I was watching Irina Krush's great lecture on YouTube and, at 20:06, she asks "Which opening is this position from?" The answer is apparently the Sicilian, which made me wonder. How do you understand which middle game positions result from certain openings?

In the video example, I am guessing that the absence of Black's c pawn and the fight against the d5 square may have given it away. But can't that be the result of a different opening as well? Also, can we reverse engineer every middle game position to an opening, or do some openings result in obvious middle game positions?

  • Whatever responses you find useful, try to apply them to Bent Larsen's ZOOM 001, which didn't teach openings, but how to reach a Grunfeld/Catalan pawn position, and then go on from there..
    – user30536
    Jan 18, 2022 at 9:55

3 Answers 3


the absence of Black's C pawn and the fight against the D5 square

That's more or less it. This kind of position is most probably the result of a Sicilian. Could it be something else? It can, but the Sicilian is the most likely opening.

can we reverse engineer every middle game position to an opening

No. This position for example is a middlegame with no clear signposts as to what opening led to it.

[FEN "rn1r2k1/pp2qppp/8/8/3N2n1/1N2P3/P1Q2PPP/R4RK1 w - - 0 18"]

Here's another example. It should be decently clear which opening this game began with. If not, imagine Black playing ...f5 and White taking with exf5.

[FEN "r1bqk2r/pppn2bp/3p4/3Ppp2/2P5/2N1BP2/PP4PP/R2QKB1R w KQkq - 0 12"]
  • That is exactly what I was asking for. AFAIU, more or less, some openings have more characteristics then other, leading to a more likely-to-see middle games :) Jan 17, 2022 at 9:14
  • Can someone clarify what should be the opening in the last, more clear example? Thanks. Jan 17, 2022 at 15:04
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    @DanielAlfredoSottile the second diagram is a King's Indian. From the classical variation diagram, White played d5, Black played ...f5, and there followed exf5 gxf5.
    – Allure
    Jan 17, 2022 at 23:36
  • The point of identifying the opening is that it should bring to mind the standard strategies that the opening leads to. Although the second diagram is certsinly "Kings-Indian-ish" it is far from being typical. Black has not castled and a pair of Knights have vanished through some nonstandard exchange. I would have great difficulty constructing a plausibe move sequence leading to this position and I do not see how to adapt much of my KI know-how.
    – Philip Roe
    Jan 19, 2022 at 20:28
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    @allure Thank you. Your reconstruction is very sensible and not as hard as I implied. Although It still doesnt ring many of my KI bells. Perhaps more thematic 8.Nc1 intending b4 Nb3 with a typical Q-side pus, against what will be a typical Black K-side push.
    – Philip Roe
    Jan 22, 2022 at 5:06

The biggest clue is the pawn structure. Allure's first diagram hints that is was a Grunfeld due to the queenside pawns. (Although since there are so many transpositions that the opening can change on a move's notice.) The further the game proceeds, the harder it becomes to guess the opening.

As a teen, I played the Blackmar–Diemer Gambit, which had the trait of white missing the e and f pawns. However, black could transpose into the French or the Caro-Kann, making a d pawn into an e pawn opening.

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    You sure the first diagram looks like a Grunfeld? It doesn't have ...g6.
    – Allure
    Jan 17, 2022 at 14:16

Some positions have clues which at least rule out certain openings, even if they don't identify one specific opening. For example, if a pawn is still at home, then the opening wasn't one in which that pawn moves or gets taken.

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