Back to Basics: Basic Opening Principles

By CEO National Master Evan Rabin

Every employee needs a job ; they cannot all stay at home. Well during COVID-19, they all did but they have all remained productive on a million Zoom calls. In the opening, the first 10-15 moves of a game, one should castle, develop all his pieces and castle. 

One castles to mitigate risk by making his king safe. On our last Annual Make a Difference Teaching Chess Africa TripLuis Cuerdo compare to the Lion King, where King Mufasa remains safe while others roam around. In a large majority of games, both players will castle within the first 5-10 moves and let the other pieces work.

To develop pieces, simply means to activate them. One should develop his pieces to the most optimal squares where they are most valuable. While a knight is worth three points, it does not live up to that number when sleeping on the first or eight rank.

Let’s consider this position from the famous 1858 Paul Morphy vs Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard game:

When I ask beginners what white should play here, they often correctly say they would like to develop their dark-squared bishop; however many will pick the sub par move 9. Be3, which allows 9… Ng4 and a decent amount of counterplay. It is much better for white to play 9.Bg5, pinning the knight on f6 to the queen on d8.

When pieces are in the center, they have more control.

A knight in any corner, such as h1, controls two squares. In a central rank but side file, such as at h4, it controls four squares. In the center, such as at d4, it controls eight squares. That is four times more squares then when it was in the corner. In Business on the Board, our 154th Podcast Episode Jim Egerton writes about how Fedex  is headquarted in Memphis, Tenesseee, which is near the center of the United States and allows packages to easily travel north, south, east and west. Similarly, in chess. when pieces are deployed in the center, they can easily travel to the queenside or kingside quickly.

In the opening, players should not be too creative. If one follows basic opening principles and thought process, he could come an intermediate player (1400+) fairly quickly. Every single move in the opening should relate to at least one of the following:


While it is imporant to castle, develop and control the center as quickly possible, it is also important to  consider one’s opponent moves. Several times I’ve seen beginners blunder pieces just becuase they were so set on developing or castling, that they did not see their oppponent made a threat. Guidelines are not the same as rules; one needs to think on his feet.


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