Chess Corner - The Opening



Most chess games can be divided into three parts: the opening, middlegame,and the endgame. (The exception is a very short game like Fool’s or Scholar’s Mate, when the game ends with a great deal of pieces on the board.) In this column, we’ll go over the opening and the two things you need to accomplish before you can play well in the middle and endgames.

The first thing you need to do in the opening is develop your pieces. By this I mean you need to get all of your forces in active positions as soon as possible. It is also good to delay your opponent from doing so; this gives you an edge. In chess, the first person to have their pieces developed will get the first opportunity to attack and won’t be as weak in the future.

The other goal you should accomplish in the opening is castling. If you have read Advanced Moves and Chess Notation (my third column), you should know how castling works. Castling puts your king in a safe position and gets a rook out to the action. This makes castling a protection and a developing move! (Be warned, though: When you castle, you should always prevent and look out for back-rank mates later on.)

There are a few guidelines to the opening that can help you decide how and when to accomplish these two goals. First, you should always castle as soon as possible. Although you shouldn’t feel rushed, the general rule is the sooner you castle, the better. As long as your king is exposed in the center, your opponent can attack him and sometimes even prevent you from castling in the future. It is always too late to castle once the center has opened up and there is room for the major pieces to attack.

Another important rule is to never bring out the queen too early. Although the queen’s power is tempting to use right away, she can easily be lost, and your opponent instantly has an advantage. Your queen is usually the last piece to be developed, and is sometimes even developed in the middlegame. Developing it before all of your other pieces, though, is just a blunder.

Another important opening rule is to never move the same piece twice. Why shouldn’t you?  Because although you may see a good attack you want to try or a good move that you could make with a piece that’s already developed (and this can be quite tempting, believe me), developing your army is much more important. I once played a game in which I saw a good attack in the opening and ignored development for a while. Later in the game, my opponent found a way to not only make those undeveloped pieces a weakness, but made sure I couldn’t develop them in the future! (I lost the game, by the way.) In a trade, for example, moving a piece twice to prevent material loss is okay. But your main priority should be getting your army out into the action.

Probably the most important rule to development is to take control of the center. The center is made up of the squares d4, e4, d5, and e5. See the first diagram above. (The squares c3, d3, e3, f3, c4, f4, c5, f5, c6, d6, e6, and f6 are also part of the center, too, though not as well-positioned as the other four. The first diagram shows these twelve squares, too.)

Why control the center? The answer is that from the center, you can dominate a great deal of the board. This gives you more chances to attack and quicker defenses. So when you develop, develop towards the center. Move your d- and e- pawns up two squares, not your a- and h- pawns. Move your knights to c3 and f3, not a3 and h3. When you control the center, you have the ability to control most of the board.

So, you could say that you have three, not two, goals: develop your pieces, castle early, and dominate the center of the board. If you can do all of this in the opening (and your opponent cannot), you will start the middlegame with a good position and high chances of winning the game. If you can position yourself better than your opponent in the opening, you have already won half the game.

Here, as always, is this week’s puzzle. White has just taken Black’s pawn on d5 with his knight. He thought that since Black’s knight was pinned, 1. Nxd5? was safe. But Black can win material after four moves, starting with the capture of White’s knight on d5 (1. Nf6xd5). How?

Answer to last week’s puzzle: White capture’s Black’s knight with his rook on e8 (1. Rxf8+). Black’s king is then forced to take back on f8 (1… Kxf8). White’s queen can then checkmate Black by moving to d8 (2. Qxd8#). This puzzle is from Basic Chess, by David Levins (2005).

Probably the best way to learn chess is by playing chess. The Evansville Scholastic Chess Club is a great place to solve chess puzzles, sit down to a game of chess, and most importantly, have fun. One of the staff members, Sean Vibbert, is accepting students for online lessons. See their website, evansvillechess.org, for more details.