Learn how to play the opening. Common Opening Themes include:
- Control of the Center
- Development of your pieces to their Best Squares.
- Including ALL your pieces in your Game
- King Safety is most important
The key to opening play is to "Play What You Know and Know What You Play". This means don't play an opening in an important game unless you have studied it and tried it out successfully in off hand games first.
The best way to track your openings knowledge is to keep a note book which contains your tabiya of preferred lines. As you play, you will eventually reach the end of your known analysis. At that point you should research your position and learn the next move(s) so that when the opportunity appears again you will better know what to play. This method will slowly build your opening knowledge and expand your tabiya with useful moves. An automated way of tracking your tabiyas is to use Bookup, also known as Chess Openings Wizard. ChessBase also has some features for saving and analyzing your tabiya.
One mistake that many players make is to try and study too many openings and not learn to play any one of them really well. Using the above method will give you an opening book of lines that you play without wasted effort of learning parts of openings that you never play.
Learn to get the initiative and get a head start on your opponent.
How to Learn a New Opening
Find a good learning resource. It may be a book on the opening or a learning video. Do NOT select a video analyzing just one game. Learn the main line of what you want to play 10 to 12 moves deep. Learn the openings traps
that you may encounter. Play practice games in unrated and unimportant situations. Find a buddy who also wants to learn the same opening Play at school or casual games at the chess club. Play it in speed games to get an idea of what variations you will see. Play it in tournament games, at first against weaker opponents and, as you have success, play it in more important games, Always Review and learn about sidelines you see in your games.