First Moves

With a world championship match coming up, it might be interesting to look at how Stockfish would play the first few moves, and, therefore, what openings we’re likely to see over the board.

What does Stockfish think are the best openings? And, for that matter, what are the worst openings?

For White’s first move, Stockfish likes e4, d4 or Nf3. 1. c4 is slightly less favoured because Black can reply 1.. e5, but all these moves give White a nominal advantage. It’s also fairly happy with e3, c3 or g3. The bad news for Mike Basman is that White’s worst first move is 1. g4, when Black has a clear advantage. 1. f3 is the next worst: even beginners’ moves like h4 and a4 are better.

How should Nepo reply to 1. e4?

Stockfish suggests there are five playable options, four of which you could perhaps predict, but the fifth might surprise you. We have 1.. e5, and the Sicilian Defence, 1.. c5. There’s also the French (1.. e6) and the Caro-Kann (1.. c6). Unexpectedly, Stockfish also likes the relatively unpopular 1.. Nc6, the Nimzowitsch Defence. (Which suggests to me that it’s an underrated opening that you might want to take up yourself. Perhaps I’ll look further into it another time.) I think the general opinion among top GMs, though, is that, at the very highest level, only 1.. e5 and 1.. c5 are valid options. Of course, if you’re playing an online blitz game against a random opponent, anything goes. If you play something like 1.. g6, 1.. d5 or 1.. Nf6 on, Stockfish will tell you off for choosing an inaccurate move, but of course that’s no reason why you shouldn’t play any of these moves if you like.

There are several moves you shouldn’t play against 1. e4, though. The worst reply is 1.. b5, losing a pawn for no reason, but 1.. g5, f5, Nh6 and f6 all give White a big advantage, and several other moves aren’t a lot better.

What should your reply be if Magnus opens 1. d4? You won’t be surprised to hear that 1.. d5 and 1.. Nf6 are preferred, followed by 1.. e6 and 1.. c6. You also won’t be surprised to hear that 1.. g5 is the worst reply, with 1.. f6 as second worst and several other moves considered poor.

You’ll again be told off if you play the Dutch Defence, or even the King’s Indian. You do have a slightly wider choice than against 1. e4, though. Stockfish is relatively happy to defend the Queen’s Gambit (orthodox or Slav), the Nimzo/Bogo/Queen’s Indian complex or the Grünfeld Defence.

Let’s see what happens when Carlsen and Nepo face off for the title.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through View all posts by Richard James

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