Types of Openings

Beginners are often confused when it comes to classifying openings and the type of game they lead to. As we develop our chess skills, we tend to gravitate towards openings that suit our style of play. However, trying to determine what opening suits you best can’t be accomplished unless you know what the four types of openings are. When I say “types,” I’m not talking about specific openings, such as the Ruy Lopez or King’s Indian Defense. I’m talking about groups of openings that are defined by their first move, for both white and black. This is how we categorize openings into types of openings.

It’s important to know the four types of openings because they give you an indication as to the type of game you’ll end up playing. If your an attacking player, you’ll avoid closed openings and concentrate on openings that allow more combat on the board, the open games. However, if you didn’t know what defines an opening, you might end up learning an opening that doesn’t suit your attacking style. Here’s what you need to know.

The Key Ideas

1. Open games are games that start with 1. e4…e5.
2. Semi-open games start off with 1. e4 but black doesn’t respond with 1…e5
3. Closed games start with 1. d4…d5.
4. Semi-closed games start with 1. d4 but black doesn’t respond with 1…d5
5. All chess openings fall into one of these four categories.

Open Games

The term open game refers to openings that start off with 1. e4…e5. In open games, pieces gain access to the board quickly due to the advancement of the of the “e” pawns. The Bishops, Rooks and Queen, have more mobility because there’s more room to move. Some of the more popular openings that lead to an open game are the Ruy Lopez (Spanish Opening), the Giuoco Piano (Italian Opening), the Scotch Game, the Four Knights Game, the Two Knights Defense, the Evan’s Gambit, the King’s Gambit and Petroff’s Defense.

Semi-Open Games

In semi-open games, white starts off with 1. e4. However, black doesn’t counter with 1…e5. One of the most popular openings for black against 1. e4 is the Sicilian Defense in which black plays 1…c5. This move attacks d4, while still maintaining the d7 and e7 pawns for further centralized play. Semi-open games can lead to positions that are open or closed. Openings leading to semi-open games include the Sicilian Defense, the Caro Kann Defense, the French Defense, the Pirc Defense and the Modern Defense.

Closed Games

Closed games typically start with 1. d4…d5. In closed games, the pawns and pieces can become locked into the defense of one another in and around the center of the board. This creates fewer open lines which means the Bishops, Rooks and Queen lose mobility. There is one pieces that does extremely well in closed games and that’s the Knight. Because the Knight has the ability to jump over pawns and pieces, the Knight doesn’t need much space in which to operate. Due to decreased piece mobility, the potential for tactics is reduced. Closed games require more long term strategic planning. Attacks tend to be built up slowly. You have to be extremely patient when playing closed positions. Closed game openings include the Queen’s Gambit (declined or accepted), the Slav Defense and the London System.

Semi-closed Games

In semi-open games, after 1. d4, black makes a response other than 1…d5. This is an asymmetrical opening. After 1. d4, black responds asymmetrically, making a move such as 1…Nf6. In semi-closed games, black often lets white gain control of the center opting for a more defensive position. Knights and Bishops both play important roles in semi-closed games. While mobility can be limited, lines can open up quickly. Semi-closed openings include the Indian Defenses (such as the King’s Indian) the Benoni Defense and the Dutch Defense.

That’s it in a nutshell. Of course, if you want to be a good chess player, you have to play openings of all four types, or at least understand them enough should you face one of them. After all, your opponent isn’t going to play an opening that your comfortable with because they’re trying to win as well. As the Boy Scout motto goes, be prepared. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).