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21 Most Common Chess Openings (for Beginners) – Up Your Game!

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Chess can be an enthralling game. There’s no doubt that beginners will want to know the game’s intricacies. So, here’s the best place to start – at the beginning! 

In chess, various openings for white, including The Italian Game, The Ruy Lopez, and The Queen’s Gambit, can be used to gain an advantage. For black, The Sicilian Defense, The French Defense, and the King’s Indian Defense have proven effective for beginners and masters alike.

There are various openings, some of which are more complicated than others, but here’s a guide to some of the most common openings for beginners.

*We have included links to YouTube videos that explain each opening in more detail.

These are 21 of the most common chess openings: 

1. The Sicilian Defense

The Sicilian Defense for black is one of the most commonly chosen openings. If white plays pawn to e4, then the next step for black is to play pawn to c5 for a counter-center. Several variations of the following moves exist, including the Classical, the Dragon, the Accelerated Dragon, and the Najdorf.

2. The French Defense

The French Defense involves playing e6 after white plays e4. This often hinders the c8 light-squared bishop for much of the game, which is a drawback of the French defense.

The next step for black is playing d5. Again, many variations can be used, including the Advance, Winawer, Classical, Exchange, and Tarrasch variations. 

3. The Italian Game

The Italian Game has been in use for centuries. It is one of the oldest openings for white. It’s also called the Giuoco Piano and is perfect for beginners because of its simplicity. 

If white starts with e4 and black counters with e5, then white will move the knight to f3. If black then brings out the knight to c6, the Italian Game requires white to move the bishop to c4. This is the fundamental move of the Italian Game.

4. The Caro-Kann Defense

If white plays e4, another option for black is to play c6 and then d5. Unlike the French Defense, the Caro-Kann Defense does not create the problem of incapacitating the light-squared bishop. However, this move of the pawn to c6 makes issues for moving the knight. 

Among others, the Advance, Exchange, and Fantasy variations can be played after the main lines.

5. The London System

The London System constitutes a very straightforward strategy. It is an opening for white that opens with pawn to d4. The opening is excellent for beginners and is not necessarily used at higher levels of play. The next move is knight to f3 and then bishop to f4. 

6. The King’s Indian Attack

The King’s Indian Attack, sometimes referred to as the Barcza System, is an opening for white. The most common setup is knight to f3, after which g3 will be played and bishop to g2. This opening is unusual, and you can easily catch your opponent off guard.

7. The Ruy Lopez

The Ruy Lopez, commonly known as The Spanish Game, is an opening for white which starts with chess’ most common opening move: e4. If black responds as is common with e5, white will move its king-side knight to f3 and bishop to b5. This is an aggressive tactic to gain control of the center. 

This opening is very theoretical and requires you to do a lot of homework before you can play it. Standard lines include the Morphy Defense, the Steinitz Defense, the Classical Variation, and the Schliemann Defense.

8. The King’s Indian Defense

The King’s Indian Defense in the main line consists of black playing knight to f6 in response to a d4 move by white. Pawn to g6 is a typical follow-up move, and then bishop to g7. After these main lines, a Classical Variation is possible, as is a Sämisch Variation and a Four Pawns Attack.

This defense allows for a strong king-side defense. Once the king’s protection is well established, black will begin counter offenses. However, this is not a very aggressive opening, and you may be frustrated acting so passively with this opening.

9. The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit, despite its name, is different from a true gambit. This is because white can regain the pawn captured by black with careful next steps. The d4 opening for white is theory-heavy and requires that c4 be played as a next step.

10. The English Opening

The English Opening, which starts with the move c4, is one of the most popular chess openings that doesn’t focus on controlling the center. Instead, this is called a flank opening and usually manages to throw your opponent, who is used to defending against d4 or e4, entirely off.

The English can also be used to block potential moves like the Grünfeld Defense. Various possibilities of the English Opening include playing your two knights to the center or first or else g3 and then bishop g2. 

11. The Reti Opening

The Reti Opening starts with the knight to f3 and gambits their c-pawn, similarly to the Queen’s Gambit. The name of the opening originates from Czechoslovakian chess master Richard Reti. A possible white configuration is to then use the King’s Indian Attack. 

The Reti Opening is also unusual, and opponents may be unprepared. 

12. The Slav Defense

The Slav Defence entails the d5 c6 set up for black and is a very theoretical opening. Several variations can be undertaken after the main lines, including the Alapin Variation, the Semi-Slav Defense, the Chebanenko Variation, or the Slow Slav.

It’s a great way to defend against the Queen’s Gambit.

13. The Scholar’s Mate

The Scholar’s Mate is a fun trick for beginners to try to checkmate in four moves. It can rarely be pulled off but involves an e4 opening and then targeting f4 with your queen and bishop. 

14. The Scotch Game

The Scotch Game is an opening for white which starts e4, knight to f3, and then d4. Many variations exist on the main lines, including the Scotch Gambit, the Göring Gambit, the Schmidt Variation, and the Classical Variation. The Scotch Game tries to focus on center control.

15. The Scandinavian Defense

The Scandinavian Defense starts with a d5 response to white playing e4. This opening could be more theoretical, as it is confrontational in nature. Various standard lines include the Mieses-Kotroc Variation and the Gubinsky-Melts Defense.

16. The Petrov Defense

The Petrov Defence involves black playing pawn e5 and knight f6 in response to white playing e4 and knight to f3, respectively. This defense is one of the most straightforward counters to the Italian Game and the Ruy Lopez.

17. The King’s Gambit

The King’s Gambit is one of white’s oldest and most aggressive openings. White starts with e4 and plays f4 when e4 is matched with f4. The opening seems like a mirror of the Queen’s Gambit, but it is much more dangerous. Amateur players enjoy this gambit.

18. The Bishop’s Opening

The Bishop’s Opening is a theoretical opening for white that starts with e4 and then bishop to c4 once black plays e5. This is an opening that can cause great surprise in your opponent. It’s highly flexible. Variations include the Ponziani Gambit and the Urusov Gambit.

19. The Vienna Game

The Vienna Game is played e4 and then knight to c3. This is a perfectly good opening but is less commonly used than some of the others on this list, and your opponent may be surprised. Common variations include the Falkbeer Variation, the Vienna Gambit, and the Mieses Variation.

20. The Englund Gambit

The Englund Gambit is an exciting and tricky gambit for black, which some players consider unsound. However, if played well, the gambit can result in traps for white and an advantage for black. The gambit starts by playing e5.

The recommendation is that this opening should not be played in any competitive game besides a friendly match because it is dangerous and risky.

21. The Nimzowitch-Larsen Attack

The Nimzowitch-Larsen Attack, also known as the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, begins with b3 or knight to f3 and then b3. This flank opening allows you to quickly catch your opponent off guard. Variations include Modern, Classical, Indian, and English variations. 

All In All

Chess is a masterful game. To play it well, you need a lot of knowledge on how best to start the game. Various gambits and defenses can be used to propel a chess player into the realm of winning. However, careful deliberation of your opponent’s moves is necessary to ensure that you aren’t outwitted by your opponent!

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.