Reti Opening: How Good Is It for Beginners in Chess?
When a World Champion relies on an opening, other players begin to pay attention to it.
This has happened with the Reti Opening after Magnus Carlsen used it to defeat Viswanathan Anand in 2013.
But is the Reti good for beginners?
The Reti Opening is challenging and may not be suitable for beginners. Because it can quickly transpose to another opening, a beginner must be familiar with those openings as well. In addition, a player needs to devote more mental energy to the Reti, energy best saved for the midgame and endgame.
The Reti Opening, sometimes known as the Opening of the Future, is a highly flexible opening that gives White numerous opening options. Unfortunately, that flexibility makes it difficult for a beginner to master it successfully. Although Grandmasters love using it, we have identified at least 6 reasons a beginner should start with another opening.
What Is the Reti Opening?
The answer to the question depends on who you ask.
Traditionally, the Reti opening is 1.Nf3 d5. 2.c4. However, some say that the Reti opening is 1.Nf3 by itself—in other words, a one move opening. Regardless, the Reti has a respectable 39% win rate, which is on par with other flank openings.
For example, Chess calls 1.Nf3 the Reti opening, and 2.c4 is the Reti Gambit. If Black responds with 1…Nf6 the opening has already transposed to The English, King’s Knight Variation. And iChess says the Reti is “characterized by the move 1.Nf3.” Confusing, isn’t it?
At least these facts are not disputed:
- It is named after Richard Reti, a Czechoslovakian Grandmaster.
- The Reti falls in the family of flank openings.
- The opening utilizes several hypermodern principles, especially postponing control of the center.
- Many grandmasters have played this opening, including Levon Aronian, who defeated Magnus Carlsen in a London Chess Classic in 2019. The following year, Carlsen defeated Aronian using the Reti system.
What Makes the Reti Difficult for Beginners?
The Reti is difficult for beginners due to its lack of early moves, how it can quickly transpose to other openings, and its unpredictability. The opening will also cause a chess player to use too much mental energy early in the game. Due to its difficulty, it may not be suitable for beginners.
Just because the Reti is difficult for beginners doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try it. However, before you undertake the study of this opening, you should know what you’re in for.
The following are reasons we think beginners should focus on other openings before tackling the Reti.
The Reti Doesn’t Have a Set of Early Moves
The Reti has three opening moves—White moves 1.Nf3 and 2.c4. After 2.c4, Black is not tied to any specific move. Instead, Black can transpose the opening on the 2nd move. So much for playing the Reti Opening.
Although many openings can be transposed, few have as many as this opening. So a beginning player cannot even count on being able to play it.
The Reti Can Quickly Transpose to Other Openings
Your opponent can choose to transpose to another opening on the response to 2.c4.
Many openings have five or six fairly predictable moves. In that type of opening, your opponent might make a surprising variation. But for the most part, you can see if the variation affects your plans, and if it doesn’t, continue with the opening.
Here are some examples:
- If White plays 3.d4, the game has transposed in the Queen’s Gambit Declined.
- The Queen’s Gambit Accepted happens after 2.c4 dxc4.
- The Neo-Catalan opening occurs after 3.g3 Nf6.
- A Closed Catalan transposition happens if White plays 5.d4.
- The Slave Defense begins with 2.c4 c6 and 3.d4.
Additionally, a player can transpose from the King’s Indian to the Reti. To be successful, a player needs to have some familiarity with those openings.
Beginners Will Play Unrecognizable Openings
If, in your growth as a player, you have studied and become confident with a couple of openings, you have probably been able to beat other beginners who have no opening systems by using the principles of the opening.
But because the Reti is such an unpredictable move, Black’s unorthodox moves can throw you off your game. For example, hypermodern and flank openings rely on Black trying to control the center while building your attack from the flanks.
If Black responds with 2…b6, how should you respond? An advanced player would be confident that 3.d4 is superior to 3.g3.
When your opponent is playing defensively, an offensive move is superior.
Maybe you would have chosen to do the same, but even if you did, you expended mental energy early in the match that you need to save for later in the game.
The Reti Creates Stress Early in the Game
Chess requires mental toughness and a mindset capable of dealing with the stress of a game. Beginning players rarely analyze the mental skills needed in playing chess well.
These include such things as:
- Being self-confident
- Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses
- Handling pressure so you make good decisions
- Avoiding overreacting to a mistake
- Not giving up when you find yourself in a losing position
Playing chess requires mental toughness and long concentration. Openings like the Reti require you to concentrate more early in them than you should.
An opening such as the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) doesn’t require the same level of concentration until you reach a level where you work with complicated lines, like the Marshall Attack—its mainline goes to 8.c3 0-0.
As a beginner, you need to increase your stamina where you will need it—the mid and end game. Having to keep up with the transpositions, which line is the opponent planning on using, and readjusting play for that opening is best left for someone who has more experience.
The Reti Doesn’t Teach Beginners Any Good Opening Principles
Beginners need to learn sound opening principles that apply to most openings.
One should know the rules before breaking them. These guidelines include the following:
- Control the Center: The most important part of the board is the center, and players spend much of the opening trying to control the e4, d4, e5, and d5 squares. Flank openings like the Reti give up that control in return for developing their pieces.
- Develop Minor Pieces: A good opening lets players develop their minor pieces—knights and bishops especially—early on. The Reti enables you to develop some pieces, but other openings have better development.
- Protect Your King: Nothing is more important than protecting your king, and castling is the easiest way to do so. Castling is an early move-in for most openings.
This is what the board looks like after the first five moves:
- Nf3 d5
- c4 e6
- g3 Nf6
- Bg2 Be7
- 0-0 0-0
Black has slightly better control of the center and can bring out all minor pieces.
For having made the first move, White doesn’t seem to have much of an advantage. And what now?
What Are the Advantages of the Reti?
Many players enjoy this opening because of its advantages.
The advantages of the Reti are often gained with experience. This opening has a lot of flexibility, and players use it to play openings they didn’t want. In other words, the same things that make it difficult for beginners are advantages that more experienced players use.
Although the Reti is a fascinating opening used by grandmasters and others at the highest levels of play, it is not an ideal opening for a beginner. Experienced players can use the system’s flexibility to their benefit, but a beginner can get frustrated by the lack of having a more structured opening.
Also, to play this opening successfully, a beginner needs to be familiar with the KID, Queen’s Gambit, and the Slav, among others. A beginner who wants to start with a flank opening should begin with the King’s Indian or English Opening.