The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

By GM Igor Smirnov

chess openings fundamentals

Bonus: Download the entire guide in pdf (E-book) , read it anytime anywhere you want.

Table of content


What is chess opening?


An opening is the group of initial moves of a chess game, normally the first 10-12 moves. First and foremost, the aim is to develop pieces. What do those first 10-12 moves consist of?


• Two or three pawn moves in the center.

• Four to six moves with minor pieces (knight, bishop).

• King safety (castling).

• A queen move that ensures connectivity of the rooks.


Let us discuss these opening principles more deeply.


Develop your pieces

Now the next question is: what is development?

A knight


Development is “The act or process of growing or causing something to grow or become larger”. The knight placed on g1 controls only three squares, i.e. h3, f3 and e2.



However, when the knight is developed to f3, it controls eight squares.


This is development.

A bishop


Likewise, the power of the bishop is also enhanced when it moves from its initial square. This is the same with the queen.

A rook


The power of the rook is the same whether it is on a1 or e4. It controls only 14 squares. The rook on a1 controls a1-a8 and a1-h1, while the rook on e4 controls e4-h4, e4-e8, e4-e1 and e4-a4.


Thus, a rook on a1 controls two directions but the rook on e4 controls four directions. That is why the power of the rook increases in direction and why we move the rooks in the later stages of the game.

Development best practice


  • Develop your pieces without hindering the development of your other pieces.
Development best practice

Example: as White, placing your f1-bishop on d3. This move hinders the development of the bishop on c1. Instead, make moves which hinder the development of your opponent’s pieces.

  • Find a suitable square for your piece once and for all.
  • Do not try to bring your queen out early.
  • Castle as early as possible.
  • Try to prevent your opponent from castling.

After following the above rules, it’s now time for you to improve the position of your queen with a concrete plan. Move your queen and connect your rooks, and you will have successfully completed the opening.


The above diagram is a fine example of both finishing development and connecting the rooks.

Smirnov Advice:


Even GMs suffer from opening disasters from time to time. Advanced chess knowledge may sometimes deflect you from the most important, fundamental rules.

Summary Slide-1


Basic opening strategy (Chess Opening rules)

This lesson is a must-read for beginner players. If you are an experienced player, however, you may still go through the lesson and check if you’re keeping ALL these rules in mind and following them ALWAYS.


In a chess game, the opening stage is very important because it determines what kind of middle-game position can arise from it.


Each and every opening has different elements – pawn structure, space control, piece development, etc. At the same time, there are some basic opening principles which are applicable to every opening and which have been followed by every advanced chess player and Grand Master.



  • Move the centre pawns ( e4,d4,e5,d5 ) so that you will gain the initiative in the centre and will have good space.
  • Control or occupy the centre (the centre of the board holds the key to a chess game).
  • Develop minor pieces (knights, bishops).
  • Castle your king: the king needs to be safe, as you are going to start attacking in the middlegame and you should not allow any attack on your king. You can castle on the Kingside (o-o) or the Queenside (o-o-o) – which one depends on the opening you play.
  • Do not move the same piece or pawn twice unless it creates a huge attack against your opponent or you are winning material (opening stage only).
  • Do not move your queen unless it builds a huge attack on your opponent or you are winning material; the reason for this is that your opponent can easily attack your queen with his minor pieces and you will have to waste some moves on retreating your queen (opening stage only).

Example – 1


Let us examine a game which is a very good example for developing minor pieces and not moving your queen– as I have already mentioned above in the basic opening principles

Basic opening strategy example-1


In the diagram above, which arises after the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Qg4 d6 3. Qh5 Nf6 4. Qf3 Bg4 5. Qa3 d5 6. Qa5 Nc6 7. Qa4, White has only developed his queen, leaving him far behind Black. Meanwhile, Black has followed the principles of development well, bringing three minor pieces into play and constantly harassing White’s queen.


So while White has moved his queen early in the opening stage and continued moving it, Black has developed three minor pieces. Black has a better position here in the opening and can easily win the game.

Example – 2


Let us see another example based on occupying or controlling the center.

Basic opening strategy example-2


In the diagram above, White has done an excellent job in establishing control of the center. His pawns on e4 and d4 control many key squares, while the knights on f3 and c3 are well placed to jump quickly to the center squares and can even be retreated wherever needed.


