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I have played against various chess engines at extreme difficulty levels. From what i have learned, any moves other than d4, e4 results in quick defeat (fewer than 25 moves).

How important are the first few moves in a game at expert levels? Does the first 3 moves determine the outcome of the game?

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Statistically speaking, there's little difference between the most popular opening moves, i.e. 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.Nf3, 1.c4. For instance, in the Game Database of ChessTempo on sees the average rating of the players and their average performance:

  • 1.e4: average 2417, performance 2455
  • 1.d4: average 2436, performance 2474
  • 1.Nf3: average 2431, performance 2465
  • 1.c4: average 2435, performance 2467

Although these four opening moves are approximately equally good, they can lead to different kind of positions (tactical vs. positional, lots of theory vs. little theory, etc...). Therefore, the opening move (and the opening in general) does have a big influence on the outcome of the game, depending on the players and their playing styles.

When playing against engines, it is probably a good idea to go for closed positions. In these type of positions, the tactical power of engines is less dominant, while strategical insight becomes more important.

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Some people say that the opening move is the most important move because it can allow a player to gain control of the center and strengthen his/her position. However, games can still be won with "bad" first moves. I would say that the second and third moves are quite important because it allows players to respond to the first moves and really compete for control of center. I do not think that d4 and e4 are the only valid moves... I have won many games bringing out my knights first. Each player has their own style. Players often use d4 and e4 because, like I have been saying, control of center generally means an advantageous game.

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If you consider that when you were 1 year old, a month was 1/12th of your life...

And when you're 12 years old, a month is just 1/144th of your life..

Maybe you can see that early moves carry more weight/significance in deciding the route and course the game will take.

At the master level, openings are second-nature. For beginners like me, it is still easy to make a simple mistake in the first few moves, but if keep a sharp eye and look at all the commonly defined move motifs, it can be very helpful in your path to victory.

I think all the possible openings have a shorthand notation as well. Something like C44 means "king's pawn game" http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessopening?eco=C44

You can just change the last part of that url to be a letter and two numbers, and you can see many different openings (even not-so-skillful ones) that way.

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessopening?eco=A11

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    How is 1. c4 c6 not skillful? – limits Jul 3 '15 at 5:16
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    I really didn't understand the point in this answer. – ferit Mar 31 '16 at 16:22
  • @Saibot Well, I think when I wrote this answer I was thinking about chess in terms of possible moves that all form to make a sequence of branches. When a tree wants to grow it has the most potential sway in its initial trajectory at the base, before there is a trunk, limbs, branches. Although thinking about it now, I feel that there is a lot of early-move overlap in chess (two variations lead to identical cross-over points), so maybe this is only really valid until move 11 or so. – sova Apr 1 '16 at 2:15
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Classical chess that tries to control the center directly normally starts with e4 or d4 moves. Hypermodern chess tries a less direct approach, to control the center from the wings, utilizing B fianchettos and off-center pawn moves like 1.c4, 1.g3 or 1.b3, with 1.Nf3 being another common hypermodern opening move. Hypermodernism doesn't deny the importance of the center but just goes about taking it over with a different approach, after breaking down the opponent's control if possible. In other words, the particular opening system that is being used is what is important, not just individual moves. Hypermodernism has not proven as strong as classical chess though, as means of counteracting it have been found. It is after all more difficult to take something away from someone after he has obtained it than to contest it from the start. As a novice player I would concentrate on classical openings with a few center pawn moves (e4 to be followed by d4 when safe to do so, or vice versa) to contest the center as well as for quick development of the minor pieces and then castling, which should let you pursue the balance of the game satisfactorily.

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