Should You Play Openings Like Magnus Carlsen?
Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Should You Play Openings Like Magnus Carlsen?

| 114 | Opening Theory

"What a stupid question!"

I bet this is the natural reaction of many readers once they see the title of this article.

Indeed it is a dream of any chess fan to play like Magnus Carlsen. 

OK, let me rephrase the original question: Should we play our openings exactly the same way Magnus Carlsen does?

You would be surprised, but for the majority of chess players the answer is a resounding no!

magnus carlsen
Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Whenever I attend a scholastic tournament, I see a bunch of games starting with the moves 1.d4 d5 2. Bf4. In most cases, this opening leads to slow play, which is difficult for children since they don't possess the required positional skills and frequently just get bored during the game.

When I ask why they play an opening that is clearly inappropriate for their age and chess level, the usual answer is that this is a very fashionable line played by Carlsen. Indeed, the world champion has won many games with this opening, like this one:

The kids don't understand that Carlsen is currently so much stronger than his opponents that he just wants to leave opening theory as quickly as possible and force his opponents to start playing on their own.

As I explained in this old article, it is not that easy to learn from Carlsen's games. It is also difficult to play openings the way he does. Take his recent game vs. Hikaru Nakamura:

Carlsen's treatment of the opening was quite risky. After just 15 moves, Black had a strong center and potential attack against white king. This line of the English Opening is called the Mikenas-Flohr variation, and if you really want to play it, I'd recommend you follow the footsteps of Vladas Mikenas, one of the originators of this variation.

Of course Mikenas' tournament results and playing strength cannot be even compared to Magnus Carlsen's, but maybe this is what makes his games more understandable for us, mere mortals.

Look at the following game:

While the quality of the game Carlsen-Nakamura is significantly higher, if you are a club player, you can learn more from the game Mikenas-Makhtas!

When you study an opening, it is very important to understand typical positional and tactical ideas and even mistakes frequently committed by chess players. You won't be able to do it using the nearly perfect games of Carlsen and his super-GM opponents.

So that's why you should not play openings like Magnus Carlsen!

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