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If you’re playing White and want to take an unexpected avenue, the Reti Opening is a great route to take. It’s deceptively simple, but if played right, this move can give White a distinct advantage. It’s increasingly popular but highly conceptual, so it might not always be clear what moves count as a Reti Opening.
The Reti Opening is a play for White mainly defined by move 1. Nf3. It is a hypermodern style of opening, where White concedes control of the center to attack from the flanks. This opening is extremely flexible, and Black has several different ways to respond as well.
This article will walk you through the intricacies of the Reti Opening and take a look at the most popular lines that players often take. Anyone can take advantage of this strategy if they want to throw their opponent off.
What Is the Reti Opening?
This popular opening is played by the White player. Many openings from White take advantage of the fact that they go first by taking control of the central four squares, a classical chess strategy. However, hypermodern openings will put off central control to occupy the sides of the board instead.
Many sources cite the following notation as being the Reti Opening: 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4. While that is how the Reti plays out in several variations, it’s not the only strategy White or Black can take by any means. Every move after 1. Nf3 is a variation on the Reti, as long as the hypermodern principles are being followed.
That said, the Reti can easily be transposed into many other openings and defenses. Some of these will be explored later in this article.
Principles and Theory
The unique development of the Reti is meant to allow White to make some of the moves that Black often makes in their hypermodern openings. That includes the Fianchetto and the Castle, both defensive moves that set up your high-value pieces to make powerful moves.
Here are just a few of the key tactics and strategies involved in the Reti Opening.
Hypermodern openings, as stated above, will not take control of the center immediately and instead will use the flanks to travel up the board and capture pieces. Hypermodernism is often a strategy for the Black player, but the Reti is a hypermodern strategy for White.
White doesn’t use their first-turn advantage to step into the center but tries to lure Black into abandoning their hypermodern strategy.
For other hypermodern openings that Black can use, the Grunfeld Defense and the Pirc Defense are worth considering (though they won’t work in any Reti Opening strategies).
A fianchetto is a cornerstone principle of hypermodernism. It involves setting your bishop up in the seventh row of the b- or g-file so that you can sweep the piece through the center of the board. Fianchetto is a great strategy because it can sneak up on chess players who aren’t paying attention. A fianchetto setup can help you several moves down the line.
If White decides to do so, the Reti Opening will eventually give White the opportunity to fianchetto both of their bishops, giving them powerful but indirect control over the center. This powerful move is critical to your chess play, no matter what school of thought you’re following.
With the Reti Opening, you can castle on your kingside with ease. The very first move clears up one of the necessary spaces.
Castling is moving your king to the opposite side of your rook. In a kingside castle, the rook will move two squares to the left and the king two squares to the right. Kingside castles are a little easier than queenside castles, which also have to contend with the queen’s square.
With the kingside knight moved to f3 and the bishop in the fianchetto position, White can do a kingside castle in four short moves.
How To Play the Reti Opening
While some sources beg to differ, the only defining move of the Reti is the very first move:
However, this is not the only opening move for White that begins with the knight to f3 square. In fact, the King’s Indian Attack also often begins with this move. So what’s the difference between the King’s Indian and the Reti?
The reason that the Reti is often cited as the moves 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 is because this places a piece for White on either side of the center, following the hypermodern principle of avoiding central control. On the other hand, the King’s Indian Attack focuses on specific development and moves that allow White to take control of the center very quickly.
The Reti can be a little bit more flexible with which pawns it places into play.
Why Play the Reti Opening?
If you’re looking to throw off your opponent, the Reti is a great play. Many chess players, especially those who believe that central control is crucial to winning, will use their White advantage to take the center. With the Reti Opening, White does the exact opposite of what Black expects.
The Reti can catch Black off their guard, especially if Black was planning on playing a hypermodern defense themselves. The classical way to play for White is to take advantage of their first turn by immediately occupying the center four squares and the eight squares surrounding them.
Black might not have prepared for this strategy from White and will often not know what to do.
It can be harder to deal with a dual-flank attack from White than a central attack. When all the pieces are concentrated in the center, Black can develop their pieces to quickly take them all out if White doesn’t support themselves well.