Conversely, Black has played the first few moves poorly. His pawns on a5 and h5 do not influence or control the center at all, and his knights on a6 and h6 are limited in their movements and not well placed.

Example – 3


Let us now see an example of castling the king, as I have mentioned above in the basic opening principles.

Basic opening strategy example-3

In the diagram above, both players have castled within the first five moves of the game. Both kings are quite safe, and neither player needs to fear a quick checkmate here.


It is also worth noting that the positions around the kings — specifically, the three pawns in front of the castled kings — have not been disturbed.


Moving these pawns (g4-h4) in the opening will generally make the king very vulnerable, as it opens lines of attack for the other player’s pieces. So, as soon as you castle, the safer you are.

Example – 4


Now we assess a game which contains some basic opening principles. Here the game goes: 1 .e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 – both players have moved their center pawns and developed minor pieces now.

Basic opening strategy example-4.1

4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 – now White is controlling the center with his central pawns on the d4 and e4 squares.

exd4 6.cxd4 Bb6 7.d5 – Black has now lost his center, and White has good central pawns and can develop the other two minor pieces (knight and bishop on b1 and c1) in the next few moves, as well as castle his king.

Basic opening strategy example-4.2
Basic opening strategy example-4.3

Black’s knight on c6 has to run and this will lose a move, as has already happened with the bishop going back to b6.Black still has to develop his bishop on c8 and must castle, although he has lost the center.

Smirnov Advice:


Basic opening principles are very important and if we apply them in our game, we will definitely get a better position and can easily play on without any disturbance.

Summary Slide-2


How many openings should you learn?

The most important thing at the beginning is to learn and understand the basic idea behind the opening. We can understand it if we analyse the term itself. Opening means “open the door” for your pieces to the middle of the board. In the basics of chess you learn how to place the pieces at the starting positions. Now it is time to learn how to develop them in the appropriate positions in order to attack your opponent.


I think that you may wonder how many openings I should learn. You need to learn 4 openings. You can start the game with the e4 move and you need to know what to do against 1.e4-e5. This is basic because a lot of players will use this solid reply, beginner and more advanced players. You also need to learn how to play against the Sicilian defence, i.e. 1.e4-c5. Sicilian is a very popular opening now only in the high level but also among the beginners. The reason is very obvious, everybody would like to attack you and win, so they choose Sicilian. Similarly, Sicilian used from almost all top players, so beginners and intermediate players would like to imitate the elite. Thus, it is very logical to implement Sicilian in their games.


Having said that, you need to learn two openings for white and two for black. Your third opening should be against 1.e4. The 4th and last opening should be against 1.d4.

1. Control the centre and you will control the game.


I hope you already know that pieces have some value, am I right? It is logical because queen can make more moves than the bishop. Queen and king can checkmate the opponent king but bishop with king cannot do the same…


Control the centre 1

Here is another, more advance advice for you. The value of the pieces is proportionate with the squares which they control. For example the queen from the d4 square is controlling 27 squares.

The bishop to the same square, d4, is controlling only 13.

Control the centre 2
Control the centre 3

This basic idea can help us understand the power of the pieces in every stage of the game. After the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 we reached the Scotch opening. The pawn advancement on d4 helps white to put the knight in the center. This knight is very centralized and active.

2. Coordination


I also hope that you know the scholar’s mate, 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Qxf7# Every dad teaches and he should teach this basic mate. What we can learn from it? We should learn how to coordinate our pieces for the same goal. Find a weak spot, as the f7, in your opponent’s territory and try to attack it with a lot of your pieces; this is the coordination idea. You are the general and your goal is to coordinate your forces in order to attack your enemy’s weak points.

3. Protect your territory


All beginner players try to attack without a real strategy. They love their own queen and image her as Superman! They believe that they can capture the entire army only with her. However this is not true.


In the opening you should develop your pieces and take care for your own territory. If you have white then your territory is the first 4 ranks, i.e. from 1st to 4th ranks. If you have black then you need to care from 8th to 5th ranks.


