How To Practice Chess Openings? Ultimate Guide to Practicing Openings

Chess board and pieces closeup

Practice chess openings is a topic that many players have questions about. It seems like there are so many different ways to practice them, and it is difficult to know where to start. This article will help you figure out how best to go about practicing chess openings in order to gain an edge over your opponents!

What Is The Best Way to Practice Chess Openings?

It is very important to practice chess openings, but you also need to have plan on how to study chess openings effectively so you understand them and can use your knowledge in your games.

Studying and practicing should go hand in hand because it understand different moves also lets the information sinks in. When you have a good ressource for the chess opening, you will get an explanation of the point of each move. This is important because it gives more perspective than merely just memorizing the moves.

This means you have to make sure the material is of high quality. Be sure to check out reviews before buying a book on a specific opening. If you find information online you should stick to studying works of high level players like Grandmasters or International Masters.

You should not only go through the moves once. If you have a good book on a certain chess opening you want learn you should start by reading the book once from cover to cover without playing out the moves. This gives you an initial impression of the opening. What are common ideas and plans? When you have done this it will give you a foundation that will make it easier to understand each move as you go through the book more thoroughly.

The second time you go through the book you should play each move physically by actually moving the pieces on a chess board or on your digital device. This way you get familier with the positions.

Always try to think on your own. Read what the author says, but try to think about what each move does. Is it defensive or attacking and how so.

After you get to know the moves you should start practicing. A great way is to play against a computer where you can set it up to play the opening. Otherwise just play a bunch of online games and play the opening when your opponents moves allow it.

It is ok to play fast games since you just want a lot of games in with the correct openings moves. The moves will soon start to feel natural in any given position. You will also quickly get a feel for what types of positions and themes you are likely to run into when playing the opening.

First move in the opening for White

Why You Should Practice Chess Openings?

It is an important part of your development as a chess player that you also improve your understanding of the opening.

As you begin moving up the ranks in rating your opponents will become increasingly competent in openings themselves. If you play against an opponent in an opening that they know most important variations of many moves in you are likely to be in trouble already from the start of the game.

Of course it is not crucial that you know more about the opening than your opponent in order to be able to win games. However you have to get a good idea of how to proceed against the most common moves in the opening. If you run into very uncommon moves it is probably because these moves are not that great to begin with – and then you should just follow the best practice opening principles.

As we will see in the next section a main reason to practice chess openings is to get familiar with the general opening principles. This lets you have a good idea of what to to even if you get into an opening variation you don’t really know.

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As a beginner it is also important to get started practicing chess openings. A main reason is that you are likely to run into other players who have learnt some fancy opening traps or other tricks.

Get to know some common traps early and you will quickly develop a sense of what to look out for and also how to react. Often the best responses are quite easy to find if you are paying attention, but some traps can be tricky, so always be aware when you see something that looks unusual.

Learn The Basics of Chess Openings

The most important reason to study chess openings is to get comfortable with the basics. There are certain principles that you should try to stick to in the opening, and most of the major openings reflect these principles in the moves.

In some cases the moves in openings deviate, but in these cases there are other reasons that compensate. Let’s take a look at these general guidelines for the opening. Be aware that we should not blindly follow these rules, but they are important to keep in mind – especially if you get into an unfamiliar line in the opening.

Limit The Amount of Pawn Moves In The Opening

The first rule that we should keep in mind is to move pawns as little as possible in the opening. Usually this means you should stick to one or two pawn moves.

This is also a principle that you can see in a large amount of openings and most competent chess players follow this as an important guideline for their play. If you ignore this rule you might get into trouble without noticing, so it’s important to have some understanding of why this is a good rule.

The most important reason for this rule is that every pawn move – besides opening up diagonals for your pieces – creates weaknesses. When you push a pawn this either leaves squares unprotected or it leaves a square to only be protected by one pawn instead of two.

The other reason is that moving one or two pawns is plenty to open up for the development of your pieces. Particularly your Bishops and Queen need pawns to move for them to move out or control their diagonals. You are now free to develop your Bishops to their best squares.

