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In 2018, Magnus Carlsen played a rapid game on chess.com agaisnt Grandmaster Aleksey Dreev in which his opening move was 1. Nh3.

[Title "Magnus Carlsen-Alexey Dreev, Pro Chess League, chess.com INT, 2/24/2018"]
[FEN ""]

1. Nh3 Nh6 2. f4 d5 3. Nf2 Ng4 4. e3 Nxf2 5. Kxf2 c5 6. b3 Nc6 7. Bb5 Bd7 8. Bb2 a6 9. Bd3 Qc7 10. Nc3 e6 11. Qh5 Be7 12. Rhf1 Bf6 13. Kg1 Nb4 14. Rac1 Nxa2 15. Rce1 Nb4 16. f5 e5 17. e4 c4 18. Nxd5 Nxd5 19. Bxc4 Nb4 20. c3 Nc6 21. Qxf7+ Kd8 22. Ba3 Be8 23. Qd5+ Qd7 24. Bd6 Be7 25. Bxe7+ Kxe7 26. Qc5+ Qd6 27. Qb6 Bd7 28. d4 Nd8 29. Qa5 Nc6 30. Qa2 Kd8 31. Rd1 Kc7 32. Qf2 Rad8 33. b4 Rhf8 34. b5 axb5 35. Bxb5 g6 36. f6 Kb8 37. Bc4 Bc8 38. Bd5 Be6 39. Bxe6 Qxe6 40. d5 Qd6 41. Ra1 Kc7 42. dxc6 Qxc6 43. Ra5 Kb8 44. Qa7+

Does that prove that opening Nh3 is sound, or was it just a psychological play to take a slightly weaker player out of the book? Does it show that Carlsen is that much better because he can get away with such moves?

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    How can the result of a game that starts 1.Nh3 Nh6 tell us anything about the soundness of 1.Nh3? Stockfish considers the position after 1.Nh3 Nh6 slightly better for White. So what? Is your meaning that the mere fact Carlsen was willing to play 1.Nh3 indicates that the move is sound? – bof Dec 17 '19 at 6:04
  • Why does the "playback" that you provided not go until the end, is it only meant to show enough to get a feel for what was going on? I'm interested in chess but am not great at it, so maybe I'm missing something obvious to you. But to me it looks like black can move the king out of the way and get at least a few more moves, and I haven't convinced myself yet that the game is definitely lost. – Loduwijk Dec 17 '19 at 14:47
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    @Loduwijk Kc8 Rc5 and loss of Queen for a rook. – Adder Dec 17 '19 at 15:01
  • It doesn't show Carlsen is much better. Their respective ratings already show that. Carlsen is rated 200 points higher. And, unless your own rating is somewhere north of 1800, playing 1. Nh3 probably doesn't matter at all. The game is going to be won or lost on tactics, not sound opening play. – Randy Minder Dec 17 '19 at 23:48
  • It's not the first time Carlsen plays a crazy opening move against a GM. See for example this 2012 game vs Radjabov with 1.a4: chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1671724 – itub Dec 18 '19 at 12:24
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It was one game in online rapid. You cannot deduce from one game that 1.Nh3 is sound or not sound. Carlsen was actually MUCH worse out of the opening, and just outplayed Dreev later. It really means nothing other than Carlsen is currently much stronger.

Most likely 1.Nh3 is not good, and this is unusual for a first move: Stockfish already evals this as -.62 at a depth of 50.

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    Dreev was also ahead until he got into severe time trouble; he had less than 30 seconds left when he blundered the advantage, according to the automatic analysis. – D M Dec 16 '19 at 22:24
  • But why would he play that move at all? Does taking it out of the book give him an edge at rapids play? Psychological play dissing the opponent from the gitgo? – yobamamama Dec 16 '19 at 23:26
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    Thanks. But Dreev is no slouch. I actually enjoy it when somebody tries some really oddball opening against me. I figure there is no book for them to have memorized and I can beat them more easily than if they had used a book line. – yobamamama Dec 17 '19 at 4:03
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    I doubt that the experienced Dreev was at all disturbed by 1.Nh3. It is clear that Carlsen simply wanted an "independent" game with chances for both sides. – PhishMaster Dec 17 '19 at 10:33
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    @yobamamama: it's online chess. He probably just played it for fun. – RemcoGerlich Dec 18 '19 at 13:44
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Carlsen is the strongest player in the world. He can get away with playing sub-par openings against average GMs because of the large difference in strength. Granted, Dreev is above your average GM, but still the gap in their playing levels is huge.

1.Nh3 is one of the worst moves White can play, and Carlsen probably chose it for fun. The fact that Dreev answered with 1...Nh6 showed he wasn't taking the game that seriously either.

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  • 8
    Or maybe Dreev was also playing the man and not the board with a psycho counterattack:) – yobamamama Dec 17 '19 at 4:12
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    Carlsen is not only the strongest player in the world, but also an incredible magician of the endgame. Not only can he make up for sub-par openings with outstanding performance later on, I'd claim that sub-par, unexpected openings can allow him to reach positions where his endgame superiority is proportionally more important than any midgame advantages the opponent might have. This is of course assuming that Carlsen is better at thinking on his feet when shown odd positions than other players. Is this a valid assumption? It looks like complicated middlegames have served him well before. – Brayton Dec 19 '19 at 6:46
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    @Brayton Yes, playing offbeat openings can be beneficial, especially for a player like him who's very good in the endgame. But 1.Nh3 is such a bad move I highly doubt there was any strategy behind it. Carlsen was playing a rapid game online which he probably didn't take too seriously. – Inertial Ignorance Dec 19 '19 at 8:18
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Let's remember that the late Tony Miles, at the 1980 European Championship, played 1... a6 as Black vs. Karpov's 1. e4, and won.

Single games mean nothing.

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It does not prove that the opening is sound, but it does make a case for a successful practical opening. If your question is really "Should I try this myself?", the answer is "yes", because - especially under accelerated time controls - an element of surprise can be a huge factor.

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  • I might try other weird moves to start with but I do not think that move would be one that I try. – yobamamama Dec 17 '19 at 20:40
  • @yobamamama Especially now that someone's already recently and famously done it; it's lost a great deal of effectiveness as a shock/surprise tactic. – Shadur Dec 19 '19 at 9:38

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