Why Not Play The Unconformable, Unnatural, Irregular and Unusual Openings?

Sometimes a player might want to experiment with an unusual opening just for fun, or if he is a intuitive player, he might be able to improvise more effectively than his opponent who is more of a “by-the-book” player. 

Another more viable reason might be to use it in tournament play to gain time against an opponent, who because they are more of a theoretician, would lose precious time on their clock as they think of how to take advantage of unorthodox lines.

One of my favorite unconventional openings is the SARAGOSSA or ZARAGOZA OPENING (attributed to José Juncosa of Zaragoza Spain.) 1. c3.... I consider it safer than a lot of “off-beat” openings because you can transpose into a lot of different lines.  It’s inherent character is a CARO-KANN in reverse.

1. c3 d5  2. d4  is a Queen Pawn which becomes a COLLE after 2 . . . Nf6  3. Nf3 e6.

1. c3 e5  2. d4 exd4  3. cxd4 d5 is a variation of the QUEEN’S GAMBIT.

1. c3 c5  2. d4 cxd  3. cxd d5 reverts to the exchange variation of the SLAV DEFENSE.
1. c3 c6  2. e4 d5  3. exd cxd  4. d4  the exchange variation of the CARO-KANN.
1. c3 e5  2. e4 Nc6  3. Ng3  the PONZIANI.
Here is a game played by José Juncosa against Znosko-Borovsky using the SARAGOSSA (ZARAGOZA) OPENING: 
GROB’S ATTACK (after the Swiss IM Henri Grob, who referred to it as as the SPIKE in his newspaper column, is also known as AHALAUSEN’S OPENING after Carl Ahlhausen (1835–1892) of Berlin,
one of the first to play 1.g4, and  KOLIBRI’S OPENING, FRIC’S OPENING (called so in the Czech Republc and Slovakia ) and the GENOA or SAN PIER D'ARENA OPENING, after the city and suburb of Genoa where Tartakower first used and played it in simultaneous exhibitions.
Due to the freakish pawn structure white attains by playing g4 and c4 so early in the game there is frequently little advantage to castling — indeed the king may be safest in the center!
Here is a game using the SPIKE between Henri Grob and Wiedemeier:
The DUNST OPENING (formerly the QUEEN KNIGHT’S OPENING) analyzed extensively by T.A. Dunst a New York master can transpose into the SICILIAN, the CARO-KANN, and the VIENNA.  If Black’s reply is 1 . . . d5 and then pushes for 2 . . . d4 after 2. e4, the result is more of a positional type game where White will usually aim for f4.

Some examples of play are as follows:
1. Nc3 Nf6  2. d4 d5  3. Bg5  (In what the Italians have called the “RUY LOPEZ of the Queenside.”)
The DUNST is sound and playable, but affords Black a wide array of defenses.

The PARIS OPENING 1. Nh3 already starts out by by violating the principal of developing the Knight to the center by placing it on the edge of the board. “Knight on the rim, very dim.”  The Knight has less mobility and is vulnerable after 1 . . . d5 from attack by Black’s Queen Bishop which could lead to 2 . . . Bxh3.

If Black fails to exploit the Knight development, White may capitalize on the more favorable aspect of the move.  Since the Knight on h3 doesn’t block White’s King Bishop Pawn, that Pawn may effectively advance to f4, attack the adverse center and open white’s King Bishop file.
Here's an example of the PARIS OPENING:
As long as we’re moving the Knight to the rim, one particular opening I used years ago with some success was 1. Na3 - the DURKIN ATTACK.  R.T Durkin has done surprising well with this in various postal and New Jersey tournaments and T.A. Dunst has brought off a few successful experiments, however, apart from the shock value, the DURKIN ATTACK does not make a reliable weapon.  The DURKIN is also referred to as the SODIUM ATTACK, which comes from the algebraic notation 1.Na3, as Na is the chemical symbol for the element sodium.  Here is a game played by Robert T. Durkin against NM Jim West
The POLISH OPENING is also known as the ORANG-UTAN and the SOKOLSKY.  It begins with 1. b4 and was added to opening repertoire by Viennese Master Englisch.  It was a favorite of Tartakower, one of the first prominent players to play it, had accepted Polish citizenship after Poland gained its independence after World War I - although he had been born in Russia, and lived in Paris.  He played it once at New York 1924, calling it the ORANG-UTAN in honor of Suzy, an orangutan he had met at the Bronx Zoo. Pachman advocates the reply 1....a5 giving the opening a rather odd appearance. 

Spassky played 1.d4 b5 in the 22nd game of his 1966 world championship match against Petrosian, when Spassky was desperate for a win.  It didn't work. 

The obvious defects of the POLISH are that it initiates a wing demonstration when emphasis should be placed on center control and provides a ready-made target which may linger as a permanent sore-spot for White.  On the other hand, the move readies a promising fianchetto, while the advanced pawn will inhibit enemy expansion on the Queenside.  So, basically the opening appeals to those who like to take uncharted courses but serves no purpose where there is a preference for sounder and more conservative methods.
Here is a game between Alexey Sokolsky and Strugatsch using the POLISH OPENING.

