Sokolsky Opening

The Sokolsky Opening (also known as the Orangutan or Polish Opening) is an uncommon chess opening that begins with the move:

Sokolsky Opening
a8 black rook
b8 black knight
c8 black bishop
d8 black queen
e8 black king
f8 black bishop
g8 black knight
h8 black rook
a7 black pawn
b7 black pawn
c7 black pawn
d7 black pawn
e7 black pawn
f7 black pawn
g7 black pawn
h7 black pawn
b4 white pawn
a2 white pawn
c2 white pawn
d2 white pawn
e2 white pawn
f2 white pawn
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
a1 white rook
b1 white knight
c1 white bishop
d1 white queen
e1 white king
f1 white bishop
g1 white knight
h1 white rook
Moves1. b4
Named afterAlexei Pavlovich Sokolsky
ParentIrregular chess opening
Synonym(s)Orangutan Opening
Polish Opening
1. b4

According to various databases, out of the twenty possible first moves from White, the move 1.b4 ranks ninth in popularity.[1] It is considered an irregular opening, so it is classified under the A00 code in the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO).


The opening has never been popular at the top level, though a number of prominent players have employed it on occasion (for example, Richard Réti against Abraham Speijer in Scheveningen 1923 and Boris Spassky against Vasily Smyslov in the 1960 Moscow–Leningrad match). Soviet player Alexei Pavlovich Sokolsky (1908–1969) wrote a monograph on this opening in 1963, Debyut 1 b2–b4. In May 2021, world champion Magnus Carlsen essayed the opening against GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So in the online FTX Crypto Cup rapid tournament.[2]

Perhaps its most famous use came in the game Tartakower versus Maróczy, in the New York 1924 chess tournament on March 21, 1924.[3] The name "Orangutan Opening" originates from that game: the players visited the Bronx Zoo the previous day, where Tartakower consulted an orangutan named Susan, and she somehow indicated, Tartakower insisted, that he should open with b4. Also, Tartakower noted that the climbing movement of the pawn to b5 reminded him of the orangutan. In that particular game, Tartakower came out of the opening with a decent position, but the game was drawn.[4][5] Alekhine, who played in the tournament and wrote a book on it, said that 1.b4 was an old move, and that the problem is that it reveals White's intentions, before White knows what Black's intentions are.[6]

The opening is largely based upon tactics on the queenside or the f6- and g7-squares. Black can respond in a variety of ways: For example, Black can make a claim on the centre (which White's first move ignores) with 1...d5 (possibly followed by 2.Bb2 Qd6, attacking b4 and supporting ...e7–e5),[7] 1...e5 or 1...f5. Less ambitious moves like 1...Nf6, 1...c6 (called the Outflank Variation, preparing ...Qb6 or ...a5), and 1...e6 are also reasonable. Rarer attempts have been made with 1...a5 or 1...c5. Black's reply 1...e6 is usually followed by ...d5, ...Nf6 and an eventual ...c5. After 1.b4 e5 it is normal for White to ignore the attack on the b-pawn and play 2.Bb2, when 2...d6, 2...f6, and 2...Bxb4 are all playable. After 1...a5 White will most likely play 2.b5 and take advantage of Black's queenside weakness. Black's 1...c5 is much sharper and more aggressive and is normally used to avoid theory. After the capture Black will generally place pressure on the c5-square and will develop an attack against White's weak queenside structure at the cost of an inferior central position.

See alsoEdit

Named variationsEdit

  • 1...c5 (Birmingham Gambit)
  • 1...c6 (Outflank Variation)
  • 1...c6 2.Bb2 a5 3.b5 cxb5 4.e4 (Schuhler Gambit)
  • 1...d5 2.Bb2 c6 3.a4 (Myers Variation)
  • 1...d5 2.Bb2 Qd6 3.a3 e5 4.Nf3 e4 5.Nd4 Nf6 6.c4! dxc4 7.e3 Be7 8.Bxc4 O-O 9.Nc3 (German Defense)
  • 1...e5 2.a3 (Bugayev Attack)
  • 1...e5 2.Bb2 c5 (Wolferts Gambit)
  • 1...e5 2.Bb2 f6 3.e4 Bxb4 (Tartakower Gambit)
  • 1...e5 2.Bb2 f6 3.e4 Bxb4 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.f4 Qe7 6.f5 g6 (Brinckmann Variation)
  • 1...Na6 (Bucker Defense Kingsley Variation)
  • 1...Nc6 (Grigorian Variation)
  • 1...Nf6 2.Bb2 g6 3.g4 (Polish Spike)
  • 1...Nh6 (Karniewski Variation)
  • 1...b5 (Cullen Defense)


  1. ^ See for example ChessBase Archived 2009-02-28 at the Wayback Machine, 365chess opening explorer, and opening explorer
  2. ^ "Magnus Carlsen wins "absolutely insane" FTX Crypto Cup final". Chess24. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  3. ^ "Savielly Tartakower vs Geza Maroczy". Retrieved 2008-01-20.
  4. ^ Weinreb, Michael. "Kings of New York". Gotham Books. 2007
  5. ^ Danelishen, Gary; M. “The Final Theory of Chess”. Phillidore Press 2008 ISBN 978-0981567709
  6. ^ Alekhine, Alexander. “New York 1924”. Russell Enterprises, Inc. 2009 p. 64 ISBN 978-1888690484
  7. ^ Martin, Andrew (2004). "How To Meet The Polish & Grob". Archived from the original on 2012-04-19.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)


External linksEdit