What's a Good Opening?

Sometimes I get asked, out of context, "What's a good opening you recommend?", "What's a good opening for White?", or "What a good opening against 1.e4?".

The problem is with the word "good". If by "good" you mean, the more winning chances, the better, then no legitimate opening is that good!

Assume there was an opening, the Yadeeda Variation of the HumptyUmp Opening, which won all the time for White. Then that sounds really good, doesn't it? But if the Yadeeda Variation wins all the time by force, then why would any good Black player who likes to play the HumptyUmp go into the Yadeeda? He wouldn't. So that line wins for White, but it's not such a "good" opening since it amounts to an opening trap - no one of any knowledge would play it for Black. 

Similarly, suppose a line leads to absolute equality (or better) for Black in every variation. Then no good player would likely play it for White (unless they really like that type of position or are playing for a draw) because White is supposed to try for an advantage, not play openings where Black easily equalizes (or better).

So all "good" openings, at least those  played regularly at the grandmaster level, have the same characteristics: if played correctly by both players, White is fighting for a slight advantage and Black is struggling for equality. Any less for White and good players won't play it consistently, and any less for Black and good players won't play that consistently, either.

So in that sense all "good" openings theoretically yield a slightly advantage to White.

However, if by "good" you mean:

  • "gives me good winning chances if my opponent plays wrong", 
  • "is fun to play", 
  • "helps me learn something", or 
  • "contains a lot of rich strategic and tactical possibilities" 

...then you are talking! But of course then maybe your question should have been phrased a little more exactly...Smile

GM Soltis wrote in Grandmaster Secrets: Openings that it makes sense for the average player to probably pick openings that are NOT popular at the grandmaster level, and I agree. I won't repeat Andy's logic here (gotta help him sell some books!), but most players erroneously tend to think that if a grandmaster doesn't play an opening there's something wrong with it.

For example, when Kasparov gave up the King's Indian Defense, thousands of class players did too, as if their winning chances in that opening were gravely affected by Kasparov's decision. Needless to say, I thought they were being just as illogical as they might have been to pick up the KID again a couple of years later just because Radjabov starting having success with the KID at the top level.

There are lots of "good" openings for intermediate players that grandmasters don't play and, as computers have shown us, even some very rare openings are playable if handled correctly. My suggestion: pick out openings that are both fun to play and help you learn something (assuming you want to improve). Then every once in a while rotate to something completely different and learn how to play different pawn structures.

For example, if you've never tried the King's Indian Defense or the French Defense, those openings are not only good for understanding locked centers, but also plausible defenses to many irregular openings too. Therefore, it's good to adopt each for at least a while (not necessarily at the same time). I call this my "French and Indian" opening suggestion, and my students who have adopted it have usually reported it to be helpful.

Finally, no opening is good if you keep making the same mistake over and over, so it is almost necessary to review each game, fast or slow, with an opening book (strong players and databases are helpful, too). The goal is to find out what you would do differently next time if your opponent played the same moves against you.


  • 10 months ago


    I constantly get told the openings I play are concidered "bad" openings according to the "book," but I play them because I have a lot of fun playing them. (Blackmar-Deimer Gambit, the Nimzowitsch Defense & the Chigorin Defense).

    Play, have fun!

  • 10 months ago


    A good opening is one that I understand - at least half way.

  • 2 years ago


    My favorite openings:

    White: Queen's Pawn Opening (Zukertort Variation)

    Black: Scandinavian Defence and Grunfeld Defence

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you for the insightful article. It has truely motivated me to follow the suggestions above.

  • 3 years ago


    I learnt a lot about not being so 100% fixed on pieces (e.g. attack, temporary advantages, advantage of development) from studying and practising the King's Gambit, since once you have given up a pawn it definitely focuses your mind on the attack. So I would definitely agree that studying one particular opening at a time can give you new insights that are generally applicable to other games.

  • 3 years ago


    white queens gambit

    black sicilian dragon

  • 3 years ago


    Just saying, my 2 main openings are:

    White: Queen's Gambit

    Black: The Sharp Sicilian

  • 4 years ago


    Nice Article !

  • 4 years ago


    nic3 i lik3

  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago


    I always play the King's Gambit because its a fun opening! There's always plenty of action with the King's Gambit. I know the GM's don't care for it, but I'm not a GM.

  • 4 years ago

    NM ih8sens

    @ Derived 

    As often as engines kill certain lines, they often revive lines thought to be completely unplayable.  Certain lines of the Grunfeld, KID, Dragon, etc... come to mind.  

  • 4 years ago


    The Fried Liver attack does have its merits though with black having to face a nasty pin and an exposed king. Look at this game for example with a win for white that were very similar to the Fried Liver attack. White does have compensation for the pawn, but it might be suicide for weaker players to use it against stronger opponents that defends correctly. I'm not recommending this opening, but it is perfectly playable, especially in blitz when black may easily defend incorrect.

  • 4 years ago


    Awesome article!!!!

  • 4 years ago


    Mr. Heisman, what are these "very rare openings that can be playable if handled correctly" that computers found? I would really like to see them, as I feel restricted in exploring openings by the success statistics served with them. Do you have a link? Or the name of an article?

  • 4 years ago


    Good article!

    I never cease to be amazed, or maybe just nonplussed, that many chessplayers think it's perfectly logical to ask total strangers to recommend openings for them, when what they really need to determine is what their strengths and weaknesses are before randomly deciding on some opening that Kasparov or some other super-GM plays - or that some total stranger who knows nothing about them or how they play recommends.

    In GM Reti's Masters of the Chessboard he recommends beginners play double KP exclusively (well of course your opponent may not always be so obliging) until they get the general principles of open games and then move on to semi-open games and finally closed games.

    Again, I'm always fascinated when Class-Z players appear to be so enthused about really dense positional openings like the KID...or dud openings like the KIA so they never have to study any openings at all!

  • 4 years ago



    The line continues, 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6

    It is my belief that this line is worse for white, however it gives great winning chances because black must play accurately to defend. In my opinion this opening is a violation of principle(how many knight moves? are we controlling the centre? random unsound sacrifice?) and I think it is incorrect for anyone to play this way...yet i see it surprisingly often.

  • 4 years ago


    When I played as a beginner I always started something like this and then tried to play on with my pieces without making any pawn break and didn't know how I should progress with no plan whatsoever (never made the d4-break). A pretty booring opening and I think a line like the Fried Liver Attack is better in that sence as it has a clear plan and is more straightforward, even if you start attacking before developing all the pieces. I started playing the scotch where it also is easier to play with your pieces and also easier to play even though you have to move a knight twice (bit in that case it captured a pawn, so it's all fine). The Scotch is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf6 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 Nxd4 and can be recommended to beginners as it is an open game that is easy to play where you just develop your pieces in the opening.

  • 4 years ago


    Well with the line "1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5? and then sacrificing on f7." I guess that is perfectly playable if by sacrificing an f7 you mean the Fried Liver Attack (see link for a good article about it). Not sure how they otherwise would sacrifice a knight on f7 in that opening that would be bad. Of course sacrificing a knight on f7 is far from always good, but in this line it is playable.

  • 4 years ago


    @jtixs, while I agree people should use opening principles that opening you gave is perfectly playable. Sure it is a principle to not move the same piece twice, but white is attacking the weak f7 square and black must play d5 to prevent it with some interesting lines to follow. While principles should be learned and understood it's also very important to know that there will always be exceptions. Therefor I think new players shouldn't play 1...g6 modern defence for example (thinking that the centre and development isn't very important) if they want to improve, but on the other hand if they just play for fun it's perfectly fine.

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