3x3 opening replies

Oct 12, 2011, 10:35 PM |


The last week I've been trying to find a way to choose my replies to various openings, and today I found a way to do so. I'm sure some will disagree with my approach, and that's fine. However, being someone who likes to be systematic about things, this works great for me. If you - for one reason or another - think it's a silly way of doing this, feel free to express this in the comments below. But do remember: chess is (still) not a solved game, so there is not just one way of doing things. What works for you, might not work for me, and the other way around. For now, I'm happy with my 3x3 opening replies. I hope others will find it useful as well. 

The idea behind the 3x3 opening replies is that the most common replies in master games are highly likely to be among the best. From this point of view, it makes sense to learn the most common moves in the most common lines. At least the first few moves, so you don't feel completely lost only some few moves into the game. Obviously, this is not the holy grail, and if you are playing against a better player, you are likely to be on the losing end at some point during the middle game. 

The 3x3 opening replies is not a quick fix. It's not intended for people who wants to play casual chess, and it's not a substitute for learning the openings typically recommended to beginners. However, if you - like I - aspire to get to a high level of chess, then I think the 3x3 opening replies are a good supplement to your chess toolbox. 

And with that introduction, it's time to get down to business, and see what the 3x3 opening replies are all about. 

It's quite simple, actually. The 3x3 opening replies are 9 (3x3) opening lines, all at a length of 3 moves. But it's not just any 9 lines, but the 3 most common replies to the 3 most common first moves. The 3 most common first moves are 1. e4, 1. d4 and 1. Nf3. Let's look at them one by one. And let's begin with 1. e4, the most common first move in chess. 

1. e4 and it's 3 most common replies 

After 1. e4, the most common replies are (in order of popularity): 1...c5, 1... e5 and 1...e6. If we play White, and we decide to open with 1. e4, it's a good idea to know what the expect. And these 3 Black replies are the most common, so it's probably a good idea to have an idea of where we can expect the game to game after each and every of these replies. Since, this article is for happy amateurs (like myself), the system it presents is not deep. It's only meant as a way for players rather new to the game to at least feel somewhat comfortable, against replies most likely to occur at higher levels of play. Some would say this isn't necessary at lower levels, and that might be true, if the player doesn't aspire to take chess to the higher levels. If, on the other hand, a player wants to do just that, then I believe it's a good idea to get acquainted with these lines sooner than later, so they are not complete foreign when moving to a level where these lines are what is often played. 

So, what I suggest, is that we learn the 3 most common replies to the 3 most common opening moves, at a dept of 3 moves. This should lead to 9 positions, but interestingly it doesn't. It leads to only 6, since some of the positions at the 3th Black move are identical, although they went down different lanes. More about that later. 

So, without further ado, let me now present the 3 lines to learn, in the 3x3 opening replies system, beginning with 1. e4

  • Line 1.1: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf6 d6 3. d4 cxd4 
  • Line 1.2: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 
  • Line 1.3: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 

And here they are show in diagrams. First, Line 1.1, belonging to the Sicilian Defense: Modern Variations




Second, Line 1.2, a Ruy Lopez line, looking like this, after 3 moves: 




And thirdly, Line 1.3, which, after 3...Bb4 is a French Defense: Winawer Variation. It looks like this: 




And now, let's look at 1. d4, and the 3 most common replies to this, and the lines that follow. 

1. d4 and it's 3 most common replies 

The 3 most common replies (again in order of popularity) are 1...Nf6, 1...d5 and 1...e6. And here are the positions after the first 3 moves following each of them, again using the most common reply in each case. 

First we have 1...Nf6, leading to an Indian Game: Anti-Nimzo-Indian. It looks like this, which is our Line 2.1



The next line begins with 1...d5, and the so-called Slav Defense: Modern Line. In the 3x3 opening replies system, we call it Line 2.2



Our third line (Line 2.3) after 1. d4 is the Horwitz Defense, beginning with 1...e6, and it looks like this after the first 3 moves: