The Ten Most Common Chess Openings

52 Games Total.

These openings have been chosen from a list of games found in the index, Dec issue of Chess Life 2002. They will be listed in order of popularity, and show the number of games printed for the year of 2002.

Openings in Descending Order

Note: Be sure and "Click" on all the variations, if you get a fist they will work!

You will find in the Defenses, that since they are a "Defense" for Black, I have tried to find and show those variations that do in fact favor Black's play. Many other variations may be here because Of their popularity.

1. The Sicilian Defense

The Sicilian defense is definitely not an opening for the beginners opening repertoire. It is frequently called "The Granddaddy of Openings", "The Mother of All Openings" etc. It is a very complicated opening and requires a through understanding of the theory of its ideas behind this opening and its more common variations. Sicilian players often spend untold hours to study it and its variations. More books have probably been written about the Sicilian than any other opening, and no wonder, there are probably more variations than any other opening to write about. Its no wonder that most of the recent World Champions have relied heavily on one or more of the major variations of this semi-open opening. It was a favorite of Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov uses it almost exclusively, and all of the leading contenders for the crown as well.

If you are White and you are going to play against the Sicilian you must use precise play. The Sicilian is not very forgiving in any incorrect play in its beginning opening moves. Especially if you castle long, as is the case of the popular Dragon Variation. Black will storm your castled position and rip your King's fortress to shreds forcing your attacking plans to change to a now purely defensive posture.

The play tends to be very sharp, with White launching a full-scale attack on Black's king. Black has chances for an assault on the White king especially when Black is castled on the Kingside while White's Monarch is stationed on the queenside. The Sicilian Defense has one of the smallest ratios of draws of all openings, and is very useful in must-win-situations.

There are many different Sicilian Defenses, and they have very different histories and personalities. Some date back to the 18th century, while others have been developed only in the 1990s. Most normal Sicilians continue 2.Nf3 and Black now chooses between three moves 2.....d6, 2....e6, and 2....Nf6.

Although these can lead to quite a variety of positions, there are also many places where the lines intersect and calculating transpositional possibilities is a required skill if you want to play either side of the Sicilian.

Some Variations of the Sicilian.

Let us look at a few of the most popular variations. The Sicilian Defense starts as 1.e4 and c5 initiates the Sicilian.

1. The dangerous Dragon Variation, is the head of constellation of related lines where Black fianchettos the bishop at g7. Usually it is reached via 2....d6, 3.d4 cxd4; 4.Nxd4 Nf6; 5.Nc3 g6. White normally castles queenside and launches a pawnstorm on the Kingside, while Black aims everything at the White king. The Dragon attacks frequently on the chessboards of major tournaments, and a lot of theory has been accumulated. Dragoneers are known for spending many hours in their caves preparing new traps.

Dragon Defense, Yugoslav Attack TESTING

Dragon Defense, Yugoslav Attack 1.

Dragon Defense, Yugoslav Attack

Dragon Defense, Yugoslav Attack 2

Classical Dragon, Uhlmann Knight Tour

2. The notorious Najdor Variation, sees Black secure the b5 square by stationing a pawn at a6, both to keep out enemy Knights and also to prepare for a queenside attack with ....b5. After 2.....d6; 3.d4 cxd4; 4.Nxd4 Nf6; 5.Nc3 a6. White has many options, but none have been effective enough to discourage top players from using it. It is in the repertoires of many leading players and is the backbone of World Champion Garry Kasparov's repertoire.

Najdorf Variation

3. The Classical Variation, is reached by two paths 2....d6; 3.d4 cxd4; 4.Nxd4 Nf6; 5.Nc3 Nc6 or 2....Nc6; 3.d4 cxd4; 4.Nxd4 Nf6; 5.Nc3 d6. This is most directly confronted by 6.Bg5, the Richter- Rauzer Attack, where Black usually replies 6....e6 so that if White captures at f6, Black can recapture with the queen. For some reason, this opening is almost exclusively seen in top-level competition. It leads to longer, more positional struggles than the Najdorf or Dragon. White can also try 6.Bc4, which leads to the Sozin Variation; part of the Scheveningen complex we'll turn to next.

Classical Variation

Classical Variation ,P> 4. The Scheveningen Variation, named for a town in Holland, combines ....e6 with ....d6, instead of the ....Nc6/....d6 combination of the Classical. The pawn at e6 can serve as target for White's tactical operations. Sacrifices of a Knight or bishop on that square are almost routine. The most exciting lines with 6.Bc4 and are known as, the Sozin Variation. Opposite wing castling can lead to very double- edged games. There are other plans. White can continue with simple development or go for broke on the Kingside with the dangerous Keres Attack, which begins 2....d6; 3.d4; cxd4; 4.Nxd4 Nf6; 5.Nc3 e6; 6.g4. Often Black plays this Sicilian defensively, trying to create impregnable barriers. A hedgehog position is often the result.

