I am a chess player ranked at around 1400. As white I play 1. e4 and am confident playing against most responses except for the Sicilian. I don't want to go into the main lines so I am studying the c3 Sicilian, but am realizing that there is a lot of theory I need to learn. A friend of mine recommended that I play a new opening altogether, 1 c4 that avoids a lot of theory. .

My question is this, would it be easier to learn how to play 1 c4 instead? What are some of the openings I need to know?

  • 1
    The most important thing about your opening choice is that it fits your play style (much more important than the size of the associated theory!). What is your "main line" 1.e4 opening (i.e. the one that you play if your opponent complies with 1...e5 and 2...Nc6)? Without knowing that, we can't help you properly.
    – Annatar
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 8:19
  • 2
    Your friend may be suggesting to play 1. e4 c5 2. c4, transposing to the Botvinnik English. Being a system opening, it is easy to learn. If you are interested in knowing more, I answered Suggest a line for a player who does not want to be dragged into the Sicilian with suggesting this line.
    – user1108
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 9:46

9 Answers 9


I think you should stop being afraid of your theory book, and concentrate on fighting your opponent in a game of chess. Especially rated at 1400, you need to experience interesting tactical battles, attacking chess, and basic strategic ideas.

Edmar Mednis wrote "A number of students have told me that they like to play 1.e4 except against the Sicilian. Such a 'complaint' makes no chess sense to me. I mean, 1.e4 is for those who like active, attacking play. Because the Sicilian delays black's kingside development while ignoring white's active development, attacking players should jump for joy when they see Black play 1...c5." (Practical Opening Tips)

He then goes over some lines involving: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 ... 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 ... 5.Nc3 ... 6.Bc4 against the main Black systems. Some of these Fischer used to play. The 2.c3 variation is also a good one.

Don't be afraid of main lines. Get an interesting position on the board (that's all a main line is - a position so interesting lots of people have played it) and fight it out. You will learn loads. Develop your tactics, and start to see the strategic ideas by playing the opening. Seek inspiration from your own games and those played by other people - not theory books.

(I had the same problem myself. I'm around FIDE 2050 now, and a 1.d4 player. All my life I've been afraid of the Slav. I got a book a few years ago advocating to play the main lines. So I plunged in with minimal preparation - my opponents never challenge me in a book line! But we get some interesting games, much better than the exchange Slav I relied on all this time.)


Don't let anything chase you away from 1.e4! If you want to minimize your theory you can consider a couple other options:

  • 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 with 3.c3
  • 1.e4 c5 2.f4 or 2.Nc3 and 3.f4 heading for Grand Prix Attack lines
  • 1.e4 c5 2.d3 heading for King's Indian Attack
  • 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 heading for closed Sicilian
  • 1.e4 c5 2.d4 heading for Smith-Morra Gambit
  • 1.e4 c5 2.b4 heading for Wing Gambit.

At 1400 you should work on tactics so I recommend the Smith-Morra Gambit.


There is a line against the Sicilian on which, as far as I know, there is almost no theory. In some order it involves the moves e4, Nf3, c3, Bd3. It will probably induce your opponent to underestimate you, but you continue with Bc2 and d4 and he will be surprised to see that you have quite a nice game. It does not give you much of an advantage but you can play it on general principles and I think that is what you want. Also, it probably wont be the typical Sicilian sort of game that your opponent was looking forward to.

If you have been building up a repertoire based on 1.e4, what you need at the moment is some kind of shield against ..c5. The shield should keep you safe while you improve to the point of playing, if you wish, main lines.

  • 3
    That line only really works against 2...d6, I believe. 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 transposes to the normal 2.c3 Sicilian, and 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3 d5 looks like it's going to be a French where white maybe played Nf3 too soon. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 8:00
  • 1
    You may well be right, but I think that at 1400 level, playing something that looks silly but isn't all that silly might be a good short-term measure. Of course if you always play the same people they can go away and look it up.
    – Philip Roe
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 20:10

The move 1. c4 is the English opening and it certainly does not "avoid a lot of theory". There is a lot more theory in the English than the Sicilian as much as anything because there are tremendous transpositional possibilities. You can start with 1. c4 and a few moves later you are playing a Queen's Gambit Declined or a Dutch or a Reti.

That said playing against fellow 1400 players they are very unlikely to know much theory against 1. c4 and your ignorance will be matched by their ignorance. Stronger, more experienced players are another matter altogether. They will have at least one response if not several prepared and you will find life very difficult.

