I am a beginner in chess and don't understand the concept of openings at all. To me they appear to be just moving one of the eight pawns or one of the two knights. But wherever I see there is talk about opening games and they have many names like Sicilian Defence, King's Indian Gambit, etc. What is the need to differentiate them with so many names, for after all as I mentioned earlier, it is going to be one of the eight pawns or one of the two knights?

  • He is challenging the theory that the the earth is flat! or is he challenging the earth is round theory?
    – guru
    Dec 15, 2013 at 7:17

6 Answers 6



I am a beginner in chess and don't understand the concept of openings at all. To me they appear to be just moving one of the eight pawns or one of the two knights.

This is the root of the problem, and the reason why you have asked the question-it is the consequence of your ignorance.


You must understand that human being plays the game, and human beings have likes and dislikes. Some of us prefer sharp and fast struggle, and some of us like slow and safe maneuvering, and so on...


You do not appreciate your turn to move, but in chess, this is very important to master. You see, when it is your turn to move, you have a choice, and this is really important. This is the moment where you have a say, and you can change the course of the game to your like ( see the POINT #1 ).

This is one of many things that differentiates master from novice-master enforces the pace of the game, while beginner complies/plays any move without careful thinking, which results in him/her lamenting later " How did I get into such a horrible position??? How did I blundered a bishop?? " and so on. In chess, this is called tempo.

You must comprehend that you too are the factor in the game, and that this is collision of characters.You must comprehend that not only you play "against pieces" you play against another human being.

Your approach to the game is faulty, because you " dissect " the game, and probably in your opinion there are 3 parts of the game:

  1. Opening
  2. Middlegame
  3. Endgame

This type of division is old and inefficient.

In order to understand my answer, and other answers provided from different members, you must change the approach.

You open the game in order to develop pieces the best way to carry out your middlegame plan, and your middlegame plan is based on the possible events that might take place in the endgame ( chess rules can help you in this, serving as a beacon to follow, but true mastery comes when you learn when to break them-that comes with experience ) .

This is the approach that is the most efficient, in my opinion.


What is the significance of openings?

Openings help you to determine what type of opponent is playing against you-does he/she like fast, open battle, or slow and maneuvering one, does he/she aim for endgame or mating attack and so on...

Opening allows you to choose how to tackle those opponents, and enforce them your style of play.

A small example:

Let us say your opponent opened with 1.e4 and you do not want open battle.Let us assume that you like slow maneuvering battle, and feel comfortable playing endgames. In that case you would like to answer with a move that doesn't force early conflict but allows you to choose the moment when the big battle will take place. You could play 1. ...c6 and be confident that the further development of events will be suitable to you.

But what if you want the opposite? What if you want a fast, sharp, open battle? Then you could reply with 1. ...Nf6 for example. Notice the change of the rhythm: In the first example White had a choice after Black's 1st move, but now is forced to play with the e-pawn or to defend it.This small example fantastically illustrates POINT#2 from the introduction ( in fact, the whole opening does, and is called Alekhine's defence ).

In open positions, you do not get static solidity and you have to adapt to the changes in the position "on the fly". In closed ones, your position is solid but you usually need a lot of effort to generate counterplay.

To resume: Opening helps you to reach the positions that suit your stile ( style being your character/skill level... ) and their knowledge helps you to prepare the position to transpose into middlegame that also corresponds to your style, as well. Knowing the opening means that you will not be defeated in first 10 to 25 moves, and gives you certainty that you will have an enjoyable game with equal chances to win.

What is the need to differentiate them with so many names, for after all as I mentioned earlier, it is going to be one of the eight pawns or one of the two knights?

The classification of the openings allows you to find the opening you wish to study, and the openings you wish to prepare against.

These are generally classified as follows: A ( unsorted ), B ( semi-open games ), C ( open-games ), D ( closed games ), E ( semi-closed games ).

There is an overwhelming amount of moves/move orders and so on, to study and so many openings with the same general idea, but different implementation so you might want to look at them all and choose the one that suits you the best.

Another small example to illustrate this: Let us say that you are slow, endgame oriented player. You need an opening that gives you solidity in the beginning, and an advantage in the endgame. Let us say that you want to prepare against 1.e4. You could choose 1. ...c6 or 1. ...e6, but although they have the same concept ( repel White's initiative and smash him in the endgame ), there are differences: The first choice offers harder time to generate counter play, but you have no weak pieces, yet the other one generates counter play easily at the expense of the weak piece ( the light squared bishop ). Two openings with the same idea, but the implementation of it is drastically different,and only one of them will suit to you. After you pick one of them, another question arises: Which particular variation in that opening suits your style? Now comes the strength of POINT #2 into play! Let us say you have picked 1. ...e6, and let us start "studying" it for a while: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3

A "sharp, fast paced, open battle" player would choose 3. ...Bb4 here forcing the matters, while the slow, solid one could try with 3. ...dxe4, for example, simplifying and slowing things down a bit.

