Ten rules for the opening

  1. Get your pieces out into the centre quickly. The opening  is a race to see who can get their pieces out first while keeping at least a share of control of the centre.
    • This is the main point to remember; all the other rules are just footnotes to this one.  Sortez les pièces!

  2. Get a firm foothold in the centre - a pawn on one of the 'little centre' squares e4/e5/d5/d4 - and don't give it up without good reason
  3. Move your king to safety at the side by castling
  4. Complete your development before moving a piece twice or starting an attack.  By move 12, you should have connected your Rooks, or be about to do so.
  5. More detail on winning the race:
    • move pieces not pawns, and
    • move them to their best squares in one move if you can, and also
    • try to gain time if you can by aggressive moves.
  6. Move your minor pieces out early on generally move Knights before Bishops, and generally straightaway to f3/c3 or f6/c6 (but probably not both, as White)
  7. Don't move out your major pieces (Q+RR) where they will get chased around by the little guys and possibly trapped.
  8. Don't grab pawns or attack if you haven't completed developmen; especially, don't charge around with your Queen trying to hoover up pawns.
  9. If one side gets ahead in development:
    • If you are ahead in development, start something going and open up lines for your better pieces
    • If you are behind in development, don't start anything and keep things closed until you have caught up. This is especially true if you have not castled!
  10. Rooks are the hardest piece to develop: "openings should be judged on the prospects they offer to ambitious young Rooks" - PURDY.  To develop your Rooks, open a file; to open a file, bring pawns into a position to swap them off; so after 1.e4, plan to play d2-d4 or f2-f4 soon.
    • In fact, you have to attack the opponent's centre with pawns to get much chance of an advantage as White (The Four Knights' Game is next to Old Stodge in drawishness), so d2-d4 makes sense for more than one reason.

Further advice on playing the opening

I've collected here some other advice from the grandmasters of the past.

Lasker's rules for the opening

  1. Do not move any pawns in the opening of a game but the King and Queen pawns.
  2. Do not move any piece twice in the opening, but put it at once on the right square.
  3. Bring out your knights before developing your bishops, especially the Queen's Bishop.
  4. Do not pin the adverse King Knight (ie. by Bg5) before your opponent has castled.
[cat] COOL TIP: Why should you move the knights first? Well, knights are very much more effective if they are in the centre. (Bishops are more effective here too, but they can work from a distance). For the opening that has to mean Knights moving to c3 and f3 (or c6 and g6). Where should the Bishops go? The White King's Bishop on f1 could go to b5,c4,d3 or even e2. Which is best? That depends on what your opponent is up to. So, move your knights straight away to the centre, and while you are doing that your opponent's moves may suggest to you where you should put your bishops.

Reuben Fine on the opening:

  1. In the initial position White, because of the extra move, has a slight advantage. Consequently:
  2. White's problem in the opening is to secure the better position, while...
  3. Black's problem is to secure equality.

Fine's rules for the opening

  1. Open with either the e-pawn or the d-pawn.
  2. Wherever possible, make a good developing move which threatens something or adds to the pressure on the centre.
  3. Develop knights before bishops.
  4. Pick the most suitable square for a piece and develop it there once and for all.
  5. Make one or two pawn moves in the opening, not more.
  6. Do not bring your queen out too early.
  7. Castle as soon as possible, preferably on the king's side.
  8. Play to get control of the centre.
  9. Always try to maintain at least one pawn in the centre.
  10. Do not sacrifice without a clear and adequate reason, eg.:
    • it secures a tangible advantage in development
    • it deflects the opponent's queen
    • it prevents the opponent from castling
    • it enables a strong attack to be developed

Fine's two last questions to be asked before a move is made:

  • How does it affect the centre?
  • How does it fit in with the development of my other pieces and pawns?

Nimzovitch's Seven Axioms

(from My System)
  1. Development is to be understood as the strategic advance of the troops toward the frontier line (the line between the fourth and fifth ranks).
  2. A pawn move must not in itself be regarded as a devloping move, but merely as an aid to development.
  3. To be ahead in development is the ideal to be aimed for.
  4. Exchange with resulting gain of tempo.
  5. Liquidation, with consequent development or disembarrassment.
  6. The pawn centre must be mobile.
  7. There is no time for pawn hunting in the opening, except for centre pawns.

Suetin's four principles for advanced players

  1. The fight for control of the centre
  2. The striving for the quickest and most active development.
  3. The creation of conditions that permit early castling.
  4. The formation of an advantageous pawn structure

Hort's 13 rules for all players

  1. Take advantage of every tempo.
  2. Do not make pawn moves without careful planning.
  3. Begin the game with a centre pawn, and develop the minor pieces so that they influence the centre.
  4. Develop flexibly!
  5. Develop harmoniously! Play with all your pieces
  6. Do not make aimless moves. Each move must be part of a definite plan.
  7. Do not be eager for material gain. The fight for time is much more important than the fight for material, especially in open positions.
  8. A weakening of your own pawns may be accepted only if it is compensated by a more active placement of your pieces.
  9. With the help of your pawns, try to get an advantage in space and weaken your opponent's pawn position.
  10. Do not obstruct your pawns by grouping your pieces directly in front of them; pawns and pieces must work together.
  11. During the first few moves, pay special attention to the vulnerable KB2 square on both sides.
  12. Remember that the poor placement of even a single piece may destroy the coordination of the other pieces.
  13. With White, exploit the advantage of having the first move and try to gain the initiative. With Black, try to organize counterplay.
This last point is worth particular attention, for, although it contains much wisdom, it is not always applied in current tournament practice. Unfortunately, we belong to a time when White usually tries to gain only a minimal advantage, because to try for more entails the taking of risks. Black, having no sure method of developing counterplay without risk, usually tries to minimise White's attacking possibilities. The game thus proceeds towards an endgame in which neither side has real winning chances."


Portisch on forming a repertoire:

"Your only task in the opening is to reach a playable middlegame."

 "...To all players I can recommend the following: simplicity and economy. These are the characteristics of the opening systems of many great masters... A solid opening repertoire fosters self-confidence." -- LAJOS PORTISCH

(LP goes on to discuss the Exchange Ruy Lopez, the Modern Steinitz (as Black), slow lines of the French Winawer, the Classical Pirc, the Closed Sicilian and the King's Indian Attack against the French (and Sicilian; and on the other side of the board the Exchange Queen's Gambit and lines of the King's Indian Defence and Nimzo-Indian)