The coverage here will give you a glimpse of some of the most important classic openings. It should give you a taste of these classical lines which will help you to see which suit you and which do not as well as encourage you to investigate them further yourself.
The Ruy Lopez
After the sequence 1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. Bb5 the most important continuation is 3. ... a6. White should drop the bishop back with 4. Ba4 and after 4. ... Nf6, play 5. O-O. Black now faces a choice. He can play the closed lopez with a move like 5. ... Be7, or he can play the open lopez with 5. ... Nxe4.
A) 5. ... Be7, 6. Re1 b5, 7. Bb3 d6, gives a strategically rich position in which white has a long term pull. White's main plan here is to engineer the break d4 under favourable circumstance. Thus c3 suggests itself in preparation. A second plan at his disposal is to break up black's queenside pawns with a4. A third plan available is to manoeuvre the b1 knight to d5 or f5. Thus once the d pawn has gone to either d3 or d4 white will play Nb1-d2-f1-e3 and then into either d5 or f5. Naturally these plans can be combined.
B) 5. ... Nxe4, 6. d4 b5, 7. Bb3 d5, 8. dxe5 Be6 produces a position in which white has the better structure but black's pieces are better developed. Again white will try to undermine black's queenside pawns with a4. Also, he will try to dissolve blacks development advantage either with exchanges or by driving back any dangerous looking black pieces.
The Guico Piano/Two Knights Defence
After 1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. Bc4 black's main options are 3. ... Bc5, which produces the Guico Piano, or 3. ... Nf6, which is the two knights defence.
A) 3. ... Bc5, 4. c3 (4. b4!? is the Evans Gambit while 4. d3 is a rather tame alternative) 4. ... Nf6, 5. d4 ed, 6. cd Bb4+, when white can choose between 7. Nc3 gambiting the e-pawn (which is probably not such a great idea, or 7. Bd2 which leads to a pretty equal position.
B) 3. ... Nf6, 4. Ng5 d5, 5. ed Na5, 6. Bb5+ c6, 7. dc bc. In this position black has just about enough compensation for the pawn. He must make use of his greater activity while white will try to calm the position down to consolidate his extra pawn. An illustration of how white ought not to handle this position is 8. Qf3 Rb8, 9. Bxc6+ Nxc6, 10. Qxc6 Nd7, when white's queen is going to be pushed around a lot and black's development lead will tell.
The King's Gambit
After 1. e4 e5, 2. f4 Black has three main options:
A) 2. ... ef, is the King's Gambit accepted. The most logical move for white here is 3. Nf3 in order to prevent the slightly annoying check on h4 from the black queen. The old move which is still viable is 3. ... g5, which shows black stating his intention to keep hold of his extra pawn. 4. Bc4 is thematic attacking f7 and after 4. ... Bg7, 5. h4 makes sense chipping away at the base of the pawn chain. There are plenty of complications after 5. ... g4, but black can instead play 5. ... h6 which is slightly more sane.
B) 2. ... Bc5, is a sensible move, putting immediate pressure on the sensitive f2 square. 3. Nf3 is the obvious move (clearly 3. fe Qh4+ would be winning for black) and black should probably defend his e5 pawn with 3. ... d6. 4. c3 looks a little tame but the threat of playing pawn to d4 is very real and so black must take measures to limit its effect. The prophylactic 4. ... Bb6 is just about plausible but probably inferior to the normal 4. ... Nf6. After 4. ... Nf6 play might continue 5. d4 ed, 6. cd Bb6, when the position is about equal, though some players might prefer white's extra space.
C) 2. ... d5, is the Falkabeer counter gambit. After the virtually obligatory 3. ed black can play, not the obvious 3. ... ef which, although not a bad move, rather misses the point, but instead 3. ... e4 which hampers white's development somewhat. 4. d3, with the idea of trying to get rid of the annoying pawn on e4 is reasonable and play might go 4. ... Nf6, 5. de Nxe4, when black's threat of 6. ... Bc5, homing in on f2, is a little annoying. Alternatively, after 4. Nc3 Nf6, if white tries to hold on to his d-pawn with 5. Bc4, then black can choose between 5. ... c6!? which is definitely in the spirit of the position, or 5. ... Bc5, which also looks fine. Black's compensation for the pawn lies in the great ease with which he can develop his pieces and the somewhat exposed position of the white king.
The Sicilian Defence
After 1. e4 c5, 2. Nf3 there are far to many different variations to cover here. We will take a look at just three lines:
A) 2. ... d6, 3. d4 cd, 4. Nxd4 Nf6, 5. Nc3 a6, is the Najdorf variation. 6. Be2 is the most sensible move here. After the typical 6. ... e5, 7. Nb3 White's space and activity advantages are short term and so he must seek to make use of them immediately. Tactics, combinations, and assaults on the black king are probably the order of the day. The d5 square suggests itself as a target and if white can permanently occupy that square with a knight he will be doing very well. The d6 pawn is not as weak as it looks. 6. ... e6, can transpose to line B) and is a tougher nut to crack.
B) 2. ... e6, 3. d4 cd, 4. Nxd4 Nf6, 5. Nc3 a6, 6. Be2 d6, is the Scheveningen system. Again white must not wait around because black's extra centre pawn will usually be an advantage in the endgame. Kingside pawn advances and extreme violence against e6 and f7 should be white's main objectives.
C) 2. ... Nc6, 3. d4 cd, 4. Nxd4 g6, is the accelerated Dragon variation. 5. c4 is considered the most dangerous move here achieving a Marocsy Bind in the centre (characterised by the white pawns on e4 and c4). White's space advantage, and his bind on d5 should give him a lasting advantage though the complexity of the position gives black room for argument.
The French Defence
After 1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, we will consider the old moves 3. e5 and 3. Nc3 and neglect the more modern 3. Nd2.
A) 3. e5 is the advance variation. After 3. ... c5, 4. c3 Qb6, 5. Nf3 Nc6, 6. Be2 we have a very interesting position. White will plan to protect (and in fact over-protect) his impressive central pawns and perhaps attack on the kingside. Black will hope to generate play on the queenside and/or attack down the f-file after ... f6.
B) 3. Nc3 Nf6, 4. e5 Nfd7, 5. f4 c5, 6. Nf3 Nc6, gives us a position in which white's d-pawn will be exchanged for black's c-pawn but white may be able to make use of the d4 square for his knights. Black will hope to be able to exchange of his bad light squared bishop and play on the queenside, often rapidly advancing his pawns on that flank. The e4 square also beckons as an outpost for one of the black knights once the knight on c3 has been nudged out of the way by black's b-pawn.