Second Principle
of the Opening:
Owning the Center

     The next main goal after the first ten moves is to control the center. If you control the center, you will gain space for moving your pieces, make them very powerful, and reduce your opponent to a defensive, cramped, position. If you launch an attack when your positions are equal, you have an equal chance of winning. If you launch an attack when you have an advantage, you have a much better chance of winning. For this reason, it is better to not attack until you have control of at least part of the center.
      The "center" is the block of four squares in the middle of the board: d4, d5, e4, and e5, colored in the following diagram.


      "To control the center" means "to be able to put a piece anywhere in the center without it being driven off or traded." If you are lucky enough to control the center, you can do anything you want to do. More often, though, the best you can hope for is to control one of the center squares. But if you own one square in the center, you can use it as a stepping-stone to get to other places on the board. White ususally tries to control e5, while Black usually tries to control d4. Never let your opponent own a square in the center. Always challenge any square he's trying to control. (You challenge a square by attacking it with a piece, or even better, with a Pawn. That way, if he tries to put a piece on it, you can exchange or even capture it.)
      As the beginners discovered last semester, the Knight, Bishop, Queen, and King all become more powerful in the center and less powerful on the edge of the board or in the corner. The Knight, for instance, can only move to two squares if it is in the corner, but can move to eight squares in the center. This means that the best places to put these pieces (exccept the King) is in or near the center.

     The King is a special case. During the middle part of the game, when there is a danger of checkmate, the King should be hidden away. But when both the Queens are gone, it is usually time to start moving the King toward the center, too.
     In practical terms, what does this mean for the first ten moves?

  • Develop knights toward the center, not away.
  • Plant a Knight actually in the center if you can.
  • Put each Bishop where it attacks at least one center square.
  • Put at least one Rook on the d-file or the e-file for support.
  • Don't move the a, b, g, or h Pawns up two squares.

      If you develop your pieces with the center in mind, your job during the middle game will be much easier.