The Reti Opening: The Ultimate Chess Opening Guide
What Is The Reti Opening?
- a chess opening for White
- characterized by the move 1.Nf3
- named after the Czechoslovakian Grandmaster Richard Réti
- first played in the 1920s (including Réti’s famous win over Capablanca with this opening in 1924)
- a hypermodern, dynamic and flexible chess opening
The Reti Opening is a positionally interesting opening for White full of hidden bite. Thanks to its flexibility and many ways to play for a win, the Reti has slowly become more and more popular among players of all levels.
Not only has the Reti Opening been frequently played by the best grandmasters of the past such as Anatoly Karpov and Ulf Andersson, but it is also played by many leading grandmasters today – Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, Peter Svidler, Hikaru Nakamura, Vladimir Kramnik and many more.
The Reti Opening occurs after the move 1.Nf3 (see the diagram on the left).
The opening is called the Reti Opening because it was introduced and regularly played by the Czechoslovakian Grandmaster Richard Réti in the 1920s.
If you’re not an opening expert, you might have heard the name of Reti associated with some important endgame studies. Richard Reti did a lot of work on endgames in the first half of the 20th century. Most notably, there is the so-called “Reti Idea” in pawn endgames which every ambitious chess player should know:
With Richard Reti’s accomplishments in the endgame in mind, let’s come back to his opening.
To begin, let’s go for a little journey through time and take a look at this inspirational game by the pioneer of this opening:
Reti, Richard – Capablanca, José Raul: New York 1924
In the 1920s, chess players were more familiar with classical chess openings where both players occupied the center with their pawns. Thus, the Reti Opening came as a huge surprise to most players.
As we can already see from this game, the Reti Opening is a flank opening, meaning that White does not start off by pushing his central pawns, but goes for a different – a hypermodern – strategy. White does not try to control the center early on with his pawns but spends some time on fianchettoing his light-squared bishop and only then increases his central influence with the moves c2-c4 and sometimes d2-d4.
- If you want to know how to study chess openings the right way, read this detailed and easy-to-scan guide on how to learn openings
This opening guide on the Reti Opening provides you with all you need to know about this slightly underrated chess opening. What are the overall advantages of playing the Reti Opening? What opening traps and typical tactical motifs should White be aware of? And what are the main lines and the latest theoretical developments for both sides?
The Reti Opening – Basics and Key Concepts
When talking about the Reti Opening, it’s key to more accurately define the opening. Of course, the move 1.Nf3 is not really enough to define the opening as the Reti.
First of all, other chess openings like the King’s Indian Attack can also start with this move. Secondly, after 1.Nf3, the game can transpose into numerous other openings. For example, the moves 1.Nf3 c5 2.e4 (which leads to the Sicilian Defense), or 1.Nf3 f5 2.d4 (the Dutch Opening).
Therefore, one needs to understand the general set up a Reti player aims for when playing the move 1.Nf3.
White usually starts out by playing the moves Nf3, c4, g3 and Bg2. Afterward, White almost always castles kingside. Later, it’s usually a critical question for White to decide where to put his d-pawn. In some lines the d-pawn goes to d4, but in other lines it’s very well placed on d3. Moreover, the Reti Opening is often based on double fianchetto systems by White. Therefore, White also fianchettos his queenside bishop with b3 and Bb2 in many lines.
Moreover, it’s an unspoken secret that the fianchettoed light-squared bishop on g2 makes up the very heart of the White position in most variations. This bishop tends to play a very important role on the long diagonal, being a lot better placed than the Black counterpart on c8.
Due to the fact that there aren’t too many publications and training sources on the Reti Opening available on the chess market (several opening books for Black even deal with the Reti Opening under headlines such as “Minor Openings” or “Sidelines for White“), it’s sometimes a bit vague as to which move orders can be classified as the Reti.
Several sources, for example, define the Reti Opening with the moves 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 (see the diagram on the left).
While this might be a more technically precise definition, it’s of little help to the practical tournament player. If your opening repertoire only covers one out of many first moves by Black, you need to study a lot more openings against all of Black’s other first moves. What to do if Black goes for 1…Nf6, 1…e6, 1…c5 or 1…f5?
Apart from that, it also needs to be said that the move order 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 has become one of the most debated move orders in recent years. Against Black’s move 1…d5, a lot of experts on the Reti Opening regularly go for 2.g3 (not allowing Black to seize space with 2…d4) instead of 2.c4. We’ll come back to this move order discussion later in the article.
In any event, the aim of this article is not only to deal with the move 1…d5, but to provide you with ideas, variations, and additional chess training resources to build up a complete repertoire in the Reti Opening.
it should be said that a single article can’t cover all variations which can arise from the Reti Opening in detail – such a monumental task could easily fill a thick book. Against the move 1…c5, for example, we recommend you take a closer look at our complete opening guide on the English Opening as a Reti player. After the moves 1.Nf3 c5, White usually plays 2.c4, transposing to lines which frequently occur in the Symmetrical Variation of the English Opening.
