I want to ask about whether using and adopting a rarely used opening makes you a stronger player.

I just started playing online chess (Lichess) a year ago, and as a beginner, I used to play the common 1.e4 as the opening in all my games. I found that by doing so I was stuck around 1300-1400 (below average rating at the website). Last month, I read an article about different openings, and suddenly switched to regularly use the 1.a3 Opening (usually starting 1.a3 2.b4 when white, and 1.h6, 2.g5 when black, using the bishop to occupy the diagonal), and my rating suddenly went up to 1700-1800, and stayed there. I found that by using this opening made the middle-game much easier to play, making my opponents make more mistakes than usual compared to the typical 1.e4.

Is this normal? Or does it happen to anyone if they suddenly want to switch to a different, more rarely-used opening?

4 Answers 4


In general, less common openings tend to give weaker opponents issues, since they have yet to properly grasp many fundamental ideas of opening play and middlegame strategy, and if they don't know the concrete lines they may very well end up completely lost from a nonstandard opening position.

But a nonstandard opening doesn't make you into a stronger player just because you have good results on lower levels. In the end, you will hit a plateau with the nonstandard opening as well, when your opponents get sufficiently strong. Don't forget that these nonstandard openings are nonstandard for a reason: with correct play from your opponent, you're very unlikely to get any advantage, and you may even be running a serious risk of getting in trouble out of the opening.

With that being said, nonstandard openings are not to be written off completely, and at the 1700-1800 lichess rating range they can be quite a potent weapon, catching many players completely off-guard.


Any time you learn how to play a new opening system that is very different to what you are used to playing you become a stronger player. To play the new opening successfully you will have to learn what are the typical pawn structures you get in that opening, which pieces you should develop where and what the plans are for your side and for the opponent.

That kind of stuff is always going to help you improve and get stronger. It doesn't have to be with less common openings either. If you are an e4 player, then learning how to play d4 openings will improve your chess and vice versa. It will also give you more flexibility which also makes you a stronger more difficult opponent for the other players you face.

For instance, if you are comfortable with both e4 and d4 openings and you play a Dutch player who likes to reply to d4 with e6 before playing f5 to avoid the Staunton Gambit you can switch by playing e4 instead of c4 as your second move and black better be comfortable playing the French or he's in trouble.


No. In general, the answer is that less-common openings are less-common for a reason, and that reason is that they either lead only to game with no opportunity for an advantage, or the closely-related plain old equal game, or a worse game...sometimes, much worse.

The problem with them is that if you have any ambition, and get to a certain level, you end up having to start all over again with your openings, and at that point, you lack years of experience that you passed over while playing garbage.

I am not sure how old you are, or what style you tend to play (tactical, positional, or both), but I suspect that what really happened is that what you were playing did not fit your style, and it does more.

For example, maybe you were playing 1.e4, and getting open tactical games, but you are older. Well, older people, and I am one now, cannot compete tactically against kids. Switching to a3, and even h3, leads the game down more positional roads in many cases, even though they are not best. If this is the case, you might be better off just switching from 1.e4 to 1.d4 or 1.c4, which are both positional in nature.

Lastly, you are also discounting one more possibility, and that is that many chess players plateau at times, but later get over that. Maybe, you simply got stronger. Some players get to a certain rating, and then stay there for a while, but later, they gain points. At your level, there is a lot of opportunity to learn a lot, and thus, get over the hump, and gain real strength and rating points.

  • 4
    I am surprised that you claim "older people cannot compete tactically against kids". Why not? Do you have scientific evidence that kids are better tactically than adults, given the same amount of training?
    – user21820
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 9:50
  • @user21820 It is anecdotal. First of all, at 58, I know how quickly I used to see the board compared to now. I also have discussed this at length with other older Masters in their 50s and 60s. I have been playing for 40 years, and watching Karpov and Kasparov during that time. Even they clearly slowed down in their 40s, getting in to time trouble when they never did prior to that. I am not talking about seeing one specific tactical pattern...I am talking about getting into tactical positions that require brute-force calculation of MANY lines, and if you do not calculate better than your Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 12:08
  • opponent, he wins. Kids just do that SO well, and are so quick of mind. You can also see it in the puzzle battle/puzzle rush scores on chess.com...kids are faster, and you do not want to engage them in such a battle on a regular basis. Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 12:10
  • 3
    I have seen good evidence that kids learn faster. However, I just haven't seen good evidence that adults cannot train themselves to achieve similar results. In my own introspection, it seems to me that the main difficulty is that as we grow older we tend to rely less on intuition and that is why we perform more poorly than when we were younger, when it comes to positions that are complicated enough to exceed our capacity for systematic search. Do you have evidence that kids actually "brute-force calculate many lines"? I somehow doubt that they are actually doing much brute-force at all.
    – user21820
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 12:24
  • I am not going to get into a long debate about something that I do not have the science...I am just talking about my own observations. If you do not agree, then fine. Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 12:41

No. But it tends to negate the book memorization that other players use to do better in the opening. A really good player will gain a bigger advantage if you deviate from usual moves, but many players will do poorly as they do not understand openings and have to use their book moves to do well.

OTOH some book moves are plain wrong. And if you deviate there you can gain an advantage. This is why GMs go over openings and try to use prepared variations to gain an edge. If they get the opponent into making a normal but less good move based on more and deeper analysis then they can gain an edge in that game.

At such a low level as you were on LI chess it is a perfect example of what I noted above in the first paragraph.

Note again that the advantage will fade as you play yet better players. Don't LI ratings go up to 3000 or so which I think I recall seeing once. 1800 LIchess I will guess is closer to USCF 1200 to 1500 max and is still below the average for tournament players.

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