Unorthodox Openings
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    Introduction to Unorthodox Chess Openings

    The material in this document is from a draft of the forthcoming book Unorthodox Chess Openings by Eric Schiller, which is now available at all fine bookstores. All material is copyright by Eric Schiller. Analysis from the published book are available  at Chess City.

    To see analysis of specific openings, click on one of the links on the left. The openings are organized alphabetically by name. 


After five hundred years or so of chess played with modern rules, one would think that the best strategies for opening a game have been worked out, but in fact experimentation early in the game continues to take place at both amateur and professional levels. Even the general guidelines for opening play remain in a state of flux. Although there are a number of principles which are agreed upon by nearly all experts, many of the most popular openings violate one or two of them. More egregious violations are generally condemned, yet their remain many chessplayers who firmly believe that openings which do not conform to the accepted principles are nevertheless worthy of being used in tournament games. In other words, they are "playable", as chessplayers say.

 This book contains examples of hundreds of strategies with a non-conformist bent. We call these unorthodox openings. We will learn what characteristics such strategies share, and how they are different from orthodox openings. The most obvious features of unorthodox openings are a reckless disregard of the center, awkward positions for minor pieces, giving up the right to castle and creating weaknesses in the pawn structure. We will examine these in greater detail later in .

 Just because an opening involves unorthodox maneuvers does not mean that the opening is bad, or does not frequently appear in professional games. Some unorthodox openings are well-designed to remedy defects which arise in the first few moves. More importantly, we now have a deeper undertanding of the importance of tranpositions, where openings merge and reach positions which are typical of other variations. We will examine the concept of transpositions in detail in .

 As a consequence of the appreciation of transpositions, modern chess has developed a notion of typical formations which is of almost equal value to the traditional organization of openings by specific consecutive moves. The formation-based approach is the subject of .

 Even in a big book like this there is no way that every single unorthodox openings can be examined superficially, let alone in detail. Nevertheless, I am confident that you will find the vast majority of unorthodox openings here. They are discussed sometimes briefly, and sometimes in considerable detail.

For each opening, an overview of the justification (or lack thereof) for the unorthodox moves is explained. A chart in the appendix shows which general principles are violated. I have not tried to rank or classify the openings on the basis of playability, because I have a very subjective attitude toward many of them. When you enjoy playing (or avoiding) an opening, it is hard to be objective. If an opening is unplayble, that is, refuted beyond likely redemption, that will be clearly mentioned in the discussion.

 There is a huge literature on unorthodox openings totalling hundreds of books. Even the most obscure and unworthy of openings has most likely been the subject of a book or scholarly article. It is impossible to present even a fraction of the analysis that has been published, and I make no attempt to render verdicts on complicated positions. Instead, you will get my personal opinion on the opening, and sometimes there will be a commentary or criticism on published analysis. There will even be corrections to analysis in my previous books, as chess theory is always evolving. You can find further reading in the bibliography which will allow you to follow up on many of the openings you find interesting. We'll discuss the literature in more detail in

One of the complications of studying unorthodox openings is that names of the openings are by no means standardized. Very few authors explain their policy for assigning names, but I think it is important for the reader to know what factors play an important role, and so I have included this information in the section So that you can understand the differences between the naming policy here and in other works.

The Goals of this book

This book is a collection of commentaries on unorthodox opening strategies. You will encounter may screen and wonderful chess positions, some of which are good enough to be used in tournament competition and many which are totally lacking in any objective merit. Although it is not possible to cover all of the possible unorthodox and bizarre strategies available at the start of the game, I hope that you will fine a sufficient variety of openings to satiate your appetite for forbidden fruit.

 Chess is supposed to be fun. Sometimes the royal game is played for high stakes. Far more often we play chess only for our own amusement. The openings included here run the gamut from potentially useful tournament weapons to just plain silly. By no means are all of them worthless rubbish, but you are more likely to find cubic zirconium than diamonds here.