Why Play The Reti Opening?
Before we dive deep into any lines, it’s always a wise decision to take a look at the broader picture. Why play the Reti Opening at all? What kind of playing style will suit the Reti?
There are several reasons to play the Reti Opening:
- First of all, playing the Reti Opening can be a vital alternative for all 1.e4- and 1.d4-players who are tired of repeatedly entering the highly theoretical terrain of all the mainlines Black can choose from. The Reti Opening will frustrate Black players used to trying their pet lines against White’s major openings.
- Similarly, the Reti Opening is a surprising opening. Starting out with the move 1.Nf3 is a clever choice. Club players often have no repertoire against the Reti Opening. They usually know which opening to play against 1.e4, 1.d4 and 1.c4, but they tend to be ill-prepared to meet the move 1.Nf3. Club players who meet the English Opening (1.c4) with the move 1…e5, for example, can easily be out of book on move one. They tend to play a random other move and are in unknown English Opening territory after the Reti players then plays 2.c4.
- Thirdly, the Reti Opening leads to plenty of unforced variations. Direct contact between the pieces is often delayed in the opening and both sides often have a wide range of moves. Therefore, White can avoid premature simplifications, keep many pieces on the board and go for the full point.
- Moreover, the Reti is fairly flexible and enables you to become a very versatile player. You can often transpose into other openings like the 1.d4-complex or the English Opening. That said, you can start building your White repertoire by playing the Reti Opening exclusively and adding more and more variations step-by-step.
- If you’re already a 1.d4-player, adding the Reti Opening to your repertoire allows you to avoid a lot of unpleasant lines like the Slav Defense, the Nimzo-Indian or the Grunfeld Defense. Your opponents will have a hard time dealing with your flexibility in the opening when they prepare against you.
- The Reti Opening not only helps you to steer away from mainstream theory. Thanks to the theoretical developments over the last years, the Reti Opening definitely carries a lot of theoretical bite in many lines. It is a common occurrence that club players try to develop naturally against the Reti Opening and soon find themselves in a strategically lost position. They lose the game without even understanding why they lost.
Reti Opening – Typical Chess Tactics
Active learning is the key to success in chess.
Before we go deeper into various lines and variations, you have the opportunity to dive actively into the waters of the Reti Opening, and solve 4 puzzles which feature typical tactical motifs that frequently arise from this opening. Have a go! (You’ll find all the solutions at the end of the article.)
Theory Section: The Reti Opening
There are several moves Black can play against 1.Nf3. We take a look at the most important moves step-by-step. As a warning, however, it also needs to be said that there are many variations, transpositions and move order tricks in the Reti Opening. Be careful not to miss the forest for the trees!
Reti Opening: Black plays 1…d5 (1.Nf3 d5)
Against the move 1…d5, the classical Reti move is 1.c4. Yet, we recommend you play the move 2.g3 with White and delay the advance of the c-pawn for now. This has several advantages:
- White does not allow Black to play the move 2…d4, leading to a Benoni Defense with colors reversed where Black has not committed himself to any specific setup. In this line, Black can choose from a wide range of ideas and White’s needs to be prepared against all of them.
- Black players are usually well-prepared for the line 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4. If White does not know how to properly play the line, he can easily be worse in less than 10 moves. This is uncomfortable for most Reti-players, who opt for a slower positional struggle where they get a very solid position from the opening. The move 2.g3 (with the intention to play the Reti Opening) is a lot rarer and will probably surprise your rivals.
- In most cases, the moves 2.c4 and 2.g3 transpose to the same lines anyway. By choosing the move 2.g3, we take away the most dangerous extra option for Black, not allowing him to steer the game into his direction.
- With the move 2.g3, you don’t show your cards yet. You still leave your opponent guessing whether you might play the King’s Indian Attack. Your opponent needs to be careful with his move order not to end up in a line he does not want to play.
We’re not only looking at the Black setups which usually arise after either 2.c4 or 2.g3, but also at the setups Black can play to make use of the fact that White did not play 2.c4, but 2.g3.
Reti Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined Structures (1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.c4)
The following setup is one of the most classical setups for Black and you face it frequently when playing the Reti Opening. It’s key to study it really well as this allows you to score many easy points. Moreover, understanding the structures and positional ideas in these lines helps you to become a better overall strategic player.
It should be noted that we’re looking at this setup under the headline “Reti Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined Structures”. Yet, what makes this setup so famous for Black players is that not only Queen’s Gambit Declined players go for it, but also Queen’s Indian players, Nimzo Indian players and Bogo Indian players. Black does not necessarily need to start with 1…d5 here. He could as well play 1…Nf6, 1…e6 or 1…b6 first.
