"Don't bring out your queen in the opening!"

It's one of the first pieces of advice given to the beginning chess player. And if you've ever seen a kid blunder about the board, hither and thither, getting his queen batted around by developing moves all the while, you can understand why they are told this.

Garry Kasparov -- David Letterman, 1990
1 e4 d5

The Scandinavian Defense is sound, particularly if Black enters a gambit line with 2 ... Nf6, but games like this give it a bad rap.

2 exd4 Qxd4
3 Nc6 Qe4?

Much better was Qa5. Even Qd8 was playable. The text move does not gain time, since Letterman's check is blocked by a developing move. Actually it loses time, since it blocks the e-pawn.

4 Be2 Nc6
5 d4 Qg6?

Letterman needed to develop a piece. Of course Kaspy can defend the g-pawn, but why bother?

6 Nf6! Qxg2?
7 Rg8

Supposedly at this point Letterman gleefully exclaimed that he was winning, and Kasparov replied "you will pay dearly for that pawn".

7 ... Qh3
8 d5 Na5
9 Nb5 Qd7
10 Bf4 Nf6
11 Nxc7+ Kd8
12 Ne5 Qxc7
13 Nxf7+ Ke8
14 Bxc7 Kxf7
15 Bxa5 Bf5
16 Qd4 Bxc2
17 Rc1 Be4
18 Rc7 Rd8
19 d6 b6
20 Bc3 Bd5
21 Qe5 Be6
22 Qxf6+ gxf6
23 Bh5++
So as you can see, it is not a good idea to career around the board with your queen, randomly attacking anything "loose". But this hardly means that early Queen moves are inherently bad!

Ruy Lopez, Exchange Variation
1 e4 e5
2 Nf3 Nc6
3 Bb5 a6
4 Bxc6+ dxc6
5 Nxe5?

White has made a weak move, but the only way for Black to prove it is by a queen fork:

5 ... Qd4!

Which develops his Queen, with no other pieces out! That is an example where White has made a mistake, to be punished with a Queen move. But this is not always the case.

Ruy Lopez, Exchange Variation, Bronstein
1 e4 e5
2 Nf3 Nc6
3 Bb5 a6
4 Bxc6+ dxc6
5 O-O Qd6
By castling, White renews the threat against the Black e-pawn. Black can defend with ... f6, which is the main line, but I prefer this variation, which develops a piece and prepares queenside castling.

There are hundreds of cases like the first, and scores of cases like the second.

Early queen moves are often risky, because they are highly committal. Putting the queen on a square that can be attacked by developing moves, or by moves that improve the enemy position, is usually bad. But don't just leave your queen sitting around for the first twenty moves! She's your most powerful attacker -- use her!