7

I have been taking a look at 1.e4 2.e5 2.Nc3, which is known as the Vienna Game. At this point I have become familiarized with a substantial amount of variations and main lines. The principal bifurcation comes on 2...Nf6 or 2...Nc6 by Black, which provides two quite different "systems", since 2...Nf6 allows a strong 3.f4. Apart from this, I have studied quite a number of master games. My overall conclusion is that the Vienna Game is a sound, promising line for the 1.e4 player. It offers positional, strategical struggle in some lines, and sharp aggressive play on others, so players of all styles may find it enjoyable. Of course, Black has the chance to equalize if he knows what he's doing, but in what opening is this not the case?

I then want to ask the opinion of more experienced players than myself: do you consider the Vienna Game to be equally good to other 1.e4 lines, such as the Ruy Lopez or the Scotch? Inferior to them, but still god? Or not even good at all? My question comes from the fact that this opening is hardly ever seen in master play, and it is usually only played on blitz/rapid games as a surprise weapon.

9

The International Master Gary Lane in his book about the Vienna game wrote in 2000 that this opening "has a long history and a bright future". He added

"in these days of computer databases [already 20 years ago!], opening theory has become so intense that some variations have been analyzed to move 30. It is hardly surprising that some 'forgotten' opening variations have been revived by players to looking into unknown territory, and the Vienna is a perfect arena for this."

So, if Vienna suits you, if you like the obtained positions, if you know the main theme (e.g. which pieces to swap, which promising pawn structure to get, ...) go ahead!

Here are some stats about the Vienna game compared to others openings in a Big and a Masters database. In the Big one, the Vienna game is the second choice and compared to 2.Nf3 it offers a higher risk (more losses) but also a premium (more gains). The Vienna is the 3rd choice in the Masters database with also a higher variance.


In the Big database

enter image description here

In the Masters database

enter image description here

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  • Both pictures look identical. – supercat Jul 15 at 16:41
  • @supercat Good point! I corrected that. Thanks! – Kortchnoi Jul 15 at 17:30
  • 2
    A great answer: complete, funded and objective. Thank you! – lafinur Jul 15 at 18:22
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After 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4, White has definitely a playable position, but it's not that "strong". Indeed, this is the main line and Black should be about equal with correct play. Other lines will most likely tranpose into other 1.e4 e5 positions (say 2...Nc6 3.Nf3 Nf6)

So yes, the Vienna opening is indeed a playable one, probably not "the best", but the difference is not big enough to refuse to play it except maybe at the highest levels of play (if you are rated 2500 or below, you can play it with no problems, and indeed it can be a dangerous, surprising weapon)

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1

At top level, the Vienna is certainly inferior. You can try checking the cloud analysis at Lichess. The position after 1.e4 e5 is about +0.3 in favor of White, but the position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 is 0.0. In words, this means the Vienna is not as good as 2.Nf3 at fighting for an opening advantage.

However, if you aren't playing at top level (I doubt you are, simply because almost everyone on the planet isn't), then the Vienna is certainly viable. "Winning" in the opening is mostly a matter of reaching a playable position one is familiar with while the opponent isn't. At club level you can certainly expect opponents to know a lot more about 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 than they do about the Vienna. In fact it's entirely possible that your opponent is out of book after 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4. This move flips Stockfish's eval to negative, but if opponent has never seen this position before, will they even know that 3...d5 is the only move that doesn't lead to an advantage for White? I doubt it. They could very well react with 3...exf4 (after which 4. e5 Qe7 5. Qe2 forces Black to play 5...Ng8) or something even worse like 3...Nc6 (after which 4.fxe5 Nxe5 5. d4 pushes Black off the board). Wikipedia says as much:

However, lines other than 3...d5 give White at least an edge, making this a good choice for aggressive play at lower levels, where opponents are unlikely to know that 3...d5 is best.

Of course if you keep playing against the same people they will quickly learn the nuances of the opening, and an opening edge becomes harder and harder to find. But until they develop as good a grasp of the Vienna as you, you will likely continue to score easy wins.

Viewed the above way, the Vienna is a great opening because it's easy to get. If you play 1.e4 there's a very good chance the opponent responds with 1...e5. This is in contrast to, say, the Scandinavian where you might prepare a line but never get the chance to use it.

Summary:

  1. Against an opponent as booked up as you, don't play the Vienna.
  2. Against everyone else, feel free!
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  • Generally, using AB engine evaluations to check opening positions isn't very accurate (whereas NN engines are much better at doing so). – im_so_meta_even_this_acronym Jul 16 at 6:10
  • @im_so_meta_even_this_acronym comes to the same conclusion in this case, NN engines don't play the Vienna either. – Allure Jul 16 at 6:25
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    I thank you for your insight. I would say I don't believe using an engine to assess this is not accurate, specially if one considers how irrelevant a difference from +0.3 to 0.0 is in Stockfish evaluation. (Stockfish even considers 2...g6 in the Grunfeld (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6) an inaccuracy!). I don't think engine evaluation is that decisive on the topic, but your comments on booked up opponents and club-level play are certainly very true. Thank you. – lafinur Jul 17 at 3:08
1

The Vienna is one of the better openings below international level. Objectively it's probably equal but that's true of nearly every opening. There's only a few openings that can even try to claim a small advantage nowadays (Ruy, Queen's gambit)

What I like about the Vienna:

  1. it cuts off a lot of black responses like the Petrov, Philidor, Latvian etc.

  2. It's very flexible. There are a lot of ways to play the Vienna. You can play the standard Frankenstein–Dracula Variation or you can transpose to a four knights or you can play something like the Bishop's opening or you can look to transpose into a king's gambit or you can play a very system-like approach with Bc4, d3, f4, Nf3 etc. The Vienna gambit with an early f4 is also surprisingly sound.

  3. It's somewhat unusual meaning most black players won't as prepared as they should be.

  4. It narrows your opening rep. Aside from what I said in #1 you can play 2. Nc3 as an answer to 1...Nf6. Black's best reply is 2...e5 transposing to back to the vienna game main lines. You can also fall back on the Bc4, d3, f4, Nf3 formation if black throws something at you you don't know how to play. With black you can play the dutch and reach the same positions if white doesn't prevent e5.

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0

It's great until you reach 2000. After that don't use it as a main repertoire. The main repertoire should be the main lines. Then along the way you can get creative.

Knowing why the main lines are in fact the best will greatly improve your play after 2000

Hope this short but sweet answer helps!

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  • There are players much stronger than 2000 that don't go for mainlines. The best way to improve after 2000 is to become a monster in calculating concrete lines. – David Jul 18 at 11:12
  • Well, I have 2382, and I must admit, understanding why the mainlines are the mainlines is the big foundation. It also helps to scout where an opponent in the database does not understand a sideline. Then you would actually see me play the sideline, but the knowledge of the mainline is pretty important still! – David Miedema Jul 18 at 13:53
  • I used to play against an IM who destroyed me with the Vienna gambit. Around 2300 is the point where openings start to matter. That's the point where a lot of people get stuck if they've relied on playing stuff like the Colle, London or obscure stuff like 1...b6. – Savage47 Jul 21 at 10:01
  • Well obviously the one asking the question is considering to play the Vienna game as his main line. As a surprise you can play everything. I've seen Christian Bauer play 1...a6 in a real game and get away with it. As a surprise of course everything is possible. – David Miedema Jul 21 at 12:53

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