Playing All 50 Openings

by admin on February 26, 2015

About 50 years ago, the Yugoslav chess magazine Chess Informant introduced a new classification system for chess openings. For chess players it was like the invention of the metric system: it systematized the nomenclature that varied wildly from country to country. (For instance, your Spanish Opening is my Ruy Lopez.) Now all the openings and their subvariations are labeled with three-digit codes, from A00 to E99. They are called ECO codes, for “Encyclopedia of Chess Openings.”

This got me thinking yesterday: Is there any tournament player alive who has played all 500 opening variations? I think the answer is probably no. It would require too much cooperation from your opponents. However, a much more reasonable goal would be to play all 50 openings, defining an “opening” as the first two digits of the ECO code. This isn’t a perfect definition, of course. Some openings fit nicely into one ECO code (for example, B1 = Caro-Kann Defense) but others don’t (the King’s Indian Defense sprawls over four ECO codes, and a single code like E8 represents one variation of the King’s Indian Defense).

Nevertheless, playing all 50 ECO openings seems like a hard but feasible project. It’s like visiting all 50 states — which is also something I haven’t done. (I have missed Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Alaska.) How is my chess “itinerary” going? Well, let’s see.

0 y y y y y
1 y y y
2 y y y y y
3 y y y y y
4 y y y y y
5 y y y y
6 y y y y
7 y y
8 y y y
9 y y


Dana’s Complete Opening History (since 1984) (“y” = an opening I’ve played in a rated game)

Some comments:

  1. This table reflects only my games since 1984, when I started keeping records of all my games. I have spotty records before that, but made no effort to include them here.
  2. My “missing openings” are A7 (Main Line Benoni), A9 (Leningrad Dutch), B6-9 (all open Sicilians!), C1 (Main Line French), D7 (Anti-Gruenfeld systems), E1 (Queen’s Indian), E5 (Nimzo-Indian with 4. e3 and 5. Nf3), E8 (King’s Indian Saemisch) and E9 (King’s Indian Main Lines).
  3. I feel certain that I played some of these openings in my pre-1984 days. I absolutely used to play open Sicilians as White, so B7-9 should be checked. I briefly toyed with the King’s Indian as Black, so it’s possible that E8 and E9 should be checked. And I also played the French for a little while as Black, so C1 should get a check, too. Main Line Benonis are quite rare in the U.S. among amateurs, because if they play the Benoni they always play the Benko Gambit. (For amateurs, the Benko is the main line.) However, it’s hard to believe I’ve never played any A7’s. The only openings I’m sure I haven’t played, either as White or as Black, are A9, B6, D7, and E1.
  4. The above table gives you an idea of my opening tastes. I eschew the open Sicilian. I do play the King’s Gambit (C3), which I think for many players would be a missing entry in their résumé. I play double e-pawn defenses as Black, which means that the entire C column from C2 on is checked. I tend to avoid main lines in any opening, which means that the bottom half of the table has more gaps than the top half. (The ECO system tends to put more offbeat lines at the top and more main line variations at the bottom.)

Maybe after I get my rating back up to master level I will try to fill in the rest of this table! Not before then, however.

Have any of you played all 50 openings? Are there any contemporary grandmasters who have played all 50? Maybe a versatile guy like Magnus Carlsen? Presumably if you have access to a games database you could write a fairly simple program to answer the question. But I’m lazy and I don’t know how to program, so I’ll leave it to somebody else.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Ratliff February 26, 2015 at 12:56 pm

The even higher hurdle would be playing all 50 openings from both sides (from the both the White and Black sides)!


admin February 26, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Definitely! Then I would really have to play openings I hate.


Andy Lee February 26, 2015 at 1:55 pm

So close! I’m just missing A7 and E3.


admin February 26, 2015 at 5:23 pm

I think A7 is a tough one. It must have seemed like a major opening when the ECO codes first came out, but suffered a double whammy. First, as I commented, the Benko became so popular that it stole away many of the people who might have played A7. And then for the small number of people who were left, the f4 lines became more important than the old main line.


Brian Wall February 26, 2015 at 3:44 pm

This is a subject dear to my heart.
I have played all 40 first moves in slow rated play.
This year I am trying a new opening every game.
There are openings I tried but couldn’t warm to like the QGA or Queen’s Indian.
In general I don’t like symmetrical pawn structures.
The Petroff’s turned out to be not boring to me,
it was highly tactical in some lines.
There are even openings I am saving for when I am 2300 again like the Trojan Gambit. 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 d5!! which is a great bughouse weapon. There is some weird tongue-in-cheek book proposing weird openings by a Canadian expert and he gives an explanation why the Trojan Horse is his ultimate secret weapon.
I am more concerned about playing openings invented by Jack Young, Clyde Nakanura, Gerald Welling, Basman and creative people all over the world than some subvariation of the Grunfeld, Ruy Lopez or King’s Indian..
I am currently exploring the Troll 1 c3 2 Qa4 3 g4 4 h4 5 g5 6 h5 7 Qh4
Think ICC Solong209 liblist IM Hoang Thai Tu. There are strange openings you maybe never heard of like Clyde Nakamura’s Medusa 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g5!? because the resulting positions are so ugly.


admin February 26, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Brian, Sounds as if you might get to play all 50 openings in one year!


Simon February 26, 2015 at 9:25 pm

I just checked Ivanchuk quickly on He has played all 50.


Brian Wall February 27, 2015 at 8:32 am

I played over all of Magnus Carlsen’s games, he tends to play every opening if only in a driveby. Patriff Wolff said it was impossible to prepare for Tal. Svidler says it is impossible to prepare for Ivanchuk, don’t bother. Tyler Hughes asked his GM trainer what to do, I was playing a different opening each time. I think we can sell ECO dartboards so I know what openings to play. How can I get an ECO list of 50 openings so I can tell where I’ve been slacking.


admin February 27, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Hi Brian,
There are lots of places on the Web that list all 500 opening variations. Here is one that is very simple and to the point:

Unfortunately, the majority of your openings would be A0! The ECO system does not do a very good job with your approach to chess. However, I do like the dartboard idea. It would be a good way to randomize your opening play while remaining somewhat in line with Opening Theory. But you would only get to play A0 once in 50 games. 🙁


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