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Apart from being a sound chess opening, the Bird’s Opening provides you with the opportunity to catch many of your opponents unprepared. Dutch Defense players will find many opportunities to play their favored setups in the Bird’s Opening Dutch variations.
Looking at the lichess.org database will show you how effective Bird’s Opening is as a surprise weapon. 1.e4 appears in over one million games in the database, but 1.f4 in only six thousand.
In light of this, you are sure to catch many opponents unprepared to face this strong opening move.
None other than Magnus Carlsen has used Bird’s Opening successfully against players rated 2800 Elo. He defeated Wesley So (2815) and former World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik (2802) with 1.f4.
Aronian has used Bird’s Opening to defeat Veselin Topalov – another 2800 rated player.
Their successes with Bird’s Opening must make this underrated chess opening worth serious consideration.
In her best-selling Master Method course, IM Anna Rudolf chose to use Bird’s Opening in her video about the correct way to learn a chess opening:
Ideas and Strategies Behind the Bird’s Opening
Named after Henry Bird, a British chess master, Bird’s Opening has been played since the 1850s.
Although Bird’s Opening offers a lot to all chess players, those who play the Dutch Defense will save an incredible amount of opening study time. If you meet 1.Nf3, 1.c4, 1.d4, and 1.g3 with 1…f5, you can use your experience with the Dutch Defense structures in Bird’s Opening.
The structure and strategies will be familiar to you, and you will have a good feel for the middlegame positions.
However, even if you don’t play 1…f5, learning Bird’s Opening will not place a heavy theoretical burden upon you.
The main idea behind 1.f4 is to take control of the e5-square. White will look to occupy this square with a knight, which is often supported by the second knight with Nbd2-f3.
One of the advantages offered by Bird’s Opening is its flexibility. You can play a Bird’s Opening Reversed Leningrad Dutch variation with Bg2 or develop the bishop to d3, setting up a Bird’s Opening Dutch Reversed Stonewall variation.
There are many attacking possibilities on the kingside to satisfy players who enjoy active piece play. Positional players can aim for a slow, central build-up similar to the Closed Sicilian with c3 and d3-d4.
Beware of Two Deadly Bird’s Opening Traps
There are two Bird’s Opening traps that seek to take advantage of the exposed king on the e1-h4 diagonal. Developing the knight to f3 as soon as possible will eliminate the trap involving …Qh4+.
You can avoid the second Bird’s Opening trap by playing g3 instead of h3, which opens a hole on g3.
All chess openings require you to learn some theory, and From’s Gambit makes this a necessity. Black counterattacks immediately with 1…e5 when White is advised to accept the gambit.
From’s Gambit is a tricky line, and White must always be aware of the danger posed by …Qh4+ with the black bishop on d6 – controlling g3. Both Bird’s Opening traps occur in the From’s Gambit.
The Dangerous From’s Gambit – Favored by Club Players
1.f4 e5 2.fxe5 d6 3.exd6 Bxd6 4.Nf3 g5
The bishop on d6 is a vital piece in two Bird’s Opening traps. By playing 4.Nf3 instead of 4.Nc3 White avoids the Bird’s Eye Trap involving 4…Qh4+ 5.g3 Bxg3+ 6.hxg3 Qxg3 mate!
Do not try to stop …g4 with 5.h3?? This move allows a second Bird’s Opening Trap – 5…Bg3 checkmate!
The safer option is 5.g3 preparing a safe square for the knight on h4.
5.g3 g4 6.Nh4 Ne7 7.Nc3 Ng6 8.Nxg6 hxg6 9.Ne4 Be5 10.Bg2 f5 11.Nf2
The f2-square is perfect for the white knight because it protects the h1 rook and supports the e4 advance.
In the From’s Gambit variation of Bird’s Opening, a common theme is both sides castling queenside. Hauge was rated 175 Elo lower than his opponent in this game and still won.
Hauge, Lars Oskar (2483) – Ganguly, S. (2658), 2020.01.30, 1-0
Because Black gives up both his central pawns in From’s Gambit, occupying the center with pawns makes a lot of sense for White. Instead of 7.Nc3, another excellent choice is 7.d4
The From’s Gambit leads to exciting play, but the well-prepared player need not fear Black’s initiative, even with your king staying rooted in the center. Legky emerged victorious in only twenty-six moves despite his king being on e1 without any pawn cover.
Legky, Nikolay A – Gogichaishvili, Giorgi, 2017.09.26, 1-0
Facing the Classical 1…d5 in Bird’s Opening
One of the best ways to play against 1…d5 in the Bird’s Opening is with the Reverse Leningrad Dutch variation. Apart from being easy to play, the system adheres to many sound opening principles – control the center, place your bishop on the long diagonal, and advance in the center.
