Openings set the stage for the rest of the game. And good openings can make chess easier to play.
In fact, many times a master can outplay an amateur just with superior opening preparation, without making any independent move of their own.
And because White starts first, playing good openings with White pieces allows you to dictate the play of the game.
You decide whether you want to play fighting chess or slow, strategic chess.
So which openings are the best for White?
Read on to find the 15 best chess openings for White, including some of the most popular choices like 1.e4 or 1.d4.
1. Ruy Lopez
If you’re a beginning chess player, it’s important to choose an opening that will give you a good chance of achieving a strong position.
One of the best choices for white is the Ruy Lopez which is also known as the Spanish Opening.
Named after a Spanish priest who wrote one of the first books on chess, this opening starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5, attacking the knight that defends the black e-pawn.
The most common continuation is 3…a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d3, when white has a slight advantage due to his better development and control of the center of the board.
However, black has many different ways to defend themselves, so it’s important to be familiar with some of the main challenges to it.
It’s not only popular with beginners but has been used by numerous world champions and top players over the years.
It’s a positional opening with lots of theory. However, it consists of its fair share of razor-sharp lines as well!
The usual thought behind this opening is that White is ready for a long battle. White has a slight edge throughout most of the game. However, it’s not that easy to capitalize on if Black knows his way around!
If playing a slow, positional, and long-drawn battle is your preferred style of play, you should definitely opt for this opening.
It is best suited against attacking players who prefer open positions – as it might get them frustrated!
2. Italian System
Arising after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4, the Italian system is one of the first openings a beginner is introduced to.
It follows the opening principles in a model example-like fashion – Controlling the center, developing minor pieces, castling, developing the queen, and then connecting the rooks.
However, don’t mistake its simplicity for the lack of potential. On a higher level, White has many options to fight for an advantage.
If you’re a beginner, you should definitely study this opening as it’s often known as the stepping stone to understanding more advanced openings like Ruy Lopez.
3. Scotch Opening
An equally worthy alternative after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 is the Scotch opening with 3.d4.
White strikes the center early to put more pressure on Black’s e5 pawn.
The Scotch opening is aggressive and straightforward, opposite to that of the Ruy Lopez. It also has less theory compared to the Italian or the Ruy Lopez.
You get open and dynamic positions here. Black needs to know the line in detail otherwise White can get a deadly attack quite quickly.
So if you’re someone who loves attacking, the Scotch is a great addition to your opening weaponry.
4. Open Sicilian – 3.d4
Open Sicilian is the most popular choice for White in Sicilian. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6, White plays 3.d4, opening the center.
A lot of options open up for both White and Black. Attacking players who enjoy handling complex open positions absolutely love the open Sicilian! White’s main plan is to castle on the long side and launch an all-out attack on Black’s kingside.
Preparing this opening is surely beneficial but let me tell you that it involves learning a lot of theory too! You need to prepare against various options Black has like the Dragon, Najdorf, Rauzer, etc.
That being said, playing Open Sicilian is an absolute delight as it can lead to beautiful attacking games. Despite being well-analyzed over many years, there’s always scope for finding a novelty or creating another masterpiece!
5. Alapin variation against the Sicilian
For those of you who don’t want to prepare a lot of variation against Sicilian, I got you covered as well!
After 1.e4 c5 2.c3, known as the Alapin variation is also another credible option that I recommend.
With 2.c3, White aims to play d4 at some point and gain more center control. Black has 2 options 2…Nf6 and 2…d5 against which you should be prepared.
It’s hard to get an advantage here, but at the same time, White’s position remains super solid. This makes it less risky than the Open Sicilian.
It’s a great way to surprise your opponent if your main weapon has been Open Sicilian for quite some time.
6. Paulsen Variation against the French Defence
French Defence is a critical option against 1.e4 that you must be prepared against.
After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5, White can play 3.Nc3 also known as the Paulsen Variation.
It’s a good way to keep things complicated in this slow, positional opening.
In French, Black’s light square Bishop is considered a weak piece in this opening. So you must try to capitalize on this weakness, often by using slow maneuvres, space advantage, and transitioning to a better endgame.
Out of all the other 3rd moves for White, 3.Nc3 (or Paulsen Variation) offers great chances to fight for an opening advantage.
7. Advance Variation Against the Caro Kann Defence
Another opening you’re likely to face with White is the Caro-Kann after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5.
And here, the Caro-Kann Advance variation with 3.e5 is a great option to fight for an advantage.
White generally develops the light square bishop on e2/d3, the g1 knight to e2/f3, and short castles.
White is usually playing a long waiting game and decides how to proceed depending on Black’s ideas. The key for White often lies in using extra space to maneuver their pieces and launch attacks depending on where Black puts their King.
8. Queen’s Gambit
You must have heard about ‘Queen’s Gambit’, the famous Netflix TV series which kept everyone entertained in 2020.
There’s an opening in chess that has the same name and which exists for many years!
It starts with 1.d4 d5 2.c4.
White’s main idea is to temporarily sacrifice the ‘c4’ pawn to gain control over the central squares.
