The 5 Essential Chess Opening Principles

Chess opening principles are beneficial to beginners. They allow you to navigate the opening safely without having to learn lots of theory.

5 Simple Rules to Get Great Positions blog image1

When you are starting to learn chess, there are more important skills to learn than memorizing opening theory.

None of the opening theory you know will help you prevent blunders, nor will it help if you leave pieces undefended.

However, there are five principles you can learn and apply to improve your chess opening play right away!

You will see a lot of these opening principles used by top chess players today.

Take a look at the following game between Grischuk and So to see how the opening principles are applied in the game.

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The 5 Chess Opening Principles Beginners Must Know

The game of chess will challenge you at times to break the rules, but before you can break the rules, you must know them.

In view of this, here are the 5 equally-important chess opening principles for beginners to learn:

  1. Occupy the center with your pawns.
  2. Develop your minor pieces in a way that helps control the center.
  3. Don’t move a piece more than once unless necessary.
  4. Beware of your opponent’s threats.
  5. Don’t develop your queen too early.

The center in chess refers to the squares e4, d4, e5, and d5. If you are unsure which squares these are, then please take a look at this blog post.

Chess Opening Principle #1 – Occupy the Center

The first principle is – occupy the center with your pawns.

This means playing either 1.d4 or 1.e4, known as the queen’s pawn opening and king’s pawn opening, respectively.

Of course, if our opponent allows it, we would love to play both e4 and d4 on our first two moves. More common is to advance one pawn to e4 or d4 and use the other pawn to support our claim in the center.

For example, in the Italian Opening, white will play 1.e4 and later defend it with d3. In the Philidor Defense, black will play 1.e5 and defend his pawn with …d6.

A typical position in the Slow Italian Opening which clearly demonstrates most of the opening chess principles.
Common Position in the Slow Italian Opening

Chess Opening Principle #2 – Develop Your Minor Pieces

The second principle is – develop your minor pieces in a way that helps you to control the center.

Therefore, when developing your knights, f3 and c3 are better squares than h3 and a3. A knight on f3 controls the d4 and e5 squares, for example, while a knight on a3 has no impact whatsoever on the fight for the center!

When you have your knights on f3 and c3, you have all the center squares under control.

Although e2 and d2 are better than h3 and a3, your knights will each only control one of the center squares – either e4 or d4.

Good squares for your bishops are c4 and f4, but your bishops can help control the center indirectly. You can develop your bishop to b5 or g5 to attack a black knight that helps Black control the center, for example.

Chess Opening Principle #3 – Don’t Move Pieces More Than Once

The third principle is – don’t move the same piece twice in the opening unless it is necessary. There are two advantages to not moving the same piece twice:

  • saving time is crucial because it allows you to develop more pieces faster,
  • and the more pieces you develop, the more control you will exert on the center and the sooner you can attack!
The art of treating the opening stage of the game correctly and without error is basically the art of using time efficiently blog image

In view of this, an excellent way to learn the importance of time and a lead in development is to play gambit openings.

However, if you gambit a pawn or even two, you must not rush to regain your material if it means moving a piece a second time.

When you have a lead in development, you must try to attack before your opponent catches up. If you are behind in development, then it’s best not to engage your opponent and focus on catching up in development.

One of the greatest players of all time when it came to taking advantage of a lead in development was Paul Morphy.

Schulten – Morphy, 1858, 0-1

Chess Opening Principle #4 – Beware of Threats

The fourth chess principle is – be aware of your opponent’s threats. Beginners are often focused on trying to remember what they should do and forget about their opponent’s plans.

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Developing a piece is good if there are no direct threats to deal with in the position. With this in mind, many beginners will try to checkmate you early, even if it means breaking the chess opening principles.

They play for a quick checkmate because many beginners don’t pay attention.

Because of this, whenever your opponent makes a move, you must ask, “What is his intention?” and “What does my opponent want?”

What does my opponent want What is his threat blog image

This makes it a vital chess habit to develop. Practice it even with the moves where the answer is obvious.

Don’t rush into making your move until you are sure you understand what your opponent intends to do.

Chess Opening Principle #5 – Don’t Move Your Queen Too Early

The fifth principle is don’t develop your queen too early.

This is closely related to chess opening principle number three which is don’t move the same piece twice. When you develop your queen too early, it is likely to come under attack and you will be forced to move it again.

Every queen move is a move you aren’t developing or getting your king to safety.

Whenever you bring your queen out early, you allow your opponent to develop with tempo by attacking your queen. 

If you play Qf3, your opponent can play …Bg4 developing his bishop from c8, and after you move your queen to safety, he can play …Qd7 connecting his rooks. In other words, that’s two developing moves to one of yours. 

Final Thoughts

There are openings called hypermodern openings that seem to neglect these chess opening principles.

However, these openings work because they use pieces to control the center or delay moving their pawns to central squares.

Beginners in chess will find it easier to play an opening by following these five chess opening principles.

On the positive side, as you progress, they can remain the backbone of your opening repertoire.

Also, be sure to read:

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