What to learn first? – Openings, middlegame or Endgame

When beginners start learning chess, they often face the big question – what to study first? Openings, middlegame or endgame?

Since all the three options look equally appealing, it can be difficult to choose.

Are you facing the same question? Do you want to learn chess but don’t know where to start?

We hope to solve your doubt by the end of this article! Recommended by top coaches, our suggestions are tried and tested!

Read on to understand more!

What to study first?

Openings

“Beginnings are always the hardest”. To counter this quote, you might begin by studying openings first! Logically, it feels right as openings mark the start of the game. But this approach might not be the ideal one.

Since openings set the tone of the game, there are a lot of things to be considered first.

Does the opening suit your playing style?
Are you prepared for the resulting middlegame?
Have you studied lots of games to get a good feel of the positions?

Beginners are unaware of their playing style. It might be attacking or it might be positional.

Unless you know your playing style, choosing an opening to study might not be the best.

For example, you might end up choosing Slav (a positional opening) when in fact Grunfeld (a dynamic opening) might have suited you more!

Beginners are also not well-versed in the handling of the resulting middlegames. Rightly so, since they have just started their chess journey!

Without knowing how to handle these positions, you might end up clueless after the opening phase. And we don’t want that, do we?

Studying a few basic openings to get out of the early phase unscathed is definitely okay. However, choosing openings as a permanent part of your repertoire needs more thought and understanding.

Unless you discover these above mentioned facts yourself – it’s wise to keep the openings’ study in the back seat.

Middlegame

During this phase of the game, the players really get a chance to show their understanding. Unlike openings and endgames which are guided by theory or principles, middlegame lets your individual knowledge flourish. Due to the availability of many pieces, you can get creative and find various ideas and plans.

However, middlegames are full of small, subtle yet important intricacies. Though not completely guided by them, there are some concepts that aid in your understanding of the middlegame.

Forks, pins, double attack, removing the defender, piece placement, correct maneuvers etc are crucial ideas you must know. Being able to see tactical shots and making correct strategic decisions are equally important parts of playing middlegames.

Due to many pieces on board, you can explore your playing style as well. Do you like open and dynamic positions? Or do you like closed and strategic positions? This will help you understand your preference.

Solving lots of puzzles and studying the games of former world champions will help build your inventory of ideas and plans.

It is said that those who can play both strategic and tactical positions, gain mastery over middlegames. Though developing a good feel takes years of practice.

Middlegames might be a bit too complex to study in the beginning.

Endgame

Usually, having less pieces on board would mean that you can control them better. But endgames are quite the paradox!

Though they seem simple due to fewer pieces on board, they are much more complex in reality. If studied thoroughly, endgames can be played smoothly. Otherwise they can be quite tricky!

It starts from knowing the basic mates with the queen, two rooks, two bishops or knight and bishop. And believe us – the knight and bishop mate still confuses us sometimes!

It’s also important to know key endgame concepts like – opposition of kings, simplifying the position to our benefit, principle of two weaknesses and much more! Understanding these concepts help in playing the endgame effortlessly.

You must also study various endgame positions with only pawns, minor pieces with pawns, rook pawn endgames etc. These will help you confidently enter into endgames – something a lot of people actually fear!

All being said, in our opinion, endgame should be studied first! As said by the former World Champion, José Raúl Capablanca,

“In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middlegame and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame.”

Why Endgames?

Studying endgames gives you a good feel and understanding of how pieces move. Knowing their strength and limitations, their tactical and positional capabilities is crucial to your overall understanding.

Also, you’ll develop calculation and visualisation ability that will help you in the long run.

People avoid or delay studying endgames as they think they’re boring. So if you study them early in your chess career, it will give you a significant edge over the others!

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So now you know what to study first – the Endgame.

Does this mean you ignore the other two aspects? Absolutely not!

Studying all the three parts is a must. They are interlinked and interdependent, so gaining mastery over one area isn’t sufficient!

A good ratio is 50:25:25. Devote 50% for endgames, 25% each for openings and middlegame.

You’ll build a well-rounded understanding of chess, when you have a strong command of all 3.

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