How do you deal with this? I'm a bit of a chess perfectionist, and I always want to play the best move, so when I go up against an irregular opening, I don't do badly, but it's hard be 100% sure you made the best move in the opening, and that really bothers me psychologically.

My current method for dealing with these types of situations is to just follow the basic opening principles, but at my level I feel like this is not detailed enough or too vague, since I always try to strive for a certain level of understanding in every position. What can I do to be more flexible in this area of chess? Are there more detailed guides for playing against uncommon openings?

Even though I don't necessarily play badly, I really want to learn to be "comfortable" in all positions. How would I achieve this? Is the answer to play beginners since they tend to play strange openings all the time? I've already done this, but I still don't seem "comfortable" enough. Maybe its all in my head?

  • What is your level ?
    – Saikat
    May 17, 2017 at 4:34

9 Answers 9


What you describe is the best advice to meeting an unusual opening: play by the principles.

In terms of resources, there are 2 I can think of:

  • Beating Unusual Chess Openings by IM Richard Palliser. By 'unusual', Palliser really means anything other than 1. e4 or 1. d4, so he covers from Black's point of view:

The respectable (English Opening, Reti and King s Indian Attack) through to the offbeat (Nimzo-Larsen Attack, Bird s Opening) and the totally bizarre (Orang-utan, Grob)


You are prepared for popular opening lines as you studied guides about them, but you are lost when you are out of the book. This indicates that you lack opening strategy and piece improving skills and you should work on them.

Memorizing and playing best opening moves won't help you to improve your chess. Actually, if you don't understand why a particular move is the best, you can't take advantage of resulting position. Let's say you played perfectly in the opening, after the opening you are on your own and you have to take advantage of resulting position, but you won't be able to as you don't understand deeply what you achieved in the opening so far. So instead, you should improve your overall chess ability to be able to play in any random position.

For this very reason, Fischer suggested 960Chess. He was complaining about that chess is getting more and more an opening memorizing game.


If you face something unexpected in the opening it is important to stay calm. It is unlikely that the new move is a super-strong novelty which will make you lose immediately.

Also you should avoid getting into the opposite mindset. We all know that things like the Grob are bad for white, but this does not mean that you can easily refute it and get a winning position. In many cases what you get even with perfect play is just a small advantage.

From a chess point of view, if you don't know theory you have to play on general principles and avoid tactical traps. Training both of these will help you not only when you encounter new openings, but also when playing the openings you know after you run out of book moves.

Also in many cases, particularly in less ambitious irregular openings, you can just play a system that you are familiar with: e.g. (depending on the situation) a Sicilian dragon setup or a Kings Indian or...

  • Sometimes grandmasters speak of "taking their opponents out of theory" by intentionally playing something unusual so as to unseat the enemy's preparation or reduce drawing potential... can't say I recommend that, especially because those players are strong enough to where they can survive just about any opening disadvantage they might incur, but an interesting idea.
    – user45266
    Oct 11, 2023 at 23:20

I used to play 1.b4 with some regularity and success. It worked extremely well against two kinds of opponent. One kind reacts by going on the defensive, and playing safety-first moves which give them a cramped position. The other kind believes that they can find a refutation over the board, consumes a great deal of time, and eventually gets nowhere (I would not play anything actually known to be refutable.)

The sensible reaction is not to get into obscure tactics that your opponent is likely to be prepared for. However, if you play well, you are probably under less pressure than you would be in a mainstream opening. So you may be able to choose slightly more aggressive piece placements than you normally would, such as Bd6 rather then Be7.

If you allow your normal thinking style to be disrupted by an unusual opening, then your opponent has already achieved one of their main objectives


I am afraid there is no good answer. If your opponent is playing an unusual opening intentionally, he or she has probably done so precisely so he or she is more prepared than you in that opening. I was once clobbered by a Grob. Aside from the standard "play by established principles", you'll also have to watch for any tricks and traps. The most important thing is probably to go over the game carefully afterward so you are better prepared if you encounter the same opening again. (Another one that got me, but only once, was the Blackburne Shilling.)


When in doubt, I like to play solid and defensive, d3, b3, Bb2 etc. which works against almost anything as long as you keep an eye out to play c4. I've gotten crushed by traps in the Grob many times!

  • The best defense is a good offense...I don't see how this helps. See Philip Roe's answer for a refutation on this response. May 21, 2017 at 18:54

The question is a bit too broad and it all depends on the actual opening, but the rule of thumb I follow in such situations is to develop knights as early as possible and build a position that will give me control of the centre of the board (basically to control e4 (e5 as Black) and fields close to it).


A good dvd is A Black Repertoire Against Offbeat Openings by Nick Pert on Chessbase.


Many openings are rare, so I'll just talk about Bird's and Larsen's. For the Larsen's, just e5, the Bird's, d5, the From's gambit is not so good, according to Stockfish.

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