For example, based on the database at lichess, after 1. e4, 46.3% of the master games continue with 1... c5 while only 23.4% of all games continue with 1... c5 (31.7% continue with 1... e5).

Another example: after 1. e4, the response 1... d5 (9.9%) is the fourth most popular response for all players, but for masters, 1... d5 (2.0%) is only the seventh most popular response.

What makes some openings more popular in master's games and less popular in lower-level games?

3 Answers 3


Amateurs will sometimes be happy to accept a slightly worse position if that gets them a position they're familiar with or enjoy playing more than other lines. There's also the surprise factor. A 1600 Elo player will probably not know any lines too deep into the Scandinavian, but a professional player will definitely have something prepared.

There are also other positions one would never reach without prior knowledge (think for instance the lines in the Scheveningen Sicilian where Black goes ...e6 followed by ...e5 only one or two moves later).

Finally, if we're including all the way down to beginner level, "copycat" tends to be some sort of default, so you'll see a lot more of 1.e4 e5 and 1.d4 d5 than among people who have made a conscious choice to build an opening repertoire.


On average, masters have played/studied chess for longer, and their experience informs them on which moves are better (and/or more suited to their playing style). If you've spent years analyzing openings with databases and engines, and also had years to experiment with these openings in tournaments, you will play better moves than the average person.

  • This discrepancy was already there before engines or databases were a thing (if anything it was even bigger). It's just that amateurs and professionals usually have different goals in the opening
    – David
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 10:20
  • Thank you for the answer! "You will play better moves than the average person." To me, after 1. e4, 1... c5 is not necessarily objectively better than 1 ... e5, it is just preferred by masters for reasons I do not entirely understand.
    – Zuriel
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 14:38

There is another difference between lichess's masters and big databases. How confounding a factor it is, I don't venture to guess. But the masters database contains games from the 1950s onwards. The big database of games played on lichess will only have recent games. Some lines will be more prevalent in the masters database because they used to be popular but have now gone out of fashion.

Some more stats of counts of games:

M: Lichess's masters DB. L: lichess's DB of lichess games

1 e4 e5 M:237371,L:121111111

  • 2 f4 M:4524(1.9%),L:10079474(8.3%)

1 e4 e6 M:137862,L:44861818

  • 2 Nf3 M:2343(1.9%),L:10995864(24.5%)

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 M:88226,L:3043740

  • 4 ... Nf6 M:79648,L:1991088
  • 4 ... d6 M:5278(6.0%),L:211529(6.9%)
  • 4 ... b5 M:822(0.9%),L:599425(19.7%)

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