White opens by playing 1.e4, which is the most popular opening move and has many strengths—it immediately stakes a claim in the center, and frees two pieces (the queen and king's bishop) for action. The oldest openings in chess follow 1.e4. Bobby Fischer wrote that 1.e4 was "Best by test." On the negative side, 1.e4 places a pawn on an undefended square and weakens the squares d4 and f4; the Hungarian master Gyula Breyer melodramatically declared that "After 1.e4, White's game is in its last throes." If Black keeps the symmetry by replying 1...e5, the result is an Open Game (Hooper & Whyld 1992) (Watson 2006:87–90).
The most popular second move for White is 2.Nf3, attacking Black's king pawn, preparing to castlekingside, and preparing for d2-d4. Black's most common reply is 2...Nc6, which usually leads to the Ruy Lopez (3.Bb5), Italian Game (3.Bc4), or Scotch Game (3.d4), though 3.Nc3 Nf6 (the Four Knights Game), often played in the late 19th to early 20th century, or, less commonly, 3....g6 or ...Bb4, (the Three Knights Game), are other possibilities. If Black instead maintains symmetry and counterattacks White's center with 2...Nf6 then the Petrov's Defense will usually result, though White can avoid the extensive theory of the Petrov by playing 3.Nc3 if he wishes.
The Philidor Defence, (2...d6), largely fell out of use after World War I, as Black players sought positions offering more counterchances than the solid, though passive game which generally arises from this opening.
The Damiano Defense (2...f6) may be met by either 3.Nxe5 or 3.Bc4, with advantage; the Elephant Gambit (2...d5) and the Latvian Gambit (2...f5) are considered very risky for Black, with the latter usually seen only in correspondence play.
The most popular alternatives to 2.Nf3 are 2.f4 (the King's Gambit), 2.Nc3 (the Vienna Game), and 2.Bc4 (the Bishop's Opening). These three openings have some similarities; some of the quieter lines in the Vienna and Bishop's Opening can transpose to positional variations of the King's Gambit Declined, when White plays f2–f4 before playing Nf3. The King's Gambit was popular in the nineteenth century with grandmaster and amateur alike. White offers a pawn for speedy development, as well as to attack Black's central outpost. The Vienna Game also frequently features attacks on the Black center by means of f2–f4.
In the Center Game (2.d4), White immediately opens the center, though if the pawn is to be recovered after 2...exd4, White must prematurely develop his queen. An alternative is to sacrifice one or two pawns by offering the Danish Gambit (3.c3). The early development of the queen in the Danvers Opening (2.Qh5) or the Napoleon Opening (2.Qf3) looks amateurish, though the Danvers Opening (also called the Wayward Queen Attack) has been played in a grandmaster tournament by Hikaru Nakamura.