Scheveningen Variation

5. Black does not have to play an early ....d6 at all. The Kan variation, 2....e6 3.d4 cxd4; 4.Nxd4 a6 has long been popular, with the pawns serving to patrol the important squares at b5, d5 and f5. The play can transpose to the Najdorf or Scheveningen, but usually either ends up in a hedgehog or follows its own path. The weaknesses of the dark squares at b6 and d6 are indisputable, but does not deter players from adopting the Black side.

Kan Variation

6. Here, we have the structurally odd variations with an early ....e5, most prominently, the Lasker- Pelikan Variation. After 2....Nc6; 3.d4 cxd4; 4.Nxd4 Nf6; 5.Nc3 e5 there is a glaring hole at d5, and the battle will be waged primarily on the light squares. White has an advantage in space, but Black will be able to create counterplay on the light squares with ....b5 and ....f5. The variation has recently become fully respectable and has a following among many top players. The most persistent advocate of the Black side has been Evgeny Sveshnikov. A passionate defender of the variation which now bears his name.

Lasker Pelikan

7. Finally we have the Sozin Attack. Bobby Fischer loved the White side of the Sozen Attack, which was also featured in the 1993 PCA World Championship match between Nigel Short and Garry Kasparov.

Sozin Attack

Some ideas behind the Sicilian Defense.

Like the French Defense, the Sicilian Defense immediately puts a veto in White's intended choice of openings. The characteristic 1....c5 is more aggressive than the French, and also more riskily. If you like a complicated game with chances for both sides, the Sicilian is an ideal defense.

An important point to remember is this: White generally plays an early d4 in order to get more space for his pieces in the center. After Black captures White's Queen Pawn with his Queen Bishop Pawn, the Queen Bishop file is half-open (from Black's side). By playing his Queen Rook and sometimes his Queen as well, to the Queen Bishop file, Black can often exert considerable pressure along this file. On the other hand, White has an important attacking motif in advancing his King Bishop Pawn: to f4, This often gives him a powerful position in the middle game, when he threatens e5 or c5.

Like the Caro-Kann, the Sicilian begins by breaking the symmetry. But unlike that defense, it does not do so merely to hold the center, but to institute a counter-attack on the Queen's wing. For that reason the outstanding characteristic of the Sicilian Defense is that it is a fighting game. Both players must necessarily seek their objectives on different sides, which can lead to deliciously complicated and exciting variations.

Because the Sicilian is more of a unit than most other defenses it is possible and worth while to lay down a number of general principles which will be found to be valid in a large majority of cases. White almost invariably comes out of the opening with more terrain. Theory tells us that in such cases he must attack. He does so, normally, by g4, followed by a general advance with g5, f4 and eventually f6. In some cases he may castle long (in that event he must weigh the counterplay which Black can undertake). One of White's major positional objectives is the prevention of ....,d4 by Black.

Normal play for Black consists of pressure on the QB file, especially his QB5. Coupled with this is keeping White's KP under observation. The counter-attack against the KP may also be quite strong independently of the play on the QB file. Sometimes he can secure the two Bishops by moving his Knight to c4 in a position where the reply BxKt is virtually compulsory. Whenever ....d5 is feasible with out allowing the reply e5 it should be played; it is almost certain to at least equalize.

In the Sicilian the middle game is all-important. Markedly favorable or unfavorable endgame Pawn structures have no immediate relationship to the opening as such.

There are, further, three important considerations in all variations: 1. Black must never allow White to play c4 in the opening because he then has no counterplay on the QB file an is thereby doomed to passivity. 2. After White has played d4, Black must not move ....e5, leaving his QP backward on an open file 3. White must not be passive: he must attack because time is on Black's side (it usually is in cramped positions). That is why the Sicilian is so effective against a pussyfooter.

It may also be noted that White should try to get his Bishop to the long diagonal h1- a8, while it is always bad to for him to place it at c4. The Bishop at c4 will rarely help to prevent ....d5 permanently. Even if it does, it will do so only in a purely passive way. Further, if ....d5 does become possible, Black will gain an extra tempo against a White Bishop at c5.

There are two main lines, depending on whether Black plays his KB to e7 (usually leading to the Scheveningen Variation, the name comes from a small Dutch seaside resort, where a tournament was held in 1923 at which the variation first became popular) or to g7 (the Dragon Variation). The Scheveningen is the less energetic of the two, though it is somewhat more involved.

2. The French Defense

The French Defense is a featured weapon of many a grandmaster. It was given its name when a team from Paris defeated a team from London in a correspondence match in 1834, primarily by using this defense.

Unlike the Rue Lopez which is an open game) or the Sicilian (which is a semi-Open game), the French is a closed system, which keeps the pieces on the board for a long time. It is difficult to open lines for an attack, and the games take on a more strategic character.

The French Defense is ideal for a good defensive player. Because there are so many variations where Black must assume a temporarily cramped position, some masters have felt, and tried to demonstrate, the it is unsound, but ever and again the attacks have been made to recoil. Most of Black's problems arise from the lack of development of his QB (which explains why the opening has so much in common with the Queen's Gambit) and of his K-side. White usually tries to take advantage of his opponent's lack of room by a K-side attack coupled with a cramping bind in the center; Black's defense consists of a center break and judicious development From time to time it would appear that one side has the upper hand, but the balance is always restored.

One great merit of the opening is that if affords plenty of scope for the imagination. After the natural 2. d4. d5. And examination of the Pawn structure will reveal the objectives for both sides.

White's center Pawns are better, so he is out to keep the status quo or to improve it by e5, f5, etc, eventually f4. Black has a cramped position and can free himself only by hitting at the White Pawns. For this reason c5 is vital for Black in the French Defense. He can usually, though not always equalize by playing ....c5, but he can never get an even game if he does not advance his QBP. A subsidiary freeing maneuver is ....f6, when White has moved his KP up. Further, Black's QB is a special problem because it is bound to be blocked behind a mass of Pawns for quite a while, Unless....e5 can be forced, which is rarely the case, the B must be kept inactive in the opening or a best fianchettoed at g7.

The Alekhine and Scandinavian Defenses don't properly prepare an assault on White's e4-pawn, but the French Defense seeks to prepare the move ....d7-d5. It is distinguished after; 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 Black attacks the e4 pawn with his d5 pawn, which has been supported by the e6-pawn. White now has three major choices about what he wants to do with his e4-pawn. He can trade it, support it, or push it.

1. 3.exd5 French Defense Exchange Variation

2. 3.Nc3 French Defense Winawer Variation

3. 3.Nd2 French Defense Tarrasch Variation

4. 3.e5 (Advance Variation, or Nimzovitch Variation) French Defense Advance Variation

3. The Ruy Lopez (or Spanish Game)

The Ruy Lopez is arguably among the oldest openings in chess. It can be traced to the sixteenth century, a time when the best players came from Spain. The opening is credited to a Spanish priest Ruy Lopez (1530- 80), who hailed from Estremadura, Spain.

The idea makes perfect sense. White wants to destroy the e5-pawn, which has one defender, the c6- Knight. So if White can capture the c6-Knight, the c5-pawn will likely wobble and fall. Of course, White has other options for move three.

The Ruy Lopez remains one of the most popular openings and thoroughly dominates the Open Games in both amateur and professional competition. The logic behind the opening is crystal clear. White wants to undermine the support of the pawn at e5, hopefully to win it at some point. With careful play by Black this never happens of course, but White can exact a positional price, maintaining a lead in development and a firm grip on the center.

For over a century Black has favored 3....a6, to immediately put the question to the bishop usually retreats to a4, where it can still keep a hungry eye on the knight, but can also be repositioned at b3 or c2 with designs on the kingside.

In most cases White will aim for a kingside attack while Black will play on the Queenside and also prepare a central break. Sometimes Black will capture White's e-pawn as in the Open Variation, but more frequently will be content to maneuver behind solid defensive lines.

Ruy Lopez Schliemann Defense

Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation

4. The King's Indian Defense

This is generally considered the most complex and most interesting of all the Indian Defenses. As in other "Indian" lines, Black avoids answering 1.d4 with d5. Instead, he plays 1....Nf6 and continues with ....g6 and ....Bg7.

The King's Indian Defense (KID) is currently the most popular defense to 1.d4 for Black. It is based on solid principles of development and counterattack that typify the Hypermodern School of chess. Maneuvering behind the ranks and vicious attacks are both commonplace and the ability to calculate accurately is essential. Crucial to Black's aspirations is the powerful bishop at g7, which can exert a powerful influence in the center. Even if Black plays ....e5 and the center becomes closed, it can open up later and the bishop can wake up from its hibernation and inflict serious damage.

