World Championship Openings

NM ih8sens
May 19, 2016, 9:37 AM |

I've compiled a list of the openings played in World Championship games.  


At the moment I've considered all match-style WC games since the unification of FIDE in 2006.


There were a total of 75 games played, including tiebreaks.


Openings Used In Modern WC Matches



Semi-Slav (14 Games)

Probably because of the 2000 Kramnik-Kasparov match, 1.d4 was far and away the most popular opening move.  As a result, and partially thanks to Anand's rigid adherence to them, the Slav and Semi-Slav were by far the two most common openings since 2006.  For clarity, when black played e6 before moving his LSB, I classified the game as a Semi-Slav.  Otherwise, the game was a Slav.


Slav (13 Games)

Almost all the World Champions throughout history have used the Slav as a solid choice when a draw was okay.  The results were excellent.  Although black does not win with the Slav as often as he seems to with the Semi-Slav, there were hardly any Slav games where white won.  It's also interesting to note that the Slav is becoming the opening of choice in important high-level correspondence games.  


Queen's Gambit Declined/Catalan (11 Games)

With Lasker's Defense in the QGD doing so well, and even winning with black in the only WC game that saw it, it only makes sense that almost all QGD games saw the Bf4 variation.  To some extent, this is still the trend today and white is doing reasonably well.  The Catalan produced some very complex games as well, with several near-losses for both colours.


Berlin (8 Games)

There were eight 1.e4 e5 games and eight Berlins since 2006.  That said, white won a few of them, so perhaps the Berlin isn't completely killing 1.e4 just yet.  On the other hand, almost every 1.e4 game at the correspondence level became a Berlin and almost all of them drew.  Yikes.


Sicilian Defense (8 Games)

As a rule, the Sicilian was essayed only by Boris Gelfand or by the eventual loser who was desperately trying to pick up a point with black.  It's interesting to note that 5 of these games saw the Bb5 variation, rather than the Open Sicilian.  Probably, Anand was a little unsure how to handle the Sveshnikov.  Besides the Sveshnikov there was also a Najdorf and a Kan.  Sadly, no Dragons.



Nimzo Indian (7 Games)

Most of these games were by Carlsen.  Carlsen tends to take more liberties with his opening play, and I'd imagine he wasn't too keen on playing Slav/Semi-Slav positions against Anand, who played those lines almost exclusively with black.  


Grunfeld (6 Games)

The Grunfeld actually did pretty well.  The most notable game was probably game one of Topalov-Anand.  In that game Anand apparently forgot his preparation and was absolutely crushed in a highly theoretical variation.  That said, black seems to be doing okay in the Grunfeld since then, so there's really no doubt it's a sound enough option.


English (2 Games)

I always find the English opening interesting.  It's a good way to get away from some of the heavy theory while still maintaining some winning chances.  For this list I only counted games that did not transpose back into 1.d4 openings to be "English".  1.Nf3 followed by c4 was counted as English and not Reti.


Reti/KIA (2 Games) 

There were two games, both by Carlsen, where he played Nf3 and did not follow up with c4, but rather g3.  Both were pretty easy draws if I recall.


Others (4 Games)

There was one Queen's Indian Defense, one King's Indian Defense, one Caro Kann, and one Bogo Indian.  The King's Indian could also have been classified as a Benoni, and Anand won as white in the shortest decisive WC game in history (17 moves).  


To my students: You can pick any one of these openings and probably use it for life.