Two chess opening mistakes you should never make

Comments: 15

I’ve prepared a chess opening lesson for you! 🙂 In this lesson, you’ll learn about two mistakes you should avoid in chess opening play.




  • Do not play openings that seem strange to you, that you can’t understand clearly.


This is a very common mistake nowadays. People play opening lines recommended by a computer or by a certain Grandmaster. Even if a player doesn’t fully understand this variation, he often relies on the recommendation of a strong GM. Let’s see how this works in practice.


R. Swinkels – T. Burg

1.d4-d5 2.c4-c6 3.Nf3-Nf6 4.Nc3-dc. I don’t need to comment on these opening moves, as they’re not important for our topic. 5.a4-Bf5 6.Ne5-Nbd7 7.Nc4-Nb6 8.Ne5-a5.


White to move


Some of the previous moves may look strange. However, this is a popular variation and has been played many times by strong Grandmasters. I guess this is the reason why the Black player decided to implement it.


Now let’s pass the opening stage and come to the position where opening theory ends.

chessBlack to move


So far Black has reproduced his opening knowledge and got an approximately equal position. Now it’s time to think independently. Let’s see the game continuation.


16…Rfd8 17.Qb3-Nc8 18.00-Qb6 19.Qa2-Qc7. Obviously, Black is doing something very wrong. He just doesn’t know what to do here.

chessWhite to move


20.Rfd1 -Bd6 21.g3-Qb8 22.Qb3- Ne7 23.Kg2-Bc7. Well, I think you have got the point already. Black can’t understand what to do. He lost this game very soon after. Why did it happen?


Do you think he’s a weak player? No, he’s an International Master with a rating around 2500.


You may think that he just doesn’t know the typical middlegame plans for this opening. However, the problem is not here. From the very beginning of this game, he played the moves without a real understanding of them. It’s not surprising that he could not handle the subsequent position.

chess understanding

My recommendation is very simple: you should play the moves that correspond to your chess understanding.


This recommendation is applicable to the whole game, including the opening stage.








  • Do not try to recollect an opening line if you don’t remember it firmly.

Often, a player gets an opening position he studied some time ago. Thus, he knows something about it but doesn’t remember it clearly. In such cases, people will often try to recollect their knowledge during a game.


Pinero C. – Gascon J.


Black to move


I know the Black player and he told me what he was thinking about during this game.


He’d remembered a game between Beliavsky and Kasparov. In that game, Kasparov played e5 at some point and then placed his c6-knight on d4. Then when Beliavsky attacked the knight with the Ne2 move, Kasparov played c5 and got a very active position.


It’s tempting to follow Kasparov’s moves. So Black played 7…e5 quickly.


After 8.d5-Nd4 9.Nge2 Black realized that 9…c5 doesn’t work well. White can play 10.dc-Nc6 11.Nd5, followed by 12.Nec3 and a very strong position.


Therefore, Black decided to play c5 after an exchange: 9…Ne2 10.Bxe2-c5?!


White answered with 11.dc-bc 12.Rd1 and now Black is losing. He can’t protect the pawn with 12…Ne8 because of 13.c5 (using a pin).


Why did Kasparov’s idea work so badly – simply because it was used in a different position.


Beliavsky – Kasparov


Black to move


Instead of the immediate 7…e5, Kasparov played 7…a6 8.Nge2-Re8 9.Nc1 and only in this position 9…e5.


When you try to recollect an opening theory during a game, you stop thinking by yourself. Often, it leads to very strange moves and annoying losses.


This is a common mistake, and even top Grandmasters like Anand fall into this trap.


Here’s my advice to you: if you don’t remember an opening theory FIRMLY – do not try to recollect it. Use your general understanding and think for yourself.


Note: if you want to learn ALL the opening mistakes you should avoid, you can check my opening courses.


Additionally, I’ve created a PDF for you where I’ve summarized all the important notes from this lesson. The summary will provide the ideas in one page and in a simpler way for you to visualize them – download the chess opening mistakes summary.

