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23 Chess Openings for White (e4, Gambits and Alternatives)

The game of chess always begins with a white opening, usually 1. e4 however, not all white chess openings are the same, some are more aggressive than others. Most begin with the e4 king’s pawn move including a number of gambits looking to control the central squares, whilst there are alternatives like the Reti or English which avoid the e4 opening. Here is a list of the most popular openings for white in chess.

List of Openings for White in Chess

There are of course hundreds of different openings for white in the game of chess, so here I tried to put together a shortlist of the best openings to play, with 1. e4, gambits, and some alternative openings that are sound. You have to be careful with the first move you make, there are 20 possible first moves you can make, and 10 of those would trigger the worst openings moves which need to be avoided.

All is safe below though as i have pulled out 23 of the best openings for white, created this list and then go into further detail as you scroll through the post. With any luck, you’ll also be able to click through on each section and find a more in-depth article on each of the openings listed here. So let’s go.

Openings 1-10 are 1. e4 games, then there are 6 alternatives to e4, and finally, we finish on some aggressive openings for white employing some gambits.

  1. Vienna Game (1. e4)
  2. Scotch Game (1. e4)
  3. Ruy Lopez (1. e4)
  4. The Italian Game (1. e4)
  5. Giuoco Piano/Italian game (1. e4)
  6. Giuoco Pianissimo (1. e4)
  7. The Fried Liver (1. e4)
  8. Four knights Game (1. e4)
  9. Three Knights Opening (1. e4)
  10. London Opening (1. e4)
  11. The English
  12. Reti Opening
  13. Hungarian/Benko
  14. Bird’s Opening (Dutch)
  15. Larsen’s Opening
  16. Tromposky Attack
  17. Sokolsky Opening
  18. Evans Gambit
  19. Queens Gambit
    1. Queens Gambit Accepted
    2. Queens Gambit declined
  20. Kings Gambit
  21. Danish Gambit
  22. Smith-Morra Gambit
  23. Blackmar-Diemer Gambit

That seems like a lot of different openings to choose from, but that is a good thing. With so many options to open your game when playing white, even if you play a central pawn  1.e4 your opponent will have to wait a couple of moves before knowing the exact opening for white that you are attempting.

You may have already heard of some of the white openings above, certainly, the Queen’s Gambit is the most well-known thanks to the Netflix TV series of the same name from 2020.

But also the English, Italian, London, and Vienna openings may have crossed your path before, and the most likely and most common, the Ruy Lopez, which you would right in assuming came from Spain, the birthplace of the game we now know as modern chess.

10 of the Best 1. e4 Openings for White

Let’s begin by breaking these xx openings into three groups of e4 openings, gambits, and alternative openings that do not use either 1. e4 or 1.d4 king or queens pawn first moves. Starting with e4 openings

1. Vienna Game

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Nc3

The Vienna Game is an aggressive opening in chess. Identification of the Vienna comes from the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Here white’s Knight has good central control whilst the pawns can foray into the black territory to stunt black’s development facilitating central control for white.

The Vienna opening is a superb alternative to the Ruy Lopez and can be transposed easily after black plays Nf6 into various Kings gambit lines with 3. f4

2. Scotch Game

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Nf3 Nc6
  • 3. d4

The Scotch Game is an ancient and sound 1.e4 opening for White often used as an alternative to the Ruy Lopez. The Scotch Game is an excellent choice for beginners and any skill level and can be a bit of a surprise for an unprepared black player who might be expecting to defend a more common opening.

3. Ruy Lopez

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Nf3 Nc6
  • 3. Bb5 

By far the most popular opening for white thanks to the best possible opening first move in chess of 1. e4. The Ruy Lopez is played at every level from very new chess players learning the game for the first time right through to super grandmasters at the very highest levels of chess.

If it was good enough for Bobby Fischer it should be good enough for you or I.

The Ruy Lopez is named after a Spanish priest who lived in the 16th century. It is one of the most popular openings, with numerous variations that are all coded from C60 to C99 in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO).

4. The Italian Game

Moves:

  • 1.e4 e5
  • 2.Nf3 Nc6
  • 3.Bc4

The Italian Game is the 5 moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 beyond which we begin to see some more subtle changes for a white opening to the likes of the Giucco Piano and Giucco Pianissimo. The Italian game is the first 5 moves of many more differently named openings but is Italian until 3. Bc4

A small variation here and there and we have several positional games to consider. The Italian game is a superb options for beginners to get used to learning opening with variations.