  • More theory in English than in Open Sicilian?
    – hoacin
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 20:13
  • 1
    @hoacin Not in the English proper, that is true, but closed games are a lot less streamlined than 1.e4. If you plan to play d4 at any point at all, your opponent can transpose into almost any anti-d4 defense he wants to. Or even the Sicilian that you tried to avoid in the first place. (via the symmetrical English)
    – Annatar
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 7:35
  • 2
    In general, the only real way to "avoid a lot of theory" is to do things that theory judges imprecise. For every precise line until at least move 10, there probably already exists a book somewhere out there. Or a whole bookshelf.
    – Annatar
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 7:45

It is generally a poor idea to change your whole openings (even your first move!) just because of one line. There are a lot of ways handle the Sicilian, and the Alapin variation is a very decent choice.

Of course, there is a lot of theory after 1.e4 c5 2.c3. Scores of books and DVDS are devoted to that variation, and probably even more to the English opening. But it is very important to have in mind that:

  1. You do not need to know all the theory to get sound and interesting positions.

  2. Your 2000- opponent won't know much theory either.

  3. The Alapin is a solid variation for White. With some ideas about the plans and general rules (develop, castle, grab the center...) you won't be in any danger of being worse at move ten. And if you play well or if your opponent is imprecise, you might well get an advantage...

  4. Nothing stops you from actually learning a bit of theory, either now or later when you will already have some experience in this system. A good habit, for instance, could be, after each of your games, to check a grandmaster's game that followed the same line. Very soon, you will not be annoyed when your opponent goes for 1...c5 anymore, but be eager to try the last idea you saw...


I have used Smith-Morra gambit against Sicilian successfully up to 2000+ level, so it is a sound opening. If you are afraid of Sicilian Theory I strongly recommend starting with it and playing a bit of Sicilian yourself. This is how I learned how to play and fight the Sicilian. Currently I have abandoned Smith-Morra in favor of more mainline approaches, as they may have some theory, but are mostly pleasant to play for white!


One advantage of playing 1. c4 is that it may give you practice playing a quasi Sicilian opening as White. That is, if Black responds 1. ... e5, you may head for a "Sicilian" with you on move. That will give you deeper insights into how to play this position, how Black is likely to respond, and the value of the first move in situations where one player has moved the e pawn two squares, and the other player, the c pawn two squares. I would especially do this with stronger players, considering the first move as a "handicap."

  • 1
    I don't deny that playing 1. c4 will give you some insights into the Sicilian (mostly positional), but overall, these will be very limited. In general, initiative matters. As Black, you can't always pose the same threats as you could as White in the reversed opening, you have to respond to your opponent's White first. In this specific case, you will encounter ...O-O-O, ...f6/f5, ...g5 etc. (in the English) a lot less often than you encounter O-O-O, f3/f4, g4 etc. (in the Sicilian).
    – Annatar
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 8:07

I had exactly the same issue in the past. For me the solution was the closed Sicilian. You just need to remember some variations depending on what you opponent is playing. But the most moves are straight forward no matter what your opponent does. The general composition is (only whites moves):

1.e4 2.Nc3 3.g3 4.Bg2 5.d3 6.Be3 7.Qd2 8.Nf3 9.0-0

Of course you need to differ the sequence depending on what black is playing. Here some important notes:

  • If black is playing g6 and Bg7 you relay want to trade you Bishop against his by playing Bh6 (after Be3 and Qd2 of course)
  • If black plays Nf6 instead of Ne7 you need to avoid Ng4 (exchanging your Be3) you need to make sure he cant by playing h3
  • If black rolls his Pawns on Queen-side don't be afraid you can normally easy hesitate by some late(!) Pawn moves (a3 or b3).
  • You might want to roll your own pawns on King-side for this it might be helpful to develop your knight to e2 instead of f3 or play f4 before Nf3.
  • Your Bishop on g2 is a big threat for unprotected pieces on the long diagonal so be aware of some combinations where you can move your e5 Pawn and or you Knight on f3 for winning material.

Here it needs to be mentioned that this will normally not give you a huge advantage from the opening but at least you should be equal and have attacking opportunities (King-side). Often you even have a time advantage because most players on 1400 are not familiar with this opening.

I hope that this helps.


At a rating of 1400 I wouldn't be worried so much about an opening repertoire because games at your level are very often decided by tactical blunders in the middle game.

Consider that if you play an opponent in your rating range s/he will be probably be as lost as you are in complicated and varied openings. If your opponent's rating is much higher than yours, you are likely doomed whatever opening you choose to play.

Also you and your likely opponents are not (yet, hopefully) sophisticated enough to be capable to exploit fully opening inaccuracies, so sticking to general principles (do not create weaknesses, complete your development, and so on) should be enough to allow you to reach playable positions once the opening phase is over.

Instead of using time to study and memorize opening lines, I would recommend going over fully commented (grand)master games trying to make sense of the players' strategy and studying books about general chess strategy.

Also, improving your endgames technique may be useful in a very concrete way.

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