Reti Opening: The Benoni With Reversed Colors (1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.c4 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.b3 d4)
The opening repertoire in this article is usually aimed at avoiding positions where Black plays …d4 and goes for a Benoni setup with colors reversed.
Yet, there is a moment when we can’t really avoid this if we don’t want to play d2-d4 too early. However, the moment where Black can go for the Benoni setup, he already commits himself to play quite a passive setup including moves he would usually not play in a Benoni. We’ll look at it in detail:
Reti Opening: 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 and 2…c5/2…Bg4/2…Nc6
We also need to take a quick look at the moves which Black can play to make use of the fact that White has played 2.g3 instead of 2.c4.
Reti Opening: Tarrasch Defense (1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.c4 c5 5.cxd5)
As we’ve seen in some lines already, Black has the chance to transpose into the Tarrasch Defense of the Queen’s Gambit. Here, White should play the move d2-d4 and transpose to Tarrasch Defense.
Let’s take a look at a sensible setup for White which is not only easy to learn but also extremely effective and underestimated. It has been mentioned by GM Jan Gustafsson (an expert and one of Magnus Carlsen’s seconds for his latest World Chess Championship matches) in one of his video series on building a 1.d4-repertoire.
Reti Opening: Slav Structures (1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 c6 4.c4)
When playing the Reti Opening, it happens quite often that Black tries to reach a Slav setup. Thus, it’s important to know how to meet the different lines Black can attempt.
It should be mentioned that the Reti Opening move order is very effective against the Slav Defense and a key argument for 1.d4-players (tired of proving any advantage at all against the rock-solid Slav Defense) to add the Reti to their opening repertoire. One of the main reasons for this is that White does not commit his d-pawn to d4 so early. If Black brings his light-squared bishop outside the pawn chain to f5 or g4, White simply plays d2-d3, restricting this bishop and letting it bite on granite.
Reti Opening: King’s Indian Defense and Grunfeld Defense Setups (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.b4)
As a Reti player, you have a lot of options to play against King’s Indian Defense players and Grunfeld Defense players. We’re going to propose an ambitious setup with an early b2-b4 for White which works very well against the King’s Indian Defense. It also scores well against the Grunfeld Defense, but – honestly speaking – Black should be able to equalize if he knows a few precise moves. Don’t forget the point of the opening is to reach a good position you can work with.
It’s a sensible idea to add additional systems against the King’s Indian Defense and the Grunfeld Defense to your repertoire over time. Here are some suggestions:
- A good choice for Reti players against the King’s Indian Defense and the Grunfeld Defense is to transpose to 1.d4-territory and play the fianchetto lines (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.Nc3 d6 6.d4 against the King’s Indian Defense; 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d4 against the Grunfeld Defense). With a fianchettoed bishop on g2, White is in familiar territory and has serious chances to prove a slight opening advantage. Without a doubt, the best sources to learn these systems for White are Boris Avrukh’s opening book Grandmaster Repertoire 2A – King’s Indian and Grunfeld.
- Another interesting choice for a Reti player against the King’s Indian Defense is to transpose to 1.d4 territory and play the Exchange Variation (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.d4 d6 5.e4 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.dxe5). The Exchange Variation, however, is known to lead to very drawish positions, so you can use it when you’re only aiming for a draw. However, this is only half the story. You can actually play this line with the intention to play for a win with White. Studying the games of the great GM Ulf Andersson would be a good starting point. He scored plenty of easy wins with White from this apparently equal and dry position. The truth is that White risks very little in these lines and if he knows the tiny positional nuances, he has good chances to outplay his opponents.
- White can also play some other, more solid, lines from the English Opening against the King’s Indian Defense or the Grunfeld Defense.
Reti Opening: Dutch Defense (1.Nf3 f5)
As a Reti player, it’s not all that easy to meet the Dutch Defense. First of all, it needs to be said that the Dutch Defense can be divided into three main setups for Black – the Stonewall Variation (a setup where Black goes for a c6-d5-e6-f5-pawn formation, placing these pawns on light-squares), the Leningrad Variation (a setup which involves a kingside fianchetto and the intention to gain space in the center with …e5) and the Classical Variation (a setup where Black opts for an attack against the White king by quickly shifting his pieces over to the kingside).
Playing the Reti Opening works well against the Stonewall Variation as White does not play d2-d4 as early and has the chance to destroy the Black pawn formation with a well-timed d2-d3, followed by e2-e4.
