Chess Openings - Introduction - 10-03-18


                  ChessTempo Opening Training


                      Chess Openings - Study Guide (


                                               Master Games


                        Opening Recommendations (


                        Opening Index - Games by ECO Code (


                                   ECO Code List (


                                    Popular openings(12 plies)


                                    Popular openings(24 plies)


Major Openings

  [~90% of Openings]

  [Master File - 60,000 games]

  [Fifty-five 1.e4 c5 (Sicilian) Openings]

  [Six Popular Openings (through 8 moves)]


Additional Openings

  [Alapin's Opening]

  [Bishop's Opening]

  [Center Game]

  [Evans Gambit]

  [Hungarian Defense]


  [Ponziani's Opening]

  [Queen's Pawn Counter Gambit]

  [Reti Opening]

  [Scandinavian Defense]


There are many ways to start a chess game. In chess, a move consists of two half-moves (also called plies): a half-move by white and a half-move by black. Consider the following:


White has 20 first-play choices (16 pawn plays and 4 knight plays) and Black has the same number of available responses, so 400 different positions are possible after one move (20 X 20 = 400). About 72,000 positions are possible after two moves, and over 9 million positions are possible after three moves. Almost 300 billion different positions are possible after four moves.


A rule of thumb is that throughout a chess game each player has an average of about 30 options for each of his half-moves. That suggests that about 30^100 or 5+47 different 50-move chess games are possible (500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). That number is about 100,000 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion times as large as the number of atoms in the universe.


Eric Holcomb, an aerospace engineer, estimates that (1e49), i.e., 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 different legal chess positions are possible. That number is about equal to the number of atoms on earth. So the next time you play chess you may likely see a chessboard position that has never occurred before.


The Big Picture


Most chessboard positions are really bad examples that would never occur in an intelligent game. There are relatively few good chess openings. Out of the 72,000 possible two-move positions, more than 70,000 are probably terrible. The following may be the absolute worst.


Fool's Mate - a Terrible Chess Opening


Once a new player learns how to move the chess men, he/she needs to learn how to start a chess game. Starting out on the wrong foot usually leads to immediate trouble. In the Fool’s mate, 1.f3 e5 2.g4 ‘White’s worst game’ and also the world's shortest chess game’, Black checkmates White with 2...Qh4#.


Fool’s Mate – 1.f3 e5 2.g4 Qh4#

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White got into trouble first with 1.f3 and sealed his fate with 2.g4. A database with almost two million games shows that 1.f3 (Barnes Opening) was played 15 times (about 0.0008 percent of the time). The play won 40 percent of the time. But the second half move, 2.g4 is the real stinker (the worst possible move on the board). (Hint: If your opponent opens with 1.f3, play 1...e5. It's a sound move and there's a slim chance that he or she is foolish enough to continue with 2.g4). Acccording to Wikipedia, 1.f3 may be the worst possible first half-move. It exerts influence over the central square e4, but that goal can be achieved with almost any other first move. 1.f3 does not develop a piece, opens no lines for pieces, and hinders the development of White's king-side knight by blocking its most natural square, f3. It also weakens White's kingside pawn structure, opens the e1–h4 diagonal against White's uncastled king, and opens the g1–a7 diagonal against White's potential kingside castling position. Since 1.f3 is such a poor move, it is seldom played.


In the past 600-700 years, players have studied millions of chess games, and most opening moves that have been explored in those games have proven to be worthless. In three half-moves (a mini-opening) it is possible to create approximately 4000 board positions (20 x 20 x 20 /2). How many of those positions are so bad that we should avoid them? The answer is that approximately all of them are bad - 4000 or so! MCO-14 uses 700 pages to discuss about 30 mini-openings and doesn't even mention the other 4000 or so because they are either unsound or difficult to win.


We Will Only Learn a Few Openings in Chess Club.


There are reasons not to teach numerous openings to middle school or high school students (and not only because I don't even know 'numerous' openings). It is better for you to learn to open intelligently than to try to memorize a lot of openings.


1) Even if you select a good opening and learn it thoroughly, there is essentially zero likelihood that your opponent will accommodate you by making all the 'correct' moves in response. So one of you will end up with a bad opening very quickly. Your job is to make sure that your opponent is on the short end of that bargain each time you play.


