25 Must-Know Opening Principles to Reach 2000 Elo

25 Must-Know Opening Principles to Reach 2000 Elo

The opening stage of the game is the easiest phase of the game. Pieces are all in their pre-defined positions and we know what each piece should do in our opening of choice. However, we often get out of ‘book’ and have to rely on our knowledge. This is the tricky part as we cannot invest much time into thinking and working out the details as we need time for the middlegame and endgame as well. This is where we rely on tried and tested opening principles to get us to a playable position.

Knowing these principles will get you out of many tricky situations and help you conserve energy for the later parts of the game.

Knowing these opening principles is essential for any player to reach 2000 Elo.

1. Control the Center

The first basic principle of chess opening is to control the center. We do it in two ways:

  • Control the center with pawns
  • Control the center with pieces

This is why e4, d4, and c4 are the best opening moves in chess. They control the center and open lines for pieces to move out and control the center as well.

The four most important central squares in chess are e4, d4, d5, and e5.

e4, d4, d5, and e5

Tip: Did you know the same idea applies to the middlegame? You can learn the 7 Most Important Middlegame Principles and improve your play.

2. Rapid Development of Pieces

In the opening, we should develop pieces as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence in the opening. This is the reason why Black can equalize easily in opening likes 1.b3. White uses a tempo for a flank pawn move and hence Black can mobilize his forces quickly.

3. Castle the King

After the above two steps, the pieces move away from their initial squares. Now the King should have a free path to move to either the Kingside or Queenside. By castling you get your King to safe cover behind the pawns.

These first 3 principles form the foundation of classical opening play in Chess.

4. Develop with Tempo!

The ideal development scenario is when you get the pieces to good positions while forcing the opponent to respond to your move. This gives you a free tempo that you can use to build on other advantages.

5. Don’t give pointless Checks

Beginners like to give checks as it forces the opponent to take action. We should be mindful of such checks in the opening phase of the game. Even though it develops a piece with tempo it doesn’t achieve anything and often the checking piece itself is attacked leading to a loss of time.

25 Must-Know Opening Principles to Reach 2000 Elo

In the starting position of the Queen’s Gambit Declined White can give Qa4+

But Qa4 doesn’t achieve much and it does not hinder Black’s development. Black can parry the check easily and continue with development.

6. Don’t move the same piece twice

Moving the same piece twice in the opening loses time. It also helps the opponent to gain the initiative by attacking our advanced pieces. Since they don’t have the support of other pieces they will have to retreat resulting in further loss of time.

Think about optimal squares for the pieces.

The pieces should be developed in a way that serves a goal. It can be either to attack a particular point or support the center. But each developing move should fit into the bigger picture of that opening position.

Let’s take a example where moving the same piece twice results in an immediate counterattack.

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bc4 It is tempting for Black to play Na5 and attack the unprotected Bishop on c4 but it’s a mistake.

25 Must-Know Opening Principles to Reach 2000 Elo

White can win with Bxf7+! And Qh5+ with a decisive position.

7. Challenge the opponent’s Center

As we have seen it’s important to fight for the center of the board. But in certain openings that are based on the hypermodern strategy we give up the center temporarily to develop our pieces. In these openings, it is imperative to strike back at the center. Only then can you go towards equality. Otherwise, the opponent will enjoy a static advantage and will slowly grind their advantage.

Some examples of these counterstrikes are the c5 break in the French Defense and the f5 break in the King’s Indian Defense.

25 Must-Know Opening Principles to Reach 2000 Elo

3..c5 pawn break challenges the e5-d4 pawn duo.

8. Don’t move pawns unnecessarily

At any stage of the game, we should be very thoughtful about pawn moves. They are unique in the sense that they only go forward.

Therefore in the opening, if we move pawns without good reasons then we concede two things.

  1. Static weakness that may be exploited in the future.
  2. Time spent moving the pawn could’ve been used to bring out a piece.

9. Don’t be afraid of ghosts

This is a common thinking error that plagues many beginner and intermediate-level players. In the opening phase, it is either a fear of a one-move attack or an attack on the king. Such threats are often imaginary. If you have followed all the opening principles and maintain a sturdy position then there is no reason that your opponent’s ‘ghost’ threats should succeed.

In these situations, the best is to believe in the opening principles and not invest too much time calculating and worrying about these threats.

10. Know your Pawn breaks

An essential way to fight with the pawns is to break down the opponent’s structure. This break is crucial to either equalize or gain an early initiative. Therefore we must know all the pawn breaks that are important for us and our opponent in the openings we play.

For example, White has 3 pawn breaks (f4, b4, and d4) in the Botvinnik Setup of the English Opening.

Botvinnik Setup of the English

11. Don’t rush in Passive positions

This often happens when we are Black. If White plays passively and unambitiously then Black players look to ‘punish’ them for not following opening principles to the fullest.

However in most cases even if White plays passively the position is solid enough that it doesn’t have a target. In this situation, we should not try to calculate a forced win or tactic and instead collect small advantages that we later convert into a decisive advantage.

12. Don’t let the opponent advance pawns with tempo

An advanced piece like the Bishop can often come under attack by the pawns. You should be mindful that these pawn attacks do not improve the opponent’s position.

