Meaning of ‘Book Move’ in Chess: (What They Are and How Many)

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When playing chess games online you may have come across the term ‘book move’ or when checking the analysis of one of your games on chess.com, you may get to the point when it is stated, ‘this is the last book move’ accompanied by a book icon; but what does book move actually mean in chess?

A ‘Book Move’ Relates to Moves Within Standard Opening Repertoire

A ‘book move’ in chess is a conventional move made by an individual pieces’ move to a position that has been recorded as part of a named opening repertoire development studied in chess theory. Some openings have more book moves than others, and an opening transforms to the middle game after the final book move is played.

Considered normal moves in a game of chess, book moves form an integral part of the opening phase of the game. Some openings have up to 32 book moves while others will have very few, and no more than can be counted on a single set of fingers.

Book moves have been around for 500 years

When Were Book Moves Invented?

This is one of my favorite questions in chess and can be answered as ‘twice as old as the U.S.A’.

A book move, one would assume, is a move that has been committed to paper by pen at some point, and been recorded in chess opening principles theory as part of an opening and named thus.

The Ponziani Opening is generally accepted as the first opening recorded in history being penned toward the end of the 15th century and no later than 1497 making the ‘book move’ within this opening over 500 years old and varies from 6 to 15 book moves depending on the variation.

  • 6 Move Ponziani Opening -1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3
  • 15 Move Ponzian Opening: Schmidt, Cordel Variation -1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 f5 4.d4 d6 5.d5 fxe4 6.Ng5 Nb8 7.Nxe4 Nf6 8.Bd3 Be7
FUN FACT: Chess book moves are twice as old as the USA – That’s an interesting little snippet of chess trivia for you.

Book moves are mentioned in chess.com game analysis

One of the greatest gifts given to humans, ok online chess players, is the analysis feature on chess.com which allows you to play back your games and analyze your play move by move, square by square.

It is by far the greatest learning tool in chess today to improve your level, except for this incredible opening theory learning tool and as you review each move you made, at the start of the game you will see each move accompanied by an icon of a book and a statement that the move made is a ‘book move’ as you begin to populate the center of the board.

Each move as long as it is a recognized book move will be displayed as such unit such time as the final book move has been played which signifies the transposition into the middlegame.

If you do not have a chess.com account go get yourself set up, it is free to register and play, then play some games and use the game analysis section, and run through some games to see how the book moves are explained to you.

How Many Book Moves in an Opening?

Doing things ´by the book’ might suggest that there is a standard number of moves in any opening and whist that is true for a single mainline of any opening when it comes to different opening repertoires, then the number of book moves can vary wildly.

The number of book moves in an opening is dependant on the opening theory, the number of times a set number or variation of moves have been recorded and named and can vary from just 4 moves in the Sodium attack to 32 book moves in one variation of the famous Ruy Lopez Opening.

We shouldn’t concern ourselves with how many book moves there are in a specific opening or variation, we should be playing the best chess we possibly can, and there is enough to think about without trying to stick to the book, and an opening will rarely pan out the way you might expect.

Which opening has the greatest number of book moves?

So, subsequent to what I just wrote, you still want to know which opening has the greatest number of book moves right? Of course, you do!

The Ruy López Opening: Morphy Defense, Chigorin, Panov System has an incredible 32 book moves and is the greatest number of book moves in an opening I know of. I will not claim there is not a bigger count somewhere, but 32 moves are enough to finish a game often enough!

For interest, those 32 book moves of this Ruy Lopez variation are:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d6 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.Nbd2 cxd4 13.cxd4 Nc6 14.Nb3 a5 15.Be3 a4 16.Nbd2 Bd7 [or 16…Nb4]

By the time the book moves are completed, it looks a bit like this.

 List of Openings With The Most Book Moves.

There are more than 1300 different openings and variations recorded in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, so, as you can imagine there are an incredible amount of possibilities when we consider book moves vary from 4 to 32 moves and all 1300+ openings are crushed into that small area.

On that basis, I can not guarantee the accuracy of the list below, other than, the openings, variations and book moves counts are correct, and there could be variations with more than the stated numbers in the tables, but for the purpose of illustration, these are the highlighted opening variations I have extracted to provide an idea of the greatest number of book moves per opening.


Ruy López Opening: Morphy Defense, Chigorin, Panov System  

32 Book Moves  

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d6 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.Nbd2 cxd4 13.cxd4 Nc6 14.Nb3 a5 15.Be3 a4 16.Nbd2 Bd7 [or 16…Nb4]  

Sicilian Defense: Open, Najdorf, Main Line,

31 Book moves  

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.O-O-O Nbd7 10.g4 b5 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.g5 Nd7 13.f5 Nc5 14.f6 gxf6 15.gxf6 Bf8 16.Rg1

King’s Indian Defense: Neo-Classical, Kožul Gambit

27 Book moves

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.O-O Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 13.Rc1 Ng6 14.c5

Grünfeld Defense: Russian, Smyslov, Main

22 Book moves

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 O-O 7.e4 Bg4 8.Be3 Nfd7 9.Qb3 Nb6 10.Rd1 Nc6 11.d5 Ne5

Dutch Defense: Fianchetto, Classical, Ilyin-Zhenevsky, Modern Main Line

18 Book moves

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.O-O d6 7.Nc3 Qe8 8.b3 a5 9.Bb2 Na6

Which opening has the fewest book moves

Well, I am going to call this one and name it myself, and I will call it the Barne’s Opening Fool’s Mate Variation

1. f3 e6 1. g4 Qh4#

This is joking of course, but there is no doubt that whilst 1. f3 is one of the first 20 moves possible for white, it is also considered the worst opening move, as in the Barne’s opening in theory – and for the uninitiated leads to the Fool’s mate where black checkmates white with the quickest possible checkmate and just 2 moves.


The number of book moves in any given opening should not be considered or taken too seriously. Openings are fun to play with and learn the lines and variations, but one should not get too caught up in the idiosyncrasies of the theory while learning and advancing from beginner to intermediate. It will surely take a lot of fun out of learning as frustration often takes over.

Prioritize learning checkmate patterns, study some middlegame strategy and understand how to trade pieces effectively, and work back to becoming a master at opening theory.

For now, when opening, move pieces, different pieces, defend them and don’t hang anything and pressure and swallow up any pieces your opponent hangs. Try to capture with pawns and have more than your opponent and never trade a piece that is worth less than another, and you’ll do alright.

Happy Chessing.

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