Chess Opening Classification

White has twenty possible first moves in the opening chess position.

The movements 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.Nf3, and 1.c4 are by far the most common for chess openings for beginners, because they foster the most fast growth and center control. A few more opening movements are acceptable, although they are less compatible with opening principles than the four most popular.

The Dunst Opening, 1.Nc3, develops a knight to a nice square, but it is somewhat rigid because it blocks White’s c-pawn; also, after 1…d5, the knight is prone to be forced to an inferior square by…d4. (Note that the similar 1…e5?

Losing a pawn after 1.Nf3.) The Bird’s Opening, 1.f4, strengthens the king position marginally while addressing center control but not development.

The Sokolsky Opening 1.b4 and the King’s and Queen’s fianchettos 1.b3 and 1.g3 aid development, but they are slower than the more popular openings and only address center control peripherally. At the highest levels of chess, the eleven remaining options are rarely used.

The best of these are simply sluggish, like 1.c3, 1.d3, and 1.e3. Worse options disregard the center and development (for example, 1.a3), undermine White’s position (for example, 1.f3 and 1.g4), or place the knights on bad squares (for example, 1.f3 and 1.g4) (1.Na3 and 1.Nh3).

White’s first move provides twenty alternative answers for Black. Many of these are mirrored versions of White’s most common first moves, albeit with one tempo difference. Popular defenses are 1…c6 and 1…e6, which are frequently followed by the center thrust 2…d5. Defenses involving an early…d6 and a kingside fianchetto are also popular.

For serious players, the ECO code, a set of 500 opening codes provided by the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings, is the most important method of classifying chess openings. Although these codes are extremely useful for serious chess opening research, they are not very useful for a wide overview of the chess opening since they mask common structural aspects among related openings.

The chess openings are divided into three categories: King’s Pawn Openings, Queen’s Pawn Openings, and Others. Because each of these categories is still somewhat vast, it’s typical to subdivide them further. The following is a suitable way to group the openings:

  • Double King Pawn, Symmetric or Open Games (1.e4 e5)
  • Single King Pawn or Semi-Open Games (1.e4 other)
  • Double Queen Pawn or Closed Games (1.d4 d5)
  • Single Queen Pawn or Semi-Closed Games (1.d4 other)
  • Flank openings (including 1.c4, 1.Nf3, 1.f4, and others)
  • Unusual first moves for White.

White begins with a 1.e4 move (moving his king pawn two spaces). This is the most popular opening move, and it has several advantages: it helps to control the center right away, and it frees two pieces (the queen and a bishop). 1.e4 is one of the oldest chess openings. 1.e4 was rated “Best by test” by Bobby Fischer.

On the downside, 1.e4 puts a pawn on an undefended square and weakens d4 and f4; the Hungarian master Gyula Breyer melodramatically observed, “White’s game is in its final throes after 1.e4.” The result is an open game if Black mirrors White’s move and responds with 1…e5.

White’s most popular second move is 2.Nf3, which attacks Black’s king piece in preparation for a kingside castle and anticipates the queen pawn’s advance to d4. 2…Nc6 is the most popular Black response, which commonly leads to the Ruy Lopez (3.Bb5), Scotch Game (3.d4), or Italian Game (3.d4) (3.Bc4). The Petrov’s Defense results if Black maintains symmetry and counterattacks White’s center with 2…Nf6. In modern chess, the Philidor Defense (2…d6) is unpopular because it gives White an obvious space advantage while Black’s position remains constrained and passive, despite being solid. In the master play, there are no further responses to 2.Nf3.

The Vienna Game (2.Nc3), the Bishop’s Opening (2.Bc4), and the King’s Gambit are the most prominent alternatives to 2.Nf3 (2.f4). These openings have certain similarities, and the Bishop’s Opening, in particular, regularly transposes to Vienna Game variations.

In the nineteenth century, the King’s Gambit was immensely popular. White sacrifices a pawn in order to develop quickly and remove a black pawn from the center. Attacks on the Black center with an f2–f4 pawn movement are very common in the Vienna Game.

White promptly opens the center in the Center Game (2.d4), but if the pawn is to be regained after 2…exd4, White must deal with an early queen development after 3.Qxd4. One or two pawns can be sacrificed as an alternative, as in the Danish Gambit.