5. Giuoco Piano/Italian

Moves:

  • 1.e4 e5
  • 2.Nf3 Nc6
  • 3.Bc4 Bc5*

The Giucco Piano opening in chess continues from the first five moves of the Italian game when black plays 3…Bc5

*The Italian game takes us up to 3. Bc4 and turns into the Giucco Piano as 3…Bc5

6. Giuoco Pianissimo

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5.
  • 2. Nf3 Nc6.
  • 3. Bc4 Bc5.
  • 4. d3.

In the Giuoco Pianissimo, White will make sure the timing is right before pushing d3-d4, and in particular that e4 is correctly protected (by something else than the pawn on d3 !) and that the King has castled. That is the main difference with the Giuoco Piano and its early d2-d4.

7. The Fried Liver

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Nf3 Nc6
  • 3. Bc4 Nf6
  • 4. Ng5 d5
  • 5. exd5 Nxd5?!

The Fried Liver Attack is a chess opening that employs white pieces; It’s been played for hundreds of years, with the first documented instance coming from Giulio Cesare Polerio in 1606, using, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5?!. In chess, the Fried Liver Attack is also known as the Fegatello Opening.

The Fried Liver Attack is a chess opening that allows white pieces to get aggressive. The fried liver opening is popular with novices because it can be played extremely aggressively, but skilled players should avoid doing so too often.

8. Four Knights Game

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Nf3 Nc6
  • 3. Nc3 Nf6

The Four Knights Game is one of the simplest openings for novices to learn, and it is also one of the most popular. It’s simple to play and produces symmetrical, basic-looking situations.

The e4 e5 opening prepares for all four knights to be developed in a symmetrical fashion with a central stand-off as one would expect, ready for white to up the aggression and attack the black pieces.

Whilst the Four Knights Game is often labeled as ‘For beginners’ don’t worry, it is easy for beginners to learn and play but GMs are more than happy to employ this opening at th very highest competitive levels in chess.

9. Three Knights Opening

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Nf3 Nc6
  • 3. Nc3

Quite simply the Three Knights’ game opening in chess is the same as the Four Knights Opening up to the point where black decides to break the symmetry.

10. London Opening

Moves:

  • 1.d4, 2.Nf3 and 3.Bf4. 

The London opening is generally determined by 1.d4 and 2.Bf4 as white’s opening moves.

The London Opening is a typical Queen’s pawns on d4 opening that generally employs the same moves regardless of the opponent’s response, limiting the number of lines that have to be recalled for beginners but also giving strong center control to more experienced players.

6 Exciting Alternative Openings for White (not 1. e4 or 1. d4)

11. The English

Move/s:

  • 1. c4

The English Opening is a chess opening that begins with the move: 1. c4. For beginners it is not the most obvious opening as focus is often placed on e4 or a pawn to d4, although a c4 English provides more balance to white on the first move than would be achieved with e4 surprisingly.

The opening does have to be followed up and once mastered can be one of the most successful opening games white can play, you should practice this in a casual game or two before committing to a competition scenario.

12. Reti Opening

Moves:

  • 1. Nf3 d5
  • 2. c4

Even by its creator, Richard Reti, in the 19th century, the Reti opening in chess was considered an inferior alternative to more common 1. e4 openings. It’s difficult to consider The Reti a simple opening, and it’s not easy for novices. As the white pieces approach and centerboard control begins to slip away from you, it will be necessary to be nimble in giving up initial centerboard command to the black pieces.

13. Hungarian/Benko

  • 1. g3 e5
  • 2. bg2

The Hungarian opening is basically signified by the Bishop reaching g2 quickly in the opening. using the Kings Fianchetto [1. g3], it will take a couple of moves more to transpose with very little effort into a King’s Indian.

Starting with 1. Nf3 would have brought you to this point, so when preparing against white openings as the black player, you should consider you defenses for both The Hungarian (Which can also be called the Benko) and the ing’s Indian too

14. Bird’s Opening (Dutch)

Move/s

  • 1. f4

While the Bird’s opening it is not as unusual as some white opening choices, it can be considered as one of the worst ten first moves for white in chess.

