When you ask most chess players about their opening repertoire, they typically respond with something relatively mainstream and well-respected, like "I play the Caro-Kann defense" or "I'm a lifelong Queen's Gambit player". But every now and then, we might like to mix things up and try an "experimental" opening over the board. I've certainly been known to do this on occasion - one of my personal favorites is the so-called "Hillbilly Attack" against the Caro: 1.e4 c6 2.Bc4!? d5 3.Bb3 dxe4 4.Qh5!? which I have actually played in rated games.
In some cases, you can even see grandmasters trying out an unorthodox opening, but mostly those games are played against much weaker players and at faster time controls. However, in some rare instances, you can catch a GM playing something truly outlandish ... against another GM ... in a classical tournament game. These can turn out to be some of the most exciting games of chess out there.
So, behold this collection of some of the most bizarre openings I've seen in GM-GM encounters.
(Warning: Try these openings at your own risk! Past results are not indicative of future results.)
#5 - Knight on the rim is
The Sicilian Defense, 1.e4 c5 is one of the most deeply studied openings in all of chess, but there are numerous sidelines that may be employed to dodge theory. In the high profile encounter between Russian heavyweights Savchenko, B. - Khismatullin, D. from the 2014 European Championship, white, out-rated by over 150 points, chose a startlingly rare one: 2.Na3!? and after 2. ... g6 went even further off the beaten path with 3.h4!? After 3. ... Nf6!? 4.e5 Nh5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.c3 some fireworks broke out: 6. ... d5 7.exd6 Bg4!? 8.d4 cxd4 9.Nb5! exd6 10.Nbxd4 Bg7 11.Qa4 0-0 12.Nxc6 Qe8+ 13.Be3 Bxf3 14.gxf3 bxc6 15.0-0-0 When the smoke cleared, the position was highly imbalanced with mutual chances, but the strong 2700+ GM Khismatullin went astray in time pressure, allowing Savchenko to pick up the full point.
#4 - This is how we play the English Opening in Armenia
After the opening moves 1.g3 e5 2.c4 black has many different main lines to choose from, however in the game Markowski, T. - Andriasian, Z. from the 2007 Rubinstein Memorial, the 18 year old Armenian grandmaster initiated a caveman-style assault on move two with 2. ... h5!? His opponent, Tomasz Markowski, a veteran Polish GM and former top-100 player, replied with an equally strange-looking knight tour, and the game continued 3.Nf3!? e4 4.Nh4 Be7 5.Nf5 d6 6.Nxe7 Qxe7 and after the further 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Bg2 h4!? black was able to pose some difficult problems to white's king. Although Markowski did have a clear path to an advantage in the middlegame, he blundered and allowed the young Armenian to pull off a nice win.
#3 - Good old Garry the g-pawn gets a raise
The Reti opening after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 is known to have some sharp variations, but white got a little more than he bargained for after black on move three threw out the rare and provocative 3. ... g5!? in Medvegy, Z. - Sedlak, N. in the 2017 Croatian Team Championship. Zoltan Medvegy, a Hungarian grandmaster, replied in the most direct way, grabbing the pawn with 4.Bb2 Bg7 5.Nxg5 and then took a stroll with his knight after 5. ... e5 6.Ne4 f5 7.Ng3 The Serbian GM Nikola Sedlak continued to play aggressively and after 7. ... Nf6 8.e3 0-0 9.c5 f4!? 10.Bc4+ Kh8 11.Ne2 d3 12.Nc1 e4! black had more than enough compensation for his pawn and carried out a beautiful kingside attack to win the game.
#2 - The ... improved Grob?
For whatever reason, during round 3 of the 2018 Llucmajor Open held in the Mediterranean Balearic Islands, Spanish GM David Larino Nieto was not in the mood for any theoretical debates and started the game with 1.e3 Nf6 2.g4!? in Larino Nieto, D. - Sumets, A. His opponent, a strong Ukranian grandmaster, kept his cool with the modest 2. ... h6 and from there, white adopted a typical hedgehog-style setup with 3.Bg2 d5 4.h3 e5 5.Ne2 c6 6.b3 Nbd7 7.Bb2 Later on, the Spaniard got a little too adventurous with the brave 12.Kd2?! and Sumets ended up winning a long 53 move struggle.
#1 - If you haven't moved both your b and g-pawns past the fourth rank in the opening, you're doing something wrong
For our final game, the encounter Vaulin, A. - Sulskis, S. from the last round of a 1999 open tournament in Northern Poland quickly started off on a wacky note with the experienced Lithuanian grandmaster meeting 1.Nf3 with 1. ... b5!? Alexander Vaulin, himself an experienced Russian GM, reacted with his own queenside demonstration 2.a4!? and after 2. ... b4 tried to return to normal development with 3.g3. Sulskis was determined to create a mess though, and after 3. ... Bb7 4.Bg2 lashed out on the other wing with the novel 4. ... g5!? and reached a strange but playable position following 5.d3 g4 6.Nh4 Bxg2 7.Nxg2 d5 8.h3!? gxh3 9.Rxh3 Qd7 10.Rh1 Nc6. Despite some hair-raising complications near the end, Vaulin emerged with the full point after Sulskis became a bit too cavalier with his own king safety.
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