Mastering Ruy Lopez and Sicilian Openings: A Guide to Win

How to Win at Chess with the Ruy Lopez and Sicilian Openings: A Guide for Beginners from a GrandMaster

The first few moves (~10 moves) of a chess game are what we normally consider the opening phase of a chess game. Having a good and solid opening repertoire with White and Black is important to get a good start to the game, and that would lead you to good playable positions in the middle game.

As a coach and also as the head trainer of Chess Gaja, I have interacted with 10000+ parents and numerous coaches who work specifically with beginners and kids who are just now starting out in their chess career.

The Questions that I often get asked from Chess Parents or Beginner Players on Openings

– Should I play this XYZ opening? 

– My kid loses straight out of the opening, so he should work really hard on opening right?

– My kid keeps falling for opening traps, show him how not to fall for the traps

– My kid keeps losing due to these traps, so that means the traps are good right? So he should also try to play those traps?

– Suggest me 5 books so I can beat my opponents in the opening itself

– I have this opening book or course, but I never get the positions mentioned in the book when I play a game. What am I doing wrong?

– I get the position mentioned in the book or by my previous coach, but I have no idea what to do after the opening

My answers to these beginner-opening questions

Choose an opening that is S.U.M – Simple to learn, Understandable, and Memorizable! Let me narrate to you the 1st openings that I learned from Whiteside as a kid!

S.U.M Philosophy

My coaches told me to play 1.e4 or also called the King’s Pawn Game as it would give open positions, and that would help in learning concepts like attack, tempo, initiative, open files and so on which are important topics that a beginner chess player should learn.

Chess Board

Young players have a natural flair for attack and aggressive positions, so it makes sense to play 1.e4 with White as your first opening!

Against 1…e5

If my opponent responded with 1…e5, My coaches taught me the Ruy Lopez and not the Italian Four Knights opening. The Italian Four Knights opening is the de facto beginner-level opening due to its symmetrical nature these days, but I am thankful that my coaches taught me to take up the challenge and play the Ruy Lopez.

My Ruy Lopez theoretical knowledge was not like 15-20 moves deep, but all my coaches taught me was till I castle my king safely, and get to control the center with a d4 pawn push.

Chess Board

(The position that I normally aimed for in Ruy Lopez)

My approach to Ruy Lopez was the same irrespective of the Black side’s different variations of Ruy Lopez like the Main Lines, Modern Steinitz, Arkhangelsk, etc.

I am extremely thankful to my coaches for not teaching me to play the Scholar’s mate as White! 

Chess Board

(Yay! We have the 4 move checkmate aka The Scholar’s Mate!)

I am sure, I could have picked 15-20 easy points playing the Scholar’s mate but playing such a line would have definitely harmed my long-term growth in terms of opening understanding, as then I would have constantly resorted to playing silly tricks and traps to win games.

Once you get addicted to winning games by setting up silly opening traps which can be easily refuted by higher-rated players, you continue to spend more and more energy learning new traps which will constantly be refuted by your opponent after a certain point in time.

I would like to Quote about Opening Traps from an article written by Hugh Patterson on The Chess Improver website

Chess tips

(The quoted text from The Chess Improver article)

Important takeaway – Don’t learn silly traps which can be easily refuted with simple play, as you are sacrificing your long-term growth and energy in exchange for getting a few free points.

Chess Boards

(The refutation I used to play against the Scholar’s Mate)

I used to refute the Scholar’s Mate by playing 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 g6 4.Qf3 Nf6 covering the f7 square as well as developing a new piece!

Additional reading material on refuting Scholar’s Mate –

Important takeaway – If you fall for some opening trap of your opponent, it’s ok to learn the refutation for that trap, so that you don’t fall for the trap 2nd time. Learning Opening traps by falling for the traps will ensure you never fall for such traps, as you would have a painful memory of the game, forcing you to learn the refutation against the trap.

This process of getting better will lay a very solid foundation for Opening understanding.

Against 1…c5 – Sicilian

Against the Sicilian Defense, which is considered the most dynamic response against 1.e4, My coaches taught me to play 2.c3 aka the Alapin.

(Starting position of the Alapin)

Chess Board

The reason why I believe they taught me the Alapin was that Alapin had a strong foundation of controlling the center as 2.c3 is all about playing d4 pawn push soon, and if Black captures on d4, to recapture back with the c3 pawn and have a broad and strong center.

You can find additional learning material on Alapin by watching this video by Gotham Chess –

I am not advocating that you should play the Sicilian Alapin, but I believe Alapin is one of those openings that falls under the S.U.M philosophy. If you forgot what S.U.M is, It’s Simple, Understandable, and Memorizable. 

If you instead chose to play the Main Line Sicilians starting with 2.Nf3

Chess Board

(The Sicilian 2.Nf3)

The problem with the mainline is that Black has too many options to play like 2…d6 – The Najdorf/Dragon, 2…Nc6 – Sveshnikov/Classical/Kalashnikov/Accelerated Dragon, 2…e6 – Kan/Paulsen

Chess Board

(So many Sicilian options for Black)

It is a bit tough for a beginner player to know the different setups that White needs to know to play against these different Sicilian setups by Black.

How to read Chess Opening books/courses

With the advent of Chessable, High-Quality Opening Theory has become accessible for players of all levels. The Question though is if an opening course written by a GrandMaster will cater to a beginner-level player.

When I see courses and books that suggest lines that are 15-20 moves deep for beginner players, I find it really funny as a beginner player cannot generally remember multiple variations and sub-variations that are that deep.

The other point is that even if you know theory very well, your opponents might not know that theory very well and play a random move before move 10 which will take you out of your book theory and you would be forced to calculate and play on your own.

The other issue that I notice is when beginner players get the position that they had prepared in the opening, but are not sure what to do in the middlegame phase.

This problem can be solved if the players study at least 50-75 model games played by strong players in that particular opening to get an idea of the piece development patterns, pawn structure ideas, and other smaller subtleties that arise out of that opening.

Important takeaway – There is no point in studying the theory that’s 15-20 moves deep as a beginner player, as either you will not remember the lines or your opponent will deviate way early, in theory, forcing you to play on your own.

If you think in a deeper way about the role of openings, it’s not just about getting a good position at the start of the game, but it’s also about having a confident start to the game, as you would have a feeling that everything is in my control.

So the attitude that you need to develop as a beginner player is to develop the confidence to play even new positions and not get afraid of positions that are outside your theoretical knowledge.

Important takeaway – Approach Opening positions with confidence irrespective of the position being one that you have prepared or one that is a surprise to you, and where you are unprepared.

In my next month’s blog article, I will cover what openings I played with the White pieces against the Caro-Kann, French Defense, and other sidelines like Pirc, Modern, and Alekhine.

Summary and a Quick Disclaimer on my Opening preparation ideas for Beginner Players!

The point to note for the readers is that these were openings that I played when I started out as a chess player, but as I got better at chess, I transitioned and widened my opening repertoire.

I also would like to put a word of caution that as this Opening repertoire worked for me when I was a beginner player, doesn’t mean it will also work for you, but you can use this as a general guideline advice and build your own opening repertoire!
Good luck learning Openings and becoming the best version of yourself as a chess player!

If you found this article, please share it with your friends and family, and also let us know what other chess topics I should cover in the upcoming chess blogs.

GrandMaster and FIDE Trainer Priyadharshan Kannappan