I have tried to create a book that will be useful, as well as enjoyable, to all level of players. Beginners can learn quite a bit about the basic principles of the openings by seeing how violations are quickly, and often brutally punished. Intermediate players will find many openings that can be used in casual play. More advanced players will find critical discussion of some controversial positions, and even professional players can pick up a few interesting ideas that lie in the outlying galaxy of chess opening theory.

 I think it is important to point out a few things that you will not find in this book. It is impossible to research and present over two hundred openings in any detail. Each opening might be, and often is, the subject of an entire book. Similarly, there is no way that all of the attested experiments can be included. I estimate that there are probably about a thousand opening variants which might be included in an encyclopedia (which this is not!). I have chosen the ones that I consider either instructive, especially creative, or highly popular. As for the amount of attention each gets, that is an entirely subjective matter. The more interest I have in an opening, the more space it gets here. Consider this a personal selection of unorthodox openings with no ambition to be all inclusive, or even fair.

 I have not tried to treat the openings uniformly. Some get detailed treatment, others are dismissed with a mere text comment. In some cases, where I have been involved in ongoing debate with other theoreticians, I have taken the opportunity to put forward my latest arguments. In some cases, where there is an extensive literature on an opening, I have just concentrated on one or two positions that caught my eye, Many times I have had to narrow the scope of athe inquiry considerably, leaving out many fascinating side-lines and proposals. My goal is to show you some of the possibilities of the openings and stimulate your appetitie for more.

 The growth in popularity of unorthodox openings, combined with a growing number of games in our chess databases, makes any printed book fall out of date quickly. Fortunately, technology provides us with the tools to keep up. For the benefit of the readers of this book I am building a World Wide Web site on the internet where additional discussion can take place. You will find it at http:,,, unorthodox.htm. I will, as time permits, update the material in this book and correct any errors that are brought to my attention.

 I hope that you find at least some of the openings covered here worthy of further examination. This book is just an introduction to an exciting world of strange phenomena. You should refer to the literature on the openings that tickle your fancy, where you will find much more information. If this book encourages you to explore the brave new world, then it has done its job.

The organization of the book

There are many ways to organize our menagerie of openings, none of which are entirely satisfactory. After considering such options as grouping openings chronologically, by ECO code, evaluation, formation, and even by the sort of name (animal, player, whatever) I finally decided just to use good old alphabetical order. This had the fortuitous effect of making the book truly something to be browsed, because you never know what sort of beast lurks on the next page.

 At the end of the book you will find a variety of indexes top help you locate specific openings.

Whats in a name?

When I happen to know of other names they will be included in the index, but often openings get named in chess clubs and schools and don't travel far. My general practice is to name openings for the player known to have both played and promoted a line, but I detest the practice of using the name of the player of the earliest game listed in a database or found in a book. The idea that just because someone makes a move in a single game (which could be just a slip of the finger, which has been known to happen!) forces us to apply the person's name to it, whether they like it or not, is just absurd. Though we have over a million games in our databases, there are millions more which have not found their way into the bellies of the silicon beasts. One of the most annoying aspects of the unorthodox openings literature is the attitude by some writers that if an opening does not bear the name of the first person ever to set the piece on the square, then the the author is ignorant or is deliberately misleading. Openings have almost never been named for the first person to play them. A fact that seems to elude the pedantic writers who hold the concept as some sort of holy writ.

 Generally, I try top stick to names in widespread ise. In most cases I apply the names used in the publications as I find them, especially the excellent gambit index by Volker Drüke, but revisions are sometimes needed to meet the criteria I use for naming variations. Sometimes no opening name has been assigned, and in this case I have appended the name of the inventor of the opening, if it can be established without a major research trip to the great libraries of Cleveland or Europe, or I'll use a "placeholding" name, which will usually be that of an animal.

Why an animal? It turns out that many openings are named for animals, and most of those are unorthodox openings! Consider the following: Canard, Elephant, Hawk, Hedgehog, Hippopotamus, Kangaroo, Lizard, Orangutan, Rat, Snake, Vulture, not to mention the Bird, but that is named for Henry Bird, or the Dragon Variation, which is based on a constellation and is in any case an orthodox opening.

