This is a powerful chess opening you can use to dismiss the myth that positional chess is for people who fear tactics. You will get to reveal both your positional and tactical strength’s in Larsen’s Opening.
Even your alert and well-prepared opponents are going to struggle to prove an advantage against 1.b3.
At his peak, Bent Larsen was considered one of the two strongest chess players in the world outside the Soviet Union. The other was Bobby Fischer.
Indeed, any opening carrying his name deserves due consideration and lots of credit.
IM Levy Rozman has a great collection of games showing how you can use Larsen’s Opening in your games to surprise and devastate your opponents.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
What Makes 1.b3 One of the Best Opening Moves in Chess?
The empty space inside your coffee mug makes it useful at the start of your day. You couldn’t walk through a door if there wasn’t open space inside the door frame.
What makes 1.b3 one of the best opening moves in chess is found more in what it does not have than what it offers.
Here are the three things missing from Larsen’s Opening that makes it very appealing to beginners and positional players alike:
- There isn’t a large body of opening theory with razor-sharp lines you have to know. In fact, you can learn the opening in the morning and be winning games in the afternoon! Learn the ideas and strategies against Black’s different set-ups, and you can play this opening with confidence.
- Control of the center with pawns by White is nowhere to be found in Larsen’s Opening. Black might choose to occupy the center with …e5 and …d5. In true hypermodern fashion, we invite Black to fill the central vacuum and counter-attack.
- There is no rigid pawn structure or even a standard piece placement, apart from b3 and Bb2. You can play in English Opening style with c4, or the double-fianchetto opening, or even in the spirit of the Trompowsky if Black allows Bxf6. This means there is a way to play that suits your personal style. If you usually play 1.c4 and want to catch your opponent by surprise, you might start 1.b3 and transpose to a favorable English Opening variation later.
That being said, Larsen’s 1.b3 has lots to offer. As you will soon find out!
Black Takes Control of the Center with …e5 and …d5.
Unsurprisingly occupying the center with pawns is the chess opening strategy we like to see Black adopt. Although our plan is relatively straightforward, we shouldn’t get complacent.
Black has more space and easy development for his pieces. Combining centralization with the occupation of the center with pawns can’t be wrong.
The crucial move for White against …e5 and …d5 is 4.Bb5.
1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 d5 3.e3 Nc6 4.Bb5
White threatens to win a pawn with Bxe5. Black’s best response is 4…Bd6, defending the pawn while developing a piece.
4…f6 is met with either 5.Ne2 or 5.d4.
4…e4 is tricky and shows how tactical the position can get. A sample line is 5.Ne2 Qg5 (using the fact White left the g2 pawn undefended after Bb5) 6.c4 Qxg2 7.Rg1 Qxh2 8.cxd5 a6 9.Bxc6 bxc6 10.Qc2 Ne7 11.Nbc3
Now Black can blunder with the seemingly natural 11…cxd5 12.Nxd5 Nxd5 13.Qc6+ when White is winning! Ferocious attacks like this are what make 1.b3 one of the best opening moves in chess.
Take a look at how the play might develop after Black uses the bishop to defend the pawn and plays 4…Bd6.
Black Plays …e5 and …d6
When Black defends his e5-pawn with …d6, he is most likely going to fianchetto his bishop on g7.
Against this defense, White can play in a much more positional manner with c4 and Bg2. Transposing into the English Opening versus a King’s Indian Defense or Dutch Defense.
Take a look at how Nikita Victiugov gained the slightest material advantage and transformed it into a win.
Another approach by White is to play a Reverse French with e3, d4, and c4. The flexibility of Larsen’s Opening is what makes it one of the best opening moves in chess.
Although the next game starts with 1.Nf3, here is how we might reach the Reverse French set-up with 1.b3
1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 d6 3.e3 Nd7 4.Nf3 g6 5.d4 Bg7 6.c4 Ngf6 7.Be2 0-0 8.Nc3 Re8 9.Qc2 a6 10.0-0-0
Opposite side castling occurs a lot more frequently than you might think in Larsen’s Opening. 1.b3 seems like a move played by players only interested in a slow, maneuvering battle.
Look at how Ian Watson ended the game by keeping the Black king from recapturing on d8. This allowed White to fork the king and bishop on the next move, gaining a decisive material advantage.
Black Plays 1…Nf6
A good way of meeting 1…Nf6 is to follow Jobava’s system of rapid development on the queenside and then launch a kingside attack.
The moves to play are b3, Bb2, Nc3, d4, Qc2, and 0-0-0. This is followed by f3 to support the g4 and h4 pawn advances.
A simple, dangerous, and highly effective strategy that leads to exhilarating games.
This system has worked for Jobava against players rated above 2600, so play it with confidence against your opponents.
Here are two games played by Jobava.
Jobava, Baadur (2696) – Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar (2759), Tbilisi FIDE GP, Tbilisi, 2015.02.20, 1-0
Jobava, Ba (2699) – Goganov, A. (2609), 2017.06.14, 1-0
You will need a plan B if you get drawn to play Magnus Carlsen in a tournament. Jobava lost to Magnus, but it usually isn’t the fault of your opening system.
In case you were curious, here is the game between Magnus and Jobava.
Jobava, Ba (2727) – Carlsen, M (2862), 2016.05.01, 0-1
Positional players could do a lot worse than making 1.b3 their best opening move in chess.
Attacking players might want to include it in their repertoire too!
The flexibility and hidden attacking potential of 1.b3 make it one of the best opening moves in chess.
You can enjoy playing the opening again in a relaxed and confident fashion knowing you aren’t likely to get caught in any opening traps your opponent has up their sleeve.
If anybody is in danger of losing suddenly, it’s your opponent!