The Rules of the Opening

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The opening of the game is the beginning phase. It is when you are trying to control the centre of the board and get your chess pieces out from their starting positions to more aggressive posts. In his excellent book, The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings, Ruben Fine gives ten rules to bear in mind when starting a game of chess:

  1. Open with either the e or d pawn - it is these pawns which stake a claim in the centre.

  2. If possible try to develop your pieces so that they threaten something or make it difficult for your opponent to develop.

  3. It is generally a good idea to develop knights before bishops. This is because it is generally easier to see where your knights should go as they have less choice of good squares than bishops.

  4. When you develop your pieces do not move them to a square which can easily be attacked by your opponent and consequently drive your chessman to another square. Try to move each piece only once in the opening.

  5. In the opening make only one or two pawn moves, no more.

  6. Do not bring your Queen out too early as it can be chased around the board by enemy pieces and you will lose valuable time and fall behind in development.

  7. Bring your King to safety by castling as soon as possible and preferably on the king's side.

  8. Play to get control of the centre of the chessboard. The centre consists of the squares d4, d5, e4 and e5.

  9. Always try to keep at least one pawn in the centre of the chessboard.

  10. Do not sacrifice (give away your pieces) without a good reason. For example, a good reason to sacrifice a pawn might be to get ahead on development, to prevent your opponent from castling, to build up a strong attack or to deflect your opponent's Queen.

While it is normally a good idea to follow the above rules remember that there are always exceptions. However, there is always a good reason why a rule has been broken. Look at the following diagram:


Here White has not moved to d4 or e4 (see rule 1). However, the pawn on c4 is attacking the centre square d5 (see rule 8). This pawn move is good. Compare this to the following diagram:


Here the pawn is having no effect at all on the centre. This move is not good! To summarise: In the opening:

Control the centre
Develop your pieces
Castle as soon as possible

It is better for beginners to open a game with 1.e4 and to reply with 1...e5. This is because games of this nature lead to the more open games in which the pieces are developed quickly and play is more tactical. Consequently, the ideas are more easy to understand.