I'm curious about the history of chess openings. Nowadays there is a lot of theory about what opening moves are considered mainstream and (near) optimal, such that either side can keep up with their opponent and maintain equality (or an advantage if anyone errs).

This sometimes goes for up to 25-30 moves without either player thinking much at all, simply because they know the best moves and have studies it extensively, and undoubtedly validated it with chess engines.

Now I'm wondering about before engines were a thing. Are there any known examples of openings, previously considered to be strong or played regularly by strong players, but later -- with the help of engines -- determined to be dubious/easily counterable?

  • 2
    Depending on how far back you're willing to go, the romantic era of the 1800's featured many examples of gambits which are nowadays considered dubious or worse.
    – Scounged
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 13:19
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    I would say as far as we can go back, where the sport was still well known in the world, and preferably when grandmasters (or well known historic chess players) were around.
    – WiseDev
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 13:29
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    Strongly related: Have engines refuted any established openings?
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 18:12
  • Well then, the first example that comes to mind is of course the first official world champion Wilhelm Steinitz, who had some rather "interesting" ideas in the opening. Look through his world championship matches and you will find some really objectionable opening choices. In general though, the converse of the scenario you're asking about has been happening all the time; openings which were previously thought to be bad for one side have been revived with the help of computers.
    – Scounged
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 18:54
  • Maybe 9...Nxd4 is the Sicilian Dragon
    – David
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 10:39

1 Answer 1


Pretty much any opening that is no longer played was "refuted" by an engine. You can check for example the 9. 0-0-0 Nxd4 line in the Sicilian Dragon.

Computer analysis has also found interesting ways for White to keep the advantage in the From's gambit, although this opening was never that popular (because of 1.f4 being a rarity)

About 25 years ago, Kasparov reintroduced the Evans gambit into elite chess. Despite initial success computer-assisted analysis forced it to step away again.

The list goes on and on, but sometimes it's just about a variation in a particular line being changed by another, rather than something like the Sicilian or the French being abandonned altogether

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