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Play Chess: Opening Strategy


Once you have a decent grasp of the fundamentals of Chess such as the names of the pieces, where they go on the board, and how they attack, then the most natural place to start looking at more in depth is the strategy found in the openings. There are a huge number of specific openings and their popularity rises and falls almost in a cycle over time. Despite chess being such an old and well explored game, there are still even new opening strategies being formulated and emulated throughout the chess community. This is all part of the natural progression of the 'meta game', or, the way that chess is played competitively. In this article we take a look at opening strategy from the standpoint of a beginner, ignoring some of the over complexity that many people get caught up in.


Understanding Openings


Before you even start to learn specific openings it is important to first understand what the opening strategy is and what it can do you for you as a player. An opening strategy is a very well defined structure or set of moves that you make right at the beginning of a chess game. This is commonly held to be the first 10 to 15 moves of a game, though this can vary a lot depending on the way the game takes shape and the specific opener used.


Opening strategy is often the most popular aspect of Chess strategy with amateur and beginner players. This is because openings are very easy to learn and to use to overcome inexperienced opponents. Sometimes an opening will outright beat the opponent if they react poorly to it and the potential for such easy and fast victories is very exciting. However, while having a good opening is powerful, experienced opponents will know how to react and the game will progress in to the later stages. This means that while you should take time to learn good openings, you shouldn't make them your sole focus.


Know a Few Openings and Know them Well


The secret to having a strong opening game is to know only a few opening strategies but to know them in great detail. You want to know your strategies like the back of your hand so that you can use them, understand them and modify them on the fly without hesitation. Many beginner players get caught up learning dozens of strategies, and while this is interesting to do, it's counter-productive in terms of player development. You should fear the player who practices one opening one thousand times more than you fear the player who practices one thousand openings once. The most common chess opening first move is white kings pawn to E4. This it is because it ensures that white has a presence in the center of the board right at the beginning of the game. Currently, The Sicilian Defense (1. e4 c5) is black's most popular defense to white's move to e4, especially at the highest levels of chess. By black playing c5 first, Black immediately fights for the center and attacks d4, but avoids the symmetry of e5. This also easily puts inexperienced players who are used to symmetrical games off-balance. The Sicilian Defense typically leads to a complex and dangerous struggle where both sides can play for a win.


Seizing the Center


In most levels of Chess the main fight is usually over the center of the board. This is because it allows for free movement of the player who controls it and it provides opportunity to attack the opponent from any direction. Some of the main principles of this, which happen to be opposing principles, is whether to occupy the center or attack the center. In most games when the fight for the center is over so to is the game. As such, many openings seek to take early control of the center in order to gain a fast advantage. Other openers actually seek to give control of the center squares over to the opponent in order to bait them into a trap. Some of these openers at either extreme of this spectrum are quite risky and, for a beginner player, it is best to start off with strategies that set you up for a strong offense on the center in the mid-game. This means taking a bit less risk and playing more conservatively in order to have a victory later in the game.


The Opening Gambit


A gambit is an opening strategy that is 'all or nothing'. They usually seek to take an opponent by surprise or to draw them into a trap. Gambits will often work against inexperienced players but they can sometimes take an over confident but experienced player by surprise. As such, these types of risky plays can be quite enjoyable to learn. The oldest and  most popular opening like this is the Queens Gambit. It dates back to 1490. It is a good idea to have at least one opening gambit in your set of learned opening strategies. Opening a best of three series of games with such a gambit can often serve to damage the other players confidence, causing them to make mistakes in later games.


Following Up Strong


Aside from gambits, the purpose of opening strategy is not to win you the game. Don't forget that your main objective in your first 10 to 15 moves is simply to get yourself some small advantage early on or to give you a good position on the board in order to secure a later victory. When playing Chess you should always remember that the opening strategy (or any specific section of the game) is not your 'winning card', they are all just parts of a strong overall goal and should be followed up with a strong understanding of game theory (such as open game versus close game), a strong understanding of the middle game, and a strong understanding of checks and checkmates with all the various combinations of pieces to ensure a strong endgame with the win.