Chess is one of the earliest strategy games out there. It’s a complex game to learn and it’s only natural to start learning with opening strategies (and maybe jumping to opening traps right afterward). This list will contain all of the most efficient and, more importantly, easy to learn and memorize chess openings that are being used today.
Openings for black and white differ significantly. Because of that, openings will be separated based on which side is being played. The best beginner opening for white is debatable but I would learn the Queen’s Gambit first. The first opening to learn as black is easily the Sicilian Defense.
This article will go over the openings with the highest win percentages based on millions of games played at Chess.com. The best way to use this list is to pick one or two openings and play it consistently to learn the strengths and weaknesses.
#1: Queens Gambit
Note: Sometimes the examples do not load correctly on Chrome. Simply click the fullscreen box to see the opening in action.
This opening has a great win percentage for white with 40% of games won and 38% drawn. The center control and pressure it puts on black are the biggest positives to this opening.
A gambit typically involves sacrificing a piece in order to gain some advantage later. This opening, while it does have gambit in the name, isn’t a true gambit. We can easily retake the sacrificed pawn relatively quickly with the light bishop. However, we will have to spend moves to do that which isn’t great.
Here’s a link to a whole article about the opening on Simplify Chess. This is a much more in-depth guide to this opening which covers its strengths and weaknesses.
- Fights for center control
- Puts pressure on black
- Takes up board space
- Time spent getting pawn back
- Not many chances ot attack black king
- Possible counterattack on d4
#2: Ruy Lopez
This opening wins games 38% of the time and draws 37% of the time. Also called the Spanish Game, this opening was developed by Spanish priest Ruy Lopez de Segura. The defining part of this strategy is the rapid development and several complex continuations into the midgame.
The downsides here are that black has multiple defenses to choose from, which means playing this many times is necessary to be efficient with the opening. Immediately the light-squared bishop is a potential target.
- Leads to complex development
- Can lead to black pressure the entire game
- Quick development of pieces
- Black has many defenses
- Light square bishop is open to attack
#3: Italian Game
White wins the game 38% of the time with this opening and draw 30%. This opening has the advantage of having natural movement with several variations that don’t necessarily need to be memorized.
Just as with the Queen’s gambit, this opening grabs a lot of center control. However, there isn’t much pressure on black and, as with the Ruy Lopez, the light square bishop can be exposed.
- Fights for center control
- Quickly develop pieces
- Natural variations
- Black is not under pressure
- Bishop can be exposed
#4: English Opening
This opening wins 39% of games and draws 35%. The main advantage here is the central pressure from the first pawn move. There is a myriad of variations for this, which is why only one pawn move is shown below.
The biggest downside with this opening is the potential for black to retaliate with a pawn on e5. There is an excellent article on this opening here, which I highly recommend checking out.
- Grabs d5 control
- Some central control
- Pressure blacks queen side
- Slow development of pieces
- Fewer chances to attack
- Black puts a pawn on e5
#5: London System
This is a group of openings that result in about a 30% win rate and 37% draw rate. The openings make it hard for black to get a footing on the board. They are a very good way to get to a playable midgame.
Unfortunately, these openings leave less chance to actively attack for us and put very little pressure on black.
- Hard for black to develop pieces
- Difficult for black to counter
- Easily playable midgame
- Fewer chances to attack
- Little pressure on black
#6: King’s Indian Attack
This opening wins 39% of games and draws 37%. The pressure is put on the d4 and e5 squares with the bishop for a little center control. In addition, you have the option to put the bishop on g2 (a strong position for the bishop) and castle the king quickly.
The central control for white is weak with this opening, which leaves black a chance to gain more control. Black also has no real pressure and many options for progressing the game.
- Many options for white
- Potentially quick castle
- No black pressure
- Many options for black
- No immediate pressure
#7: Benko Gambit
This opening wins 44% of games and draws 27%. A true gambit, this opening sacrifices the pawn on d4. This isn’t the best opening for beginners since it is a gambit, but deserves to be on your list of potential openings as your play progresses.
This opening leads to positions on the board that are out of the ordinary, which can lead to an advantage for the player with more fundamental knowledge of chess. However, white can decline the gambit and respond in many ways which makes this opening even more unpredictable.
- Unusual board position
- Solid gambit
- White can decline the gambit in many ways
- Many different responses for white
#1: Sicilian Defense
This is easily the most popular and one of the best defenses for black. The opening wins 33% of the time and draws 30% of games. The d4 square is attacked from a side pawn which avoids giving white a target.
White still has many options to counter the defense. Also, the main variations give white a good chance to attack. However, this is still the best black opening to learn as a beginner.
- No central target for white
- Gives a good chance to attack
- White has many counters
- White can attack on most variations
#2: Nimzo-Indian Defense
This opening wins about 30% of the time and draws 35%. The opening leads to complex positions and has pieces develop quickly. The defining move in this opening is the bishop to b4 which pins the night.
The real negative to this opening is the weak central control and the potential for white to take both bishops later in the game.
- Good positioning
- Great development of pieces
- White has better central control
- Possibly lose both bishops
#3: Queens Indian Defense
This opening is great for draws since games end that way about 41% of the time. Wins are less likely with only 25%. This opening is similar to the Nimzo-Indian but instead of the bishop move, there is a pawn move on b6.
There is very little openings for white to attack with this opening and there is a lot of flexibility.
As mentioned earlier, this opening is best when playing for the draw. White is able to maintain board position advantage, which makes it hard for black to attack.
- No holes to attack
- Draws often
- White maintains positional advantage
#4: Pirc Defense
Wins 29% of the time and draws 31%. This defense can roll into the modern defense, along with many other variations. The key to this defense is allowing white to occupy the center and attack when white is overextended.
White can easily attack in this position and, if you don’t have much practice with the opening, this could end badly.
- Flexible to play many different opening lines
- Easily draw white into overextension
- White can attack easily
- Freedom for white to control the board
These 11 chess openings will get you started on your path to improving at chess. I’ll slowly build up more chess articles to elaborate on some of the theory and tactics these openings can capitalize on.