The Saragossa Opening is an unusual Chess Opening characterized by the first move 1. c3
The pawn move c2-c3 is a key part of many well-respected openings, but there’s little reason to play it on move one – it can always be played later. That said, there was a time when I strongly considered opening a tournament game with the Saragossa Opening. Read on, and I’ll tell you the story!
But first, let’s talk about where the game might go from here:
There’s not much “independent value” in the first move 1. c3, which is why it’s so rare to hear any chess players even talk about the Saragossa Opening. Within a few moves, the game is likely to transpose to a mainstream opening system, unrecognizable as having originated from a Saragossa.
For example, after 1. c3 c5, white can play 2. e4, and now we have the Alapin variation of the hugely popular Sicilian Defense. Or white can play 2. d4, likely leading to a London System or Colle System.
Getting too creative isn’t likely to be beneficial for white. For example, some players have tried 1. c3 e5 2. Na3 d5 3. Nc2, getting a quite original position…
…But objectively, black’s already a bit better due to his space advantage, and it’s only move 3!
I was at a chess tournament in early 2015, paired against an Expert from the local area, and I had the white pieces. I had played him many times before with both colors.
In my past couple games against him with the white pieces, we had reached a Sicilian defense, and he opted for his pet “Dragodorf” system (a hybrid of the Najdorf and the Dragon variations). He knew the system well, and in both games I struggled to get an advantage.
In my past couple games against him with the black pieces, I had played the Caro-Kann. In each game, he had played a rather subpar line, and I quickly got an advantage with black.
Because of this, I strongly considered playing the Saragossa Opening in this game, with the idea to play 1. c3 e5 2. d3 d5 3. d4!?
And I get to play the Caro-Kann with white!
In the end, I had some self-respect and decided to play normally. Thankfully the story has a happy ending and I ended up winning the game.
This might be the only practical use I can think of for playing the Saragossa Opening. In certain specific circumstances, perhaps you’d rather be black than white, and you can reach some reversed-color openings with this set-up.
The Saragossa Opening is rare for a reason, but it’s not the reason many players might presume.
There’s nothing wrong at all with the move c2-c3, and it plays a key part in many opening systems. There’s simply little reason to play this move on move 1, when it can always be played later after white has taken the center.
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