Chess Openings – Sokolsky Opening

Category – Flank Opening

Opening Move Sequence – 1 b4

ECO Codes – A00

The Sokolsky Opening is also called Orangutan Opening (see below for origin of that term) or Polish Opening. It is named after Grand Master Alexei Pavlovich Sokolsky from USSR who wrote a short book on this opening in 1963.

According to chess databases of historical tournament games, Sokolsky Opening is the least popular of the nine playable moves (out of twenty possible moves over all) available to White as first move. In other words it is very rare in tournament play.

While it has failed to be popular through out its history, it has been used by several top chess players sporadically. Examples of such use include the Boris Spassky vs. Vasily Smyslov game during the 1960 Moscow Leningrad match and the Richard Réti vs. Abraham Speijer game held in Scheveningen in 1923. In fact, the name Orangutan Opening came in to being due to such a game. The game was played between Savielly Tartakower and Geza Maroczy in 1924. Grand Master Tartakower, visiting the New York Zoo with other players on the previous day, allegedly consulted an orangutan for the next day’s opening move.

Sokolsky Opening is classed with Flank Openings or Irregular Openings which start with moves other than 1.e4 or 1.d4. It has been categorized under A00 code in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings or ECO codes. A00 also include other rare openings.

Moves and Variations

1 b4

The whole idea of this uncommon opening is based on certain tactical considerations regarding f6 and g7 squares as well as the Queen-side in general.

After 1.b4, Black can reply in number of ways.

Black can stake a claim to the center as dictated by classical opening principles (the very principles that White has flouted in making the move 1.b4). This can be done with 1…d5, 1…e5 or 1…f5. In case of 1.b4 d5, game may continue with 2.Bb2 Qd6 which threatens b4 pawn and supports the potential central pawn advance e5. If 1.b4 e5 is played, White usually will not take any notice of the threat to b4 from Bishop at f8. White will continue with the intended fianchetto: Bb2. As a result, Black gets the following options as second move: 2…d6, 2…f6, and 2…Bxb4

Also possible are 1…Nf6, 1…c6, or 1…e6. 1…c6 aims for …Qb6 and a5 and is called the Outflank Variation. 1…e6 aims for moves …d5, …Nf6 and finally for …c5.

Other more atypical replies for Black include 1…a5 or 1…c5. In case of 1.b4 a5, White will play 2.b5 to exploit the Black’s weakness in Queen-side that resulted from 2…a5. Because of this, 1…c5 is considered better for Black. 1…c5 can also be used to avoid the book moves tied to other responses. After bxc5, Black will attack the pawn on c5 and then start an attack against the White’s now weak Queen-side pawns.