Black has various options here such as Queen’s Gambit Accepted(2..dxc4), Queen’s Gambit Declined(2…e6), the Slav opening(2…c6), etc.
Because the position is closed, it’s considered to be a less risky opening for White which offers excellent chances to fight for an advantage.
And this makes it a very popular choice at the World Championship level.
9. Catalan Opening
The Catalan has made its name as a safe and solid opening with relatively less theory compared to the Queen’s Gambit.
It arises after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3.
With d4 and c4 pawns, the light square bishop on g2 controls the very important a8-h1 diagonal and provides a safe shelter for the White King after short castling.
White’s play revolves around using the power of their g2-bishop and creating pressure on Black’s queenside.
If you want to play Catalan, be ready for a long battle. Having good positional skills helps.
10. London System
In chess circles, there’s often a joke that if a beginner plays the London System, even a World Champion can’t checkmate him for 20 moves.
That should speak of how solid this opening actually is. No wonder, the London System is often taught early to beginners, especially those who start playing 1.d4.
It starts with 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4.
It’s easy to learn, has little theory, and can be played on ideas rather than concrete moves.
On the lower levels, swift attacks on the kingside characterize the London System.
However, this approach doesn’t work at the highest level, so elite grandmasters take a more positional approach.
And you know it’s a respectable opening when a World champion can’t checkmate a beginner early enough!
11. Trompowsky Attack
The Trompowsky is an unconventional opening arising after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5.
The central theme is to capture Black’s knight on f6 and spoil the pawn structure.
There are 2 benefits of playing the Trompowsky Attack.
- It’s easy to learn and does not have a lot of complex variations like some other openings.
- Due to its unconventional nature, your opponent might not be prepared for it – giving you an extra edge.
It makes a great surprise weapon with 1.d4.
12. English Opening
The English opening, beginning with 1.c4, is one of the most popular openings after 1.e4 or 1.d4.
The idea is to keep the position flexible and decide a few moves later which setup to adopt. White can also go for a Sicilian-like structure but with reversed colors.
In most cases, you have to create pressure on the queenside after the initial development.
You need good positional knowledge to understand the intricacies of this opening.
On the other hand, learning English opening is a great way to add this knowledge. That’s because you’ll mostly venture into closed, strategic positions here which demand good positional skills.
It can be used as a great surprise weapon or alongside your regular 1.e4 or 1.d4 openings or even as a main weapon. Black often keeps guessing which setup you might adopt later in the game leading to confusion.
13. Reti Opening
Similar to the English opening, the Reti opening begins with a flexible move – 1.Nf3. White’s options depend on Black’s reply. But in most cases, this opening transposes to either 1.d4, 1.c4, or 1.e4 lines. The former is the most common.
White’s plan is simple – Finish development with g3, Bg2, 0-0, rather than controlling the center with pawn advances. Once that’s done, White is ready to either challenge Black’s center with pawns or grab it themselves.
They might even delay it by playing b3, or Bb2 before committing to something in the center.
Due to its flexible nature, the Reti opening can transpose into other positions with similar structures. You can use this to your advantage by choosing the structure you prefer the most and preparing your repertoire accordingly.
The transpositions to familiar structures make it a tricky opening to face, despite its innocent-looking exterior.
14. Bird’s Opening
If you’re in the mood to play an offbeat opening that still has the capability to rattle your opponent, the Bird’s opening is an excellent choice! Starting with 1.f4, White aims to control the e5 square and later launch a kingside attack.
White usually follows up with moves such as Nf3 and e3. The dark square bishop is developed on b2 after moving the pawn to b3. The b2 bishop becomes a vital piece in the kingside attack due to its long range on the a1-h8 diagonal.
Since it’s an aggressive line, you must be alert for possible tactics and combinations. You must also use the space advantage you have on the kingside to your benefit.
15. Larsen’s Opening
Named after the legendary GM Bent Larsen, this opening begins with 1.b3 to make space for the dark-square bishop on b2. This bishop on the a1-h8 diagonal creates a lot of threats for Black and controls the important e5 square.
Since you don’t commit the ‘e’ or ‘d’ file pawns, in the beginning, you have an option of choosing where you want to place them. You can also opt for a double fianchetto with g3-Bg2.
White usually plays on both sides of the board to keep Black engaged in distributing his resources. This also keeps the possibility of an attack on either side always available.
It’s a great surprise weapon especially if you are looking to avoid theory and want to play some original positions.
In general, 1.e4 openings like Scotch, Open Sicilian, and Caro-Kann tend to be more dynamic, open, and full of close-quarter combat. They suit active players, who love tactics.
Openings with 1.d4 like Queen’s Gambit are more solid and like a sniper battle. You need patience and good technique. They suit positional players better.
Others are great options too, each having its advantages and disadvantages.
For beginners, something like the Italian or the London System is a great way to start with White pieces.
A final piece of advice would be to prepare your openings thoroughly. No matter what opening you choose, the greater your knowledge is, the better you will handle the resulting positions.