If you take a look at the chess bookshelf in a local bookshop or chess books on Amazon, you will find that nearly half of it is devoted to openings. The question is why is it so?
How important are openings in chess? Openings are very important in chess. A good opening will give a player an advantage when heading into the mid-game, prepare the pieces to launch and attack, and build a defence at the same time. They are so important that many top players will spend years of their lives just studying openings to see how they can impact on their game.
So, here’s everything you need to know about the importance of openings in chess.
What Is A Chess Opening?
An opening in chess is simply the series of opening moves in a game. There is no defined minimum number of moves that make up an opening and the longest openings are considered to run up to 25 moves!
Most openings in chess are known as “standard openings”. That means that they have been played many thousands of times and are believed to convey some sort of an advantage or another on the player.
White openings are considered to be attacking and black’s openings are defensive.
There Are A Lot Of Chess Openings
You would probably be shocked to learn that not only do chess players give openings names but that to date, according to The Oxford Companion to Chess, there are 1,327 openings (including variants which are minor changes to a more standard opening) with a name! Yes, that’s over 1,000 named openings imagine how long it would take to learn all the moves associated with them!
If you wish to study particular sets of openings there are dozens of books out there that are packed to the brim with sets of standard openings or you could pick up the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings which details all of the known openings.
The moment that the opening is over, and the mid-game begins is really when the opening begins to go “off book” and the player’s moves no longer match those that have been recorded previously.
A serious chess player, particularly one who intends to make a career out of chess (and yes, it is possible to make a career out of chess – if you’d like to know how grandmasters do this, check out our article on whether they need other jobs here), will devote years to studying openings and trying to learn “opening theory” as well as the moves.
Why Are Openings Important In Chess?
There are some very good reasons that openings are very important in chess and they include:
- The initial position of the board. Take a good look at how your pieces start, they may be all in an orderly position, but they have almost nowhere to go. This is not the way you want to win a game with your pieces trapped behind your pawns and with no attacking potential. Your opening is meant to help you get your pieces out on the board and mostly to establish them to either control or threaten the center and then to form the shape of the future battle that you will have. In general players will want to get their knights, bishops, queens and rooks out and fighting as fast as possible (and in that order too).
- To take control of the game. The more openings that you know, the more choice that you have in the way that you conduct the game. Think about the phrase “knowledge is power”, it absolutely applies in chess too. Watch beginners play chess, they don’t study openings (because they’re still wondering what to do) and thus, all they do is react to their opponent’s moves, this leaves them behind from the beginning and never in control.
- To play your preferred game. If you practice a set of openings and then know how to use those openings to make your midgame and even your endgame stronger then being able to force your opponent to follow the pattern that you want gives you a huge advantage when it comes to the rest of the game. Think about it, there are nearly an infinite number of possible variations when it comes to chess games, if you can reduce that number to those that follow your preferred style, you have a huge advantage over the opponent.
- To stay away from traps of your opponent’s making. An opening trap is a disaster for a player to fall into. If an opponent is sneaky enough, they can quite literally ruin the game for you in just a few moves. The more openings that you know, the more you will understand how these traps might unfold on the board and how you can avoid them. This may leave you free to castle when you want or even to hold onto a major material advantage.
- To prepare for the midgame. The less work you have to put into the openings on the board, the more of your mental energy that you can devote to the midgame. This is the point where you really start to shape the game and where decisive advantages can be won or lost. A good opening gives you the ability to take, if not material advantage, certainly the advantage of pace into this critical time for the outcome.
- To stay out of time trouble. Again, the less work you put into openings, the better when playing the game. If you’re reacting to your opponent’s every move, you have to think about each move and that thinking time? It comes off of your clock and that means that in the long run, you are going to have less time to spend in the more critical parts of the game – the midgame and the endgame. Sure, you can’t learn every opening, but you don’t need to, by having a set of preferences, it’s easy to turn the game your way when you want it to.
- To have a better plan for the rest of the game. You shouldn’t just study openings, you should also study “opening theory” this is the way that you learn to shape the game using the opening. When you understand the shape that your openings create on the board, you can understand what kind of moves are going to help you best in the midgame and that means you will also be able to see if your opponent is deviating from the plans that might give them the biggest advantage too.
However, despite all the advantages in the opening that we have listed above. We want to be very clear. You can’t just study the openings in chess. If you do, you may become an incredible early game player but when you get to the midgame and endgame – you’re going to have nothing left.
Chess is not just openings. Players that haven’t yet broken 2,000 on their FIDE rating are almost certainly going to benefit from a broader range of study that spans the whole content of the game. There’s time to memorize the openings in more detail once you’ve mastered the basics.
How important are openings in chess? A good opening allows you to take control of your game right from the very beginning, you can gain an initial advantage in play that sometimes can even be overwhelming in the mid-game, and it will help you to evade traps that your opponent starts to set up with their own openings.
There are other strong advantages to gaining mastery over your game which include developing an edge throughout the game, to avoid running into time trouble by not exhausting too much time in the early game and to better plan the way that you approach your game. However, you don’t want to memorize openings when you study them, you want to learn the theory if you want to be as flexible and creative as possible in your game.