How To Start A Chess Game? Fundamental Opening Principles

Your opening choice will affect the rest of the chess game moving forward. A bad opening can result in a quick loss, but a good opening strategy can put you way ahead of your opponent.

Therefore, it’s important to know how to start the chess game properly. Apart from your opening moves, you also need to learn how to actually start the game before making your first move. Here is what you should know when starting a chess game:

How To Start A Chess Game Over The Board?

Starting a chess game over the board is different than online play. For over the board chess, players need to conform to FIDE’s code of ethics which involves shaking of hands at the start of the game.

The arbiter will say “Please start your clocks”. After which, both of the players shake hands. The player with the black pieces will press the play button to start the white side of the clock. The player with the white pieces will make his move and then press his side of the clock which would hand over to the black player. 

The following gif shows how the chess game starts:

Grandmaster Levon Aronian with the black pieces starts the clock for Hikaru Nakamura with the white pieces. 


If the black player is not present at the start of the game, the arbiter will usually be the one to start the clock instead. Note that there is a default time for players to be present at the start of a chess game. If you don’t arrive at the board within this time frame, your opponent will be crowned the winner by default.

If you are playing a classical 90 minutes chess game, usually the default time is 30 minutes to arrive at the board, but you should always contact the tournament organizers to make sure.

However, for online chess, the time window for making your first move is a lot more narrow. If you are playing tournaments online on websites like or lichess, you are only given 20 to 30 seconds to make your first move. Otherwise, your opponent can claim victory. For non-tournament online games, the match is simply aborted if the player did not make his move.

See also  King's Pawn Game: The Tactical Struggle

How To Start A Chess Game Online?

For online chess, the website will pair you against a random opponent anywhere in the world, unless you specifically choose your opponent through a request.

Again, you will have 20 to 30 seconds to make your first move no matter what color you are assigned. Unlike over the board chess, you don’t have a play button that you can press to start the clock. The clock will automatically start once you’ve made your first move within the 20 to 30 second default window.

White has 16 seconds left to play, else the game is aborted


Now that we know how to properly start a chess game, we will now discuss some of the best first moves you can make at the start of the chess opening.

Starting The Chess Opening

The best moves to start a chess game are pawn to d4 or pawn to e4 for the white pieces. You want to push your central pawns in order to open lines for your pieces and to grab space in the center.

Black’s typical response is to play his own pawns in the center. This usually results in a blockade, also known as the king’s pawn opening

Start the chess game with the king’s pawn opening

After you’ve pushed your central pawns, it’s time to develop your minor pieces. Minor pieces in chess are your knights and bishops.

The general opening principle states that you should develop your knights first onto their most natural squares. They usually go on the f3 and c3 squares for white, or the f6 and c6 squares for black.

The reason you want to bring out your knights so early is to maintain control of the central squares and to support your pawns in the center.

Bringing out your knights at the start of the game helps you to castle faster, especially on the kingside. And, every good chess player know the importance of castling in chess. Without castling early, your king could be stuck in the center and vulnerable to attacks from the opposing side. You can learn more about castling here: When to castle in chess?

The next piece you should move at the start of the game is your bishop. Because the principles say you should castle early, then it’s best to develop your king’s bishop first in order to get castling out of the way.

Once you’ve developed your king’s knight and bishop onto their most natural and optimum squares, you should be one move away from castling, which would help to safeguard your king.

See also  Best Second Move In Chess (For White & Black)

The ideal setup of your pieces should look like this at the start of the game:

The dream setup for white

It’s important to know that there is never a perfect rule in chess. This particular setup is not guaranteed in your games. It all depends on how your opponent plays.

You will have to adjust and conform to your opponents opening strategy. Nevertheless, this should be a guideline in achieving your opening setup. Just remember that the goal of the opening is to fight for the center. This will help you decide what squares your pieces should go to.

How To Play The Opening With The Black Pieces?

The best way to play the opening for black is to go for the “hyper-modern” approach. This strategy involves controlling the center of the board without occupying it with your pieces.

This strategy is common in openings like the King’s Indian Defense where black let’s white occupy the center with his pawn. Black fianchettoes his bishop on g7, thereby controlling the central squares from a far.

King’s Indian Defense hyper modern strategy

It’s also common in the Sicilian openings, as black plays c5 and d6 to gain control over the d4 and e5 square without occupying them with his pawns.

Sicilian Grand Prix Attack: Black controls the center from a far

In these types of openings, black slowly develops his pieces from a far and then deliver a timely pawn break in the center to try and equalize the position. Here is a helpful resource on for hypermodern chess strategy: Click Here

The Starting Moves Will Affect The Rest Of The Game

How you choose to start will have an influence on the nature and characteristic of the game moving forward. If you are a slow and strategic player, then you should strive to achieve a closed position.

If you thrive well in open positions, then you should play moves that open lines for your pieces like your bishops and rooks.

If you are an attacking player, d4 may not be the best opening move for you. The king’s pawn opening is perhaps better for you, because it can lead to tactical positions.

In that case, you may want to try the Italian Game, the Scotch Game or even the Smith Morra Gambit. These are some of the most aggressive opening choice for white.

See also  Top 5 Best Books on Chess Openings (Ultimate Guide)

If you are more into strategy, than attack, try playing d4. D4 openings are more positional, and they help you to develop your positional understanding of the game much better. The Queen’s Gambit or the London System are two great opening choices for d4 players.

When it comes to the Black pieces, you should play the King’s Indian Opening or the Sicilian Defense if you are an attacknig player.

For the positional players, the Nimzo Idian Defense and French Defense are two great opening choices.

All in all your choice of opening will ultimately depend on your playing style. Just don’t get too caught up in the opening that you forget the other aspects of the game. Stick to just a few openings and learn to master them properly.

The Role Of The Arbiter At The Start Of A Chess Game

Play starts when the arbiter announces the start of play, usually by saying “Start white’s clock”. A good arbiter will then walk round the tournament room making sure that all clocks have been started.

If both players have yet to arrive at a table then the arbiter will start white’s clock. If a black player has not started white’s clock then the arbiter will do so and make a mental note to check back and make sure the black player doesn’t stop them again as this could lead to the round finishing late.

If a player with the white pieces arrives late, therefore, then when they arrive they will have lost the time from the start of the round when the clocks were started. If the black player was on time then this will be when the black player started the clock. Otherwise it will be when the arbiter started the clock.

If a player with the black pieces arrives late then when they arrive they will have lost the amount of time since clocks were started minus the amount of time white used for the first move.

If the default time is, say, 30 minutes, then the arbiter will go round the room looking for empty seats with a clock with 30 minutes gone. This works for absent white players and for most black players.

Final Verdict

The ideal way to start a chess game is to advance your central pawns two squares forward to open lines for your pieces. This strategy works well for white. On the other, black could take a hyper modern approach by giving white occupance of the center, and develop his pieces such that they control the center from a far.

Ultimately, the choice of opening will depend on the type of player you are. You can take a chess personality test here, to find out.

Useful Resource: FIDE Handbook pdf download: