How Many Chess Openings Are There?

27 November 2021

The origin of chess openings can be traced back to the 16th century. Through its long and eventful history, over one hundred chess openings have been developed. This number is ever-increasing as new opening strategies are created by players.

So how many are there? How many should you know? Is it a good idea to try to memorize them? What are the most popular openings? These are some of the questions that we will try to answer in this post.

How Many Chess Openings are there?

There are 1327 chess openings listed in The Oxford Companion to Chess. This includes various variant openings which are classified under the same name. However, not all of these openings are popular and widely used in competitive chess. The most commonly used chess openings make up a smaller number of around 20-30.

Classification of Chess Openings

The main branches of modern chess openings can be categorized into two: Flank Openings, which include Queen’s Pawn Games, King’s Pawn Games, and Irregular Openings; and Central Openings, which include Sicilian Defense and Ruy Lopez. Each of these categories contains a wide array of opening strategies that have variations and many sub-variations.

The diversity among chess openings is remarkable with varied strategies being employed to gain an advantage over the opponent. By understanding the different openings and their suitability to certain positions and situations, it is possible to gain an advantage over your opponent.

Popular Chess Openings

1. Ruy Lopez [The Spanish Game] – Ruy Lopez is one of the most popular chess openings in the world and is named after Spanish priest Ruy Lopez, who was one of the top chess players in Europe during the 16th century. The popularity of this opening stems from the fact that it offers an aggressive start to a game, with white’s first move threatening Black’s King pawn.

2. French Defence – The French defense was developed by a strong player called Francois Andre Danican Philidor in the 18th century. Black uses his first move to protect their King pawn (he does not want it to be captured by white’s first move) and then counters white’s attack with a very aggressive move of his own.

3. Sicilian Defence – The Sicilian is one of the most common chess openings in the world, but it is also one of the most complexes to master. It has many variations and can be used against a wide range of opponents, so this makes it useful for players. However, different variations require different strategies, so Black must choose carefully at this stage.

4. Queen’s Gambit – The Queen’s Gambit was a popular chess opening in England in the 19th century and was introduced into the international tournament scene at that time. White offers black a pawn so they can gain control of the center of the board with their first move. Black must decide if they want to take this free pawn or not before playing their own first move.

5. King’s Indian Attack – This is an aggressive chess opening that was popularized in the 1970s by grandmaster Boris Spassky. White allows black to take their King’s pawn at the start of the game, but Black has to worry about white attacking them with a series of pieces. Black must decide if they want to counterattack immediately or whether they should start by defending their King’s pawn.

6. Queen Pawn – The Queen’s pawn is a very common chess opening that has been used both in amateur and professional games for hundreds of years. White moves their Queen’s pawn forward two spaces at the start of a game, usually starting with Black responding by moving a piece to block it. However, there is no hard and fast rule about this.

7. Indian Defence – Indian Defence is not common in the world of professional Chess, but it is popular with amateur players around the world when they are just learning how to play chess openings for the first time. Black uses their first move to protect both of their pawns at the same time, but this opens up some opportunities for White.

8. Ruy Lopez – Ruy Lopez is one of the most important chess openings in history and was made famous by Italian player Leonardo da Cutri in the 16th century. White captures black’s King pawn early on to establish a grip on that side of the board. Black can counter with a series of moves to stop white advancing, but this is only really possible when you understand Ruy Lopez well.

9. Zukertort Opening – The Zukertort opening was popularized in the 19th century by German player Johannes Zukertort and is very similar to White’s Queen Pawn opening. White captures black’s King pawn, but this time black doesn’t move a piece to protect it and instead uses their first move to counterattack with a Knight.

10. Queen’s Gambit Accepted – The Queen’s gambit accepted is an alternative chess opening for Black that also starts by offering white a free pawn, but this time it is a Queen’s pawn. White can choose whether to take the free pawn or not, and this move is usually followed by black moving their knights out in front of their King.

11. Nimzowitsch Defence – The Nimzo-Indian chess opening was invented in 1924 by Aron Nimzowitsch and has been popular ever since. White’s Queen pawn is moved forward two spaces, but it is blocked early on by Black, who uses their first move to put a Knight in front of it. This forces White to make another decision as they now have to decide which side of the board they want to play their pieces on.

12. Riga Variation – The Riga variation is an aggressive chess opening that was popular in the 18th century but has recently been used by grandmasters Paul Keres and Viktor Korchnoi. White moves their Queen’s pawn forward two spaces to start with. Black then responds by moving their King’s Knight pawn two spaces forward, which makes this move look very similar to White’s Queen’s pawn opening.

