The Fastest Way to Learn Chess Openings

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Table of Contents

Quick summary:

  • There is no one quick way to learn chess openings; like anything in chess, openings take work.
  • However, there are a few ways to study openings more efficiently, which will help you learn them faster.
  • Dedicated and focused study, diligent research, and picking openings you enjoy learning will speed up the process and make it fun.
  • Players rated under 2000 should follow the 20 40 40 rule, i.e. 20% of study dedicated to openings, 40% to the middlegame, and 40% to the endgame.

Introduction

If you’ve reached this article, you’ve probably already learned the rules of chess and have some experience playing under your belt. Whether you are a casual online player or are preparing for your first tournament, at some point you will want to learn a few openings to improve your game. What is the best and fastest way to go about it?

If you haven’t picked any openings yet…

If you are relatively new to chess, you may be playing openings by moving pieces at random. While you may have some success with this initially, eventually you’re going to hit a wall.

Firstly, don’t worry about memorizing too many openings, but you should pick a few, and most importantly, understand why the moves are being played.

Beginners should have one opening as the White pieces (1.e4 or 1.d4, play a few games with both to see which suits your style), and a response as Black to 1.e4 and 1.d4. This will be a good starting base.

Memorizing openings should however not be your focus as a beginner. Focus on solid chess principles.

Also, focus on openings that are intuitive and develop your pieces to natural squares. Complex theory-heavy openings such as the Sicilian Najdorf are best avoided as a beginner.

Check out our Openings Guide, with a short description of each opening and a link to individual articles on the opening.

Dedicate a small amount of time to focused study

Most of us have real life obligations: work, school, kids, etc., and so we have a limited amount of time to dedicate to our chess improvement.

As such, you should try to maximize your time effectively. This applies to all areas of chess improvement, not just openings. Take it like you are studying anything else and cut out distractions.

It is very easy to get distracted by your phone or even chess itself (how tempting is it to try to fit in a few blitz games in a study session?), but this will hinder your progress. Keep all distractions to a minimum, and remember that 30 minutes of focused study will take you further than hours of distracted study.

Arm yourself with knowledge to study effectively

It can be daunting to open a book or a course and find dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of variations on a single opening; how are you supposed to study all these lines?

The most important thing is to focus on the important lines, i.e., the ones you are most likely to face.

What lines do you most see in your games? Websites such as Opening Tree are a great resource to help you analyze the lines you see most. By knowing this, you can focus your study on the most common lines.

If you are a tournament player and you know what your opponent plays, then that can guide you in your studies. If you know your opponent plays the French Defense, then you know to study a response to that, and not the Sicilian Defense.

Don’t repeat until you get it right-repeat until you don’t get it wrong

Learning chess is all about pattern recognition. While it may seem you have mastered a line you are working on once you’ve got it right, will you be able to repeat this success in a game? Repeat, repeat, repeat! Getting it right once does not mean you will get it right always!

Focus on openings with less theory

If you are strapped for time, then learning openings with a heavy amount of theory is not going to be the way to go. It simply takes more time to nail down complex openings, so if you want to learn an opening fast, consider openings that are less theoretical, e.g., a system-based opening such as the London System.

Pick openings you like!

All the above really does not matter if you are playing openings whose resulting structures you find boring. Sure, the London may be low in theory, and thus fast to learn, but if you find the opening boring, what’s the point?

Know your plan out of the opening

Whatever opening you have chosen, you should know what the plan is to go into the middlegame.

Players that focus on memorizing the opening moves without knowing what the plan is afterwards will have slower progress. What happens when your opponent goes out of book? If you have only memorized what to do without understanding why you’re doing it, your progress is going to come at a much slower pace.

The starting position of the Smith-Morra Gambit. White should know that they will want to take advantage of the open c- and d-files and pressure Black’s queen.

Play openings with similar structures

One thing that can save you time in your opening study is to play openings that have some sort of overlap in terms of structures.

We’ve said it before and you’ll hear it again, chess is all about pattern recognition. If you are a Sicilian Defense player, you may want to consider playing the English Opening; you will find similar structures with the opposite color, and thus you will already have some sort of intuition on how to play the opening.

Similarly, if you are a Caro-Kann player, openings such as the Slav Defense will have similar ideas.

The starting position of the Caro-Kann Defense.

The starting position of the Slav Defense. Similar structures lead to similar tactics and strategies!

Summary

Like most things in chess, there is no shortcut to fast success. However, by following these tips, you should lighten your opening study load, therefore making the journey easier and quicker.

Remember also that openings are only one part of your game, don’t neglect tactics and strategy, and don’t forget to have fun!

FAQs

How long does it take to learn chess openings?

This will depend on the individual opening and the strength of the player. You can learn the first few moves of an opening in about a half an hour, but to cement them and know them well, it may take several hours of dedicated study.

In what order should I learn chess openings?

Beginners are generally advised to begin with 1.e4, as the principles of piece development and controlling the center are more evident in these openings.

What is the easiest opening to learn in chess?

Openings that do not have a lot of theory are considered the easiest openings. System-based openings, such as the London System, are considered low in theory, as your response is largely the same no matter what your opponent plays.

What is the 20 40 40 rule in chess?

The 20-40-40 rule in chess is a rule for players rated below 2000 that states 20% of your study should be dedicated to openings, 40% to the middlegame, and 40% to the endgame.

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