Surviving The Opening – First Steps To Chess Improvement

Hello guys and gals, chess brothers and sisters in arms. I have another blog post for you today. Unlike the last time, when I’ve given you a guide on how to improve, this time I have something a bit more specific on my mind. This is an important topic, simply because it could mean the difference between winning and losing in 20 moves. Let’s talk some more about opening principles, and how to survive the opening phase of a chess game in general. I’ve prepared a few games of mine just for you.

Keep in mind that the goal is not to analyze these games in depth, but to explain some opening moves and see what we should and shouldn’t do in first 10-15 moves. I will remove the usernames of my opponents, because my goal is not to shame them, but to explain what went wrong in the opening phase of those games. As a reference however, know that all of the opponents were rated 1 100 and higher. As I’ve previously mentioned in The Beginner’s Tale – First Steps To Chess Improvement, the opening principles are as follows:

– Move your minor pieces from the back rank on active squares (if possible, try not to move them twice).
– Do not waste time moving your pawns aimlessly in the opening (d and e pawns should be moved, along with c pawn from time to time). This is doing 2 things. You are controlling central squares of the board and facilitating the development of your pieces (mainly bishops). Do not touch your f pawn before you start getting a bit better.
– Castle early, thus protecting your king and connecting your rooks at the same time.
– Move your queen from the back rank, but don’t do it too early.

This player obviously doesn’t follow opening principles. He is making a lot of pawn moves, most of which have nothing to do with developing pieces. First piece he moves is the queen and he does it in a way to slow down his development. On top of it all, he develops the pieces on his queenside where he made the most of the pawn moves. In the end he decided to move the f pawn and further endanger his uncastled king. He broke every rule in the book.

On the other hand I’ve tried to develop all of my pieces quickly. After that, my plan was to strike in the center, open lines and attack his uncastled king as soon as possible. He helped me a lot by not following opening principles and I had an easy game as a result.

This game was a bit different. The position was closed for a few moves and even though I had a very speedy development, as a contrast to my opponent, he was completely fine for a while. Regardless of the fact that he was moving pawns left and right, playing with the same bishop multiple times and generally not developing pieces, he still had a chance to develop, castle and survive the opening. Until the position was closed, without open lines, he was safe.

Only by playing f6, weakening his uncastled king, and by waiting idly for me to open things up, his position became unsalvageable. My plan was pretty much the same as in the first game. In some openings, position is naturally closed and there can be a bit more time for maneuvering pieces. You shouldn’t use this as an excuse not to follow opening principles though.

This is a radical example of what can happen if you are aimlessly playing the opening. Two bad moves 4. …Qb6 and 5. …h5, and the game was basically over. Chess can sometimes be very unforgiving.

I would like to show you one last game. This time I will not be talking about opening principles. Instead, the game is about offbeat openings and is the prime example why you, as a beginner, should steer clear of those openings. Instead, choose some mainstream opening (Ruy Lopez, Italian game, Queen’s gambit etc.) and start playing it. You should follow the same principle as black, and play something mainstream. Do not memorize anything but the first 3 or 4 moves.

Gradually you will build up on it thanks to experience. In a few months, you will have several moves against Sicilian defense, French defense, Pirc, Caro Kann etc. if you are playing 1.e4, or several moves against Slav defense, Semi Slav defense, Kings Indian etc. if you are playing 1.d4. Avoid system like openings (London system, Colle and the like) if you want to improve, as system like openings offer similar pawn structures and middlegame positions every time. After you gain some experience, you can try those as well. Now, it is time for the last game.

I am aware that this is a drastic example, but have in mind that you really need to know a bit more in order to play these unusual openings. My opponent wasn’t up to the task and got himself into trouble really fast. He played Nc6 like he was playing an opening where he has a pawn controlling the center. As the knight didn’t have a proper support, I’ve easily dislodged it. After that, my opponent played the position as if his bishop was still on c8 (along with pawn on b7 instead of b6) ready to play Bd7 and block the check safely. That is what decided the game, and that is why it is probably better to stick to classics.

So to sum it up:

1. Not following opening principles can get you into trouble
2. Following opening principles might get your opponent into trouble if he/she does not follow them
3. Stronger players are allowed to break some opening principles, as they know when it is ok to do so, weaker players don’t
4. Simplify by playing more mainstream openings, avoid offbeat lines

In the end, let me just thank you for enduring this painful ordeal and actually reading the whole thing.

Till another time,