How to Play the Vienna Opening With Ease

The Vienna Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3) is often regarded as a means of heading into quieter opening waters by avoiding the mass of theory after 2.Nf3. Even if this is true, which it is not, what is wrong with such an approach?

Play for a Win With the Vienna Game Featured Image
Play for a Win With the Vienna Game

Yes, the Vienna Opening does avoid the mass of theory in the Ruy Lopez and Italian Game and doesn’t afford Black the chance to play the Petroff Defense. These are sound reasons on their own for playing the Vienna Game.

However, there is much more to the Vienna Opening than simply avoiding theory, and strong players like Nigel Short, Hikaru Nakamura, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov have all played this chess opening. Hikaru Nakamura used it to defeat none other than Magnus Carlsen.

Today, one of the most well-known chess personalities is GM Simon Williams (aka the GingerGM). In this video, Simon shares tips on learning the secrets of the opening as white.

History of the Vienna Opening

Before it became known as the Vienna Game, the chess opening 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 was known as Hamppe’s Game. Carl Hamppe was a Swiss player working as a government official in Vienna. 

Carl’s success with the opening in the chess cafes prompted Ernst Falkbeer, of Falkbeer Counter-Gambit fame, to write about the opening in his chess magazine.

Although the name of the opening has changed, Hamppe is still remembered in the variation that bears his name – the Hamppe-Algaier Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4).

In the twentieth century, Paul Keres did a lot of work improving the Vienna Opening for chess players. 

Basic Ideas, Tricks, and Traps in the Vienna Opening

We reach the starting position of the Vienna Opening after 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3.

Starting Position of the Vienna Game
Starting Position of the Vienna Game

In this position, tactical players can play 3.Bc4, targeting f7, and then continue with f4, intending to open the f-file for the rook. Positional players will find 3.g3 more to their liking.

2…Nc6 can be met with 3.f4, entering a type of King’s Gambit where White eventually sacrifices the knight on f3. Unfortunately for White, this sacrifice line no longer works since Black has 7…Nxd4! Followed by …Qg5, threatening mate on g2, and …Bc5 pinning the White queen.

The position in the Vienna Opening is highly tactical, and maybe your chess engine will help you find a novelty to make this line playable with white.

Zajarnyi, Anatolyi (2355) – Breahna, Radu (2335), 2016.10.13, 0-1

There is a lovely trap for those annoying players who like to copy White’s moves. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5? 

Vienna Game Trap
Vienna Game Trap

White plays 4.Qg4, attacking the g7-pawn, and forces Black to defend it by developing his queen or undeveloping his bishop. According to the database …g6 gives white a winning percentage of 70%!

After …Qf6, this drops to only 60%, and it seems the best moves for Black are either …Kf8 or …Bf8, with winning percentages for white dropping to 53 and 50%, respectively. 

In comparison, White’s winning percentage against the top three defenses in the Sicilian Defense is 31, 32, and 34%.

The Vienna Opening With 2…Nf6

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6

Vienna Game 2...Nf6
Vienna Game 2…Nf6

 White’s most played response is 3.g3, followed by 3.Bc4 and 3.f4.

White Plays 3.g3

The kingside fianchetto is regarded as the positional approach and was favored by former world chess champion Vassily Smyslov and world chess champion challenger Nigel Short.

The fianchetto system allows white to play for an advantage without taking risks.

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.exd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bd6

Vienna Game 6...Bd6
Vienna Game 6…Bd6

7.Nf3 O-O 8. O-O Nc6 9.Rb1 Rb8 10.d4

Vienna Game 10.d4
Vienna Game 10.d4

Black’s strongest reply is striking back in the center with 3…d5. Playing the moves …e5 and …d5 often leads to equality for black in chess openings

You might meet some players who have not studied the Vienna Game falling back on natural developing moves like …Bc5 or …Nc6. Against these moves, an excellent approach by white is to play Bg2, Nge2, 0-0, and open the f-file with f4.

This attacking plan is not only highly effective, but it is hard for your opponent to do anything to interfere with your plans.

Take a look at this model attacking game by Vladislav Tkachiev in 2018. There are not too many games between 2600 rated players that end after only twenty-six moves.

Tkachiev, Vladislav (2650) – Ragger, Markus (2655), 2018.03.04, 1-0

White Plays 3.Bc4

It becomes almost irresistible when a move can lead you into a variation named after two well-known horror story characters. This development of the bishop allows black to enter the beautiful complications of the Frankenstein-Dracula Variation.

Vienna Game 3.Bc4
Vienna Game 3.Bc4

It is easy to see the appeal for Black to simply with 3…Nxe4 in the hopes that White will play the weak 4.Nxe4 when 4…d5 wins back material.

A much better move for White is 4.Qh5 when play can continue 4…Nd6, the only way to prevent mate on f7 and save the knight, 5.Bb3 Nc6 6.Nb5 g6 7.Qf3 f5 8.Qd5, renewing the threat of mate on f7 and forcing 8…Qe7.