2) For example, the Ruy Lopez (AKA Spanish) is a popular opening that many of you may know. It starts out with 1.e4 e5 2.nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5. In MCO-14, 54 pages are devoted to the Ruy Lopez opening, to cover practically all of its viable variations. So we could probably put together a one-year course, and meet for three hours a week for a whole year to study the Ruy Lopez opening, and we might really become experts on that opening (but probably not, because I doubt if you or I would hang in there to try such a boring experiment). But what would that get us?


Let's say you become a 'Ruy Lopez expert' and you go to a tournament and you are paired to play White against Suzy Whomever from School Whatever. So you 'decide' to play the Ruy Lopez. You move 1.e4 and then Suzy plays 1...c5.


Oops! There goes that whole 'Let's play the Ruy Lopez' plan, because Suzy is saying, "Let's play the Sicilian because it gives Black a better chance to win".


Hey, that's great! Fortunately, you already know how to play the Sicilian, so you proceed with 2.Nf3.


Then Suzy plays 2...Nc6.


Hey, what's going on?? She was supposed to play 2...d6. But you only know the Najdorf variation of MCO-14. Actually, you probably only know the first 8 or so moves of Line 32, footnote i of the Najdorf, discussed on page 262 of MCO-14. And by move 2 she has already derailed you twice from your knowledge base. Now you need to know the Accelerated Dragon, Maroczy Bind variation of the Sicilian Defense, described on page 284 (which you maybe haven't memorized). Why didn't you learn all 725 pages of MCO-14? Maybe because you have a life or something? After all, few Grand Masters know every detail in MCO-14.


Well, you shouldn't be surprised that Suzy didn't follow line 32 of an opening that MCO-14 uses 118 pages to cover. How many chess coaches would make their club members play THAT opening for a whole semester?


Actually, Suzy maybe hasn't even heard of the Sicilian opening. She just got lucky enough to 'discover' the Sicilian on her second move (one chance in 20), and her third move was 'accidentally' or 'miraculously' sound enough to even be mentioned anywhere in MCO-14. She probably doesn't know any more about Sicilian's Accelerated Dragon, Maroczy Bind variation on page 284 than you or I do, and she will probably prove that she doesn't on her next move.


So what should you do? Play smart, carefully develop your position, concentrate on control of the center of the board, castle early, make sure that your pieces are protected and that you are not under attack by more pieces than you have protecting any piece, don't block your pieces from developing or retreating, and don't lose tempo by having to retract moves that you have already made. Then when you have done all of those things, you will be ready to initiate a successful attack on your opponent and beat her socks off.


An International Chess Master, Danny Rensch, says, “Every major chess opening either controls the center, or later plans to destroy the opponent’s control. If you’re still developing your pieces without a plan, you need to pick one well-known approach for White and Black at and follow it every game!”. I believe that this advice is the best I have ever heard.


[Click here] for everything you need to know about chess openings.


Here's a good chess lecture on chess openings by a Grand Master Chess Coach. If you have a computer with access to YouTube, [Watch the Video] to better understand the complexity of learning chess openings. The coach is lecturing a well-trained (and polite) group of elementary school students. I'm impressed with their knowledge about chess openings. I also admire the ease with which he can briefly discuss so many openings in such a short time. He also shows you some traps to avoid.


Chess Tutorials on


An excellent series of one-hour tutorials has been prepared by the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. It will help you learn a lot about chess openings, tactics, strategies, and endgames. Severl of these lectures feature Varuzhan Akobian. The first lecture covers four openings. Mr. Akobian goes well beyond mere memorization of openings, covering tactics, strategy, and endgame ideas as well. With some study on your part this tutorial will put you way ahead of the competition that you most likely face in DISD middle-school and high school tournaments. He emphasizes strongly that you need to work to control the center of the board and to develop your pieces before you begin to attack your opponent. As I have emphasized, we only waste valuable time when we experiment with lots of bad openings. These lectures will give you some direction re. sound opening techniques. After you watch these videos you may want to also look at additional YouTube chess lectures by Mr. Akobian and other chess masters. These five lectures are on YouTube, but I have embedded the videos onto website so that you can also watch them on our school computers that block direct access to YouTube.


1. Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian - Various Chess Openings


2. Akobian - Chess Openings - Kasparov


3. Akobian - Chess Openings - Fischer


4. Akobian - Intermediate Chess Openings - Part 1


2. Akobian - Intermediate Chess Openings - Part 2


Popular Openings


'Chess Openings Pro' is an Apple iPhone/iPad app that explores a database of about three million tournament games that have been played by highly experienced chess players. Half of those games start with one of the following five "three half-move" sequences (micro-openings):

1) Sicilian - 17 percent of all games: 1.e5 c5 2.Nf3

2) Indian with 2. c4 - 14 percent of all games: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4

3) Ruy Lopez and Giuoco Piano- 8 percent of all games: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3

4) Queen's Gambit - 6 percent of all games: 1.d4 d4 2.c4

5) Indian with 2. Nf3 - 5 percent of all games: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3

No other opening represents as much as five percent of the database. Click Here to download spreadsheet

I have put together a database of the 37 most popular two-move openings from Chess Openings Pro. Click Here to download it.


Game Databases


Databases such as the ones linked below allow you to study millions of games with a PC or android program such as Scid or with an Apple app like tChess Pro.


The Sicilian Defense - Fifty-four 5-move Variations (A Brief(??) Introduction)


A04-A09 [1.Nf3] Reti


A10-A39 [1.c4] English


A40-A44 [1.d4] Queen's Pawn


A45-A99 [1.d4 Nf6] Queens Pawn - Indian Defense


B00-B99 [e4] King's Pawn


C00-C19 1.e4 e6] French


C40-C99 [1.e4 e5 2.Nf3] Open Game


D00-D05 [1.d4 d5] Queen's Pawn


D06-D99 [1.d4 d5 2.c4] Queen's Pawn Gambit


Basic Principles of Chess Openings – ref.


Chess Openings Pro for iPad/iPhone


CLICK HERE to read more about 'Chess Openings Explorer', an iPad/iPhone chess openings app, that covers more openings and variations than most players will be able to study in a lifetime. It also provides statistics for variations that arise from those openings. It uses an internal chess engine to analyze board positions to suggest next moves. The current version (3.2.2) was built by analyzing 1,749,378 games and storing over a million unique positions with statistics in the app. Future versions will likely utilize an even larger database. There is no manual for the app, but it is pretty straightforward and intuitive. A help overlay is accessed by pressing ‘?’ on the Statistics screen. An Analysis Mode is accessed by turning the iPad/iPhone sideways. A ‘Difficulty’ slider bar sorts Quiz Mode questions (Higher difficulty questions exhibit more complicated positions.) You can paste a PGN text string into the Search Bar within the Opening Book to identify any opening (e.g. e4 c5 d4 exd4″), but you cannot paste a FEN string into the search bar for identification.



A Free Chess Openings Book


This Over-300-Page Collection of online chess openings from WikipediA is a useful reference to help you expand your openings repertory.


Modern Chess Openings


Modern Chess Openings (MCO) is a highly-regarded chess openings reference book (734 pages). My hardbound copy is the fourteenth edition (MCO-14), published in 1999. The latest edition is the fifteenth (MCO-15), available online for about $25 in paperback. You may be able to find a good used MCO-14 online for about $6.


ECO - Encyclopedia of Chess Openings


If you really need more than 700 pages of chess openings you don't belong in this chess club, but you can CLICK HERE for WikipediA article – Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO). ECO is a huge set of books that will provide you with about 3000 pages of information for $400. ECO is a classification system for chess opening moves. ECO is available as a five-volume book set or as a computer database. The moves were taken from hundreds of thousands of games between masters, from published analysis in the Chess Informant since 1966, and then compiled by notable chess players. ECO contains only a small amount of text (in eight languages), along with diagrams of positions and chess moves in algebraic notation. ECO’s coding system has been adopted by other chess publications. Each of the five main opening categories, A through E, is divided into one hundred sub-categories.


CLICK HERE to see ECO's 93-page index.