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I know it is normal to play the e5 or d5 or c5 or Nf6. All of which have the common intention of controlling the center.

What if Black gets a little creative and tries a6? With the idea being that you go to b5 the next move and then play Bb7. If white castles kingside, you could then play h5,g5 and start an attack. White could easily get over excited with dominance over the center and over extend his pawns producing weakness in his ranks.

My question is:How bad is 1..a6? Has it ever been played in modern chess by grandmasters?(By modern, I mean in the 21st century)?

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It is not a bad move, i.e. it does not lose immediately. It is more common in open games where it can have some merit in preventing white pieces occupying the b5 square (e.g. Ruy Lopez, Najdorf).

In closed games (after 1. d4) I would expect it to be generally less useful, as after 2. c4 it would already be difficult to continue with your plan of playing 2...b5 (or would leave you a weak pawn on b5).

Playing unusual openings like this can have some merit if you want to avoid theory. However there is a reason that normal openings fight for the center....

Also I am not convinced that your plan (a6, b5, Bb7, no play in center, and if white castles short attack on the kingside), is all that dangerous for white. Playing an opening with the aim that white "gets overexcited..." is an unnecessary gamble IMO.

If white plays a4, the b5 pawn can turn out to be a weakness quickly and also the long diagonal could easily be secured with pawns on f3 and e4 for instance.

How do you intend to develop the other pieces and where do you put the other pawns? Perhaps you could start with that first and postpone the a6, b5 plan for later.

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1... a6 is a wasted tempo in most openings. If you want to fianchetto your queen's bishop, 1... b6 is a better choice.

How bad is 1..a6?

Well, because it does almost nothing, you're wasting a move. If you play 1. a3 as White, you're basically 'switching sides', so you decrease your expected score (against an opponent of equal strength) from 55% (White's first move advantage) to 45%. So one should expect 1... a6 to score 37%* – in practice it scores more but that might be because of black players rating higher than their opponent.

Has it ever been played in modern chess by grandmasters?

I know of no other example than Karpov - Miles as mentioned by Christophe Strobbe in the comments, but you can find a few games with both sides >2500 here.

*: the ratio 55% : 45% is about equal to 45% : 37%.

  • 1.a3 is not full loss of tempo, imhop. After 1.a3 d5 2.d4 there is no reverse queens gambit, because you could take and keep the pawn with b4. After 1.a3 c5 2.c4, a3 will be useful sooner or later. Or 1.a3 e5 2.e4 and there is no reverse Ruy. I think you would rather drop to roughly equal instead of 45%. – BlindKungFuMaster Dec 15 '16 at 14:24
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    @BlindKungFuMaster if Black plays smart, he'll choose an opening where ... a6 is a wasted tempo (e.g. the Scotch game). – Glorfindel Dec 15 '16 at 14:32
  • I'm just not sure that's so easy. 1.a3 e5 2.c4 and it also strikes me as likely that a3 will be useful. – BlindKungFuMaster Dec 16 '16 at 10:05
  • There are a lot of Sicilian variations where Black doesn't play a6, e.g. the 2. c3 and the Grand Prix attack. So I'd recommend to play one of those (with reversed colors) as Black. – Glorfindel Dec 16 '16 at 10:11

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