Develop All of Your Pieces Early

A very important goal in the opening is to get your pieces out as soon as possible. One main reason for this is that your opponent might take advantage of your slow development. The opening is very much a race to control the center, and you can do this with center pawns (d-pawn and e-pawn) and pieces.

Getting a Knight or Bishop develop means that it can move to many more squares. They controll more squares. This puts pressure on your opponent. If either player fails to develop rapidly the other play can complete control of the center, and the other player will be in hight risk of an early Checkmate. We definitely don’t want this to happen to us!

Don’t Move The Same Piece Twice

When you move a piece out it already controls almost as many squares as it can. This means you don’t get much extra control of square by moving the piece again. Therefore it is much more important to move another undeveloped chess piece out at get it involved in the action.

Sometimes your pieces will come under attack, and then you obviously want to respond. This can mean moving the same piece twice in the opening, but the main point is that you should only do this if it is necessary. It could also be that another piece or pawn needs another defender and then you might have to move the same piece twice in the opening.

As your understanding of chess gets better you will also improve your ability to identify when it is ok to break the general rules and principles of the chess opening.

Fight For The Center

As mentioned you need to develop early to fight for control of the center. The ideal setup for this is for White to have pawns at E4 and D4, Knights on C3 and F3 and the Bishops also developed on their diagonal pointing towards the center.

It is usually not quite possible to just move your pawns and pieces to these squares since Black will try to prevent this. You should know, though, that the main opening is to have as much as possible control over the key central squares E4, E5, D4, and D5.

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Most of the other opening principles actually aim to achieve exactly this. Any pointless or slow moves is a wasted opportunity to fight for control of the center. So develop quickly and towards the center.

Castle Early to Bring Your King Into Safety

Although it is important to get all your pieces out to fight for the center of the chess board you should also keep in mind that your King is the most important piece. By castling early you bring your King to safety. Castling short is generally the safest option, because castling long can lead to more wild games.

To be able to castle early you need to get your pieces out of the way. You can actually do this in only three moves. For instance 1. e4, 2. Nf3, 3. Bc4. Already on move 4 you can castle short and have your King safe.

You should not alway castle at the earliest opportunity if other matters needs to be attended to. If your opponent has no immediate threats and you have an opportunity launch a strong attack, then there is no reason to castle just yet.

Develop Knights Before Bishops

It seems like forever there has been a saying that you should develop your Knights before Bishops. To be honest this is not really one that you should follow rigidly. It does make sense in many cases.

First of all you don’t have to move a pawn to even be able to move a Knight as it is indeed the case for Bishops. The other reason is that you almost always know which square the Knight should move to. For White this is usually c3 and f3, but if these squares are blocked by pawns instead d2 or e2.

It is rarely a good idea to move the knight to the edge of the board unless you have a very good reason. So you know these should be developed towards the center.

On the other hand the optimal placement of the Bishops depends a lot on your opponents position. It can pretty much be any of the squares on the diagonal or in some cases you want to fianchetto the Bishop. For this reason it can many times be a good idea to hold back on moving the Bishops until you have a better idea of what your opponent is planning to do.

How Do I Know Which Opening to Study

The opening you should study depends greatly on what type of player you are. Some openings fit the aggressive player while others are more suitable for the positionally strong player who prefers quiet games.

One thing I will say here is this. If you don’t have much time to study chess you might want to stick to relatively simple opening systems like The London System for White or French Defense for Black. In both cases most of the ideas of attack and common placements of your pieces are pretty similar. At least compare to many other theory heavy openings.

If you really have a lot of time and patience to dive deep into opening theory and memorizing variations, then you can pick an opening like The Sicilian Defence for Black.

My best advice is to try out briefly a few different openings to get a feel for which ones suits you. When trying openings out you should try to decide if you feel comfortable in the types of positions that typically arises after the opening moves.

Recommended Books on Chess Openings

There are countless opening books dealing with specific openings so we are not going to recommend any of these here. Instead we will focus on more general opening books that teaches basic principles and opening theory from a more general viewpoint.

