What Are The Best Starting Moves In Chess for White?

best starting moves in chess
Finding the best starting moves in chess with W. R. Hartston’s Chess Openings & a can of Kirin Ichiban Shibori beer.

In searching for the best starting moves in chess, White is confronted with twenty possible first moves. White may move any one of his eight pawns one or two spaces forward. White may also move either of his knights onto the third row, to a3, c3, f3 or h3.

Of those twenty possibilities, the best starting moves in chess are those that attack the centre or help development. So forget about starting with your flanking pawns.

Also, do not start by moving one of your knights to the edge of the board.

e4 and d4: The Two Best Starting Moves in Chess

There are two options that most people agree are the best starting moves in chess. They are 1.e4 and 1.d4. That is, White begins by moving either the king’s pawn or the queen’s pawn two spaces forward. In either case, white is attacking the centre and preparing to develop his pieces.

The starting moves, 1.e4 and 1.d4 dominate opening theory. The Penguin Book of Chess Openings devotes 209 of the 252 pages of the book to those starting moves.

Why 1.d4… 2c4 Are The Best Starting Moves In Chess For White

I suggest that you choose ONE of those two starting moves and study it in more detail from White’s perspective. The starting move I recommend is 1.d4 and that is how I open most of my games as White. It is generally felt that 1.d4 is a steadier opening than 1.e4:

In general the Queen’s Pawn openings are quieter in the early stages, with the emphasis on securing favourable pawn structures and gaining space.

W. R. Hartston, The Penguin Book of Chess Openings, p. 161

Another benefit of starting with 1.d4 is that you can usually follow up with 2.c4 and often with 3.Nc3. Those are what I consider the best starting moves in chess when playing as White. Those starting moves are well established as a sound opening for White. They will set you up with a solid claim on the centre of the board and a great deal of flexibility in dealing with various responses from Black.

The Advantages Of Working With One Opening Sequence

Also, by choosing ONE opening sequence as White, you can concentrate your efforts when you study chess. If you are like most amateur chess players, you only have a limited amount of time to study chess. As White, you have the luxury of moving first. You can choose which piece to move, whereas Black has to respond to what you do.

As time is limited, it is more efficient to focus on building competence in ONE opening as White. That is especially so when you are a beginner or elementary player. It is easy to get confused by the mass of opening theory and never achieve competence in any opening.

Of course, you will need to study how to respond as Black to White’s various openings, but that is another story.

In recommending this opening sequence I have been influenced by the teaching of International Master, John Watson. His book, A Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire for White offers a complete plan of attack with 1.d4 and 2.c4.

best starting moves in chess for white
Following John Watson, I recommend this set-up as the best starting moves in chess when playing as white.

Exceptions: When d4, c4, Nc3 Are NOT The Best Starting Moves In Chess For White

In his book, John Watson recommends 1.d4… 2.c4 in almost every scenario except some unusual black responses such as the Saint George defence (1. d4 b4 2.e4…) and some versions of the Benoni where black responds 1…. c5:

  1. d4 c5
  2. d5

The third move, Nc3 occurs in the majority of openings with this repertoire. Notable exceptions are the third move in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted and mainline Benoni systems:

Queen’s Gambit Accepted

  1. d4 d5
  2. c4 dxc4
  3. Nf3

3.Nf3 protects White from 3. … e5.


  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 c5
  3. d5

In most cases, however, I suggest the best starting moves in chess for white, if you want to keep things easy for yourself, are 1.d4… 2.c4 and 3.Nc3.

David Hurley


Chess Tactic Training Tip 1: The Art Of Distraction

In this chess tactic training lesson I will focus on how to use the art of distraction on the chessboard. Because distraction is a powerful chess tactic training yourself to see opportunities to distract will significantly improve your game.

The purpose of distraction is to cause your opponent to move a piece away from a key square. This chess tactic training lesson will show you several ways to do it. As you become aware of the power of distraction, you will begin to notice distraction opportunities as they arise. At least, you will start to look out for them during a game.

Very often, the art of distraction is employed against a piece that is guarding a crucial square. The guard may be distracted by the offer of a sacrifice of by the threat of capture. Once the guard has been distracted, the square you wish to occupy will now be unguarded and you can safely move in.

Distraction is often used during the late middle game or the endgame. Here is an example from an endgame in which Black employs the tactic of distraction against White’s knight on a4:

chess tactic training
Black to move and distract White…

Chess Tactic Training – Distraction Problem 1

It is Black’s move.

What would you do in this situation if you were Black?

(Note: Black wants to advance his pawns UP the board towards row 1!)

This is a good example of how to use distraction in the endgame to achieve a decisive advantage.

If we analyse the imbalances we can see that White is one pawn ahead and holds a material advantage. However, Black holds a positional advantage with his occupation of the centre. The pawn on g7 is also guarding against White achieving an easy promotion of the h pawns. It is Black’s turn to move and sieze the initiative.

I will post the solution in the comments tomorrow!

David Hurley

Easy Chess Tips

How To Lose Both Bishops In Chess Queen Pawn Opening Blunder…

Bishops in chess can be tricky pieces to place correctly on the board in the opening game. Here is an example of a Queen Pawn opening blunder that involves the loss of White’s black-squared bishop. My opponent was the White player. 🙂

My opponent opened with d4 and I replied with Nf6. The first three moves suggested to me that White was playing a delayed Queen’s Gambit.

However, what followed was an ill-conceived string of bad Bishop moves that led White to disaster:
4. Bb5+ c6 (easily dealing with the checking Bishop, and completing Black’s pawn set-up)

5. Ba4 Bd6 (Black continues to develop.)

6. 0-0 Qc7 (eyeing Black’s h2 square and keeping the knight on f3 busy.)

