Unusual Chess Openings

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While many players may choose to stick with the most popular chess openings, others like to venture out and try some more unusual variations. These unorthodox openings may not see much play at the grandmaster level, but they're effective tools at all levels of play—and can even give a club player a huge advantage over an unprepared opponent!


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  • 01 of 10

    The Sokolsky

    Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song

    While 1. b4—known as the Sokolsky, the Polish, or even the Orangutan—has never been an especially popular opening, it has plenty of adherents around the world. Of course, b4 does little to influence the center, which violates most classical opening principles. On the other hand, the pawn move stakes out some early space on the queenside, while allowing a ​fianchettoed bishop to move to b2 and pressure the black kingside.

  • 02 of 10

    Center Game

    Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song

    After 1.e4 e5, White traditionally follows up with 2. Nf3 (or less commonly, 2. Bc4 or 2. Nc3). However, another viable option is 2. d4. Black will usually take with 2...exd4. After this, White can enter the Center Game by capturing via 3. Qxd4. While this move leaves the queen in the center of the board and vulnerable to attack, there are lines that create a solid position for White—if not one where White can hope to have a big advantage.

  • 03 of 10

    Danish Gambit

    The Spruce / Catherine Song

    Instead of the more solid Center Game, White has the option of playing more aggressively with 3. c3, sacrificing a pawn. If Black captures with 3...dxc3, White can respond with an immediate 4. Nxc3, or gambit yet another pawn by playing 4. Bc4, allowing cxb2 followed by 5. Bxc2! This hyper-aggressive opening was once very popular but has fallen out of favor at the highest levels. Still, many amateur players enjoy playing the Danish Gambit, knowing that it can score them some quick, tactical wins.

  • 04 of 10

    Bird's Opening

    The Spruce / Catherine Song

    While 1. f4 isn't unheard of at any level, it's certainly not among the most popular opening moves. A handful of grandmasters will take up the mantle of Bird's Opening at any given time, attracted by an opening that's off the beaten path while still having some theoretical guideposts to follow.

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  • 05 of 10

    Blackmar-Diemer Gambit

    Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song 

    The Blackmar-Diemer is a popular gambit option for 1. d4 players. After 1. d4 d5 2. e4 dxe4 3. Nc3 and a quick f3, White will get to take advantage of a quick lead in development in exchange for a pawn. The Blackmar-Diemer is a dangerous weapon in the hands of a player familiar with its many lines and traps.

  • 06 of 10

    Latvian Gambit

    Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song 

    Perhaps the most popular of all gambits for Black, the Latvian Gambit has a long history of provoking theoretical debate. While the Latvian (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5) is now seen as unsound by most authorities, there's no doubting that it is an extremely difficult opening for unprepared opponents to meet.

  • 07 of 10

    Elephant Gambit

    Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song 

    Similar to the Latvian Gambit, the Elephant attacks the e4 pawn from the other direction in the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d5. Much as in the Latvian, the Elephant Gambit allows Black to create complications, even if they do not get enough compensation for their pawn in a theoretical sense.

  • 08 of 10

    Albin Countergambit

    Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song  

    One of the most vicious counterattacks in chess, the Albin Countergambit routinely leads to wild struggles where both sides can launch attacks against the enemy king. After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4, Black has sacrificed a pawn in exchange for a central space edge and the opportunity for some quick wins if White is careless.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Budapest Gambit

    Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song 

    Another aggressive response for Black, the Budapest Gambit arises after the opening moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5. In the most common line, 3.dxe5 Ng4, the game turns into a battle over the e5 pawn, though plenty of other tactical and strategic opportunities are available for both sides.

  • 10 of 10

    The Grob

    The Spruce / Catherine Song

    The Grob —1. g4—is the polar opposite of the Sokolsky. However, while the Sokolsky often leads to solid (if unusual) positions, the Grob is instead very dangerous for both sides. It can be the start of a vicious kingside attack for White but also makes a rather severe kingside weakness right from the opening move. In fact, some players consider 1. g4 the worst possible first move for White, while others enjoy playing the move as a surprise weapon!