The move Qe1 is a dual-purpose move crucial to the success of White’s opening play.
On e1, the queen supports both e4 and a kingside attack. White can advance on the kingside with h3, g4, and Qh4.
1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.0-0 0-0 6.d3 c5 7.Qe1 Nc6
8.e4 dxe4 9.dxe4 e5 10.Nc3 Nd4 11.Rf2 Ng4 12.Rd2
Gata Kamsky reached the Bird’s Opening by transposition from 1.g3. If you are a regular 1.g3 player, you could catch opponents by surprise when you start with your usual move and switch to the Bird’s Opening.
Kamsky, G. – Golubev, R., 2018.08.14, 1-0
Of course, if Black is aware of your intention to play e4 after Qe1, it makes sense to prevent the advance with …d4.
White can undermine this advanced pawn with c3. The c3 advance also provides White with an excellent square for the knight, which can get developed with Na3-c2.
Vladimir Malaniuk used the knight on c2 to expand on the queenside. In his game against Falko Bindrich, he played b4, and after …cxb4, Black was left with an advanced, isolated pawn on d4.
Take a look at how Vladimir encircled and won the d4 pawn. You might have the opportunity to use this technique in one of your games.
Malaniuk, Vladimir P – Bindrich, Falko, 2018.06.20, 1-0
Meeting 1…Nf6 With the Stonewall Setup
Along with the Reversed Leningrad, another effective setup for White in the Bird’s Opening is the Reversed Stonewall Dutch variation.
Developing the bishop to d3 places it on a more active square than e2 and allows the queen to move to e2. The queen and bishop battery makes it more challenging for Black to exchange bishops with …b6 and …Ba6.
When Black plays …b6, be ready to prevent …Ba6 with an immediate Qe2.
By placing pawns on f4, d4, and e3, White makes it extremely challenging for Black to play the freeing …e5. This central control and attacking chances on the kingside offset the hole on e4.
1.f4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 d5 4.e3 Bg7 5.Bd3 c5
6.c3 0-0 7.0-0 b6 8.Qe2 Bb7 9.b3 Ne4 10.Bb2 Nd7
White will connect the rooks with Nbd2 and then seek to advance through the center.
Szablowski, Pawel – Rodriguez Lopez, Rafael, 2018.02.21, 1-0
Black Plays a Reversed English Against Bird’s Opening
In the English Opening against 1…e5 one option for White is to play a Reversed Sicilian (1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd4 Nxd4). When Black plays a Reversed English, the opening often transposes into positions more commonly found in the Closed Sicilian.
This transposition happens most frequently when White adopts the powerful Bird’s Opening Reversed Leningrad Dutch variation of Bird’s Opening. If you can use one setup effectively against multiple responses by Black, it makes good sense.
Apart from reducing how much theory you need to know, you will likely have a better feel for the middlegame positions that arise. Even if Black achieves equality, your excellent feel for the position can tip the balance in your favor.
1.f4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.e4 d6
When your opponent allows you the chance to take control of the center with e4 and f4, seize your opportunity. The e4 and f4 pawns will enable you to generate an attack on the kingside.
The chance to attack the kingside is made easier if your opponent has assisted you by creating a hook with g6!
6.d3 Nf6 7.0-0 0-0 8.Qe1 Rb8 9.h3 b5 10.g4 c4
In typical English Opening fashion, Black has expanded on the queenside. However, White has begun his pawn advance on the kingside, where the black king has chosen to seek shelter.
There is no more important target than the king, making the White attack more dangerous than Black’s queenside expansion.
Svidler, P. (2753) – Vitiugov, N. (2742), 2017.02.05, 1-0
Always keep in mind the lower the opinion your opponent has of your opening choice, the more likely he is to play carelessly in the opening. Even though you know Bird’s Opening is a solid choice, letting others underestimate the opening will serve you well.
Remember to avoid the Bird’s Opening trap in the From Gambit and you will reach a pleasant middlegame position against any defense by Black.
Apart from Carlsen and Aronian, other great attacking players like Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura have played Bird’s Opening.
Haven’t you waited long enough to discover the hidden potential of Bird’s Opening?
Start by learning how to meet Black’s three most common responses first. You will be pleasantly surprised to find there are not many other variations for you to know.
Don’t deny yourself the opportunity of many enjoyable games by waiting until you have studied all of Bird’s Opening. Go out there and give it a test run now.
The fun you have will make learning more about Bird’s Opening a lot more enjoyable.
Despite all the fun you will have attacking in the Bird’s Opening there is much more to learn about chess. Yes, IM Anna Rudolf will teach you how to attack like a beast but a lot more as well.
Reducing the number of blunders you make will go a long way to improving your results.
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