Say I am playing as white and I strongly prefer closed positions while my opponent strongly prefers open positions. To what extent do I have control over this? Will the game more likely end with a closed position or an open position? What are my strategies if I want to keep the position closed?

If I am playing black, does this change the answer to the questions above?


In general White has more freedom of choice due to going first. He can play a move that is slightly suboptimal and still be around equal. But if Black does the same thing, he could quickly find himself in a bad position.

However, it's obviously not always necessary to play dubious moves in order to get the kind of position you want. In general you should play openings that lead to closed/open positions. In the former case 1.d4 makes more sense, and 1.e4 for the latter. As Black, you could meet 1.d4 with something like the Grunfeld if you like open positions, or with the KID if you prefer closed positions. For 1.e4, the French/Caro lead to more closed positions, while the Sicilian has a higher chance of leading to an open position. Of course, these are just examples.

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This is a very complex question.

First, by nature of moving first, white can clearly control whether the game is open, or not, more than black can, but black does have a say next. If white plays, 1. d4, 1. c4, 1. Nf3, or even moves like b3 or g3, we know that the game tends to be more closed than after 1.e4. After 1. d4, for example, black can attempt to play openings that are more open, like the Benoni or Benko. I do not know that I consider the King’s Indian more open as much as it is simply more complex, usually requiring operations from white to be on the queenside, while black plays on the kingside. That said, white has lines in response that are more positional than the Classical King’s Indian, which features all out attacks on opposite sides of the board.

I think that if you are white, it is relatively easy to steer the game to more closed, and positional, positions even in openings like the King’s Indian, by playing a variation with g3, for example. If you are black, it is clearly much harder to keep the position closed if white wants to play 1 e4, and open it up. There is a reason they categorize many openings with 1. e4 “open games”.

I think your strategies to keep things closed with black when white plays 1. d4 are relatively straight forward, especially since you can assume that white likes that type of position too, but what do you do against 1. e4? I think that you can play the French or Caro, but even something like the Kan Sicilian with 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 a6 keeps things more quiet, than playing a typical open Sicilian.

What do these openings all have in common? Of course, these are not all exactly the same for every position, but they all tend to have either less pawn breaks. You almost always have to allow one pawn break, or clash of pawns, but if you do not acquiesce to multiple pawn breaks, there is less likelihood that the position will open a lot. Pawn breaks usually lead to pawn trades, which leads to a more open position, so try to avoid pawn clashes if you are trying to keep the position closed. That said, they are not unavoidable, and you have to judge whether you need to fight back for space. If you sit back forever, you will be smothered to death eventually. The goal is like the Hedgehog where you sit back, and develop, and only then, start to fight back with your pawn break.

Although I have never thought about your question directly, I think we all make these choices subconsciously when we are developing our opening repertoire. I certainly play 1. d4, and usually g3 to get the Catalan lately, knowing that the game will be more closed and positional. It is funny that relatively few of my opponents play the open Catalan with cd, and prefer c6 as a rule…that suits me fine.

Again, this is very complex, and there are no hard-and-fast rules, so I may have missed something, but hopefully, I gave you some food for thought.

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Both players have some control. Neither one alone can dictate it. If they try they risk getting an inferior position albeit of the type they want.

One example is the hedgehog type openings. They tend to be closed just because it takes longer for white to prepare to open things up. But in the long run they do not do as well, in my experience, when playing other people, as opposed to playing a computer. So was it really closed or just delayed?

The french tends to be closed but white can play a more open position by the exchange variation. Although this might tend to be more drawish.

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    That is very true, but I would also like to point out that white risks getting an equal position while black risks getting a significantly worse position. Say if white wants to go for a closed position then essentially what he/she is doing is converting the advantage that he/she finds easier to play. – SubhanKhan Jan 6 at 21:53

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