When you have these fundamentals down you should, of course, proceed to find a good book on the openings you want to play. You want to make sure that the information is up to date, so the book needs to be from within the last few years. Beyond that you also want to make sure not to waste time on bad advice. Always spend some time to check out reviews from other chess players.

To get you started I will recommend 3 introductory books on the opening that will be perfect to get you started.

  • Discovering Chess Openings: Building Opening Skills From Basic Principles – John Emms.
  • Back to Basics: Openings – Carsten Hansen.
  • Openings For Amateurs – Pete Tamburro.
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Practice Opening Strategies Against Different Opponents

The most productive use of your time playing chess when you want to practice chess openings is to play different opponents. If you play in real life with a chess board this can be a challenge, but when you play online you will get to play a new opponent almost every game.

The benefit of playing different opponents is that different players reach differently to your moves. Some will know the opening and play expected moves – others will be unfamiliar and will possibly play moves that seem strange to you. You need to know and continually practice how to react against both types of players. Doing this will really make a difference.

When you practice chess openings a great exercise is to sit down with a higher rated player and play some fast games. After each game ask for feedback on your play in the opening. Targeted feedback like this from good players can speed up your chess development incredibly.

Should I Memorize All of The Moves In an Opening or Just a Few Key Ones

Learning new openings does require some degree of memorization. You need to know the key moves and how to proceed against your opponents moves in most positions in the first few moves.

That being said you should also focus on practice. After getting to know the key moves you should start right away to practice the chess opening in real play. If you get in situations where you do not know the correct continuation after just 3 or 4 moves, then that’s perfectly fine. This is how you learn. Review the game with a chess computer engine and see there you start to go wrong.

By doing so over and over you quickly start to plug the holes in your understanding. The memorization will come all by itself. So just memorize as much as you can, and keep studying alongside practicing the openings in real games. That is the most effective combination to improve your opening play.

Take Advantage of Online Tools That Offer Interactive Coaching for Chess Openings

Interactivity is great when learning. In the case of chess openings, you can go to and they have interactive lessons on many chess openings. First, you see short videos explaining the moves and ideas behind the moves. Immediately after viewing the video you get a few positions presented and it is up to you to find the right move.

This forces you to think on your own and use the new information you just got from the video. Try it out and see if this is something for you. Other sites have similar interactive lessons. At you can sign up for a free account and get access to a large number of interactive lessons on openings. A free account is just limited to the amount of lessons you can take in a given period.

For a small monthly fee you get unlimited access. If you ask me that is money very well spent. If you are looking for a very effective way to practice chess openings, this is the way to go.

Watch Videos on YouTube or Read Articles About How to Practice Chess Openings

Man learning chess from online video

These days the amount of free material online even from Grandmasters is amazing. You should take advantage. Many people learn better by watching someone explain something in a video, and you YouTube is your friend.

Grandmasters and International Masters have brief introductions for many openings and also more thorough explanations. Not only are you getting free advice from experts, but you also get very fresh chess knowledge from some of the best chess minds in the world.

Some players will not have money to go buy all the books they feel they need about chess. Although there certainly are benefits to having good chess books, you can get chess content of excellent quality just by searching online. Don’t just watch YouTube videos. Chess articles by experts are also a great ressource. Just Google what you want to read about and check the credentials of the author and you are good to go!

Which Openings Are The Most Important For Beginners to Learn?

This is not really something anyone can give a clearcut answer to. Many chess trainers do recommend starting out by learning and playing open games. This means games that start with 1. e4. These games often get the action going fast without too much complicated positional play.

Getting many open games in helps solidating your understanding of the fundamentals. Closed and quiet games are probably more suited for higher rated and more experienced players. Open games are not complicated in the same way. Often you get into a lot of positions where you can practice tactics.

If you want to play open games you should play 1. e4 as White and you will often get into Spanish Game (Rui Lopez) or Italien Game. Of course, that also depends on which moves your opponent play. If Black plays 1…e5 we have an open game, but if instead Black plays 1…e6 we get into a closed French Defense game.

By learning how to practice chess openings, you can become a better player and improve your opening game. It’s important that you understand the basics in order to become a strong chess player. These tips will help you get started with practicing chess openings today!


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