visible consequences to almost every move you can make, there are more constraints limiting what is logical to move, and it is fairly straightforward to see what you did wrong when you analyze the game.

At the beginning of the game, it seems like there is a tremendous number of possible ways a game could progress--and not very many of the moves have any immediately tangible consequences. Because of this, I usually have no idea what I should do in the beginning of a game.

Are there any things I should be thinking about at the beginning? Up to date, I've just been moving pieces haphazardly until what I need to do becomes obvious.

  • 2
    How strong a chessplayer are you? The answers will probably be different depending on your strength (i.e. just develop vs develop with a goal in mind vs learn theory)
    – Andrew
    May 1, 2012 at 21:57

6 Answers 6


There are a few regular things you should fight for out of the opening

  • Control of the center
  • Development of pieces
  • Early castle
  • Space

So basically you want to get as many pieces out as quickly as possible, while attempting to control the center (the four middle squares and to a lesser extent the next ring of 12 squares). While not all opening strategies revolve strictly around these principles, it is found in the majority of games and especially good rules to play by when starting out.

EDIT: Keep in mind these are not all rigid rules. I would also like to respectfully disagree with Tony. When starting out, memorizing openings is the very last thing you want to do. Feel free to look through an openings book (The first, and very amazing, book on openings that I read) or database. However do not seek just to memorize and spit out moves until you reach a position you haven't actually thought about.

  • It's easier to survive to the middle game if you get past the 3rd move without getting sideways. That's why I recommend some memorization. We don't want beginning players to have to figure out the right response to 1. e4 e4 2. Nc3 over the board, do we?
    – Tony Ennis
    May 1, 2012 at 22:28
  • 4
    I believe it would be much more beneficial to a chess player to teach them principles and yes, figure it out over the board, then just give them a book move to memorize. What happens when they play a book move in your example, for instance 2... Bc5 and white replies 3 f4? Do you give them another move to memorize, and another and so on? Those positions can be extremely complicated but that doesn't mean a beginner should plan to memorize. I started out knowing absolutely no opening (still not my strength), and it laid a solid foundation for me to understand rather than imitate.
    – JaredDef
    May 1, 2012 at 22:35
  • I made it clear he should take the time to understand the moves. If he doesn't spend a few hours doing some basic homework he's going to lose a lot of games to people who do. I don't think that's terrible advice.
    – Tony Ennis
    May 1, 2012 at 23:58

Agree with @JaredDef's answer which covers the big ideas. Some more specific opening strategies for beginners can be found here:

  1. make your first move with the pawn in front of either your King or Queen
  2. make good developing moves, and generally develop your Knights before your Bishops
  3. try not to move the same piece twice in the opening
  4. your King's safety is crucial; castle early if you can
  5. don't advance more than one or two pawns in the chess opening, and definitely not a pawns in front of your castled King
  6. when you develop your pieces, try to make moves which threaten something
  7. don't bring your Queen out early

Memorize three openings to several moves. I recommend, as white, one opening, probably king-pawn opening. Then memorize two openings as black so you can react your opponent's K- or Q- pawn openings.

For example, I prefer a King's Indian Defense to 1. d4, and the Caro-Kann Defence to 1. e4.

When playing white, I play a Queen's Gambit.

Memorize the most popular lines to 5 or 6 moves. Then study them to find out why those moves are popular.

And to answer your question directly, you should be looking to take material or kill the guy's king, starting on move 1 (paraphrased from Bobby Fischer.) Good piece development is a great start.

  • Develop your pieces, not Pawns
  • Try not to move the same piece more than once in an opening unless
  • you really need to. Gain control of the center Castle your king
  • Develop/Connect your rooks Don't move too fast or you will blunder.
  • Take your time and view the whole board.

According to world champion Capablanca, in "Chess Fundamentals," your first priority is to get your pieces out as fast as you can. If White, you might take a detour to try to hinder black's development, in order to maintain your relative advantage; if Black, you need to find tactical ways to parry White's threats.

Otherwise, you should be looking to concentrate your pieces, particularly in areas left weak by your opponent. Did s/he leave parts of the board undeveloped or undefended to favor a few pieces? Then try to find a way to take advantage of that fact. Perhaps the opposing king is inadequately protected, and can be attacked. If not, your opponent may have started an a attack prematurely and left the so-called "center" (of the board) insufficiently guarded. If so, a successful center counterattack will stop most attacks.


Say "no" to memorizing openings. Say "yes" to playing based on opening principles. Say "yes" to trial-by-fire - you learn more. Every game is an opportunity to learn something. If you get rolled in the opening, find out how you can improve your play in that line and learn it - don't memorize variations just for the sake of it. Waste of time at levels of chess below Cat A, IMHO.

You can find a list of basic opening principles freely on the net. Or, go to Chess.com and take some of the free beginner courses. Right up your alley.

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