Let us assume that you decided that the second option suits your style and you wish to study that.

But how will you find material for this opening?

Well, first you search the name of the opening-it is French defense. Then you search its general code-it is C. Then you search the variation you are interested in-it is 10. So the opening code is C10. And now you can find online materials/books on the opening you want to play.

Sorry for the lengthy post, hopefully it will help you. If you have further questions ask, and I shall answer them as soon as I can. Best regards.

  • Could you suggest me a place online where I can learn about openings (other than chess.com)? I cannot buy books for each and every opening. By the way, just out of curiosity, are you a rated player? Dec 8, 2013 at 15:36
  • First you must decide which openings you want to play and then you can search for books. Once you decide which openings you want to play, you can ask me for links and I will help ( I am inactive at the moment, but have the strength around FIDE master ). Best regards :) Dec 10, 2013 at 13:26

While it's true that openings tend to be about moving knights and pawns, which pawns and knights (etc) define the character of the game to be played. Further, just because some pawn moves look similar, they are not, due to the asymmetric nature of the Kings and Queens.

Some pawn moves on White's part establish that a cutting, tactical game is offered. Others reveal that a closed grinding game is preferred. Responses by Black can accept these challenges or transmute them into something else. Just by choosing different pawn moves.

Further, there are reasons some openings are played. Some choices by Black offer the center of the board to White (an advantage) because Black's move choices are intended to make that center collapse. If you play such openings without knowing the philosophy behind the moves, you won't get it.

  • Some other answers here are pretty good, but I believe that @TonyEnnis makes the most important point. Different openings give different flavors of game, though it is nearly impossible to discern the flavors as a beginner. Consider: if you step off the road to take a shortcut home through the woods, you will experience a very different kind of walk than if you had kept your feet on the sidewalk. The opening is like the first step, either off the pavement or onto it, with the difference that you cannot change your mind and step back in chess. To an experienced player, it is like that.
    – thb
    Dec 4, 2013 at 2:34

Please pardon me if my explanation is a bit whimsical, but I see chess openings in the same light as biological evolution. Over time and countless attempts at various move orders, chess players have learned that some moves lead to more solid positions than others. These move orders have, over time, become a sort of standard, often repeated by good players, and intensely studied for weaknesses and soft spots. Good move orders survive and are played by strong grand masters, bad move orders die out.

Because these move orders are often repeated, we give them names to distinguish them from each other. Hence, if a chess commentator would say something like "Kramnik played a solid Grunfeld exchange variation", most listeners would have a good idea as to what he means.

It is often said that beginners should not be hung up on specific opening variations, but should rather focus on opening principles (like control of the center, development of pieces, the risks of late castling, etc), and that is probably good advice. Over time, you will start to notice repeated patterns and themes in your own games, and that may be a good time to check out the opening theory to see whether you may improve your strategy based on this hard-won knowledge from your predecessors.


Openings are important to know so you don't lose a position from the very beginning. But, it is also very important to know openings well for your middle games. Every player depending on his opening repertoir has his own middle games. That is why it is preferred to narrow your openings and know them very well, then you will know very well your middle games. The more you familiar with your middle games - the better chance to win the game.


The main idea behind an opening is to build a good foundation to ensure that your middle game has sufficient support. While opinions may vary, most openings have some basic goals in common that they do try to accomplish:

  1. Control the center- The four center squares are d4, d5, e4, and e5. To be successful you usually will need to exert some influence over these squares.

  2. Protect the King- This often (but not necessarily) is accomplished by castling. But the main point is to develop your major pieces without exposing the King to danger.

  3. Rooks to the center- This one largely depends on the opening played. But once you have developed your knights and bishops, and protected the King; bringing your rooks in as reinforcement to your center can help in further development/defense.

Here is another good post on this subject that helps drive home the point that there are several commonalities between openings: Why are the golden rules in chess openings true?

Typically, if an opening proves to have some longevity (I.E., it works), many people will use it and eventually give it a name. Sometimes a particular opening will be favored by an individual with some notoriety, and it will come to be named after that person. Wikipedia lists over 200 openings named after individuals. Naming a particular opening helps in identifying and defending against it.


The general idea of the opening (first 10-20 moves) is to control the center (e4, d4, e5 and d5), develop the light pieces (knights and bishops) and castle the king. This can be done in many different ways. A lot of research has been done on chess openings. Gradually, entire opening systems have been developed and explored in detail. Every opening system (Sicilian, Spanish, Volga gambit, etc.) has its key ideas and strategies. By becoming a specialist at an opening system, you can steer the opening towards this system and then be better prepared than the opponent for the positions that arise in the middlegame and endgame. Opening systems got their names for historical reasons. It is also easier to refer to an opening system instead of referring to the individual moves. For example, it is easier to say Najdorf instead of saying the moves

[FEN ""]
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6
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    Please provide comments when downvoting or upvoting. It helps to improve the answer. Thanks. Dec 17, 2013 at 15:37

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