The Reti Opening is a chess opening that begins with the moves 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4
There’s actually some debate about the specific set of moves that constitutes the Reti Opening. Some say that 1. Nf3 itself is the Reti Opening, while others say that only the position in the above diagram can be classified as a Reti.
In this article, I’ll mostly be using the second definition, as there are certainly openings that begin with 1. Nf3 that I would not characterize as a Reti Opening (most notably the King’s Indian Attack!)
At the end of this article, we’ll circle back and examine some of white’s alternative options if black does not play 1…d5
The Reti Opening is considered a “hypermodern” opening, where white pressures the center with flank pawns and minor pieces instead of occupying it directly with the central pawns. White flexible keeps the d-and-e pawns on their starting squares for the time being, and creates pawn tension on move two to challenge black’s d-pawn.
This opening bears a strong resemblance to the English Opening, because of the early c4 move. Indeed, if black simple defends the d-pawn with 2…e6 or 2…c6, we immediately transpose to an English. (1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 e6 is the same position as after 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5).
But let’s consider some of black’s alternatives:
Black can certainly attempt to win a pawn by taking on c4, but this is not much of a concern for white. Just as in many other openings (most notably the Queen’s Gambit), it’s not easy for black to hold onto this extra pawn on c4.
White often continues with 3. e3, threatening right away to win this pawn back. 3. Na3 is an alternative option, and after 3…c5 4. Nxc4 Nc6 5. g3:
We see Reti’s idea illustrated quite well. The central pawns remain at home, while white develops his minor pieces to exert their influence in the center. The light bishop will soon come to g2 and have its presence felt along the long diagonal!
Black often plays 5…f6, intending …e5, and the position is considered approximately equal.
Here’s another line unique to the Reti Opening that can’t be reached via the English. Black simply pushes past the c4 pawn and claims a space advantage.
White has a couple options here. 3. g3 is a reasonable move that will lead to a Benoni Defense with reversed colors. White’s extra tempo may come in handy, so black will likely avoid the sharpest lines that white gets to employ in the Benoni!
White can also put their extra tempo to good use with 3. b4, making it harder for black to play the desirable …c5 and trying to turn the advanced d-pawn into a target! Black may respond with 3…f6 (the only way to ensure that …e5 can be played) 4. e3 e5 5. c5 a5
Only one developing move has been played in the first 5 moves! Black is generating good play against white’s queenside pawn chain.
White may consider a piece sacrifice here to exploit the weakened king’s diagonal: 6. Nxe5!? fxe5 7. Qh5+. Now …g6 is impossible because of Qxe5, forking the rook and king, so black’s king will have to move. After 7…Kd7 8. Qf5+ Ke7 9. Qxe5+ Be6:
Black’s king is awkwardly placed, but black remains up a piece if the attack can be repelled!
It’s worth briefly considering what a Reti Opening play can do if black doesn’t play 1…d5 on move one.
1…Nf6 is a popular choice. White has many options – white can go for a King’s Indian Attack with g3, Bg2 and 0-0, for instance, or white can switch to a Queen’s Pawn Opening with 2. d4 or an English Opening with 2. c4.
If black plays 1…c5, white even has the option to enter a Sicilian Defense with 2. e4.
All in all, the move 1. Nf3 isn’t really an opening system of itself. This is a very flexible first move that leaves much to be defined over the coming turns.
The Reti Opening is a flexible set-up for white that can easily transpose to a wide variety of different opening systems. Because of this, it’s not often recommended to beginners, as it assumes a knowledge of several other chess openings. However, if you value flexibility and don’t want to commit your central pawns on move one, then the Reti Opening might be a good option!
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