The KID was developed during the "hypermodern" era of the 1920s, and came into prominence in the 1940s when Bronstein, Boleslavsky and Reshevsky scored brilliant victories with it. The opening reached the peak of its popularity in the 1970s after Fischer became World Champion, as it was his main defense to the queen pawn. Nunn and Kasparov were its later champions, and today many aggressive young grandmasters keep the KID in the forefront of modern chess opening theory.

Black cedes the center in the first few moves, preparing to attack it once his forces are partially mobilized. The most usual break in the center is the pawn thrust....e5, though ....c5 is not infrequent. When White responds to ....e5 with d5, the locked center may give rise to pawn storms on opposite sides of the board, the winner being the first to successfully break through with an attack. Pawn and even piece sacrifices in the interest of the initiative are commonplace, to the point of becoming established theory.

The wild play of blocked centers may encourage White in two other directions. He can just maintain the pawn on d4, leaving the choice with Black, to cede the higher center to White with ....exd4 or further continue the tension. Tactics here can also explode at any moment. Or White can himself exchange on e5, leading to relatively stable play. While objectively nothing special, this sort of position can be psychologically distasteful for the combative King's Indian practitioner.

Kings Indian Defense Classical Variation

5. The Nimzo-Indian Defense

The Nimzo-Indian is "Hypermodern" in strategy, which is why it is labeled as an "Indian" defense without having the characteristic fianchetto. Black does not occupy the central squares at first, but his pieces control them. The characterizing pin of the Nimzo, 3....Bb4, exerts control on the e4 and d5 squares and allows the option of doubled pawns.

White's chances for advantage are due to his pawn center and the frequent occurrence that he gains the bishop pair. The main variations seek to use these possible advantages in different strategic ways.

The Nimzo-Indian Defense is undoubtedly Aron Nimzowitsch's greatest contribution to opening theory. There is a clear battle for the e4-square. If White gets a pawn there without paying a penalty, then black is in trouble. To prevent this, Black is willing to part with the dark-squared bishop to get rid of the Knight at c3, and thereby undermine support of the e4-square. White gets the bishop pair but Black has counterplay against the weak doubled c-pawns. An understanding of the hypermodern principles of Aron Nimzowitsch is essential to playing the Nimzo-Indian effectively.

As White, players can be divided into two camps. The first favors 4.e3 and the second are proponents of the Classical Variation with 4.Qc2, which avoids the doubling of the pawn. Both plans remain popular. Other plans are less ambitious, but nevertheless have some sting.

Nimzo Indian Defense; Classical Variation

Nimzo Indian Defense; Kmoch variation

Nimzo Indian Defense; Huebner variation

Nimzo Indian Defense; St Petersburg Variation

6. Queen's Gambit Declined *

One of the oldest openings, the Queen's Gambit is first mentioned in the Gottingen manuscript of 1490 and analyzed in the early seventeenth century by Salvio and Greco. Perhaps the name "gambit is a misnomer, because Black cannot really hold on to the pawn. In the nineteenth century it was considered by many to be an attempt to avoid the open clashes that resulted from the double King pawn openings. The percentage of games played with it began to rise in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when the theories of Steinitz and Tarrasch began to percolate downward to the great mass of players.

The question of how to meet the Queen's Gambit began to attract the theorist' attention. The majority of chess writers, starting with Jaenisch (1843), seemed to be of the opinion that holding the center with 2....e6 was the way to go. After this move there are many divergences, some depending on what White does and others on Black's choices. Some of the better-known variations that might arise are given here.

What is White's idea when he plays 2.c4? He wishes to remove Black's d-pawn from the center and make way for his e-pawn to advance to e4. Black by playing 2....e6 stops White from doing this but imprisons his light-squared bishop. Black will often try to imitate White by attacking White's d-pawn with a timely ....c5. In the course of this struggle one side or the other often accepts structural weaknesses in return for dynamic strengths. Isolated and hanging pawns abound for both sides in this group of openings.

