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A chess opening is the group of initial moves of a chess game. Recognized sequences of initial moves are referred to as openings by White, ordefenses by Black, but opening is also used as the general term. There are many dozens of different openings, and hundreds of named variants.The Oxford Companion to Chess lists 1,327 named openings and variants These vary widely in character from quiet positional play to wild tactical play. In addition to referring to specific move sequences, the opening is the first phase of a chess game, the other phases being the middlegame and the endgame.

A sequence of opening moves that is considered standard (often cataloged in a reference work such as the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings) is referred to as "the book moves", or simply "book". These reference works often present these move sequences in simple algebraic notation, opening trees, or theory tables. When a game begins to deviate from known opening theory, the players are said to be "out of book". In some opening lines, the moves considered best for both sides have been worked out for twenty to twenty-five moves or more. Some analysis goes to thirty or thirty-five moves, as in the classical King's Indian Defense and in the Sveshnikov and Najdorf variations of the Sicilian Defense.

Professional chess players spend years studying openings, and continue doing so throughout their careers, as opening theory continues to evolve. Players at the club level also study openings but the importance of the opening phase is smaller there since games are rarely decided in the opening. The study of openings can become unbalanced if it is to the exclusion of tactical training and middlegame and endgame strategy. A new sequence of moves in the opening is referred to as a theoretical novelty. When kept secret until used in a competitive game it is often known as a prepared variation, a powerful weapon in top-class competition.

Common aims in opening play
1. Development: One of the main aims of the opening is to mobilize the pieces on useful squares where they will have impact on the game. To this end, knights are usually developed to f3, c3, f6 and c6 (or sometimes e2, d2, e7 or d7), and both players' king and queen pawns are moved so the bishops can be developed (alternatively, the bishops may be fianchettoed with a maneuver such as g3 and Bg2). Rapid mobilization is the key. The queen, and to a lesser extent the rooks, are not usually played to a central position until later in the game, when manyminor pieces and pawns are no longer present.

2. Control of the center: At the start of the game, it is not clear on which part of the board the pieces will be needed. However, control of the central squares allows pieces to be moved to any part of the board relatively easily, and can also have a cramping effect on the opponent. The classical view is that central control is best effected by placing pawns there, ideally establishing pawns on d4 and e4 (or d5 and e5 for Black). However, the hypermodern school showed that it was not always necessary or even desirable to occupy the center in this way, and that too broad a pawn front could be attacked and destroyed, leaving its architect vulnerable; an impressive-looking pawn center is worth little unless it can be maintained. The hypermoderns instead advocated controlling the center from a distance with pieces, breaking down one's opponent's center, and only taking over the center oneself later in the game. This leads to openings such as Alekhine's Defense – in a line like (the FouPawns Attack), White has a formidable pawn center for the moment, but Black hopes to undermine it later in the game, leaving White's position exposed.

3. King safety: The king is somewhat exposed in the middle of the board. Measures must be taken to reduce his vulnerability. It is therefore common for both players either to castle in the opening (simultaneously developing one of the rooks) or to otherwise bring the king to the side of the board via artificial castling.

4. Prevention of pawn weakness: Most openings strive to avoid the creation of pawn weaknesses such as isolated, doubled and backward pawns, pawn islands, etc. Some openings sacrifice endgame considerations for a quick attack on the opponent's position. Some unbalanced openings for Black, in particular, make use of this idea, such as the Dutch and the Sicilian. Other openings, such as the Alekhine and the Benoni, invite the opponent to overextend and form pawn weaknesses. Specific openings accept pawn weaknesses in exchange for compensation in the form of dynamic play.

5. Piece coordination: As the players mobilize their pieces, they both seek to ensure that they are working harmoniously towards the control of key squares.

6. Create positions in which the player is more comfortable than the opponent: Transposition is one common way of doing this Apart from these ideas, other strategies used in the middlegame may also be carried out in the opening. These include preparing pawn breaks to create counterplay, creating weaknesses in the opponent's pawn structure, seizing control of key squares, making favourable exchanges of minor pieces (e.g. gaining the bishop pair), or gaining a space advantage, whether in the centre or on the flanks.

Top-level objective
At higher levels of competition, for many years the main objectives of opening play were to obtain the better position when playing as White and to equalize when playing as Black. The idea behind this is that playing first gives White a slight initial advantage; for example, White will be the first to attack if the game opens symmetrically (Black mirrors White's moves).

Since about the 1950s another objective has gradually become more dominant. According to IM Jeremy Silman, the purpose of the opening is to create dynamic imbalances between the two sides, which will determine the character of the middlegame and the strategic plans chosen by both sides. For example, in the main line of the Winawer Variation of the French Defense (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3), White will try to use his bishop pair and space advantage to mount an attack on Black's kingside, while Black will seek simplifying exchanges(in particular, trading off one of White's bishops to blunt this advantage) and counterattack against the weakened pawns on White's queenside; both players accept different combinations of advantages and disadvantages. This idea was a doctrine of the Soviet school of chess.

A third objective, which is complementary to the previous ones and has been common since the 19th century, is to lure the opponent into positions with which the player is more familiar and comfortable than the opponent. This is usually done by transpositions, in which a game that apparently starts with one opening can reach a position that is normally produced by a different opening.