So, whether you just want to shake-up your opponent by catching hm/her off guard with on of these “off-beat” openings, or wade into the “Black and White Jungle” (as Kasparov put it to Josh Waitzkin) with an adventurous nature and “devil-may-care attitude” -  it might make for some entertaining  games.

Here is a recent game I played in December 2012 using the SARAGOSSA /ZARAGOZA (1. c3)


  • 4 years ago


    RE: Game 21 Fischer vs Spassky 1972 - Actually, I found a note by Evans which alluded to the fact that at 2...P-K3 the system has "characteristics of the French Defense" except White can't play P-K4 with impunity anymore as Black's QBP is ready to swap it off at once.

  • 4 years ago


    Nimzo - OOps!  I see what you mean.  I guess I have a trip abroad to France on my mind.  It looks like it has some components of the French.

  • 4 years ago


    Are you familiar with the Sicilian (Game 21. Fischer vs Spassky) 1. P-K4 P-QB4   2. N-KB3 P-K3!  It's like the French Reshevskys_Revenge

    ??? NO it isn't - it's exactly "like" the Sicilian Defense inc the 4 Kts Var, Kan Var, Paulsen Var and Taimanov Var and of course it can also transpose back into various SD lines that normally begin with 2...d6

  • 4 years ago


    Tacticator -My idea was to create some discussion on "Why (or why not) to play some of these openings?"  As NimzoRoy points out - some are just "BAD", but there are some that are great for the "shock value" and the complicated positions which can arise. 

    I have no problem using them here on this site as well on other sites at which I play, and I have been faced with the "Spike" just in the last 2 days over 6 times by different opponents on another site. I think players like to find uncharted territory and try and confuse their opponent.

    If you play and analyze a couple of the better ones, you should find a few victories for yourself.

    Are you familiar with the Sicilian (Game 21. Fischer vs Spassky) 1. P-K4 P-QB4   2. N-KB3 P-K3!  It's like the French - but White has a problem w/ P-Q4 because of Black's QBP ready to trade it off.  Just when your opponent is settling into the Sicilian - he gets a curve ball.

    Just small unusual moves like these can throw the  opponent off, and if you play through some variations, you can fire back good responses in a timely manner.

  • 4 years ago


    Great Article! Really enjoyed reading, and hope to read it again when I can.

    I play the 1. Nh3 regularly in live chess, and i got to say, it gives me really interesting position.

     It seems like your encouraging us to play these!? Anyway I was thinking of playing Polish Defense (1. d4 b5) and maybe Caro-Kann irregular with (1. e4 c6 2. d4 b5) as well.

    I guess the good part about those openings is that it gives both players an unfamiliar territory from beginning.

  • 4 years ago


    Oh - I won't argue with you that yes, many are very bad!  But I have had luck with 1. Na3, finding a nice post for the Knight later on, if it wasn't slain by Bxa3. If it was, it opened the b file and also gave the Queen and Queen Bishop some good diagonals aimed at Black's Kingside.  Sorry - I didn't think of Anderssen's 1. a3...  I have also had good fortune with 1. c3!  I enjoyed reading the list you gave me, thanks!  Anyway, I have fun playing the odd openings!

  • 4 years ago


    Why Not Play The Unconformable, Unnatural, Irregular and Unusual Openings?

    Well because most of them suck, but other than that...hey I'm just kidding! But a lot of them really do suck!Tongue Out 

    Seriously, this is an interesting post although I'm not buying into it (at least not for turn-based games), but blitz games are always a good place to employ these "has been" and "never were" openings. 

    I was surprised to see your transpositions from 1.c3 into more conventional openings - although almost anything is more conventional than 1.c3! I never would've thought of that, so it's always fun to learn something new. BUT, most of the conventional openings reached by transposition are also duds ie the Slav Exchange Var, CKD Exchange Var and the Ponziani they're sound but easy for Black to deal with, not the best choices if you're trying to maximize your winning chances as White. And somehow the QGD Exchange Var by transposition looks fishy to me, since Black's QB isn't hemmed in by ...Nbd7 as in the normal move order. 

    Where's Anderssen's Opening (1.a3)? It's actually good for players who want to play reverse openings for instance 1.a3 e5 2.c4 is a Reverse Sicilian - or a dull EO depending on how you look at it I guess since of course 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 is way better

    FUN FACT: The late GM Tony Miles (B) beat Karpov with 1.e4 a6 in a tnmt game no less! It's called the "St George Defense" and actually transposed into a Sicilian Defense but Karpov was actually offended that Miles had the temerity to play such "rubbish" against him (I forget what he said exactly but he clearly meant "rubbish")

    FYI: http://www.365chess.com/eco.php - Here's a very long list of more unorthodox and/or unsound and/or unconventional and/or substandard openings for you

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