Openings for Tactical Players: Sokolsky Opening

  • GM Gserper
  • | Jun 27, 2010

The Sokolsky Opening (1. b4) never enjoyed much popularity , which can partially explain it's nickname "Orangutan Opening".  In my opinion, there are two reasons why most chess players never seriously consider this opening. The first reason is that if Black plays correctly, then White cannot achieve an opening advantage which he can get in most openings.  And another reason is that there exists almost no theory for this opening (and most chess players like to play openings they can learn from books).  But for certain chess players the lack of opening theory is actually a big positive for an opening.  Think about it for a moment. You are playing your club mate rated, say 2100.  If you choose to play a mainstream opening, then you can expect your opponent to play the theoretical moves that he learned from books, magazines and databases.  And in most cases, the opening theory is based on the games and analysis of GMs and IMs.  So, even though you are playing a 2100 player, in the opening of the game you are actually playing against a GM or an IM.  Therefore, some chess players prefer to play the openings where their opponents are forced to think from the very first moves.  The Sokolsky Opening is one such opening.  The idea of the opening is quite simple: by playing 1.b4 White fianchettoes his dark squared Bishop to pressure along the a1-h8 diagonal and also tries to grab as much space on the Queen's side as possible.

Usually in the Sokolsky Opening by move 3 or 4 you get positions that don't resemble any other opening. Most chess players find it difficult to play with no clear guidelines and that can probably explain the big number of short games in this opening.  Let's look at some possible Black responses.

Most chess players after 1. b4 e5 2. Bb2 don't want to trade their central e5 pawn for White's wing pawn b4 (after 2...Bxb4 3. Bxe5).  And since the typical defensive opening move 2...Nc6 doesn't work here due to 3.b5, and 2...d6 blocks the Bf8 and doesn't threaten Bxb4 anymore, 2...f6 looks like a natural choice.  Meanwhile, in this case White has an opportunity to play an extremely dangerous gambit that starts with 3. e4!  How dangerous is it? Well, in the next game one of the strongest Soviet IMs had to resign as early as move 11!

 (Just like in all my articles I give you a chance to test your attacking skills, so the games are given as a Quiz.  Please remember that you can always replay the whole game from the first move if you click "Solution" and then "Move list".)

If you think that Black lost the game that quickly only because his defense wasn't any good, the next game will give you another opportunity to see how risky Black's position is after he accepts the gambit.
The author of the opening conducted the attack very impressively!
The next two games demonstrate that regardless of the defensive system Black chooses in the Sokolsky opening, he needs to constantly watch out for all kinds of tactical tricks.
It is interesting to notice that Bobby Fischer and Vassily Ivanchuk both tried this opening. They played it exactly three times each and only in their simultaneous exhibitions. I think the idea was the same: in a simul a GM usually plays a low-rated amateur.  The quickest way to force a not very strong chess player to make a mistake is to make him play on his own as quickly as possible.  The Sokolsky Opening is a perfect tool to achieve this goal. 
If you hate learning opening theory and memorizing the ocean of lines and variations, you can give the Sokolsky Opening a try.
Good luck!


  • 2 years ago


    a great article about a great opening :)

  • 5 years ago


    you should add something to this article that i found out when playing. i happened to find a "mini-gambit" in the beginning, if black chooses to accept. when they first move, they usually move the, well, just look at the board below. i find that it works wonderfully!

  • 5 years ago


    ive been searching around for a good opening for white, (i made a perfect one for black) and this is perfect! thnx

  • 6 years ago


    gr8 article thx

  • 6 years ago


    when i play lots of people play d4 and they win!can any1 help me

  • 6 years ago


    Mmm... yes. I also overheard the people at my club discuss this 3... exf4!? 4.Bxg7 Qh4+ variation. We weren't too sure how to properly play this out either....

    Anyways, thank you  KARAPIPERIS and  wiesner14 for your feedback. Maybe someday an article [wink] will be released discussing this line of play [wink, wink]. Wink

  • 6 years ago


    KARAPIPERIS you are actually quite incorrect with your comment. the correct line is 1. b4 e5 2. Bb2 Bxb4 3. f4 exf4 4. Bxg7 Qh4+ 5. g3 fxg3 6. Bg2! :) this move makes the line quite playable for white. White will lose his knight and then pick up blacks rook on h8. Whites position is most likely stronger in the scenario. I've seen this game played a few times and I know the majority of times it is played a draw is agreed upon at about move 8

  • 6 years ago


    i like this type game.

  • 6 years ago


    No, Sokolsky visited a zoo before he took part at a tournament, and he saw the ape, and decided to name the opening 1.b4 after him...

  • 6 years ago


    haha , why they called it ''orangutan openings" ? does sokolsky have a relative with any indonesian ?

  • 6 years ago


    after 1.b4 e5! 2.Bb2 Bxb4! 3.f4?! exf4! 4.Bxg7? Qh4+ 5.g3 fxg3 6.Nf3! (the best move in an already lost position) 6...g2+! 7.Nxh4 gxh1=Q 8.Bxh8 Qxh2 and Black is not only 2 pawns ahead but also he has some nasty mating threats!  So Dexman I think I answered your question...

  • 6 years ago


    greet articals thanks

  • 6 years ago


    Thanks, Gserper.  Another fine article.  Interesting play for "us" club players.

  • 6 years ago


    i agree with Henk Van Oosten, actually it such a nice tactic was usedLaughing 

  • 6 years ago


    perhaps B3 would be a better bet . Why has the perfectly reasonable F4...Birds Opening been so neglected?

  • 6 years ago


    I agree with Henk.  GM Gserper says:

    "Most chess players after 1. b4 e5 2. Bb2 don't want to trade their central e5 pawn for White's wing pawn b4 (after 2...Bxb4 3. Bxe5)."

    However, looking at the chess database I use, I saw that this is actually one of the main lines and that black does very well with it.  The concept of it was easy for me to understand -- give us a central pawn for a tempo on the bishop & the half-open e-file.  I got an advantage (confirmed by the computer) just by following the database even though my opponent made no obvious mistakes.

    Basically, I think Gserper's statement was made just so he could focus his article and not because he believes bxb4 is bad or doesnt provide easy equality. 

  • 6 years ago


    I'll stick to e4. I have this great book on a complete e4 repetoire: a gambit repetoire by GM Davies called Gambiteer I. I suggest this completely for the e4 player instead of b4. Why give black a chance to equalize against b4? 

  • 6 years ago


    If you play white in chess and you play anything other than 1. b4 as your opening move, you're a...


    ..I don't even wanna say 'cause is a family site.

  • 6 years ago


    This is a playable opening...I have used it in USCF events...When I use it, I am not playing GMs or IMs but club players...So have fun with it !!   Cool

  • 6 years ago


    looks like some entertaining  play without the repetitive play of  d4 or e4, thx for bringing it to light

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