Comments: 15

Comments 14

  1. thanks very much , this is my problem but i solve this problem by playing on internet or study opening with my friend and collect games and play ourselves

  2. Igor,

    Your lessons are very useful and enlightening.

    I just want to point a detail which might be helpful for your students and followers:

    In your first example (Mistake #1: from a game between GM Robin Swinkels and IM Burg Twan at the Tata Steel-C Tournament 2013, Round 10.4) the board diagram after ‘Now let’s pass the opening stage and come to the position where opening theory ends’ is mistakenly labeled ‘Black to move’ since this is the position before White’s move 16.Rc1.

    To avoid this kind of mistake I suggest you to use a GUI that indicates the last move with an arrow or any other similar board cursor (most of the top GUIs provide this feature) and paste those diagrams to your Blog lessons. With the diagrams showing the board cursor its unlikely that you will make the aforementioned mistake again.


  3. Thanks for your suggestion, Grosvenor! I’ll consider it for sure.

    If the last move is marked by an arrow, some students may complain that this arrow drives their attention to another piece/square, or something like that. It’s hard to satisfy everyone 🙂

    Anyway, I’ll think about your idea, thanks again!

  4. Not if you always indicate that the board diagram shows the position immediately after the signaled move. Example: Position after 18.Rd1. Black to move…

  5. Hi Grosvenor,
    Thank you for your ideas.
    We will take them into account while making the problems.
    And implement ideas with are technically feasible.

    Prasaadh | Student Support Officer

  6. Hi Igor,

    How does one avoid playing a strange opening if that’s what your opponent wants to play? I had a recent game where my opponent opened with g3 and then on move 4 played b3 to fianchetto both bishops. I had never faced that opening and didn’t know the best response.

    1. Igor has a busy schedule but I will help you.
      In my opinion, if your opponent is breaking the opening principles (making lot of pawn moves). You will have to develop quickly and exploit the time that he has wasted on pawn moves. If his king is in center due to lack of development you can open the position and get an attack on the king.

      Prasaadh | Student Support Officer

  7. Hi Sugumar,

    Firstly, +1 to Prasaadh.

    From my side I may add that there’s no way to stop your opponent from playing ‘strange openings’. Moreover, there’s no need for that. ‘Strange openings’ are usually wrong. Hence, you should be happy if your opponent plays weak moves.

    True, you’ll be out of your opening preparation. However, this is a totally normal situation. It’s impossible to learn all eventual opening lines – you know, chess is an infinit game. Even top GMs face unknown opening positions regularly.

    The solution is to develop your general understanding of the game. When you don’t know opening theory, you may simply follow the general principles. That’s the reason I’m putting emphasis on them in most of my courses.

    1. Hi Igor,
      I recall that you addressed exactly this topic in your webinar “My thinking system” .
      As you put it, very effectively:
      “You just know what you should do, and you do it. It is that simple!”
      That sentence stuck in my mind.
      Best Regards

  8. Thank you!

    Until I started reading your articles, and purchasing a few of your courses, it was extremely stressful to play chess. I thought I had to calculate all of the moves all of the time. I didn’t have a concept of what positional chess was. I was told “study tactics more.” Easy for someone else to say, but for me I didn’t have a foundation to free me up to think about tactics, as I was always on the defensive fending off attacks.

    I now have some good conceptual pegs with which to approach each game. I am able to look at strange openings of others and plan how to develop my pieces and not be lead astray so much.

    The chess board appears completely different to me visually now that I’ve been reading your information. I am developing a system using *your system* ~ Thanks again!

    1. Figure skating would be much more stressful to me 🙂 That’s why it’s so good to help each other.

      It’s great to know you have good understanding of chess game now.

      As for ‘more tactics’ – I know many people who wasted their time on thousands of tactical exercices without any real improvement. Your ‘conceptual’ approach is way more productive indeed.

      1. Thank you. And what’s interesting is I am starting to see combinatinos and tactics without “trying” so hard just from stepping back and looking at the board from the point of activity.

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