I know that there are practical methods of playing for a win with White without bothering with an opening advantage. In Kasparov's multivolume work on his predecessors Bent Larsen is described as someone who excelled at building complex playable positions without attention to opening advantage. It was enough for him that the position held enough complexity to make for a hard battle.

Presumably, this kind of playing is easier than fighting for an advantage. My question is about the reason why opening books focus only on finding an advantage for white rather than make life simipler for the reader and show how to obtain a good promising position with equal chances using the White pieces as a means of forcing one's will.

In my earlier question in this vein there was a lot of controversy over the value of winning versus drawing, which I find amazing because people don't seem to value draw as an outcome of a game of chess. So here I ask a similar question that is focused on winning rather than drawing but without fighting for the so called opening advantage. Compare Advice on how to draw with White

  • If you get to "a good promising position with equal chances", than White has lost their first move advantage or let it gone to waste...
    – hkBst
    May 31, 2016 at 8:19
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    On the contrary, White has struggled hard not to make a mistake against a strong opponent in a worthy battle of two minds in a very complicated game. Do I sense disdain for anything below perfect play (assuming White can win from the starting position)? May 31, 2016 at 10:38
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    Another way of countering your comment is to say that White might have actually constructed the kind of position that suits him well and is unpleasant for the opponent, having made use of the privilege of moving first. May 31, 2016 at 10:40

3 Answers 3


One way to play for a win without seeking an opening advantage is to play a system opening. In this answer, I recommended the English Botvinnik System to a player struggling against the Sicilian.

A system opening is where one player develops their pieces to the same squares and has similar plans available no matter what their opponent does.

System openings have the advantage of saving you clock time and giving you a position that you are familiar with, hence allowing you to play for a win.

The problem with system openings is that they ignore the opponent's play and you tend to play with a mind that is half closed. That is, you may miss interesting moves that take advantage of an opponent's mistakes. This is why system openings are not objectively 'the best', i.e. they don't give a theoretical opening advantage.

  • This answer is very much to the point. In fact, I have had a lot of success in winning with White after reading a book on the King's Indian Attack, which I admit is a poor way fighting for a theoretical advantage but a powerful psychological weapon thanks to being a system. I later expanded with the Reti opening cashing in on the same system phenomenon. Given that, the question remains why there is so little market value in system openings books. May 31, 2016 at 16:42

Bent Larsen played somewhat off-beat stuff in the opening, a pseudo-hypermodern style. This reeks of playing for an imbalance in the position and playing to those imbalances. He knew his strengths and weaknesses. Remember: it is your understanding of a position's imbalances and your derivation of a good plan put up against your opponent's understanding that decides games, not evaluations given by a GM in the latest Informant. A position that a GM says "white has an advantage" but you cannot fathom it, is no advantage.

  • Exactly. Opening books could focus on developing a feel for certain positions and a foolproof way of constructing them. Perhaps learning from such books would produce better results than studying treatises on the search of opening advantage in fashionable openings. Given that, is there no market value? Are the authors unable to produce them? Jun 1, 2016 at 16:55
  • "Opening books could focus on developing a feel for certain positions and a foolproof way of constructing them." ~ That is not an opening book, but a middlegame book. As for foolproof, no such thing.
    – Priyome
    Jun 2, 2016 at 20:15

"This kind of playing is easier than fighting for an advantage." For Bent Larsen.

In his own way, Larsen was fighting for an opening advantage, of a kind that suited him, and was not obvious to most of us. (Larsen was just one level below world champion.)

The textbooks teach more conventional ways of seeking an opening advantage, for those of us (most) who are not "Bent Larsen."

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