Vienne Game 8...Qe7
Vienne Game 8…Qe7

Now White can win the a8-rook with 9.Nxc7+. Black hopes his lead in development and the trapped knight will provide adequate compensation for the sacrificed material.

Alexander Shabalov had no trouble converting his material advantage into a win against his 2400 Elo opponent.

Shabalov, Alexander (2600) – Parker, Jonathan (2400), 2016.04.04, 1-0

Natural Development Serves Black Best

Instead of playing hope-chess with 3…Nxe4, a more ambitious approach is developing a piece and playing 3…Nc6.

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Nc6 4.d3 Na5 5.Nge2 Nxc4 6.dxc4 Bc5 7.0-0 d6

Vienna Game 7...d6
Vienna Game 7…d6

White uses the doubled c-pawns to clamp down on the d5 square. 

8.Qd3 Be6 9.b3 0-0 10.Na4 Nd7 11.Ng3

Vienna Game 11.Ng3
Vienna Game 11.Ng3

There is no rush to capture the bishop on c5 or later when it retreats to b6. The bishop cannot escape, nor does it do much on the a7-g1 diagonal after White plays Kh1.

This is no doubt why Gerd Roeder chose to capture the black knight when it landed on c5. Roeder then launched a devastating kingside attack even though the white king was more exposed when Black resigned.

Roeder, Gerd (2300) – Renner, Christoph (2385), 2021.01.09, 1-0

White Plays 3.f4

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4

Vienna Game 4...Nxe4
Vienna Game 4…Nxe4

If you choose to play 3.f4, you must be willing to play one of the two mainlines to have any chance of gaining an advantage. The two most effective options for white are 5.Nf3 or the quieter 5.d3. 

Both of these moves in the Vienna Opening serve White well, and which one you choose depends on which chess middlegame position you prefer.

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.Nf3 Be7 6.Qe2 Nxc3 7.dxc3 c5

Vienna Game 7...c5
Vienna Game 7…c5

8.Bf4 Nc6 9.0-0-0 Be6 10.h4 Qa5

Vienna Game 10...Qa5
Vienna Game 10…Qa5

The doubled pawn on c3 gives white an extra defender in this position. Surprisingly, Nigel Short launched a winning attack against the Black king on the queenside.

This game certainly shows the Vienna Opening can lead to exciting chess games.

Short, N. (2674) – Debashis, D. (2508), 2016.10.05, 1-0

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.d3 Nxc3 6.bxc3 d4 7.Nf3 Nc6 

Vienna Game 7...Nc6
Vienna Game 7…Nc6

8.Be2 Bc5 9.0-0 dxc3 10.Kh1 0-0

Vienna Game 10...0 0
Vienna Game 10…0 0

White will soon regain the pawn on c3 with Qe1. Defending the pawn will tie down one of the Black pieces on the queenside, giving White an extra attacker on the kingside.

Franko Lukez played a fantastic attacking game against Mark Hebden in 2017. Note how he deflected the Black bishop from covering the critical g3 square and forced Hebden to resign on the next move.

Lukez, Franko (2330) – Hebden, Mark (2455), 2017.01.16, 1-0

The Vienna Game: Black Plays 2…Nc6

There really is no other realistic alternative than to play an attacking game against 2…Nc6. Follow in the footsteps of Bobby Fischer and enjoy playing “Sac, sac, mate!”

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4

Vienna Game 3.f4
Vienna Game 3.f4

Now after 3…exf4 we enter the Hamppe-Algaier Gambit with 4.Nf3 g5 5.h4 g4 6.Ng5 h6 7.Nxf7 Kxf7 8.Bc4+ d5 9.Bxd5+ Kg7 10.d4 Nf6

Vienna Game 10...Nf6
Vienna Game 10…Nf6

Trust that you have compensation for the sacrificed material and play patiently. When sacrificing material, you can often continue with good, sensible moves and trust the plusses you gained from the sacrifice. 

Try defending this position with Black against a chess engine and note the attacking strategies it employs. Of course, you can also learn a lot from master games:

Shulman, Yuri (2555) – Marciano, David (2485), 2016.10.05, 1-0

In Conclusion

The Vienna Opening is a beautiful chess opening that you can start playing today. No matter what level you are at, you can play the Vienna Game. 

The theoretical workload of the Vienna Opening is about as light as it gets in a chess opening, and the ideas are easy to understand. As we have learned, the Vienna Opening is played by titled players with success against other chess masters.

You will be hard-pressed to find another opening you can master so quickly that is as effective as the Vienna Opening.

Any chess opening with a variation called the Frankenstein-Dracula variation deserves all the recognition it can get. 

Of course, chess is about more than only the opening. Now that you have found an opening you can learn with a minimal investment of time, you can work on other areas of your game.

The GingerGM, by his admission, did not work as hard at his game as he ought to have done. Use the time the Vienna Game has saved you to learn his other tips and secrets for the busy chess player.

Get your copy of “The GingerGM Method 01” and improve all areas of your game now! Take advantage of this special offer to save 50% and get instant access today.

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