Building a repertoire of classic chess openings is crucial for taking your game to new levels. You cannot win a game in the opening but you can go a long way towards losing it. Master a few openings because the middlegame is more fun when you're calling the shots rather than fending off ever growing threats.
Experienced campaigners will tell you to compete for central control, get a good pawn structure, win the battle for space, develop your pieces to key outposts as fast as you can, keep your forces active and above all, secure your king's safety.
But you want even more from your openings don't you? After a while you get a sense of the kind of positions you enjoy playing. You subconsciously develop your chess playing style. You want openings that lead into the kind of game you like and away from the positions you don't like. What kind of opening floats your boat?
The English Opening is the most popular flank opening for White and one of the most frequently used overall. The reason for this is it's flexibility. It is possible to transpose into numerous lines depending on your opponent's replies.
The main idea is to take control of the d5 square and occupy the center. The main line sees White's four central pawns moving towards this goal with the Queen's Knight taking up residence on d5.
Black has a few main replies to 1.c4. The main line is the Reverse Sicilian with 1...e5. He can also go for the Symmetrical Variation through 1...c5. He can play for a possible Queen's Gambit Declined with 1...c6.
The Benoni Defense is a solid option for Black to counter the Queen's Pawn Opening. It can transpose to a Benko Gambit, you play 3...e6 for the Benoni, 3...b5 for the Benko.
The idea is to take control of the dark central squares with pawns on d6 and c5 and a Bishop fianchettoed on the long diagonal at g7.
White will sometimes transpose to an English Opening by developing his Knight early rather than playing 3.d5. He has the Taimonov Variation at his disposal if he's happy to get into the Benoni.
This opening choice has a good reputation at high levels. Many of the top GMs use it and believe in it's potential for Black.
The Dutch Defense is a very different kind of answer to 1.d4. Not many people would expect 1...f5! So what is Black trying to do? Well the Dutch has a couple of positive things going for it.
Black is immediately putting pressure on the e4 square, deterring White from throwing forward his King's pawn. Yes White can gambit it but does he really want to?
Secondly Black can fully develop his Kingside very quickly and he will have a semi-open file for his Rook when the f-pawn leaves the stage. That f-pawn can also do some damage to the White Kingside before it is eliminated.
Even though White can build a decent center with an English type formation on the Queenside and a fianchettoed King's Bishop, Black has interesting prospects from this opening.
The Caro Kann is a popular defensive opening for Black. It is solid and reliable and a good knowledge of it is a handy tool in the locker of any beginner or intermediate player.
It is true that development is a little slower with this defense but it does offer security. With good play Black should at least enjoy parity as the game moves from the opening to the middlegame.
The main lines include the Classical Variation, the Modern Variation, the Bronstein-Larsen Variation, the Advance Variation and the Exchange Variation. This is a good choice if you want a safe, quiet opening.
The French Defense is another option for Black. It offers quicker development than the Caro but at the expense perhaps of being maybe not quite so rock-solid.
Like the Caro it is based on competing with White for central control or at least as far as Black is concerned, equality. Black knows that his king is going to feel some heat as White will have space on the kingside.
What he must do is get his Queenside Bishop mobile and create some counterplay on this side of the board. If he can weather the storm on his castled position and create chances on the Queenside, Black can do okay.
The Vienna Game comes about in open games (games that start with 1.e4 e5). 2.Nc3 takes us into it. This is a great choice for White because he's keeping his options wide open. He can still go down many different roads.
Black has three main moves at this point. He can develop either of his Knights towards the center or he can bring his King's Bishop to c5. You will probably see 2...Nf6 most often.
You can play the Vienna Gambit as White against either of the Knight moves but probably shouldn't against the Bishop at c5. In that case you're better to just develop your Kingside minors. This opening has lots of potential for exciting, cut throat chess.
The Ruy Lopez is a good, solid opening choice for White. As Kingside openings go this one is something of a slow burner. Both sides will develop without much incident. It's safe to say that it's a low risk opening for both sides. The issue will be decided later in the game.
It starts with another Double King's Opening and after a couple of Knights are developed, White brings his King's Bishop out to harass the enemy Knight. There are two main branches, one is the Exchange Variation, the other is when the Bishop and Knight stay on the board.
This is a good opening if you want a game with relatively few surprises. It's also a good choice as a first main opening to study. It will guarantee you safe passage into the middlegame.
The Grunfeld Defense is a flexible opening for the hypermodernists out there. Black allows White to build an imposing pawn center only to attack it relentlessly from the wings with his minor pieces.
The Kingside Bishop is fianchettoed and the Knights are developed towards the center. White can choose between the Exchange Variation and the Russian Variation where the Knight comes to f3.
If White is happy to go into the main line of the Grunfeld he will establish a powerful center but will have to fight very hard to hold it.
Black will put tremendous pressure on d4. The game will center around a deeply absorbing struggle involving several pieces for this square. The outcome of this battle will go a long way to deciding the game.
The Queen's Indian Defense is a sister opening of the Nimzo Indian Defense. After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 White may choose to avoid the Nimzo which would follow 3.Nc3 and play 3.Nf3 instead. Black will then reply with 3...b6 preparing to fianchetto his Queen's Bishop and we are into the Queen's Indian.
It's a hypermodern opening with Black looking to take control of the light squares along the long diagonal. He also wants to prevent White from playing e4 for as long as possible. The King's Knight may also come to e4 to blockade the pawn.
This family of openings was originally developed by Aron Nimzowitsch and it has his fingerprints all over it. Prophylaxis is a major theme with Black working strenuously to limit White's options from the get go.
The Nimzo Indian Defense resembles the Queen's Indian Defense in terms of strategic objectives. Again Black allows White to build up a center and then attempts to attack it by taking control of the center with his minor pieces.
This time White develops his Queen's Knight on his third move after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 instead of his King's Knight. Now Black goes into the Nimzo Indian with 3...Bg5.
Play continues with patterns much the same as the Queen's Indian. Black will often put his Bishop on b6 to control the long diagonal. The three main branches are the Rubinstein System (4.e3), Capablanca Variation or Classical Variation (4.Qc2) and the Kasparov Variation (4.Nf3).
Black can go with the King's Indian Defense in response to the Queen's Pawn Opening. Here he will fianchetto his Kingside Bishop and castle short. He quickly gives his King a fortress that White will find hard to break down.
White will occupy the center with his pawns as Black will not advance beyond his third rank early on. Instead he concentrates on building up a rock solid defense, hoping to get counter play. This usually comes on the Queenside but may also occur in the center in some lines.
There are five main lines in the King's Indian. They are the Classical Variation, the Samisch Variation, the Averbakh Variation, the Four Pawns Attack and the Fianchetto Variation.
This Dirty Dozen will give you a fearsome repertoire. Give yourself a deep understanding of them and you will put your opponents back on their heels right from the off.
Every opening you study in detail and master helps you pick up new ones quicker and quicker. The learning curve is less steep because very similar themes and concepts get revisited time and again. The variations and ideas will begin to stick with less and less effort.
Some people like sharper openings than these solid, dependable old chestnuts. They want to roll the dice right from the very first move. Add a little more excitement by throwing a sacrifice into your openings. You can do this by playing chess gambits.
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