Beginner Opening Theory

May 08, 2023 Openings

How should a beginner learn opening theory? As soon as we learn how to move all the pieces, know what checks and checkmates are, special moves, it’s time to choose what we’re going to play in the opening. But how is a first-time player going to do that? What would be the correct way to study openings? In this article, we will discuss this topic, see players’ common mistakes and guide your study!

What is the right way to study openings?

To talk about this, we need to understand what are the basic principles in the opening. These are concepts that all good openings have in common, and they are:

  • Control the center;
  • Develop the pieces;
  • Put the king in safety;

All these concepts are connected and sometimes a bid will follow all these ideas at once. But let’s delve into each one of them, so you don’t have any doubts.

Beginner Principle #1: Control the center

Where is the center of the board? We call e4,d4,d5, and e5 central squares. Some authors call the squares around the center f3, f4, f5, f6, e3, d3, c3, c4, c5, c6, d6, and e6 the extended center (that is, they are not exactly the center, but controlling this region of the board is also important). Now you ask me: Why is controlling the center important? Let’s see this example:

Beginner Principle

In this example, let’s compare the pieces on both sides: The White King, centralized, control 8 squares, and the Black King, at the edge of the board, controls only 3. So, we can conclude that the White King is more active than the black king.
The white knight, also centralized, controls 8 squares on the board, and the black knight in the corner of the board, controls only 2. The conclusion we reach is: When the pieces are near/in the center of the board, they reach their potential maximum.

Beginner Principle N°2: Developing the pieces

As we know, the objective of the game is to checkmate the opponent’s king. And to achieve this, one of the things we can do is attack with more pieces than our opponent can defend. And that’s where the development concept comes in: Putting all the pieces in the game as quickly as possible, since that way, we’ll have more chances of attacking the opponent’s king, for example:

Beginner Principle

Another important thing to remember is: The concept of developing the parts is linked to the concept of controlling the center! In the diagram, white has placed all the pieces in the game, close to the center and also managed to control the center well. Let’s see a practical example:

Petrov, Alexander-Szymanski
Warsaw Warsaw, 1847

Petrov Game

A very old game (and usually this type of game illustrates these ideas very well since chess didn’t have many ideas and players were still discovering basic ideas) that shows an example of how neglecting your development can be dangerous. How would you play as black?

8…Bxf3? Of course, here a better bid would be 8…0-0! putting the king to safety (castling is also a developmental move, as it puts the king to safety and the rook comes into play). 9.Bxf3 Thanks to Black’s mistake, Black has to lose more time to defend White’s threats and will have to lose more time in development. Let’s move on to the next critical moment of the game:

This is Black’s last chance in the game: Getting the king to safety at 10…0-0 will still allow for a fight. But Black’s move illustrates another typical mistake: Gaining material in exchange for developing the rest of his pieces:

10…Qxd4? After this move, White takes full control of the game:

Beginner Principle #3: Get the king to safety

And since the object of the game is to checkmate the opposing king, it makes all the sense in the world to get our king to safety, in general, by castling. Is another point worth mentioning is: If in the opening the fight is for the center, do you want your king to be close to the center or far from the center? Naturally, away from the center, and castling does this: It puts your king closer to the flank and brings the rook closer to the center:


Very good! We finished looking at the basics in the opening. Now it’s time to see how these principles are applied in practice. Remember one thing: All good openings seek to apply these three principles!

Principles in practice: London System

(Hey! You can see our complete guide on the London System by clicking here =) )
The London System is a very popular opening at beginner levels (and was even played in the Ding Liren-Nepo world championship match!), but does it follow the basic principles? Let’s see London’s normal moves:

1.d4 (We control the center and open lines for Queen and Bishop development!)
2.Nf3 (Developing a piece near the center and attacking the central d4 and e5 squares!)
3.Bf4 (Developing a piece near the center and attacking the central e5 square!)

We can stop here and talk: The London System is a good opening!

Principles in Practice: Ruy Lopez Opening

A classic opening and much played in world championships, but is it a good opening from a Beginner point of view? Let’s see:
1.e4 We attack the square of d5 and open lines for the development of the Queen and the Bishop! 1…e5 Black does the same: Attacks the d4 square and opens lines for Queen and Bishop development! 2.Nf3 Develops a piece, attacks the central d4 and e5 squares, and attacks the e5-pawn! 2…Nc6 Develops a piece, attacks the centric squares of d4 and e5 and defends the e5-pawn threat. 3.Bb5 This move defines Ruy Lopez! White develops a piece, attacks the center, and prepares to castle. Note that the Bishop attacks the Knight that attacks the center, so White puts indirect pressure on the center

If all moves to follow the principles, we can conclude that Ruy Lopez is a good opening!


When studying the opening of your choice, always try to remember if the opening follows these basic beginner principles. If you understand the basics, you will be able to understand the why of each move, and this gives you a very good understanding of your openings. And doing that, maybe it’s time to know how to organize your opening repertoire. See you in the next article!

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