Many other versions after 1.e4 e5 have been investigated; for more information, see Open Game.

  • 1.e4 e5 Double King’s Pawn Opening or Open Game
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Ruy Lopez
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 Scotch Game
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Italian Game
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 Four Knights Game
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 Petrov’s Defense
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 Philidor Defense
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Vienna Game
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bishop’s Opening
  • 1.e4 e5 2.f4 King’s Gambit
  • 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Center Game
  • 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 DanishGambit

White plays 1.e4 in semi-open games, and Black immediately breaks the symmetry by responding with a move other than 1…e5. The Sicilian (1…c5) is the most typical Black defensive against 1.e4, but the French (1…e6, usually followed by 2.d4 d5) and the Caro–Kann (1…c6, usually followed by 2.d4 d5) are also popular.

The Pirc and Modern are two closely comparable openings that are frequently seen, while the Alekhine and Scandinavian have made cameos in World Chess Championship games on rare occasions.

The Sicilian and French Defenses result in lopsided positions that can be entertaining to play since both sides have a chance to win. The Caro–Kann Defense is solid because Black seeks to support his center with his c-pawn (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5). The Alekhine, Pirc, and Modern are hypermodern openings in which Black entices White to construct a huge center in order to assault it with pieces.

Other semi-open games have been researched, but they are less popular; for more information, see Semi-Open Game.

  • 1.e4 c5 Sicilian Defense
  • 1.e4 e6 French Defense
  • 1.e4 c6 Caro–Kann Defense
  • 1.e4 d5 Scandinavian Defense
  • 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 Pirc Defense
  • 1.e4 Nf6 Alekhine’s Defense
  • 1.e4 g6 Modern Defense

1.d4 d5 is the start of the closed game openings. The move 1.d4 has the same development and center control advantages as 1.e4, but unlike other King Pawn openings, when the e4-pawn is undefended after the initial move, White’s queen protects the d4-pawn. This minor variation has a significant impact on the opening.

The Queen’s Gambit, for example, is still a favorite weapon at all levels of play, whereas the King’s Gambit is rarely used nowadays at the greatest levels of chess. Transpositions among variations are also more prevalent and essential in closed games than in King Pawn openings.

The Queen’s Gambit family has the most important closed openings (White plays 2.c4). The Queen’s Gambit is a misnomer because White can always reclaim the offered pawn if he so desires. Black plays…dxc4 in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, giving up the center for free development and the chance to try to offer White an isolated queen pawn with a subsequent…c5 and…cxd5. White will receive active pieces as well as attack options. The Slav (2…c6) and the Queen’s Gambit Declined are two typical options for Black to decline the pawn (2…e6).

Both of these movements open up a vast forest of variations, which might take a lot of opening study to master. The Orthodox Defense, Lasker’s Defense, the Cambridge Springs Defense, the Tartakower Variation, and the Tarrasch and Semi-Tarrasch Defenses are just a few of the many options in the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Other than 2…dxc4, 2…c6, and 2…e6, black responses to the Queen’s Gambit are unusual.

Because White plays d4 but not c4, the Colle System and Stonewall Attack are categorized as Queen’s Pawn Games. They’re also System examples, rather than specific opening versions.

White develops a strategy aimed towards a specific formation, with little regard for how Black defends. Both systems are popular among club players because they are simple to master, but professional players rarely use them because a well-prepared opponent playing Black may easily equalize.

The White pawn formation on c3, d4, e3, and f4 is known as the Stonewall, and it can be obtained in a variety of ways and against a variety of Black setups. The position depicted in the diagram, as well as the movement sequence outlined below, are normal.

Other closed openings have been examined, but they are less popular; for more information, see Closed Game.

  • 1.d4 d5 Double Queen’s Pawn Opening or Closed Game
  • 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Queen’s Gambit
  • 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 Queen’s Gambit Accepted (QGA)
  • 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 Queen’s Gambit Declined (QGD)
  • 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 Slav Defense
  • 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.Bd3 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.f4 (a typical move sequence) Stonewall Attack
  • 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 Colle System

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