1. a3

by admin on February 16, 2015

What do you think? Good? Bad? Ridiculous?

It seems to me that with the move 1. a3, White is saying to his opponent, “I will agree to play Black, and I believe that in any opening you might choose to play, I will be able to find a variation in which a3 is a useful extra move.” It’s a little bit like playing the game of GHOST, in which you say a letter and then your opponent says a letter and your objective is to force him into completing a word. The “strategy,” such as it is, is simply to have such a good knowledge of vocabulary that whatever he says, you can come up with a response that gets him into trouble.

I remember reading once, long ago, that 1. a3 works pretty well against the response 1. … e5, because then White can play 2. e4 and go into a double e-pawn opening. After 2. … Nf6 3. Nc3, Black’s options are already restricted. He can’t go into a Ruy Lopez reversed because of White’s 1. a3. This is the first success. Not only that, if he plays a Scotch reversed, 3. … d5, White can play the variation 4. ed Nxd5 5. Qh5!? This basically forces Black into sacrificing a pawn. With colors reversed the gambit is sound, but if he wants to follow the main variation, Black needs to play … Nb4 at some point. Here … Nb4 isn’t available because of White’s 1. a3.

And the litany goes on. If Black instead opts for an Italian Game formation with 3. … Bc5, White can go into a Two Knights Defense reversed, with 4. Nf3. Now many of Black’s normal options are taken away by the pawn on a3. For example, the normal move 4. … Ng4 runs into 5. d4 ed 6. Na4 and oops, Black can’t play 6. … Bb4+.

So for people like me who normally play double e-pawn games as Black, 1. a3 starts to look like a really good option. But what if Black plays 1. … d5? Well, here too there are some interesting possibilities. White can play 2. d4, and now it’s questionable whether Black can get away with the Queens’ Gambit reversed, 2. … c5, because White just takes the pawn. After 3. dc e6 4. b4, it seems as if White might be able to just hold the extra pawn. If so, Black might have to play a more stodgy move like 2. … Nf6 or 2. … Bf5, going into a London System reversed.

In fact, I think that this may be the true argument against 1. a3. Instead of trying to play as if he were White, Black should instead continue to play like Black. He should just try to equalize with solid, unspectacular moves. That includes variations like 1. a3 d5 2. d4 Bf5, and it also includes even more modest variations like 1. a3 g6 or 1. a3 Nf6.

And if worst comes to worst… Black can always play 1. a3 a6!? and pass the onus of the first move back to White! Or he could wait a move, and play for example 1. a3 e5 2. e4 a6.

To satisfy my curiosity, I looked through ChessBase today to see if there are players who adopt 1. a3 on a regular basis. Most notably, I found three Magnus Carlsen games… but on closer inspection, two of them were blitz games and one was a blindfold game from the Amber tournament (against Ivanchuk, and Carlsen lost). It seems as if 1. a3 might be suited to Carlsen’s style — “go ahead, play any opening, I don’t care” — but even he hasn’t used it in a full-length tournament game.

There are some 2300-2500 level players who do play it often. Ivanko Krecak, a correspondence player, plays 1. a3. Eric Prie and Anatoly Sidenko (the latter also a correspondence player) likewise have used it in many ChessBase games, although they prefer the move order 1. d4 d5 2. a3.

Would I ever play 1. a3 in a tournament game? Well, I wouldn’t rule it out. I think that the main reason I have never done so is that if I played 1. a3 and lost, I would feel as if I had given away the advantage of the first move for no reason.

P.S. I noticed on Wikipedia that 1. a3 is called “Anderssen’s Opening,” because Adolf Anderssen used it three times in a match against Paul Morphy. A pity, because I was going to call it the Mahgnimrib Opening (Birmingham reversed). My friend Mike Splane experimented with the Birmingham (1. e4 a6) for quite a long time, although I think he eventually became disenchanted with it.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Wall February 16, 2015 at 3:51 pm


[Event “2012 Colorado Open”][Site “Hotel, Denver, CO”][Date “2012.09.01”][Round “1”][White “Anthony Telinbaccho”][Black “Life Master Brian Wall”][Result “1/2-1/2”][WhiteElo “1892”][BlackElo “2200”][ECO “A00”][NIC “VO.14”][Opening “Anderssen’s opening”][TimeControl “Game/90 + 30 second increment”][Time “7 PM”][ICCResult “agreed drawn”]1. a3 a6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 g6 4. Nbd2 Bg7 5. e4 O-O 6. g3 b5 7. e5 Nd5 8. Bg2 Bb7 9. O-O d6 10. Re1 c5 11. exd6 exd6 12. c4 Nb6 13. dxc5 dxc5 14. Nb3 Qxd1 15. Rxd1 Nxc4 16. Nxc5 Bc6 17. Rb1 Ra7 18. b3 Ne5 19. Nxe5 Bxg2 20. Kxg2 Bxe5 21. Be3 Rc7 22. b4 Rfc8 23. Rd5 Bf6 24. Bf4 Rc6 25. Bxb8 Rxb8 26. Nd7 Rbc8 27. Nxf6+ Rxf6 28. Rbd1 Rc2 29. R1d2 Rcc6 30. R5d3 h5 31. h4 Kg7 32. f4 Rfe6 33. Kf3 Kf6 34. Rd5 Rc3+ 35. R5d3 Rxd3+ 36. Rxd3 Rc6 37. Re3 Rc1 38. Ke2 Rc6 39. Kf3 Rc2 40. Ke4 Rd2 41. Kf3 Kf5 42. Re5+ Kf6 43. Re3 Rd5 44. Ke4 Rd6 45. Kf3 Rd4 46. Kg2 Rd2+ 47. Kf3 Kf5 48. Re5+ Kf6 49. Re3 Rd5 50. Rc3 Rd6 51. Re3 Rc6 52. Rd3 Ke6 53. Ke3 Rc4 54. Kf3 Rc6 55. Ke4 Rc7 56. Ke3 Rc1 57. Kf3 Rf1+ 58. Kg2 Rc1 59. Kf3 Rc2 60. Ke3 Rc4 { draw agreed on my request } 1/2-1/2

I have played 1 …a6 for 40 years and exclusively in 2012. Tony Telinbaccho made fun of me by playing 1 a3. I once played 1 a3 and 1 … a6 every game in a Denver Chess Club tournament 40 years ago, only losing to Dmitry Agrachov in the last round.
Dozens of 1 … a6 games at BrianWallChess@Yahoogroups.com


Brian Wall February 16, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Many 1 … a6 games against California’s Eric Montany including the one that made him a Chessmaster.


Franklin Chen February 16, 2015 at 6:21 pm

A member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club plays nothing but 1. c3 as White and 1…c6 as Black, in every single game. I have not seen him play anything else in the past decade, at least. A solid move, certainly: as White leading to Torre/London setups, as Black leading to Slav or Caro-Kann.


jon February 17, 2015 at 12:24 pm

I have a tournament coming up next month on Oahu (I live on the big island now, originally from the Seattle area), and am trying to decide what openings to use. For the first time, I think I will go with the French Defense as black’s answer to 1.e4, and very possible my answer to 1.d4 may be 1…e6, which may also get me into a French. For white, in the two weekly chess get togethers we have here, I have been trying 1.Nc3. If black replies 1…e5, I can go into the Vienna Game 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 if Nf6 then 3.f4. If black replies 1.Nc3 d5, there is either the “traditional” 2.e4, or the Vereov with 2.d4. I have also been experimenting with a nameless opening, but one that may be related to the Center Game 1.Nc3 e5 2.d4 exd 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qd3 et.
Thanks for your article on 1.a3, as it brings forward the concept of somewhat rare openings. I had switched to the Veresov, as the world of playing 1.e4 is pretty daunting.
At least 1.Nc3, it’s strength is also it’s weakness. 1.Nc3 doesn’t limit black from playing any move. I’m an old timer (61) and take much too long on the time clock. The tournament is going to be gamew in 90 minutes. Maybe my black opponents will burn up some extra clock time and help me to stay out of time trouble? I can always go back to 1.e4, or the Veresov if 1.Nc3 doesn’t work out.
By the way, when we moved to the big island, near Hilo, there was zero chess activity. Then a gent started a club, which has taken off well. I teach beginning chess at our weekly Saturday club at the Hilo Library, and I teach it at a local elementary school. I have taught kids as young as 6, and adults as old as 80 how to play this great game. One grandmother wanted to learn so that she could play chess with her grandsons. I’m just a class B player (USCF 1698), but the game has given me a lot of enjoyment over the years.


Shawn February 20, 2015 at 12:54 am

I played the game below – tying Jon’s comment more closely into the thread. I selected this specifically for my opponent. However, I then became enamored with the result and tried it on a different player(someone I knew little about going into the game). As Dana pointed out, I couldn’t find much against his 1. … d5 and 2 .. Bf5, reverted to a KIA type position and even lost.

1. a3 c5 2. Nc3 d5 3. e4 d4 4. Nce2 e5 5. Ng3 Nc6 6. Bc4 Nf6 7. Nf3 h6 8. O-O
Bd6 9. d3 g5 10. c3 Qe7 11. Re1 Be6 12. Qa4 g4 13. Nh4 Nd7 14. Nhf5 Qf8 15. Bb5
Ndb8 16. Nh5 Bxf5 17. Nf6+ Kd8 18. exf5 Qg7 19. Ne4 Be7 20. b4 cxb4 21. cxd4
Nxd4 22. f6 Bxf6 23. Qa5+ b6 24. Qxb4 Be7 25. Qc4 Nxb5 26. Qd5+ Kc7 27. Bf4 Nd7
28. Rac1+ Bc5 29. Nxc5 bxc5 30. Bxe5+ Nxe5 31. Rxc5+ Kb8 32. Rxb5+


joe veal March 10, 2015 at 6:26 pm

I use this in blitz. My idea is to play a English after 1…e5.2.c4 and a unusual Orangutuan against 1..d5 2.b4. Against everything else, I will play 2.c4 going into some variant of the English opening. To me, 1.a3 is just a transpositional weapon very similiar to 1.Nc3 that is only dangerous because of its rarity.


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