Queen's Gambit Declined Classical Variation

Queens Gambit Declined Exchange Variation

Queens Gambit Declined Harrwitz Attack

Queens Gambit Declined Ragozin System

Queens Gambit Declined Semi-Tarrashch Defense

Queens Gambit Declined Cambridge Springs

Queens Gambit Declined Lasker Defense

Queens Gambit Declined Anti-Tartakower Attack

Queens Gambit Declined Tartakower Defense

Queens Gambit Declined Botvinnik Counterattack

Queens Gambit Declined Orthodox Variation

7. Caro-Kann Defense

This unpretentious defense has gained greater favor in recent years, placing it among the most respected defenses to 1.e4. The plan of 1....c6 and 2....d5 seems strange at first. Black advances only slowly in the center, often lags in development and makes no aggressive movements. It is no wonder that the defense, known since the sixteenth century, was little understood until the 1890s, when H. Caro of Berlin and M. Kann of Vienna first analyzed it seriously. Many famous players have since made use of the opening, but its greatest exponents have been three World Champions of the twentieth century: Capablanca, at the beginning of the century, Botvinnik in the middle years and Karpov at the end. The positive attributes of the Caro-Kann are that Black succeeds in developing all his pieces with out creating weaknesses or making other positional concessions (such as the locked-in queen's bishop the French Defense accepts). On the minus side, White is granted more freedom of movement. White's challenge is to make use of his extra mobility before Black completely frees his position.

Caro Kann Defense Main line

Caro Kann Defense Accelerated Panov Attack

ff0080 Caro Kann Defense Fantasy Variation

Caro Kann Defense Advance variation

Caro Kann Defense Exchange variation

Caro Kann Panov Attack

Caro Kann Defense Karpov Variation

Caro Kann Classical Variation

8. English Opening

The English Opening, 1.c4, is the third most popular opening behind 1.d4 and 1.e4. It often transposes to closed games or Indian Games. Sometimes Black even dares to play 1....e5 inviting a reversed Sicilian Defense where White enjoys an extra tempo.

English Opening strategy is characterized by fluid pawn formations and vigorous struggles for central control. Often White will follow his initial queenside thrust with a fianchetto of his King's bishop and an attempt to establish a grip on the light squares. Black may counter this by taking the White side of a Sicilian Defense with colors reversed, or by attempting to transpose to one of several queen pawn openings, such as the Queen's Gambit Declined, the King's Indian or the Dutch Defense. The independent alternative is the Symmetrical Variation, which is rich in possibilities ranging form countergambits and aggressive isolated queen pawn formations to cramped but dynamic hedgehog setups and the quiet, subtle maneuvering of the Ultra-Symmetrical Variation. It is natural to treat the English as a Sicilian reversed, but the results are often surprising, main lines in the Sicilian Defense correspond to obscure side variations in the English and vice versa.

English Opening Anglo-Indian

English Opening Tartakower-Indian Defense

English Opening Kings English

English Opening Hedgehog Formation

English Opening Symmetrical Variation

9. The Dutch Defense

What a marvelous name for a defense. The Dutch Stone Wall. Just as the name implies, Black creates a fortress of pawns. d5, f5, c6 and d6 in the center and plays for control of the e4 square. 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 c6 4.Qc2 f5

In Blacks fourth move of, ...f5, clearly, White is going to have a hard time liberating the center with e2-e4, but on the other hand, Black has created a hole, the e5-square, which beckons a White Knight, and we all know how valuable a key square or outpost where a knight can jump into can be.

The Dutch Stone Wall defense remains a favorite of players because the ideas of it for the defender are simple to follow and rember. Trade the pieces that land on the e5-square and move your pieces to the Kingside.

Dutch Defense, Stonewall Var.

10. The Slav Defense

There are two strategic ideas behind 2....c6. The first is to bolster the center with out hemming in Black's "problem child" of the Queen's Gambit Declined, the light squared bishop. The second is to be able to support the advance ....b5 after a later ....dxc4. This would either guard the pawn on c4 or attack the piece that has captured it, winning a tempo for queenside expansion.

Slav Defense

Slav Defense Winawer Counter Gambit

Slav Defense Slav-Reti Hybrid

Slav Defense Exchange Variation

Slav Defense Geller Gambit

Slav Defense Main Line Czech Variation

Slav Defense Schlechter Variation

11. Gruenfeld Defense

Of all the openings in our list, there is none so flagrant as the Grunfeld in defying the principles that one should occupy the center. Invented by the Austrian master Ernst Grunfeld in 1922, the defense makes extreme use of the "hypermodern" concept of attacking the center from afar in order to control it. Somewhat surprisingly, the defense is considered very respectable and sound, frequently used in the careers of Kasparov, Fischer, Smyslov, Korchnoi, Leko and Illescas. It is very active and tactical due to the open nature of the position. Naturally, there is the danger that white's big center will lead to a strong attack. Yet by sidestepping the pawn steamroller and attacking it, Black can feel relatively secure.

Gruenfel Defense Exchange Variation

Gruenfeld Defense Russian Variation

Gruenfeld Defense Saemisch Variation