13. Bishop’s Opening – The Bishop’s opening is an important chess opening that was first played in the 16th century by Spanish players Ruy Lopez de Segura and Gioachino Greco. White moves their King’s pawn two spaces forward to start with, but black counters this move by moving their Queen’s pawn forward only one space.

14. Caro-Kann Defence – The Caro-Kann defense is a popular chess opening that was named after French player Horace Caro and German player Marcus Kann who both discovered it independently in the late 19th century. Black moves their King’s pawn forward two spaces which make white think about moving their King’s pawn forward one space to attack it. However, white can’t win a piece by doing this and instead has to move their Queen’s pawn forward two spaces to protect it.

15. English Opening – The English opening became popular in the 18th century and was named after English players who played an important part in its development. White moves their King’s pawn out two spaces from their side of the board, and black moves their King’s pawn forward one space to protect it. This move is usually followed by either white moving their Queen’s Knight or their Bishop, but this depends on what Black does next.

What are opening traps?

Opening traps are strategic moves that can be used to catch an opponent off guard and quickly gain an advantage in the game. Opening traps often involve sacrificing a piece or setting up a “trap” move where if your opponent makes one particular move, they will be seriously disadvantaged.

Traps and combinations are important elements of chess strategy, as they require both strong tactical knowledge and the ability to anticipate your opponent’s moves. Traps can be used in all types of chess openings, but some openings are particularly known for them (such as the Sicilian Defense or the Ruy Lopez). Knowing common traps that appear in certain openings is a great way to increase your chances of winning.

Opening traps can also be an excellent way to force a quick checkmate, so it is important to recognize these opportunities when they arise.

How many chess openings should I know?

It is impossible to say how many chess openings you should know as it depends largely on your level of play, style of play, and the amount of time you have available for study.

A strong beginner or intermediate player may want to start by studying a few basic openings, such as the Queen’s pawn opening, Ruy Lopez, and King’s Indian Defense. As you become more experienced, it is important to expand your knowledge and explore other openings as well.

Advanced players may want to study even more complex openings such as the Sicilian defense or the Nimzo-Indian defense. Ultimately, having a good understanding of all the popular chess openings will give you the best chance of success.

How many chess openings does a grandmaster know?

A grandmaster typically knows and understands a wide variety of chess openings, including both simple and complex variations. An educated guess would be to say a grandmaster knows hundreds of openings. Most grandmasters will be familiar with many different openings and strategies, but they are not expected to know every opening by heart. Instead, they focus on studying the most popular openings in depth and have a good understanding of how to use them to their advantage in any given game.

Grandmasters are also adept at recognizing when an opponent is trying to set up a trap and how to counter it. As such, grandmasters typically have a better understanding of chess openings than the average player.

Memorizing Chess Openings

It is not essential to memorize chess openings, but it can be helpful in some cases. If you plan on playing many competitive games of chess, knowing the most popular openings and various strategies associated with them can give you an edge over your opponents. While mastering one or two openings is usually enough for a beginner to intermediate player, advanced players may want to have a good understanding of a wider variety of openings.

Memorizing chess openings can also help you recognize patterns and anticipate your opponent’s moves more easily. This can allow you to better control the tempo of the game and take advantage of any opportunities that arise. Ultimately, memorizing chess openings is not required but can be beneficial if used correctly.

What is the weakest chess opening?

The weakest chess opening is generally considered to be the King’s gambit. This opening involves offering up your king’s pawn in exchange for a knight and bishop, which can leave you vulnerable to attack. The King’s gambit can be an effective way of gaining control of the center of the board but is often considered too risky for long-term success.

Other openings that are considered weak include the Sicilian defense, the French defense, and the London system. Each of these openings has weaknesses that can be exploited by your opponent if you are not careful. As such, they should generally be avoided unless you have a very specific strategy in mind.

What is the strongest chess opening?

The strongest chess opening is the Ruy Lopez. This opening involves developing your bishops and controlling key squares with pawns, which allows for long-term control of the center of the board. It also provides good positional play that can be difficult to break down.

This opening has been used by many grandmasters over the years and is still considered one of the strongest openings today. Other strong openings include the Queen’s gambit, the King’s Indian defense, and the Sicilian defense. While these openings may not be as widely used as the Ruy Lopez, they all offer unique advantages that can be difficult for your opponent to counter.

In conclusion, there are many chess openings available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing the most popular ones will help you gain an edge over your opponents and give you a better chance of winning. Taking the time to study different openings and strategies can go a long way toward improving your overall game. Good luck at the chess board!