Flank openings have to be learned very well as you will be immediately weakening your own kingside in this case, but in looking for control of the e5 square.

A long castle may be your eventual aim here, but as mentioned, learn the lines following a 1. f4 opening as you’ll have to be very good with the Dutch opening.

15. Larsen’s Opening

Moves:

  • 1. b3

As can often be the case, avoiding 1. e4 openings and gambits and going for something a little more exotic like the Nimzo-Larsen, you are going to find yourself at an immediate disadvantage, so you have better learn your lines very well.

The Nimsowitsch-Larsen Attack, giving its full name, does award black pieces a slight advantage before they play, it is symmetrically similar to the Hungarian King’s Fianchetto opening on the queenside where white looks to being the bishop to b2 quickly

16. Tromposky Attack

Moves:

  • 1. d4 Nf6
  • 2. Bg5

The Queen’s Pawn opening of 1. d4 when countered with black playing the Knight to f6 on the opposite side of the board switches to the Indian game before white makes this a Tromposky opening with an immediate push of the bishop to g5

The opening might look a little wild at first glance but it does not stop top-level players from using it from time to time, and even Magnus Carlsen used it in the opening game of the World Championship in 2016

17. Sokolsky Opening

Move/s

  • 1. b4

The Sokolsky opening, otherwise known as ‘The Polish’ is considered one of the poorest first moves you can make in chess.

Only 1. Nh3 1. g4 or 1. f3 would be considered worse.

To give you some idea of how uncommon this move is thanks to the disadvantage the white pieces have after this move, there are just three other moves considered worse out of the 20 possible first moves in chess.

Named after Alexei Pavlovich Sokolsky one should never really employ this move, leave it to the experts, who also rarely use it.

That rounds up the alternatives to the 1. e4 option which is rarely moved away from. Each should be learned very thoroughly to provide a chance of success with many of them.

Now we move onto some more attacking options and ‘Gambits’

6 Agressive White Opening Gambits

A gambit in chess is an opening whereby a player sacrifices a pawn or two or even a minor piece to gain a positional advantage, generally centrally for the middle game. The most famous gambit these days is the Queen’s gambit thanks to the Netflix series of the same name.

Here are some opening gambits for white players that provide an aggressive opening strategy. They are not for the faint of heart and continued play has to be considered and prepared for black’s defense.

18. Evans Gambit

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. Nf3 Nc6
  • 3. Bc4 Bc5
  • 4. b4

Take the Giuoco Piano and get an attacking mindset and you get the Evans Gambit, one of the most aggressive openings for white in chess.

Here white puts up a pawn to draw the black bishop, if accepted, white has c3 and d4 options grabbing the center and ensuring a quiet game is out of the question.

Black’s weak f7 pawn is under attack, kingside castling for black is now a problem in addition. Rapidly, white controls the board from the starting position.

Have fun with this opening, play some practice games and learn the lines on chess.com and then give it a go. You will be OK as you play fi for the first few times with less advanced players, perhaps club payers will decline, or will have other ideas on how to counter the Evans gambit.

Either way, this is a superb opening for white you can play around with and master.

19. Queens Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit revolves more around what black does in response to White opening moves, and becomes either ‘Queen’s Gambit accepted’ or ‘Queen’s Gambit declined’

Whilst not the most popular gambit in chess, it has become the most famous since the Netflix series of the same name, when search traffic on google increased by some 2000% as people became interested in playing chess.

Something we should really be thankful for as chess fans.

19a Queen’s Gambit Accepted

  • 1.d4 d5
  • 2.c4 dxc4

So here we see the pawn placed on c4 by white on the second move is entirely hung, has no defense, and can be gratefully received by black with 2…dxc4 (see below)

What does dxc4 mean exactly?

  • d = square the capturing pawn has come from
  • x = a capture has been made
  • c4 = the c4 square

The point of giving up the white pawn on c4 is that white wishes to sacrifice a flank pawn, taking a black pawn out of the center to make central control easier in the opening and middle game.

19b Queen’s Gambit Declined

  • 1. d4 d5
  • 2. c4 e6 

We have the same first three moves in the declined variation which is determined once again by black, but this time, instead of playing dxc4 and capturing the pawn offered by white, 2…e6 can be played declining the pature but at the same time defending the black pawn on d5.