Splitting White’s offensive attack between the two sides of the board can be hard for Black to deal with and cause them to eventually lose.
The Reti’s main line is the Reti Gambit and is frequently mistaken for the Reti Opening itself. You don’t have to use the Reti Gambit to play the Reti Opening, but it does leave both White and Black excellent opportunities.
Reti Opening: Reti Gambit
The notation for the Reti Gambit looks like this:
- Nf3 d5
In the Reti Gambit, White moves their king’s bishop to f3, and Black responds by taking central control with their queen’s pawn at d5.
White then will move their pawn to c4. These two simple moves surround Black’s sole pawn in the center and prevent it from making a move without finding itself in an unfavorable trade.
Black now has a few options for their second turn. One common thing to do is move their queen’s pawn in 2. … e6, thus protecting their d5 from a potential trade from White.
Alternatively, Black can move 2. … dxc4, taking the pawn that White just moved. This move is known as the Reti Gambit Accepted. White will most often respond by moving their queen’s pawn to d4, eventually taking Black’s remaining pawn at c4 with their bishop. Thus, white now has primary central control of the board.
Finally, Black can choose to continue pushing their queen’s pawn up to 2. … d4 in the Reti’s Gambit Declined. This makes it difficult for White to control the center, but it allows them to fianchetto by moving a pawn to g6 and eventually castle kingside.
If a player isn’t expecting White to take these opening moves, the Reti Gambit can be extremely subtle and effective.
Best Lines / Other Popular Lines
If White wants to take a different route, or if Black makes a move they don’t expect, another popular move is to pivot to the Queen’s Gambit. However, more often than not, Black will decline.
There are other opening options for both players that will work, but these will begin to rely more on tactics and strategy than memorizing moves.
Reti Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined
Another variation on the Reti is to transpose the move into the Queen’s Gambit Declined. This move can play out a few different ways, but notation for this opening will look like this:
- Nf3 e6 (or d5)
- g3 Nf6
- Bg2 d5 (or e6)
In this opening, Black can respond several different ways. After White’s initial move, Black can move their queen’s pawn to d5 or their king’s pawn to e6. It’s up to Black how defensive or offensive they want to be in this situation.
White, however, will move their g-file pawn to g3. Black will move their knight to the f6 square, supporting their central control.
In response, White sets up a fianchetto on their king’s side in Bg2, leaving room for a castle later on.
Declining the Queen’s Gambit that they set up, Black then moves their king or queen’s pawn forward. So now Black has most of the central control, and White won’t be able to take it without trading some of their mid-value pieces.
While there are countless variations when it comes to the Sicilian Defense, there are four main options we will explore in detail here today. They are the Najdorf variation, the Dragon variation, the Classical variation, and the Scheveningen variation.
All of these variations begin from the Open Sicilian position. Let’s take a look at what to do from the Open Sicilian to effectively play each of these variations.
Reti Opening: Black Plays 1. … Nf6
Rather than going straight for the center like White wants them to do, Black can opt to mirror White’s move and take his knight to f6. If Black wants to take a hypermodern offensive attack like White is trying to do, he can put off moving his central pawns for another few turns.
This might backfire if Black doesn’t have a solid plan of attack.
Reti Opening: Black Plays 1. … g6
If Black wants to immediately set up an impressive development, they can move their g6 pawn immediately. This might throw off White as a timid play and might not impact their gameplay, but it sets Black up perfectly for a kingside fianchetto.
If Black is looking to make an aggressive play right out of the gate and take White’s focus off of their original strategy, this is an excellent move to make.
The Reti catches Black off-guard by deferring control of the center, which White almost always prioritizes. Thus, even if Black had been planning on a hypermodern style of attack, they might ditch their plan for one they haven’t thought through completely if they realize that White is doing the same thing.
White’s fianchetto might go unnoticed if Black is focused on their strategy, and it could lead to a blunder on their part.
