For a lot of beginning/novice chess players, the opening can be the toughest part of a chess game. But why the opening instead of tactics or middle game or endings? The reason is simple: If they lose in the opening, they never get to play a proper middle or ending. There are a few simple rules that can be followed, though, which will improve performance drastically.
Don’t block your bishops in!
You’ve heard it time and again, but blocking your bishops in with pieces or pawns in the opening is a bad, bad idea. Yes, some openings, like the French, inherently have a ‘bad’ or troublesome bishop but in general, get them outside the pawn chain so you can have some piece activity.
Don’t take unnecessary risks.
I know how enticing it is to make a crazy-looking move in hopes your opponent will miscalculate and flub up. This can create long-lasting bad habits. If you see a nutty looking move that could win, if your opponent plays a certain way, but could also lose, don’t play it; better to choose something solid but boring than to have a questionable tactic backfire on you.
Stick with e4 or d4 for white and e5 or d5 with black.
We all want to play like the GMs. We want to play sharp gambits, we want to play hypermodern stuff, we want to play king side pawn storms. The trouble is, we have to know when these various things are sound and to do that, we must first establish basic opening principles. 1. e4 gets great piece activity but has a lot of theory. 1. d4 is accepted as a tad slower, but also very solid. I recommend staying away from openings like 1. b3, 1. f4, and 1. g3 until we have a very good idea what the aims of those openings are.
Don’t play moves ‘just because’.
Watch what your opponent does and decide if he’s making errors we can capitalize on. Don’t just move your pieces out willy-nilly, thinking that chess doesn’t start until we are castled. Many, many games are won right in the opening because of sharp eyes. Take your time, and begin attacking right from get go and, if you can’t attack, place your pieces on squares that make sense.
Avoid going for the cheapos.
I see a whole slew of beginners trying to deliver early checkmate with a queen/bishop battery way too early on in the chess game. The trouble is, sometimes it works. It won’t work against a strong player, though, so you aren’t learning much by gaining a few points with a cheapo mate. A higher rated chess player will see that coming a mile away and develop all his pieces and pawns with tempo while he chases your queen and bishop around. Just play solid and be patient.
Watch opening videos.
Books are a great way to learn, but you can receive massive amounts of good information in very little time by watching an instructional chess video. In the age of technology, I see no reason not to incorporate videos into your study repertoire. The advantage of having a master show and tell us what moves should be played and why they are being played is a huge asset to our chess study.
Don’t get hung up on theory.
Just because you know the first seven or ten theoretical opening moves by heart doesn’t mean they have to be played. As I mentioned earlier, watch for errors from your opponent. If he commits a game-losing inaccuracy but we are blitzing out our ‘known’ opening line, we’ll miss the win. Take your time and really think about each and every opening move. If the theoretical move is best, then play it, but only if it’s the strongest move you can find.
“Castle early, castle often.” --Alexander Alekhine
If I had a nickel for every game that has been lost due to castle neglect, I could probably buy the world. Unless the queens are traded off very early (and sometimes, not even then!), your king needs to castle. Get it safe as early in the game as you possibly can. Which way you go is up to you but keep in mind that if you decide to castle long (0-0-0, castling queen side), the ensuing pawn race can be exciting but dangerous. Also, opposite-side-castle games can turn tactical in a hurry.
There are a ton of other little rules but if you can follow these general guidelines, your opening play and therefore your overall chess play will improve quickly and drastically. If you just want to have a load of fun and don’t care about improving, then keep playing lines like 1. a4 and 2. Ra3 but if moving up the ranks is a goal of yours, you have to play solid chess.