7. Bd2 Nbd7

8. Bc3?? This is where things unravelled for White. Can you see WHY moving his bishop to c3 is a bad move here? Can you guess what Black did in response? What would you do if you were black?

Generally speaking when moving knights and bishops in chess openings, moving the same piece twice in a row is not recommended. Moving the same piece twice slows down the development of your pieces and causes you to lose tempo.

Bishops in Chess Openings Can Occasionally Be Moved Twice In A Row!

That is not to say that it is always a bad thing to move a minor piece twice in a row! There are cases where moving a piece twice in a row are justified.

For example in the Queen’s Gambit, White may place his king’s bishop on d3 almost as if to invite black to take his c4 pawn. If Black takes the bait, it is acceptable for White to retake with the bishop he just moved to d3.

Here is an example from a game between Reuben Fine and Emanuel Lasker, in Nottingham, England, in 1936 that illustrates this point:

bishops in chess: when moving them twice in a row is okay.
After Black castled, Reuben Fine (White) moved, 6. Bd3. Lasker captured the c4 pawn, then Fine recaptured with his bishop and went on to win the game.

After Black castled, Reuben Fine (White) moved, 6. Bd3. Lasker captured the c4 pawn, dxc4. Then Fine recaptured with his bishop and went on to win the game.

How Careless Moves Can Lose Your Bishops In Chess

Going back to the game I was playing last month, White has two badly placed bishops on the queenside of the board (unlike Fine in the 1936 game, above).

The move Bc3 is bad not only because White moved his bishop twice for no good reason. More seriously, in moving his bishop to c3, he blocked his c-pawn and in doing so, he trapped his white-squared bishop:

How to lose your bishops in chess.

Seeing the blunder, Black responds with 8. … a5, followed by 9. … b5. Why not immediately attack the bishop with 8. … b5? Because that gives the Bishop a chance to escape via 9. Bb3 and 10. a3. Although the escape route is also available after 8. a5, moving the rook’s pawn also prepares for what I assumed would be an attack on White’s black-squared bishop with b5 and then b6. The thought was also that if White did not notice the danger to his white-squared bishop, the trap would be inescapable with a5 followed by b5.

The actual benefit I was expecting was to gain a lot of space on the queenside and cramp White’s game. I was expecting White to retreat his white-squared bishop.

However, in the event, my opponent’s mind was on the pressure my queen and bishop were exerting on his h2 square, causing a second blunder in a row with the weakening g3 move.

That is what can happen in games at this level (somewhere around the lower 1500s I guess). Players are often taken in by false threats on one side of the board and overlook real dangers on the other side.

After 9. g3?? b5! White’s bishop is now completely trapped. It will be exchanged for a pawn:

10. Bb3 a4

11. Bxd5 Nxd5

Losing One Bishop May Be Regarded As A Misfortune…

To lose one bishop may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness, as Oscar Wilde once said (or words to that effect). Even so, that is exactly what my opponent managed to do. He allowed his black squared bishop to fall into an even tighter trap. Here’s how:

12. Nbd2?? Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again!

12. … b4! And with that, White loses his second bishop.

How to lose both bishops in chess...
With the moves 12. Nbd2 b4, the game is effectively over as White is about to lose his second bishop.


The game is a good example of how not to deploy your bishops in chess openings when playing as White. The 8th move, Bc3 was a blunder, but not fatal to White’s game. It involved the loss of tempo and the gaining of an advantage for black.  It limited White’s options on the queenside by preventing the advance of the c pawn and placing White’s white-squared bishop under immediate pressure.

When playing as white, keep these points in mind before you move your bad bishop twice in a row. When playing as black, look out for opportunities to exploit this kind of bad bishop blunder by white. Bad moves of bishops in chess is something that often occurs in casual games, pub chess. It can also happen in amateur games where players are rated in the 1500-1600s.

David Hurley


Trompowsky Attack In Game 1 Of The World Chess Championship 2016

Trompowsky Attack
White opens by moving the Queen’s Pawn to d4. Black responds with Nf6. Then White launches the Trompowsky Attack with Bg5.

Magnus Carlsen (white) played the Trompowsky Attack in the opening game of the World Chess Championship 2016.

Although World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen has used the Trompowsky Attack before, it came as quite a surprise as it is not the most common way to continue after the moves 1. d4 Nf6.

The Trompowsky opening has less theory attached to it compared to other Queen’s Pawn openings, which may be one reason why Magnus Carlsen chose it for the first game of the championship.

Another reason, as he partially admitted in the post-match press conference, may have been that the name sounds like “Trump-owsky” and was a cheeky way to refer to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election earlier in the week. Magnus Carlsen’s family certainly thought so. When asked if that had anything to do with his choice of opening he replied, with a grin,

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Why It Can Be Better To Promote a Pawn to a Knight

Black’s e-pawn is about to promote…

I had achieved a decisive advantage against my regular opponent in a recent “over the board” game of chess, but he was hanging in there and not resigning, even though I was about to promote my pawn (see diagram, left).

There were just a few minutes left on the clock, so perhaps he was hoping to survive until the flag dropped, but at best it was a forlorn hope.

The game could be easily finished off in a couple of moves by Black promoting the e2 pawn to a queen and then moving the rook to f2, so this game is not really a perfect illustration of the title of this blog post, but what happened in this game did make me think about those occasions when it can actually be better to promote the pawn to a knight instead of a queen.

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