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Chess For Beginners: The Opening Game

Updated on July 6, 2016
Deborah Demander profile image

Deborah is a writer, healer, and teacher. Her goal is to help people live their best lives everyday by sharing her joy and love of life.

The Game Begins

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Opening game strategies

The Opening Game

The opening game in chess consists of the first ten to fifteen moves. Thousands of books have been written regarding the opening of a chess game, but for the beginner and amateur player, these are best eschewed, in favor of learning basic opening principles, and learning to apply them.

Before we discuss opening strategy, there are a few terms which must be introduced and explained. They are essential to an opening game. For a chess beginner, these terms and concepts seem like the hidden secrets of the masters. The first time I heard these two terms, I felt like a complete idiot, because I had never heard of them before. Rest assured, if you haven't heard them yet, I was in your shoes in the not too distant past. If you have head them, bear with me as I go over some key beginner concepts.

En Passant

The two concepts are En passant, and Castling.

En passant is pawn play. It occurs when a white pawn gets down to the dark side, or when a dark pawn comes over to the white side. Each row (or rank) of the chess board is numbered, starting on the white side. The row (rank) occupied by white pieces is the first rank. The row occupied by white pawns is the second rank. The rows continue numerically across the board. The rank occupied by dark pawns is the seventh and the dark pieces occupy the eight rank.

The importance of numbered ranks will become evident, as I explain En passant. This pawn capture is legal when the four following criteria are met:

1. The white capturing pawn must be on the fifth rank. The dark capturing pawn must be on the fourth rank.

2. The capturing pawn and the seized pawn must be on adjacent files. (They must be on a column next to one another. Beginning on the white side, left, the column's are lettered a-h.)

3. The captured pawn must move two squares in a single move, from it's initial starting point. Remember, a pawn may move one or two squares in its first move.

4. The capturing pawn must exercise En passant in the very next move, and capture diagonally forward, as if the captured pawn had only moved one square.

While En passant is not an opening move, it is an important part of pawn play, which needs to be addressed early on, for development of strategy.

En Passant

Castling

The next important move is called castling.

Castling involves the King and a Rook. Castling is essential in any opening game strategy. Basically, the theory behind castling is that your King is moved safely out of the center of the board, and one Rook is brought out of the corner, and closer to the center where it will be more effectively used.

Castling counts as one move, although the king and the rook move simultaneously, over multiple squares. The King may work in concert with either his own Rook, or the Queenside rook. Basically, the King moves two squares toward the intended Rook. The Rook then moves to the inside side of the King.

Castling may take place when the following criterion are met:

1. Castling may not be done if either the King or the intended Rook have already moved. Each must start in it's original position.

2. All squares between the King and the Rook must be empty. Neither can jump or capture another piece to castle.

3. The King cannot castle if he is in check. If the King escapes check without moving (i.e. another piece blocks the check, or the checking piece is captured), the King may later castle when it is no longer in check.

4. The King cannot move into or through check while castling. This means that he may not land on a square attacked by the enemy. Neither may he pass through a square attacked by an enemy.

Castling may take place if the Rook is under attack.

Castling

Best Opening Moves: Occupy the Center

The best opening plan is not to memorize the details of hundreds of opening plays. Chess is organic, and every game is different. While you may memorize opening games, your opponent may not, and will not react in a way that fits with your plan.

A better strategy is to play to occupy and control the center. From the four center squares of the chess board, it is possible to extend influence and control over a lot of territory. There are three advantages to this ploy.

1. Mobility: Pieces in the center are more mobile and effective and can move to more squares than the pieces on the edge.

2. Restriction: If you control the center, your opponents ability to move is restricted. Your pieces act as a barrier to the other side.

3. Troop preparedness: Your pieces are ready to occupy and win when you occupy the center of the board.

Now you know the basic strategy, occupy the center. Let's discuss how to develop and occupy the center.

First, center pawns should move out, to claim territory, and to free bishops. After the pawns, move Knights and Bishops. As soon as these minor pieces are developed, it's time to castle. Move your King safely out of harms way, and your Rook toward center, where it will be more effective. Next your Queen moves, connecting the Rooks. It is best to work the Rooks together, along a central file. They are powerful and effective when used together.

Thus begins your game of chess. Practice these moves over and again, until they become rote. As you see what moves work well, and what moves don't, you will develop your own unique opening game.

A well developed center strategy

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Best Opening Moves: Develop and Occupy the Center

Now you know the basic strategy, occupy the center. Let's discuss how to develop and occupy the center. This is one of many strategies for occupying the center of the chess board.

First, center pawns should move out, to claim territory, and to free bishops.

After the pawns, move Knights and Bishops. As soon as these minor pieces are developed, it's time to castle and protect the King.

Move your King safely out of harms way, and your Rook toward center, where it will be more effective.

Next your Queen moves, connecting the Rooks. It is best to work the Rooks together, along a central file. They are powerful and effective when used together, especially when used in concert with the powerful queen. This forms an unstoppable trio, near the center of the board.

Thus begins your game of chess. Practice these moves over and again, until they become rote. As you see what moves work well, and what moves don't, you will develop your own unique opening game.

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    • Deborah Demander profile image
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      Deborah Demander 7 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Hi dahoglund, I never knew of any chess formalities, until my husband and I started playing together. Now, I check my list before every move. If you don't have a partner, computer chess is always a solution. My husband has several online games going.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Namaste.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I used to play chess but by the time I got out of college I lost my chess partners.

      I never knew any formalities. This is a good refresher if I find some chess partners and play again. Good information.

    • Deborah Demander profile image
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      Deborah Demander 8 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Lynda, you are too kind. I know a little about a lot. As for chess, I was less than a beginner, until my wonderful husband mentioned his love for the game. I had a real struggle with my ego, in not wanting to look stupid, however, after I got over my pride, I learned a lot. Now... I can beat him one time out of ten. Thanks for the memories of your father. It's too bad, most of the good advice doesn't kick in until hindsight. *Sigh*

      Edweirdo, good luck teaching your niece. And Greek, thanks for stopping by.

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Are there any limits to your knowledge? You must be hell at Trivial Pursuit. Chess now? I learned the game from my father starting when I was nine. He wasn't the most patient of teachers, often telling me to "think things through before you move," in a disgusted tone of voice. Little did I realize he was also giving me good advice for life -- advice that didn't kick in till I was about forty, unfortunately. Back to the subject at hand -- chess, we played on a regular basis, and finally when I was seventeen, I beat him for the first time. So chess is indelibly tied in my mind with my late father.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 8 years ago from UK

      I also haven't played in years and had forgotten all about en passant. Many thanks :D

    • Edweirdo profile image

      Edweirdo 8 years ago from United States

      Thanks for this one Deborah!

      I'm in the beginning stages of teaching my 8 year-old niece how to play chess in an effort to improve her critical thinking. (And hopefully her math skills at the same time!)

      I haven't played the game myself in ages, and I had forgotten all about en passant! This will be fun to teach her and see if she can implement it during game play...

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