If a makes a difference, I usually open with the King's pawn (or, if I'm playing black and my opponent starts with the Queen's pawn, I'll usually counter with the Queen's pawn as well, since I don't seem to know how to use the advantage that can come with sacrificing a pawn at the beginning). Then I either develop a bishop or knight, and typically I try to get both knights and both bishops developed and my king castled before trying to launch any attacks, or do anything else, other defend against any attacks the other person will sometimes attempt during opening.

I'm usually aiming for something like this at the end of the opening stage (though it varies depending on what the other person does of course):

enter image description here

That's simply the type of opening I'm most familiar with and seems the easiest way to take advantage of the principles covered in the lichess course on openings I went through last week.

In order of importance as emphasized in the course:

  1. Winning time is everything

  2. Develop your pieces before worrying about pawn moves

  3. Development lower value pieces before bringing out the queen

  4. Don't move a piece more than once before finishing development

  5. Take space in the center of the board

I'm aware these are general principles/rules of thumb, not hard and fast rules. The course itself gave several examples of when breaking them is actually a good idea, usually because the other person failed to develop their pieces in a timely manner and you're already well ahead of them.

I've noticed my overall skill level improve significantly since I've specifically started aiming for a final opening structure something like the image above (though I'm definitely still a beginner, rated somewhere in the 200s).

However, I've also noticed that, while using this sort of opening strategy and generally following the aforementioned opening principles typically works well when the other person does similarly. But a bunch of times people have beat me at the game, or at least caused me to make several big blunders (even if I still won, because they also made several blunders) by not focusing on developing their pieces immediately, but instead first setting up an annoyingly hard to penetrate pawn structure.

Something like this is what I'm thinking of (though it's just one of the examples I found in my game history; often it gets messier than that, with all/most of he pawns from both sides in a diagonal pattern, blocking each other from moving at all), where I often don't know how to continue advancing my knights and bishops without them just getting captured or immediately attacked (and hence me wasting time retreating) by my opponent's pawns.

enter image description here

I know this is a pretty simple pawn structure overall and I've often seen people play openings like it, but it often still throws me off. Usually, when I do seem to handle it well, it's by immediately trading off several pieces at the beginning of the middle game, which feels like it's not the best way to open the center.

Actually breaking open the center is more of a middle game thing (and the above image isn't even a good of an example of a closed center) to be able that I clearly need to learn how to defend against. My question is, should I be learning how to use these same sorts of pawn structures to my own advantage in the opening, since they often trip me up in responding? Or is it actually a mistake to rely on that before finishing development and it's only throwing me off because I'm still a beginner and haven't had enough practice against those patterns?

  • In that first diagram, you're White, right?
    – D M
    Commented May 27 at 3:38
  • @DM, yes, I'm white. Commented May 28 at 13:42

2 Answers 2


This is a good question that won't be answered the same way by every chess player or coach. I personally belive that an healthy mix between looking at openings, solving tactic puzzles and knowing some endgames by heart (mate with 2 rooks, 1 queen, 1 rook, 1 pawn (how to convert it into a queen against a single enemy king) are crucial for beeing able to win games and improve in chess.

In general for your problem with pawn structure I would reccomend to look at different openings (like Italian, Spanish, Russian, ...). Try then to understand what the plan is (for black and white). You do not have to remember concrete lines but each opening has some typical plans and the pieces have specific missions. The pawn structures will follow from that.

And in the specific example you have provided, I see that you play against the "London system". This is a popular opening system for white that builds this characteristic pyramid. If you are having trouble breaking through the pawns I am playing and I would also reccomend you try to play an early c5. The ides is that if he takes with d4 you can recapture with your bishop on f8.

For example:

  1. d4 d5
  2. Bf4 Nf6
  3. Nf3 c5!

Now you ask me: why would you put a pawn on an undefended squre? Can't he simply play 4. dxc5 and win it? The answer is yes and no. For example:

  1. dxc5 Nc6
    Ignore the pawn loss for a move and develop a knight and prohibit b4

  2. e3 e6
    Let the bishop attack the pawn without good defense for white

  3. Be3 Bxc5

Now you have gotten your pawn back have developed well and the structure you have trouble breaking is at least opened.

If you want to have other setups and ideas specifically against the London maybe take a look here https://lichess.org/study/Pg7swJlZ/S8wBQBnb.

Another opening I like to recomend for you as black that you can play after e4 is called the Caro-Kann. It has a similar plan to disrupt the pawns in the centre of white. Maybe this helps with breaking open some annoying pawn structures.

I hope this helps a little.

P.S.: I am knew here and if i have explained to briefly or you don't understand some things I said plese tell me how I can improve my text.


The following is a crash-course in - general - opening theory. It is less about the concrete position but about general principles and their application. I hope it will indirectly answer your questions.

What to do in the opening?