One friend of my, Jim, sent me the following game and I’m glad to share it with you. He started to play chess some months ago and is fighting to cross 1000 ELO on the internet. I’m sure he will achieve his goal soon.


jdiws (979) - jimopoulos (874)

jdiws vs. jimopoulos, 0018


1.e4 e5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 £xd5 4.¤a3 e4 5.¥c4 £d8 6.£e2 f5 7.£h5+ g6 8.£h3 ¥c5 9.b4 ¥b6 10.¤e2 ¤f6 11.¤f4 g5 12.¤g6 f4 13.g4 ¥xg4 14.£g2

Protect your territory

I’ll not comment the opening moves but only this moment which illustrate my point. You need to care for your own territory. Black had mess up with his kingside and during the game he had difficulties to play and find moves.


At this particular moment he had the idea to skewer the queen in order to capture the rook on h1. This is a cool tactical blow indeed; however you should care for your own territory first. You may ask yourself which opponent piece is in my territory. You can recognize them easily because they have different color! :-)


At this moment Black should capture the knight on g6, which is the best move. Instead he played bishop h3 and capture the rook on h1. White player found some counterchanges threats against Black’s king. Black lost on time finally.


Please remember, fist secures your territory and specially your king position and only after that start the attack.


14...¥f3 15.£xg5 ¥xh1 16.¤xh8 ¢d7 17.£f5+ ¢e8 18.£e6+ £e7 19.£c8+ £d8 20.¥f7+ ¢e7 21.£e6+ ¢f8 22.¥h5 £e7 23.£c8+ ¢g7 24.¥f7 ¥xf2+ 25.¢xf2 e3+ 26.¢e2 exd2+ 27.¢xd2 £e3+ 28.¢c2 ¥e4+ 29.¢b3



Familiarize with these basic openings

Analyze your games with the computer


You need to analyze your games with the compute. Computer is a powerful teacher which you have him in your home! Use it.


Lear more theory


You are not a parrot and for that reason you should not learn the theory mechanically and without understanding. You need to learn theory step by step. First try to use your own ideas and then open the opening book and check it.


Learn from the masters


Chess has a very long history. Many players before you and me develop the theory by playing a lot of games. You need to select some games from the top grandmasters and try to imitate their opening moves.


By the way this is a very important idea because you will not only learn the opening moves but also the middle game plans!

Summary Slide-3


Opening explorer

Alekhine opening system


1.e4 Nf6

Petroff defence

Petroff defence

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6

Spanish - Ruy Lopez opening system


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5

France defense


1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5



1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5

 Sicilian defense


1.e4 c5

Queen's gambit declined

Queen's gambit declined

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6

Slav defense


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6



1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6

Nimzo indian defense

Nimzo indian defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

Grünfeld Defence


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5

Scotch opening

Scotch opening

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4


The best opening traps for beginners

For White: Scholar’s Mate

White Scholars Mate 1

At this level, the most famous way to win with the White pieces is by the Scholar’s Mate. It happens for the first time in this game:

Amillano, Jesus - Loeffler, Arthur G [C20]


Mar del Plata op Mar del Plata (6), 1972

1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 g6 4.Qf3 Nd4 5.Qxf7# 1–0

White Scholars Mate 2


For Black: Scholar’s Mate

The most normal moves for White are 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4. A lot of players will try to use these moves at the beginning of their games as White. Therefore, here I have an interesting system for you with the Black pieces:

Muehlock - Kostic, Boris [C50]


Cologne Cologne, 1912

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4

Black Scholars Mate

White to play

4.Nxe5 Qg5 5.Nxf7 Qxg2 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nf3# 0–1

This system was played for the first time in 1912, but after 100+ years it is still very popular and Black can win games with it.

Summary Slide-4


Best openings for White

1. Against Sicilian Defense – Grand Prix attack:

2. London system:

3. 1.b3 opening

4. One of the best chess openings:The Yugoslav Attack

5. The Unbeatable Urusov Gambit - Chess Openings Explained

6. Ruy Lopez Opening Trap # 1. One of the best opening trap ever played


Best openings for Black

1. Chess Openings: Caro Kann

2. French Defense - Part 1 - Best Beginner Chess Opening for Black

3. Highest Chess Traps in a Black Opening

4. Chess Openings: Budapest Gambit

5. Chess Openings: Traxler Counter Attack

6. Chess Trap: Blackburne Schilling Trap

Bonus: Download the entire guide in pdf (E-book) , read it anytime anywhere you want.

chess openings fundamentals
Protect your territory
White Scholars Mate 1
White Scholars Mate 2
Black Scholars Mate
Development best practice