 I don't like to name openings after myself, and only in one case, a defense I have played for almost two decades with considerable success, have I stuck my own surname to the opening. This is partly in reaction to some rather silly mis-attributions which circulated elsewhere. On the other hand, I have reassigned names to two openings which have been attributed to me. One was a joke in a parody of the British Chess Magazine, and the other was used simply in ignorance of the real name.

 For a few of my creative fantasies I have exercised my right as inventor to make up my own names, for example San Jorge for my Spanish-flavored St. George Defense, Battambang, after a town in Cambodia near the Thai border, for a formation that lies in the far corner of the board, the Kitchener Folly for a silly gambit I played once in college.

 In any case, if a Bureau of Standard Chess Names ever takes over, I won't argue vociferously about the names I use here. I simply chose the one that best fits my own criteria, the criteria I have used for over a decade. It is probable, almost certain in fact, that I have not located the correct attribution for many openings. To those whose creative talent is overlooked, I apologize in advance. I do invite anyone with corrections, comments, or arguments concerning the names to contact me and I'll try to remedy the situation in future editions and on the web site.

Evaluating Unorthodox Openings

When it comes to evaluating unorthodox openings, arguments become quite heated and passionate. Objectivity often gets thrown out the window when a player tries to defend a conclusion about the merits of a favorite opening, and when it is an unorthodox opening, it is even harder to put aside prejudices. Chess is not an objective science, despite the success of much computer software.

 When dealing with an unorthodox opening for White, Black tries to equalize. If easy equality can be achieved, the opening is then rejected as unpromising. When the opening is promoted for Black, things are a bit messier. After all, there are no known guaranteed equalizers against either 1.e4 or 1.d4. Therefore failure to obtain a level [position as Black cannot be considered a refutation. The question revolves around the size of White's advantage given best play, and that is a very subjective evaluation.

If an opening is only slightly worse for Black with best play by both sides, then it is considered playable. But even if the amount of a disadvantage is the same in two openings, there are still differences in the nature of the problem. Some problems are long lasting, such as fractured pawn structures and the bishop pair. Their effects grow as the game progresses. Others, such as a lead in development or an initiative, are only useful in the short term. A third group, falls in between the two, for example an advantage in space.

 There are many different approaches to evaluating the suitability of openings. Here are a few examples of what might be termed pure analytical styles. In the real world, most players combine several of these styles when trying to determine whether an opening is "playable". Of course we should keep in mind the wisdom of the great Romantic player Savielly Tartakower that as long as an opening is dubious, it is playable! There is a great deal of truth in that statement. Even if an opening is objectively less than fully respectable, it can still be used in tournament games. Only if an opening is thoroughly refuted should it be avoided at all costs.

The Show-me Method

These analysts are incapable of rendering a judgment on a position. They insist that a statement such as "White is better because of the bishop pair, control of the center and healthier pawn structure" is meaningless unless you can supply a continuation which tactically demonstrates a superiority. Such analysts tend to be weak chessplayers with an insufficient understanding of the positional elements of the game.

 Computer programs are often used to "assist" these analysts, and sometimes can provide useful ideas for study. Computer evaluations are crude, however, relying on mechanical manipulations of a set of numbers calculated from material and positional considerations. They are not of much use in evaluating positions with very strange characteristics or in appreciating long term structural values.

The Analogy Method

This is a dangerous tendency to refer to openings by comparing them to mirror image openings. For example, such an analyst argues that an opening which is good for Black must be even better for White with an extra tempo, but this is known not to be the case. The King's English, 1.c4 e5, is not better for White than the Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5) is for Black, despite the extra tempo. The reason for this seemingly paradoxical statement is that with the extra tempo comes the unavoidable obligation to disclose your strategy one move earlier. This makes it easier for your opponent to choose an appropriate plan.

 Even worse is the absurd use of a putative left-right symmetry which does not exist in chess. This assumes that a kingside formation can be effectively used on the queenside and vice versa. There is no basis for this, since chess in inherently asymmetrical, with the king starting on one side of the center and the queen on the other. The style of play of a queenside fianchetto is quite different from a position where the bishop is fianchettoed on the kingside.

 Analogies can be used effectively only when the differences are clearly recognized. Compare the Dragon Sicilian, say 1.e4 c5; 2.Nf3 d6; 3.d4 cxd4; 4.Nxd4 Nf6; 5.Nc3 g6; 6.Be3 Bg7, with the Larsen Variation of the Philidor Defense 1.e4 e5; 2.Nf3 d6; 3.d4 cxd4; 4.Nxd4 g6; 5.Nc3 Bg7; 6.Be3 Nf6. We can see the similarities, of course, but the differences between an open e-file and a semi-open c-file have enormous implications for the middlegame. In the Dragon, a rook often moves to c8; and sacrifices itself for the knight at c3, a maneuver which is not possible in the Philidor. Similarly, to compare the disreputable Englund Gambit (1.d4 e5?) with the Scandinavian Defense (1.e4 d5!?) is simply foolish. One involves a sacrifice of a pawn, the other does not.

The Pedantic Method

This is the fuddy-duddy approach to openings, mindlessly applying general statements inherited from literature centuries old. Pedantic analysts will moan about moving a piece twice in an opening, or in failing to seize a central square. Orthodox openings give rise to the fewest objections by the pedants, who reserve their scorn for unorthodox openings.

The Statistical Method

Statistics have no place in the study of openings. The simple fact is that there is no very strong correlation between the evaluation of an opening and the result of a game. If an opening is convincingly refuted, it doesn't matter what its prior tournament record is. Opening fashions change, and popularity is by no means an indication of any objective merit in an opening. Statistics can be useful at an individual level. If you lose most of your games with a specific opening, then you can reasonably conclude that you should either change openings or deepen your understanding of the opening to improve your results. I believe that the latter is the preferable course.

The Cult Hero Method

To some, an opening is known by the company it keeps, and there are those who prefer to play only openings which have the approval of top players. This is not a very good way to choose openings, because openings are tailored to one's strengths and weaknesses, and rarely will the fan have the same skills as the player they are trying to emulate.

The Authoritative Method

Turning to expert opinion is not a bad way to evaluate openings, provide that you share the stylistic preferences of the authority. For example, when I watch Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert review films, I have to keep in mind that Siskel has rather refined tastes and Ebert wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. If the film is a drama on some socially topical theme, Siskel might be more informative. But if we are talking about Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama, I'll go with Roger. In chess, the views of Joel Benjamin may be too conservative for some, while others may find Stefan Bücker's openings just too far off the wall.

 If you find the views of an author persuasive, and confirmed by your own experience, then by all means investigate further suggestions from the same source. At the same time, heed the advice of the late Timothy Leary and question authority at all times. When it comes to unorthodox openings, relying on the opinions of others is just not part of the game.

The Psychological Method

The psychological method involves considering the stylistic preferences of your opponent when choosing an opening. The idea is to take your enemy into unfamiliar territory, especially into positions where the correct moves cannot easily be found at the board. The drawback to this method is that a player who evaluates openings on the basis of psychological effect needs to have a lot of weapons in the arsenal, so that the appropriate one can be chosen on each occasion. With the advent of large computer databases, it is harder to hide one's secret weapons, and there is a greater chance that the opponent will come to the board better prepared.

 If one has a large enough stock of weaponry, then this can be an effective approach. Tony Miles, the creative genius from England, is known for his uncanny ability to produce opening and even middlegame strategies that aim straight for the weakest skill set of the opponent. I have fallen victim to it myself, and Miles has many impressive scalps, including those of World Champions.

The Positional Method

This is the method used by most strong players. A position is evaluated by considering material balance, short-term and long-term positional characteristics, and taking into account the level of complexity of the position. A more complex position which is familiar to one side but not the other is likely to bring practical rewards at the chessboard. A crucial part of the diagnostic method is to evaluate possible endgame structures. If, for example, an opening strategy involves compromising the pawn structure in such a way that the endgames may be hopeless, it is important that there be compensating factors in the form of material or serious attacking chances.

The Life Cycle of an Unorthodox Opening

Most unorthodox openings follow a pattern of development which is seen time and time again. First, a radical plan is proposed or introduced into tournament or correspondence play. The game is often published with a great deal of fanfare, touting the new line as the cure for all chess opening ills. This is usually met with scorn and derision, and hasty analysis supporting this conclusion is published. Then things settle down, and objective debate begins.

At this point, the participants in the debate tend to be amateur players and theoreticians. Only when the opening is brought to the attention of professional players with an interest in the topic can real evaluation take place. Most unorthodox openings never reach this level.

 Even when some stronger players, such as American Grandmaster Joel Benjamin, get into the act, the arguments do not take place on a level playing field. There are chess fans who devote their lives to the meticulous study of one or two offbeat lines. The professional player does not have unlimited time available to deal with such peripheral openings until they reach a level of respectability such that they can be expected to appear in professional play, at which point they become what I call "standard" chess openings.

 One can therefore expect that the authoritative judgements handed down by professionals are likely to contain more than a few analytical errors, if only because they are not the result of a great deal of thought. Strong players do not spend all their time calculating like machines. Instead, they draw conclusions from general principles. Sometimes the unorthodox opening will contain an exception to those rules.

 In the section below on the literature of unorthodox openings we will see how the debate continues, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that usually, over time, an unorthodox opening will be shown to be less good, objectively, than standard openings. This does not make them unplayable, and familiarity with the baroque strategy and tactics of these openings goes a long way to compensating for objective weaknesses.

Scales of Unorthodoxy

As we have seen in the preceding discussion, the term unorthodox opening has not been defined clearly. In compiling this book, I tried to come up with some way to quantify this somewhat subjective question, and decided to apply a scale of penalty points which are applied whenever an opening violates conventional wisdom. This leaves open the question of how good that wisdom is, and perhaps it is all the better, then, to provide a large set of principles to choose from.

 In the following discussion, I'll examine a few old chestnuts of conventional wisdom, discuss the consequences of betraying the principles, and suggest a penalty that should be assigned for the violation. You will see how the most orthodox of openings, the Closed Variation of the Spanish Game (1.e4 e5; 2.Nf3 Nc6; 3.Bb5 a6; 4.Ba4 Nf6; 5.0-0 Be7; 6.Re1 b5; 7.Bb3 d6; 8.c3 0-0 9.h3) and Queen's Gambit Declined (1.d4 d5; 2.c4 e6; 3.Nc3 Nf6; 4.Bg5 Be7; 5.e3 0-0 6.Nf3 h6; 7.Bh4 b6; 8.Be2 0-0) hold to these principles, and will be referred to the most egregious violators imprisoned in the collection of unorthodox openings in our book.

Occupy the center with at least one pawn during the first two moves.

Orthodox openings place a pawn in the center as soon as it is safe to do so, which is at the first turn for White, and usually the first or second move for Black, who can choose to first provide support for the move with ...c6, ...d6, or ...e6.

 A good example of an outright rejection of this principle is seen in the Creepy Crawly Opening for White and the Mongredien Defense for Black. In each case the opponent is invited to take over the center free of charge.

Material equality is preserved

Ordinarily, neither side sacrifices material early in the game. The exceptions are gambits, where the side sacrificing material receives definite compensation, usually in the form of rapid development, control of space, and a safer king. Most gambits involve pawns, as these are the most expendable soldiers inthe army. Nevertheless, they should not be sacrificed recklessly, as is the case in most of the unorthodox gambits in this book.

Rim pawns are not advanced past the third rank

Moving pawns to h4; or a4; (...h5, ...a5) is only acceptable in orthodox openings in response to a specific tactical situation, and this is rarely the case in the first four moves of the game. I cannot agree with Harding, who claims that 1.h4 and 1a4 do not lead to inferior positions for White if followed up correctly. The weakness at g4; or b4; can be exploited by Black, who can use them for minor pieces which cannot be easily displaced, for example if White plays Nc3; and Black plays ...Bb4.

Rook pawns are only advanced to the third rank when attacking an enemy piece.

Advancing a rook pawn one square is usually reserved for an attack on an enemy piece, where it can be especially effective in breaking pins.

 Even when there is no enemy invader to be confronted, the move can have a prophylactic value in preventing such pins. Yet there is a penalty to be paid, in that the pawn structure is significantly damaged by the advance.

Kings Knight pawns are not advanced to the fourth rank.

When a knight pawn leaves its home square it creates weaknesses immediately. If it moves up just one square, and is replaced by a bishop in the fianchetto formation, the damage is minor, because the bishop covers the new weaknesses to the left and right of the advanced knight pawn. If, however, the pawn advances two squares, the adjacent property cannot be so easily controlled, and the weakness can quickly become epidemic, growing in an attempt to support the adanced pawn.

The problem is particularly important on the kingside, as it reduces the viability of kingside castling, and in so doing also advises the opponent about the future location of the king.

No pawns advance beyond the fifth rank without capturing at least two units ofenemy force

Although invading pawns can annoy the enemy forces at close range, in the opening most advances are more like mosquito bites which can inflict no serious damage. To get to the sixth rank, a pawn must make at least three moves, and if this takes place within the first six moves, then there are at most three moves left over for supporting forces. Without such support, the pawn cannot inflict serious damage.

The f-pawn remains in place.

The second square of the f-file is a particularly vulnerable point. It is guarded only by the king. If the f-pawn advances, the pawn itself is less vulnerable but a serious gap appears in the kingside pawn structure. The diagonals near the king are compromised, and the effects can be devastatingly rapid.

Two minor pieces developed

In the normal scheme of development, each player develops two pawns and two minor pieces in the first four moves.

No piece should move twice except to capture an enemy piece

This is a variant on the old chess maxim that no pieces should move twice in the opening. The exception regarding capture is important, because when you capture an enemy piece, the reply is usually a forced recapture.

Bishops should not advance beyond the fourth rank except to give check or attack an enemy piece.

Bishops should not swing in the air! If they advance to the fifth fank without a clear mission, then an advnace of an enemy pawn will force them to beat a hasty retreat. No you might well wonder what sort of person would send a bishop out on such a foolish errand, but in this book you will find numerous examples.

The rooks do not move except to castle, occupy a central file, or attack an enemy piece.

Deciding where rooks should eventually be placed is one of the trickiest questions. Rooks belong on open files, but who can predict which files will be opened early in the game. For this reason, rooks are generally left in place except when it is time to castle. Keep in mind that if a rook moves before the king as castled, then there is one less option for the kig, since castling onthe side of the board where a rook has departed its home square is illegal. After the king, queen and all minor pieces ahve been developed, the rooks will have a great deal of freedom in choosing their home for the early middlegame.

The queen should remain on the first three ranks early in the game.

It used to be suggested that the lady remain at home throughout the early part of the opening, but in these more liberated times her majesty has earned the right to choose from a greater variety of homes. It is even acceptable to go all the way to the fourth rank, but this is usually justified only when then queen has to capture a pawn at c4; (c5), getting there via a pivot the the a-file. Nevertheless, such adventures are still considered too unladylike for most circumstances. The queen may be the most powerful piece on the board, but lack of patience can get here into trouble. In the middle of the action she can find her appetitie whetted by pawns which turn out to be all too poisoned!

Castle kingside

Getting the king to safety before the real battle begins is obviously wise, and ususlly this is not a particular problem for White, who only castles on the other side of the board if Black is also clearly going to do so or if opposite wing pawn storms are planned. A pawnstorm is much more effective on the opposite side of the board from the king's castled home, because in any storm things tend to fly about and there is litle protection from the elements. Black rarely castles queenside unless the kingside pawn structure has alresdy been compromised, or if White has castled queenside.

Controversial Literature

Most, perhaps even all, of the literature on Unorhtodox Openings is the subject of controversy in the chess world. This is hardly surprising, considering the passion with which devotees of the bizarre promote alternatives to standard opening strategies. Many times an author treats an opening as if it were a precious child, tolerating no disrespect and insisting that the opening is just as capable of achieving strategic aims as its more respectable cousins.