However, it’s not easy to meet the Leningrad Variation. The main issue is that if White does not want to transpose into the mainlines with an early d2-d4 and instead goes for a Reti/English Opening structure with Nf3, c4, g3, Bg2, d3, 0-0, Rb1, b4, Black has an easy time to play the move …e5, which he usually wants to do in the Leningrad Variation.
With …e5 played, the positions often transpose into lines which can arise via the English Opening after 1.c4 e5. Yet, in combination with the move …f5, Black goes for an aggressive setup and White needs to know what he is doing in order to not get mated on the kingside.
To cut a long story short, White has to learn some theory against the Leningrad Variation in any event – either in the lines with an early d2-d4, transposing to 1.d4 mainlines or in the English Opening structures. Let’s take a quick look at some options for White against the Dutch Defense:
Opening Experts in the Reti Opening
If you want to become an expert on your chess opening, it is a wise decision to regularly check the games of the world’s leading experts in the chess opening.
You can watch their approaches against different opening setups and become familiar with the latest trends, fashionable move orders or opening novelties. If you choose to play the Reti Opening, you have several opening experts to follow.
Nowadays, the biggest expert in the Reti Opening is most probably Vladimir Kramnik, who frequently plays it against all the best players in the world.
Other strong players to follow are Levon Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Grischuk, and Vassily Ivanchuk.
Also check out the games of GM Mihail Marin, GM Alejandro Ramirez and Vladimir Akopian.
Finally, Anatoly Karpov and frequently used the Reti Opening in the 80s and 90s. It’s instructive to study his games, too.
Model Games In The Reti Opening
Many great games have been played in the Reti Opening and it’s definitely worth studying them.
In order to properly learn a new opening, it is not enough to take a close look at theoretical lines – you also need to study some classical model games.
Checking complete games has various advantages. Most importantly, you get a better overall understanding of the positions arising from your opening. The focus is on a general understanding of the resulting middlegame and endgame positions.
As the famous Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan once put it: “Study entire games. Your study can become disjointed if you just learn an opening set-up. Don’t just study the opening and early middlegame but instead play the entire game. Don’t just stop when your side has a good position.”
Let’s now take a look at some classical and recent games in which White showed how to play the Reti Opening against decent opposition:
Botvinnik, Mikhail – Donner, Jan: Amsterdam 1963
The following game is a classical lesson by the great Mikhail Botvinnik who gets a slight positional advantage out of the opening and converts it skillfully.
Hahn, Florian (2182) – Musiolik, David (2038)
The following game is a good illustration of how quickly things can go terribly wrong for Black. The Reti Opening is considered to be a positional opening, mainly based on slow maneuvering struggles. However, this is only half the story. Tactics also play a crucial role in the Reti Opening.
Karjakin, Sergey (2753) – Kramnik, Vladimir (2787): Wijk aan Zee 2018
This is a very recent game in which Sergey Karjakin outplayed the world’s biggest expert on the Reti Opening by showing the incredible resourcefulness of this chess opening.
Conclusion – Master The Reti Opening
The Reti Opening is a strong opening for club players, and you should consider giving it a try to expand your horizons.
It’s a very solid and reliable opening which also helps you to become a better overall strategic player.
White leaves the center to Black in the opening, develops his pieces to sensible squares first and only then strikes back to conquer the center.
That said, the Reti Opening offers you excellent chances to win your White games. With a lot of pieces on the board and with strategically and tactically complex positions, the player who better understands the opening usually wins. In the right hands, the Reti is an ambitious choice which might easily give Black a false impression of calm, maneuvering play.
If you want to start playing and mastering the Reti Opening, we’ve got a fantastic offer for you.
In his course “Double Fianchetto Domination“, dealing with many ideas and variations from the Reti Opening, GM Damian Lemos offers a refreshing break from rote-memorization, with a unique ideas-based opening system, favored by the likes of Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, and many other elite GMs.
This is your complete repertoire for White based on using the power of the double fianchetto for both bishops and then, regardless of how Black responds, using GM Lemos’ reliable strategy for gaining an advantage and playing for a win.
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Solutions To The Test Positions:
- Top Left Corner: 1.Ng5! wins for White. White threatens mate on h7 and the bishop on b7 is hanging. Black loses material in this variation.
- Bottom Left Corner: White wins with the killer move 1.Nh6! gxh6 (1…Kh8 2.Nxf7+! Kg8 3.Nxd8 +- White collects material in this lines.) 2.Qg4+ Bg7 3.Qxg7 mate.
- Top Right Corner: White wins after 1.Nxc6! Bxc6 (1…Rxd1 2.Nxe7+! Kh8 3.Raxd1 +-) 2.Qg4!, threatening mate on g7 and capturing the bishop on c6.
- Bottom Right Corner: White has the winning continuation 1.Bxe4 Rxe4 2.Qg2!, threatening mate on g7 and capturing the rook on e4. Black loses material in this line.
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