Want to improve your chess game? Open with a winner!

Photo by Lennart Ootes

Learning chess and want to level up? We've put together a short guide on how to increase your chances of victory from the very start of the game.

A good opening is crucial if you want to win. Many players, myself included, enjoy studying the first few moves of the game. I guess I like the idea of my opponent stumbling into a pitfall and I'm the only one who knows what’s going on.

Most chess instructors recommend novices not spend too much time on opening theory. The reasoning is that memorizing long opening lines does little to help your game, while learning tactics and strategy is better for your overall understanding. However, I firmly believe in doing what’s fun.

If you like to study tricky openings, go ahead! The opposite is much worse; if you force yourself to study something boring, I have a feeling you will quit rather quickly. And finally, learning openings can be so much more than memorizing forced lines.

Nevertheless, when you're selecting openings, I have a few points I think you should take a minute to consider.

Don’t switch openings too quickly

A common misunderstanding is that it’s good to switch openings as much as possible. By doing this, you risk knowing a little about many different topics, but you probably you won’t be great at any of them.

Take a look at Magnus’ games when he was young: He typically played an opening 5-10 times, and only when he knew all the details, was it time to change. This way he traveled through the world of openings, learning close to everything that was out there. I don’t want to insult you, but Magnus is an amazingly quick learner, which means you might need to play the opening 30 or 40 times before it’s time to change and expand your repertoire.

Pick the right openings

Do you like living on the edge or do you believe in safety first? The answer to this question says a lot about which openings you should play.

The fast and the furious will be happy in a Danish Gambit, while the solid, steady guy will probably like the pace in the English Opening.
If you’re a busy person with little time to study or have trouble remembering long forced lines, it would be insane to start playing the most theoretically heavy openings, like the Najdorf Sicilian. Why not go for the London System instead?

If you want to brush up, you can find lessons on all these openings in the Magnus Trainer app.

What’s your ambition?

I played a tournament a few weeks ago. In one of my games, I played the King's Indian Defence and lost horribly. As usual, I blamed the opening and decided to stop playing it. You can say many things about the King's Indian, but my reasoning to quit playing it was flawed. The truth is that I misplayed the middlegame, not the opening.

Avoiding what you’re bad at sounds like a practical choice, but I have a feeling that continually shying away from your weak points might lead to unnecessary stagnation. Why not challenge yourself to eliminate your weaknesses instead? So you don’t like closed games – start playing closed positions! I misplayed the King's Indian - it's time to figure out what I did wrong!

Make a smart choice

One day you’re going to challenge Magnus, right? To beat him you need a universal style. Pinning your hopes solely on tactics won’t work; you need a bigger arsenal. That’s why I suggest you should be strategic in your choice of openings.

Let’s say you build your openings around Ruy Lopez with White. This is a rich opening, and especially when it comes to pawn structures, you will learn a lot. With the black pieces against 1.e4, you can, for instance, play the Petroff defense, which usually leads to an open game. With Black, you can play something aggressive and at the same time improve your skills in closed positions, which means, for instance, the Benoni can be a good choice. By choosing these openings, you will learn about both open and closed positions, and strategic and tactical styles of play. You are about to be a universal player!

Learn more about the Ruy Lopez in the Magnus Trainer app.

Don't you like openings?

You will get a long way following sound principles on how to play the openings.

A fight for the center, a safe king and rapid development – these are words of wisdom!

Of course, I would love to see you work hard on the whole game, but there is also an easy way out if you just want to enjoy the game!

P.s. More tips on how to improve your chess game will be coming your way so keep your eyes peeled!

By Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen