I have played 1.a4, h4, f4 in an engine and it gave me the opening line's name. I mean, how could it be considered a line as it, at least IMO, don't do anything that defines a good opening. (fight for center, develop your pieces etc.)

  • What two moves did you have black play between those three moves? ​ ​
    – user2668
    Oct 4, 2015 at 4:29
  • @RickyDemer Maybe the OP means that he played 1.a4, 1.h4, and 1.f4, and in each case the machine gave a name to the opening?
    – bof
    Oct 4, 2015 at 6:23
  • 4
    First, there's no law saying that only good things have names. For instance smallpox, influenza, leprosy, cancer all have been names. So why shouldn't bad openings have names? Second, Bird's opening 1.f4 is not really bad. It does fight for the center, by controlling e5.
    – bof
    Oct 4, 2015 at 6:26
  • 1
    People with various degrees of skill and knowledge of theory have been trying ideas for a long time. Sometimes, these ideas get named. "The Grob" (1. g4), "The Spike" (1.g4 d5 2. g5), "The Polish" (1. b4), "Wares" (1. a4) Most of these don't stand up to GM scrutiny which is why you don't see them in tournaments. However, these odd looking moves can contain surprises that catch club players off-guard and yield a point to the person playing them. Getting a win with an "unsound" opening counts as a win on the scorecard! The crazy games that come from them are probably a lot of fun, too.
    – Tony Ennis
    Oct 4, 2015 at 14:01

3 Answers 3


If you mean "Is there any first move for white which is catastrophic?" then the answer is "No". There are first moves for white which look bad. Na3, Nh3 and f3 would be my candidates but they are not catastrophic.

Na3 could be followed up by moves like b3, c4, Nc2, Bb2, for example, to get a playable position. Perhaps not the best use of first move advantage but certainly not catastrophic.

The problem for black when white makes a "bad" first move is to try and steer the opening into one where the "bad" move is really a bad move in the context of that opening or at least irrelevant so that white's first move advantage has gone.

White's contrasting problem is to try and steer the opening towards one where the "bad" move becomes good. For instance, after 1.h4 if white can steer black into fianchettoing his king's bishop and castling kingside then 1.h4 could become a strong threatening move.

If by "opening line" you mean a sequence of moves then, yes, there are catastrophic lines and yes, they do often have names. The most famous is probably Scholar's Mate:

[FEN ""]
[Event "Scholar's Mate"]

1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6?? 4. Qxf7#

The shortest possible mate and so the most catastrophic is Fool's Mate:

[FEN ""]
[Event "Fool's Mate"]

1. f3 e5 2. g4?? Qh4#
  • I liked the bit about h4 being a strong move, when bishop is fianchettoed. it gives us a strong queenside attack(if played well) . But also, the thing I was asking for was that aren't the openings downright catastrophic if played against best play (assuming white plays best too)? Oct 4, 2015 at 13:16

I would say the value of an opening is conditional on your opponent:

  • You against a computer with almost perfect play: all openings are bad. You'll lose anyway (unless you are a super GM), but some openings are worse than others.
  • You with the help of a computer against another computer or player with a computer: some openings lines are bad, some are ok, and some are good. A computer will not forgive your choosing an opening line that leaves you in an inferior position. With most openings you'll end up in draw. And if you want to win you have to choose some anti-computer opening.
  • You against a human player: to estimate the value of an opening line against a human player you have to evaluate which is their opening repertoire and their playing level relative to yours and which is the type of competition. Against a player with a similar rating, you might try to surprise them with an uncommon opening (that you have studied well) to get them out of book. This strategy can be more useful in rapid and blitz games, since it is more probable the opponent will make an error you can use in your advantage. For example, Carlsen played 1.a4 against Radjabov in the World Blitz Final in 2012 (and won). But with a player with much more experience than you, it might not work anyway.

My favorite catastrophe is probably the Blackburne Shilling Gambit, probably because I fell for it once :-S.

[Title "Blackburne Shilling Gambit"]
[fen ""]

1.e4 e5
2.Nf3 Nc6
3.Bc4 Nd4?!
4.Nxe5 Qg5
5.Nxf7? Qxg2 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nf3#

Gotta be good for White, right? Grabbing the f7 pawn AND forking the black queen and rook! While White's rook is easily saved from the Qxg2 threat via Rf1. Heh.

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