Openings

Vienna Game

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3

The Vienna Game is a 1.e4 opening for White. Compared to other 1.e4 openings, the Vienna is much less common but theoretically sound. Because of this, it can be an excellent weapon for beginners to catch their opponents by surprise. The Vienna is also suitable for more experienced players, with GMs like Viswanathan Anand and Alexander Shabalov among the players who have played it.


Starting Position

The Vienna Game starts after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3. Instead of the more common 2.Nf3, White chooses to develop the queenside knight. White's second move allows for a quick f2-f4 pawn-push. It also keeps the d1-h5 diagonal open for the queen, which can go to f3 or h5.

Vienna Game Chess Openings
The starting position of the Vienna Game.

Pros

  • It is less theoretical than the Spanish or Italian openings
  • It avoids Petrov's Defense
  • White has strategically clear formations

Cons

  • It puts less immediate pressure on Black
  • It blocks the c-pawn, making c2-c3 to prepare the d2-d4 push more difficult

Main Variations Of The Vienna Game

The Vienna Game is not as common or as old as other 1.e4 openings. For this reason, it is also not heavy in theory. Black has three main responses to the Vienna on their second move: 3...Nf6, 3...Nc6, and 3...Bc5.

Falkbeer Variation

Black's most popular response to the Vienna game is the Falkbeer Variation, which starts after 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6. Black develops a knight and puts pressure on the white e4-pawn. Black's last move also helps them play the d7-d5 push if White plays the Vienna Gambit (discussed shortly).

From this position, White can opt for an aggressive or a positional approach.

Falkbeer, Mieses Variation

The Mieses Variation is the most popular line of the Falkbeer. This variation starts after 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3, when White goes for a more positional game. White intends to fianchetto their light-squared bishop on g2 to increase their control over the central d5- and e4-squares. Black mostly goes for the immediate central counterstrike with d7-d5 but can also play a slower game by developing their pieces.

Vienna Gambit

Another popular way for White to continue in the Falkbeer Variation is with the Vienna Gambit. After the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4, White immediately challenges Black's central control. The Vienna Gambit resembles the King's Gambit, with the added benefit that Black no longer has easy access to White's weakened e1-h4 diagonal due to the f6-knight.

White usually develops their light-squared bishop on c4 or b5, their knight to f3, and castles kingside. Usually, White will use the semi-open f-file and active pieces to attack the kingside.

Although not as common among grandmasters anymore, the Vienna Gambit is still a good weapon for club-level players.

Max Lange Defense

The Max Lange Defense starts after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6. Black follows White's lead and develops the queenside knight, supporting their e5-pawn. The game can then transpose to the Three Knights Opening if White plays 3.Nf3. White can also stay in the Vienna by developing their light-squared bishop on b5, c4, or g2.

Anderssen Defense

Black can also enter the Anderssen Defense with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Bc5. Black makes a useful developing move, bringing their kingside bishop into the game. Although not nearly as popular as the other variations, this is still a sound way of playing with Black against the Vienna. Former world champion Jose Raul Capablanca used to play this variation to avoid theory.

History Of The Vienna Game

The Vienna Game is relatively new when compared to other openings. Even though there are records of games with this opening as early as 1846, it didn't catch up in popularity until the beginning of the 1900s. Masters based in Vienna, Austria, were among its leading proponents—Wilhelm Steinitz, Rudolf Spielmann, and Savielly Tartakower.

The opening remained relatively popular until the end of the 1920s when its usage started declining. By the end of the 1930s, few masters still played the Vienna regularly, and from that moment on, the opening rarely appeared at the elite level play.

Today, the opening is still common at the club level, but not so much among masters. However, you can still see grandmasters playing this opening sporadically.

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