 Objectivity is not a defining characteristics of most books on unorthodox openings. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is true that very few unorthodox openings hold up well under the scrutiny of today's powerful computer programs, but those who enjoy our strange brews do not usually spend their time locked in mortal battles with silicon beasts. Against human opponents, especially amateurs, it is often possible to turn a bad position into a smashing victory.

Even in cases where material is sacrificed for insufficient compensation, accurate play is required by the defender. We find many books containing games which have results favoring the unorthodox player. The purpose of most of these books is to evangelize on behalf of the opening. One should not expect an even handed treatment.

 Sometimes books appear which argue against many of these openings, such as my 1987 Unorthodox Openings with Grandmaster Joel Benjamin or 1995 Big Book of Busts with International Master John Watson. These books were immediately attacked by the bizarro brigade, considered not only offensive to their philosophies, and a threat to their "children", but also an invasion of turf which had previously been controlled by amateur players.

 This is not to say that the professionals are always correct. In any book on opening strategy there are incorrect assessments and missed opportunities, and Joel, John and I have made our share of mistakes, some of which are corrected in the present book. Our books covered many different openings, hundreds in all, and afer the books were in circulation an army of analysts set to work to salvage the reputations of openings which we had disparaged.

 Their efforts are sometimes successful, though in more cases it has not proven difficult to once again pin the unorthodox opening to the mat. Some people just will not accept that an opening is bad, no matter how much evidence is put forward. Positional judgments are ignored, much as beginners will continue to argue that their position is not so bad, even if it is. Computers are not yet (but probably soon will be) ready to stand as objective arbiters of chess truth. Humans never will be.

 There is great fun in the constant give and take between the defenders of principled play and the libertines who insist that anything goes. If you take the debate too seriously, then it turns sour and bitter. For me, chess is just a game, after all, and each theoretical proposal, whether in an orthodox opening or something truly off the wall, is food for the analytical feast.

 I have a great deal of admiration for devotees of the weird. They may be offended that their efforts are not taken seriously by the professional community, but the fact remains that strong players limit their experiments to principled openings unless they are playing for psychological advantage. Sure, Miles beat Karpov with 1...a6, but he never repeated the line against his formidable opponent. Books promoting the opening never mention that!

 Most of the literature on unorthodox play is written by players with very modest achievements in the professional chess arena. The books are often a joy to read, filled with creative and inventive ideas. They are not, however, to be trusted. Only serious tests involving highly competent players can establish an opening as playable in an objective sense. Amateur publications have improved thanks to the availability of computers to assist in the analysis, but computers spt out only numbers at present, and cannot explain their conclusions in any useful way. That may well change as the software improves, but for the moment the machines are more useful as servants than mentors.

 You can enjoy using unorthodox openings you read about, and may well score some points against unsuspecting opponents. Just don't be surprised if some master picks you apart, or if your computer program grinds you into the dust. Just go back to the book, pencil in the problem line, and then wait until the fans of the grotesque work out a temporary solution or workaround. They are great for sticking fingers in dykes. Eventually, the flood of objective analysis will spill over your game.

 Perhaps every book promoting an unorthodox opening should include these valuable words by John Perrry Barlow and Brent Mydland: "I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe, but at least I'm enjoying the ride!"

The opening underground on the Internet

Although powerful computers may be taking some of the fun out of the Royal Game, technology has also made it easier for unorthodox openings to grow. The Internet is a global chess club where ideas are being exchanged and developed at a furious pace. At the Internet Chess Club (http:,, you can get a game anytime, and no matter how quickly you play, all moves are recorded and at the end of the game, the notation is sent to you by electronic mail. The newsgroup is an open discussion where openings can be disected in free-wheeling debate. Collections of games using unorthodox openings can be downloaded from various FTP sites. Powerful search engines can track down every mention of your favorite lines. The world is your oyster, and if you are lucky, your own favorite unorthodox openings can turn out to be pearls.