There are some drawbacks to learning such a conceptual opening, which is that some players may feel it’s unsophisticated. The Reti is very flexible, but it doesn’t offer very many options to make an aggressive move early on if that’s what a player wants to do.
White may also prefer to capture the center early on and force Black to lose a few pawns if they want to take central control from them.
There’s also the possibility that Black will capture White’s pawn in a Reti’s Gambit immediately, which could take some of the teeth out of White’s offensive strategy.
The Reti Opening is generally more favorable for White players. Here are the statistics surrounding the Reti Opening, according to ChessGames.com.
- White Victory: 38.2% of the time
- Black Victory: 30.1% of the time
- Draws: 31.7% of the time
Famous Games & Popular Players
The Reti has been a common defense for years and is still used by plenty of popular current chess masters. Here are just a few popular players known for using the Reti Opening, plus some famous games that White players won with the move.
The namesake for the Reti Opening was a Czech chess master and an early proponent of hypermodernism. Richard Reti’s most famous use of the Reti Opening took place at the New York 1924 chess tournament, where Reti used the move against champion José Raúl Capablanca and won.
Reti was more famous for his endgame technique, including the study known as the “Reti Maneuver.”
Nakamura is a modern chess player who has played the Reti Opening 95 separate times in scored chess games. Nakamura is an exceptionally popular player who streams on Twitch under the sponsorship of Chess.com. He’s currently the eighteenth-best player in the world, according to the International Chess Foundation.
Famous Games Won With the Reti Opening
If you’re looking for a good read on the Sicilian Defense and its wide range of variations and lines, you have plenty of options to choose from. This opening is one of the most studied in chess, and much has been written on the topic. We have compiled a few top reads here to get you started.
Reti: Move by Move, by Thomas Engqvis
Beating Unusual Chess Openings: Dealing with the English, Reti, King’s Indian Attack and other annoying systems, by Richard Palliser
The Reti: Move by Move, by Sam Collins
What To Do After the Reti Opening?
The Reti opening is all about anticipating your opponent’s moves and adapting what you do based on their reactions. For example, if Black responds to the Reti by occupying the center, White should continue advancing up the flanks of the board and wait until a trade in the center would work in their favor.
If Black responds by avoiding the center and advancing pieces along the sides of the board, White can quickly take control of the center with the extra support of their kingside knight.
Is the Reti Opening Good for Beginners?
One of the most intimidating things about chess is all the different openings and variations that chess masters have memorized. Amateur players may find this far too difficult and not even useful since most casual players don’t play openings.
That’s why the Reti is useful for beginners. You don’t have to memorize dozens of permutations, and the strategy is exceedingly simple: avoid occupying the center until learning Black’s strategy.
Isn’t the Reti Opening Just the King’s Indian Attack?
No. The Reti can quickly be transposed into a King’s Indian if White wants, but the Reti is a system all in itself. Applying a Reti Opening to your game is nice because it can be very flexible.
The King’s Indian Attack is also flexible, but only certain moves are part of the opening. You can play several different pawns when executing your Reti Opening.
The Reti Opening is a hypermodern defense that begins with White moving their kingside knight to f3. This play is easy to learn and can be extremely effective for novice players, so every casual chess player should make an effort to learn it.
Because this opening is so popular, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. Don’t focus so much on memorizing moves as the principles of the moves. What should you do when your opponent moves a kingside pawn when you’re trying to carry out a hypermodern opening? Studying openings like the Reti will help you figure out just that.
- Wikipedia: Reti Opening
- Wikipedia: Hypermodernism (chess)
- Wikipedia: Fianchetto
- Wikipedia: Castling
- Chessgames.com: Reti Opening
- Wikipedia: Richard Reti
- Wikipedia: José Raúl Capablanca
- Wikipedia: Réti endgame study
- Wikipedia: Hikaru Nakamura
- International Chess Federation: Standard Top 100 Players June 2021
- Chessgames.com: Richard Reti vs Jose Raul Capablanca, 1924
- Chessgames.com: Max Euwe vs Alexander Alekhine, 1927
- Chessgames.com: Richard Reti vs Efim Bogoljubov, 1924