Opening Principles For Chess – Developing Your Pieces

On their starting squares, your pieces will most likely have little mobility and will not be able to play a part in the game. It is vital therefore, that you bring your pieces into the right squares, to give them a great potential later on in the game, to defend allied or attack enemy pawns, and to play a part in the mating attack, if there is one – some games finish with an endgame, while others finish with a CRASH! BANG! WOLLOP! Where one side finds an immediate win, often through sacrificial means. If you understand all of the main opening principles for chess, then you will be able to reach better middlegame positions, where there is a greater wealth of strategical ideas.

The Development of the Minor Pieces

The first piece I will consider is the knight… Often the knights are used primarily to control the centre, and so the moves Nc3 (Nc6), Nf3, (Nf6) are played in numerous openings to do this. A typical example is the 4 knights game:

  1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 attacking e5. Nc6 Defending e5. If the e5 pawn is not defended, then white will take him for free. 3. Nc3 Nf6 (figure 1)
(figure 1) – The 4 knights game

With white`s knights, all of the 4 central squares (e4, e5, d4, d5) are controlled once by a knight. If you have read fight for the centre I and II, then you will understand that it is important to fight for the centre, and this is exactly what white is doing here.

White`s light squared bishop is often developed to c4, for example in the Italian game: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 


Italian game.
(figure 2)The Italian Game

In figure 2, white has developed the light squared bishop and king`s knight well, and there is already a concrete threat of Ng5 and Nxf7 in many continuations. This would win at least an exchange. However, if black knows some defensive plans here, then there is no danger; in figure 2, black will often play either 3…, Bc5 , where Ng5 cannot be played, because the black queen covers that square, or 3…, Nf6 With the idea of meeting Ng5 with d5, and after exd5, black can play Na5 to hit white`s bishop, or 3…, h6 Which blatantly stops Ng5 – that is the whole point of it.

In the London System (figure 3), white`s pieces have a very standard development for this opening, which is Bf4, Nf3, Bd3, Nbd7 Usually in that order, although this can vary a bit, and then transpose back into the same position. For example:  1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. e3 e6 4. Nf3 Bd6 5. Bg3 O-O 6. Bd3 c5 7. c3 Nc6 8. Nbd2 (figure 3)

London system
(figure 3) – The London System 

Let`s have a look at the development of the pieces. White`s knight on f3 defends the d4 pawn, and might jump into e5 in the middlegame. The bishop on g3 is not a particularly great piece, and white would be delighted if black played 8…, Bxg3, because that would open up the h-file after 9. hxg3, and so white`s king`s rook would be applying pressure to h7. This bishop could be worse though, if it was behind the pawn structure, on its starting square. The knight on d2 has a couple of specific purposes, mainly to support the e4 advance, although after Ne5, sometimes the d2 knight moves to f3. Now, white`s best minor piece is the light squared bishop, because it points towards black`s king, and in conjunction with the knight or rook, it can apply pressure to h7.

The Development of Rooks

Usually, you don`t need to develop your rooks until the middlegame or endgame, because of the nature of now they move, they need open files to go down, they can`t move with loads of pawns in the way. The most important pieces to develop early on are your minor pieces.

In the middlegame, rooks can develop through a technique known as ‘the rook swinger’ (figure 4), a.k.a a rook lift, which is when you move the rook vertically up (normally 3 squares) then swing it horizontally across. The reason for doing this is to put pressure on your opponent`s king position, and to develop your rook.

rook lift
(figure 4) – Karjakin – Metsalu, 2001

In figure 4, white found the strong continuation 25. Rd3 The rook swinger …, Nexd6 26. Qxh7+!! 1-0 The point is that after …, Kxh7 27. Rh3#

Also very common is the development of the rook to the seventh rank, where the rooks can target pawns in an endgame, and restrict the enemy king. It is important that in all parts of the game you watch out for possibilities where your rook does get trapped, forked, skewered, or lost by other means, although I will describe these things in more detail later on in the course.

The Premature Development of the Queen

Many beginners often think since the queen is the most powerful piece, you should bring it out straight away. This is not true. When you bring the queen out too early, your queen wll get attacked by your opponent`s pieces, and your queen will be forced to retreat, with a loss in tempo, which means that your opponent will be ahead in developing their pieces. The queen is often much better developed in the middlegame, when your minor pieces are already developed. Here is a game to illustrate the premature development of the queen:

Please set up a chess board now as I begin with notation…

The Queen`s Gambit (accepted)

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 c5 5. Bxc4 cxd4 6. exd4 Qc7 (figure 5) The queen is attacking the bishop on c4, which is a reasonable move if it is followed up correctly, in this game though black gets lured into a premature counterattack. 

Queen #1
figure 5

White`s next move entices black to make a mistake. 7. Qb3 There were other ways to defend the bishop (e.g. Qe2), but this gives black the opportunity to go wrong …, Be6?? Owing to the premature development of the black queen, he has fallen into a false sense of security, believing that white`s c4 bishop is pinned on account of Qxc1+ winning a rook. This is not the case. 8. Bxe6!! Qxc1+ 9. Ke2 Qxh1 (figure 6).

Queen #2
figure 6

At first, it seems that white is simply losing, but with closer inspection, it becomes apparent that black is in big trouble. Let`s see what white has up his sleeve… 10. Bxf7+ Kd8 11. Qxb7 Qc1 (figure 7) White is going to win back the lost rook with interest on top. Note that before 11…, Qc1 there was a threat of Be6 and Qc8#, so this move both defends against the mating threat, and brings the diverted black queen into the game. Alas it is too late for black.

Queen #3
figure 7

12. Qxa8 Qxb2+ 13. Nbd2 Ne4 (figure 8) With black`s last move, black has realised that his position is crumbling. Notice that after 13… Qxa1?? White can deliver checkmate in 2 moves. 14. Qxb8+ Kd7 15. Ne5#

Queen #4
figure 8

14. Qxe4 Qxa1 15. Qd5+ Kc7 16. Qc5+ Kd8 17. Be6 (figure 9) black resigns here.

Queen #5
figure 9

If black decided to play on, checkmate would follow:  17…,Nd7 18. Qc6 Here there are 2 potential mating squares – c8 and d7. If the black knight is not moved, then Qxd7#. …,Nb6 19. Ne5 White finds the other way to mate. When the white knight comes to f7 it will be checkmate. e.g. …, Qc1 offering the queen 20. Nf7# (figure 10)

Queen #6
figure 10 – checkmate

In this game, black wrongly assumed that by playing 6…,Qc7, the c4 bishop was pinned. It was the premature development of the queen and the misunderstanding of the position that lead to the loss for black. Instead of playing 7…,Be6??, black could have been fine after playing e6, which strengthens the diagonal on which the white queen and bishop are pointing along.

To summarise, remember to develop your knights and bishops early on in the game, to squares where they can play an active part in the game. Try not to keep your pieces trapped behind your pawns, because they won`t be able to take part in any kind of attack, and their potential is limited there. An example of this is the London system, where white plays Bf4 to get his dark squared bishop outside the pyramid pawn structure with c3, d4 and e3. Don`t  worry about developing your rooks too soon, because they can be saved for later on in the game when they are more mobile. With your queen, you should not develop her really early, because you will lose tempi, and make sure that the potential of the queen is maximised.


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