Here’s a question for new students of the game: “Can’t I just memorize the first few moves that I need to make? Then it will be easy to get off to a good start.”
Surprisingly, the answer is no!
Before why this is the case, let’s discuss the real question. How do I know what a good move is, especially at the beginning of the game? The answer to that question is much simpler. If you are a new player and have a strong desire to get better, the first thing to do is play some games against better opponents. In a short time it will become apparent that some moves don’t work out so well. In fact, many times we learn more from losses than wins, because faulty strategies will be exposed very quickly against a good player.
Purchasing a book (or a DVD) on basic opening principles is a good next step. Some quick exploration will reveal simple tenets that all chess players learn. Fight for the center. Get your pieces developed quickly. Don’t move the same piece multiple times in the first few moves (unless you have a really good reason). Keep the king and queen safe. Think of a plan before making a move (“A bad plan is better than no plan at all!”). To learn more about suggested books, see our post from 9/18/2008 “Chess Library (thoughts on self-improvement)”.
Getting back to our original question. There are over 9 million combinations of moves after each player has had 3 turns. If we factor out transpositions which arrive at the same position, there are only 311,642 unique positions to remember!
To put the number 9 million into perspective, a person with an average stride taking 9 million steps, could walk round trip from New York to Miami twice and still have some steps left over. A person walking at a brisk pace of 3 miles per hour for 12 hours per day, would accomplish this feat in 125 days (or about four months).
That’s a lot of steps – and a lot of combinations to remember.