Hence we should always ask ourselves can my developed piece be attacked and pushed back?

13. Kick the Knight when given the chance

We should look for opportunities to kick the Knight from their ideal squares if given the chance. These squares include the traditional squares(c3, f3, c6 and f6).

By pushing the Knight away we disrupt the piece coordination and reduce the mobility of the Knight. This is most efficient when done by a pawn as it moves forward and gains a tempo on the Knight.

25 Must-Know Opening Principles to Reach 2000 Elo

In this position, Black’s strategy is to develop the Queenside rapidly. But the downside is that Black ignored the center and White’s pawns can advance freely.

3.d5 gains the initiative by attacking the Knight on c6.

14. Accept dubious Gambits

Non-standard opening gambits are often dubious. If you know the correct line then well and good otherwise the way to approach is to accept the gambit and then focus on the downsides of the gambit. It is either that they create long-term weaknesses or give away material for insufficient compensation. Therefore first we should be alert and defend any immediate threats and slowly take the initiative from the opponent’s position.

15. Be careful when you close the Center

In the opening phase, both sides are engaged in a duel for the center of the board. But if you close the center then the focus immediately shifts to the flanks. Now you should only close it if you can see how and where you can generate your play.

Be careful when you close the Center

This is a position from the French Defense. Black’s strategy is based on a counterattack on the center to deter White from effectively using his space advantage. But in the position, Black played c4 and closed the center.

White can now play freely on the Kingside and White’s is also faster than Black.

16. Repeal enemy pieces

When opponent’s pieces occupy an active position in our camp it is best to push them away to decrease their mobility. This also avoids any sudden tactical shots that your opponent might get.

17. Attack when ahead in development

If you can use the dynamic potential of your pieces then you can transform it into a long-term advantage. Attacking with a piece majority in the opening will get you any or all of the following;

  • Material advantage
  • Decisive attack.
  • Lead to permanent weaknesses in the opponent’s camp.

In the following game, White has a lead in development and he manages to develop a dangerous attack against the Black King.

Anish Giri vs Dommaraju Gukesh, Tata Steel 2023

Looking to add a great opening to your preparation but have no idea which opening to play? If so, please see the 15 best chess openings to play for club players.

18. Activate your Rooks

If you’re playing a closed opening then it is easy to forget about the Rooks. But the Rook can be handy in such closed-opening positions. You can use them to defend or overprotect potentially weak spots before opening up the position.

The most common method to activate the Rook is by castling. Another way to get the Rook into the game is through rook lifts from the flank.

19. Double-check your Queen Sorties

Queen incursion into enemy territory is a risky strategy. It can be a quick attack to win some pawns or to destroy the enemy’s structure. But the risk is that you’re running the danger of either losing your most powerful piece or getting it stuck out of play. This is a ploy in many openings where either side dares the Queen for a raid into the position.

A famous example is the Sicilian Defense: Najdorf Poisoned pawn variation.

Double-check your Queen Sorties

20. Attack an uncastled King

A stranded king is a target in the opening phase of the game. If you see that your opponent is hesitating to bring the king to safety then you must take immediate measures to attack it.

You can also stop your opponent from getting the king to safety. In this way, the King becomes a long-term target.

21. Play actively to compensate for weaknesses

Certain openings trade static advantages for dynamic advantages. In such openings, you should look to play actively in the spirit of the opening.

Material is of secondary concern and you should always look to keep your pieces in active attacking positions.

The Kalashnikov variation of the Sicilian Defense is one such opening. Another example of this is the Winawer variation of the French Defense.

The Kalashnikov variation of the Sicilian Defense

The Dynamic potential of the Black pieces compensates for static d5 weakness in the Kalashnikov variation.

22. Be on the Lookout for the Greek Gift

The Greek Gift Sacrifice is a common motif in many openings. For this to work the general piece placement is that a Bishop is pointed at h2/h7 and the opponent lacks the Knight on f3/f6. Your Queen and Knight should be ready to mobilize quickly.

You should always be on the lookout if you or your opponent can get this configuration of piece.

The following game features the Greek Gift Sacrifice in the opening.

Alexander Alekhine vs T Lovewell

23. Leave your King in the Center

This goes against a fundamental idea but its logic is sound. If the center of the board is locked up and there is no play in the center then files cannot be opened to attack the King. In this situation, other considerations take precedence over King’s safety.

Players usually focus on improving the pieces and preparing pawn breaks before committing the King.

24. Don’t give ideal squares for enemy pieces

Chess is a game of give and take or ‘generalized exchange’ as Fischer put it. We should carefully assess what we are giving up to obtain something.

Giving away active posts for the opponent’s pieces in the opening can prove disastrous in the middle game. Even if you get a decent amount of material in return it is not advisable to concede such active squares.

25 Must-Know Opening Principles to Reach 2000 Elo

After the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c4

White permanently concedes the c4 square to Black. The effect is so great that White loses the first-move advantage and the position is equal.

25. The essential question: What does my opponent want?

It is not enough to just improve the quality of our pieces but we should also be mindful of our opponent’s intentions. Stopping the opponent from developing is just as powerful as improving the position of our pieces. Therefore we should always ask ourselves how is the opponent planning to develop the pieces. Is there a way I can hinder his central control or development?

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Updated 06.19.2024