There are three goals in the opening: control the center, develop your pieces and bring the king to safety. Now, this statement is worthless without defining what exeactly is meant by that. So, here are some definitions:

  • Development of pieces
    Development of a piece means to maximise the number of sqaures it controls. Take for instance, the bishop f1: in the initial position it has 0 squares. After 1.e4 it has 5 squares: e2, d3, c4, b5 and a6. Note that a6 is also a square in that sense: it might not make sense to put the bishop there (now) but every piece opponent puts there could be taken, should that help our cause. Now, after 1.e4 consider whites next move (we don't care about blacks move for now): 2.Bf1-d3 will leave the bishop with the same 5 squares it already had - no development. 2. Bf1-c4 intead will increase the number of squares to 9: the 5 it already covered plus d5, e6, f7 and b3. This is why Bf1-d3 is bad and Bf1-c4 is good.

  • Control the center
    It is a common misconception that "taking the center" means putting pawns there. This might be part of it, but in fact conntrolling the center means something else: put forces there. First off: what is the center? It is the four squares e4, d4, e5, d5, Nothing else. Now, putting a pawn to e4 means we have one force covering d5 (the square the pawn could capture). Putting a knight onto f3 means we put one force to e5 and one to d4. Of course, black does the same and we calculate our forces against opponents forces. There will be "white" squares (where white has the majority), "black" squares (where black has the majority) and "neutral" squares. For instance: after 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 we have: e4 is neutral (0:0), e5 is neutral (1:1), d4 is black (2:1) and d5 is white (1:0). Both have euqal shares of the center.

  • Safety of the king
    Consider the initial position: how many moves does it take to castle? Answer: 4 moves (short castle) or 5 moves (long castle). Now consider again after 1.e4. Now white will only need 3 moves to castle short, therefore 1.e4 has advanced the goal. Compare that to 1.g3 (the same, also 3 moves), 1.Nf3 (same, 3 moves) or 1.f3 (still 4 moves, hence bad in this regard)

Now, after defining what exactly our goals are andhow to assess them, we need a little additional information:

  • When is the opening over?
    It has to be said that what I wrote above is valid only for the opening phase. Middle game and endgame works differently and therefore it is vital to know when the opening is over. Answer: when the rooks are connected. It can well be that one side comes out of the opening phase while the other is still in it.

  • How much is a pawn worth?
    There are many openings where one side sacrifices a pawn, so-called gambits. How to assess if the sacrifice is worth it or not? The answer is: for a sacrificed pawn you have to get 2 development moves advantage and something in addition. That something can be all sorts of things: influence in the center, an open line you control, a pin the other can't easily remove, etc. - but something in addition you have to get.

Now we need to put that all together:

Whenever you need to find a move in the opening, first make a list of all possible alternatives (so-called "candidate" moves). Then grade them by checking which of the three goals they further. Here is an example:

  1. e4 e5
  2. Nf3 Nc6

Let us suppose we don't know any theory and we have to find a move in this position. We create the following (I know, incomplete, this is just an example) list:

  1. Bc4
  2. Bb5
  3. d3

Now we need to assess them:

Bc4: The bishop gains 4 additional quares it can go to, so the piece development goal checks. Also we are now one move closer to castling (short), so the king safety goal also checks. Finally the bishop covers d5, so one more influence in the center. 3 goals out of 3

Bb5: The bishop also gains additional squares (not as many than with Bb4, but still). We are also one move closer to castling. There is no direct influence in the center but the bishop threatens to capture the knight, taking away two influences in the center by black, so that makes up for that. 3 goals out of 3

d3: We get one additional influence in the center (reinforcing e4). We also get one move closer to castling (queenside), which is a wee bit less worthy than being able to castle kingside. The Bc1 gets some additional squares, but that is paid for by limiting the bishop on f1 severely. So this is no real gain. 1.5-2 out of 3

So, the result would be: 3. Bc4 or 3. Bb5 is more a matter of taste, they are about equal. 3. d3 instead is clearly worse.

A final suggestion
General principles will NOT spare you the effort of calculating concrete lines. Some moves which seem to violate these general principles will still be justified because of concrete combinations they allow (see, for instance, the Fried Liver attack). So, break with the general rules for a good reason but make sure you have such a good reason before you break them.

PP: some less general remarks
In the first diagram there is no move order given but I suppose whites last move was d4-d5. First thing to notice is that white is not out of the opening phase so above principles still apply.

Second observation: what does the move do for your development? Answer: nothing at all. What does the move do for your center? Answer: before that move e4 was neutral (1:1), e5 was white (2:1), d4 was white (3:1) and d5 was white (3:2). After that move e4 ist still neutral (1:1), e5 is also neutral (1:1), d4 is white (2:1) and d5 is white (3:2). The move has given up the control over the e5 square. King safety is not as important any more because both have already castled.

Now, let us have a look at alternatives:

  • Qd2
  • Re1
  • e5
  • Bg5

Qd2 develops the queen , connects the rooks (-> out of the opening phase) and gives the rooks the option to go to the center lines. Drawback is that black might play d5 and clear the center while develop the bishop c8.

Re1 develops somewhat the rook, but gives the rooks (combined) less options than Qd2. Center, though, is reinforced as Re1 takes control of e4.

e5 forces black to move. It does itself little to develop, etc., but forces away the knight thereby diminishing blacks influence in the center. Furthermore the knight has no good square to go to (Nd5 loses a pawn, Ng4 runs into Bg5, losing at least an exchange).

Bg5 immediately threatens e5 but allows black to play e5 himself, so it is perhaps too slow.

Verdict: play e5 instead of d5.

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