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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, or defenses 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 catalogued 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.