This also opens up blacks kings bishop, so that if white plays the Queens Bishop variation by playing 3. Nc3 Black can counter with Bb4 pinning white’s knight

20. Kings Gambit

Moves:

  • 1. e4 e5
  • 2. f4 [exf4 is accepted]

The kings gambit is set up so that white has a couple of options should black accept and play 2…exf4

Often 3. d4 will be played opening up the possible Bxf4 or engines will suggest a better move fo white would be 3. Nf3 preventing the quick-fire queen check of the white king where Blacks best move becomes 3…g5 supporting the lone pawn but weakening the kingside pawn structure.

The key to playing the Kings gambit is how adept you opponent is at either declining the gambit or defending the position after accepting.

21. Danish Gambit

Moves

  • 1. e4 c5
  • 2. d4 cxd4
  • 3. c3

A gambit sacrificing two pawns before recapture might seem a bit gung-ho for a white opening in chess. Indeed, that is why the Danish Gambit is considered one of the most aggressive openings in chess. It opens the opportunity for transposition to the Smith-Morra Gambit.

The key for white here is to ensure retention of the bishop pair who now have unrivaled space to operate in building pressure on black to restrain enemy development having prevented early black development having taken out a thrice moved pawn.

22. Smith-Morra Gambit

Moves:

  • 1. e4 c5
  • 2. d4 cxd4
  • 3. c3 dxc3
  • 4. Ncx3

The Smith-Morra Gambit is an aggressive response to black playing the Sicilian Defense setting up a gambit to draw black’s c-pawn through two pawn sacrifices for white opening the 2nd rank facilitating controlling central development of the major pieces.

The benefit for white here when black accepts the gambit is the superior space and piece development achieved despite being a pawn down and engines giving black a very slight advantage. From this point on Black has to read carefully

23. Blackmar-Deimer Gambit

Moves:

  • 1. d4 d5
  • 2. e4 dxe4
  • 3. Nc3

..where White intends to follow up with f2–f3,

I’ve left this gambit until last as it is a really ambitious kings pawn gambit that played against the wrong opponent can make your game hard work. A well-prepared opponent may just gain the advantage you desire for yourself with this gambit.

This is an aggressive opening. if you like to attack from the get-go, the Blackmar-Diemer could be for you. You are going to go all guns blazing for central control with exchanges and sacrifices to gain your advantage as your attack remains unrelenting.

The Blackmar-Diemer gambit is considered an aggressive opening, yet it is still a topic of much debate both on and off the chessboard. Rarely played at the very top level the opening has its amateur club fans in drives thanks to the aggressive nature.

At a lower level, equalization of the pawn in the end game is considered more than possible for white after good defense throughout the game, but top players believe that black can maintain the advantage and win with a degree of ease.

Related questions about openings for White

When it comes to chess questions [That’s what I’m here for], there are hundreds about opening theory and with white always making the first move, the vast majority are in regard what move white should make first. Let’s take a look at just a few that are covered in more detail above, but are answered in short here.

What are the best chess openings for white?

It is universally accepted that 1. e4 is the best opening that can be made in a chess game for white as the very first move on the board.

From e4 there are a whole host of openings that can be played from the Ruy Lopez, through various gambits and the less fashionable but aggressive opening of the Vienna game.

What is the most aggressive chess opening for White?

The Danish Gambit is generally considered the most aggressive opening attack for white in chess sacrificing two pawns quickly but in doing so limiting the opponent’s development as they use the same pawn for the first three moves opening up space to occupy centrally leading to the Smith-Morra opening.

Using this opening can provide space and central control for white to regain advantage quickly when played well a black now has to move very carefully so as not to give away the small advantage afforded by white.

Are chess openings only for white?

White will always play the first move of any chess game, but black also has a range of opening that can be played in either aggressive or defensive style. The Sicilian Defense is the most popular black opening in chess.

Chess Openings For Beginners?

Whether playing White or black there is a suite of 6 openings that should be considered as the first learning point for beginners.

  1. White – Ruy Lopez/Spanish opening
  2. White – Giuco Piano
  3. White – Kings Gambit
  4. Black – Sicilian Defense
  5. Black – French Defense
  6. Black – Caro-Kann Defense

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