The Sodium Attack (also called the Durkin Opening) is a rare chess opening beginning with the move 1. Na3


Sodium Attack

Needless to say, this move violates the opening principles of chess. Why place a knight on the rim of the board on move one? I can’t recall a single tournament game I’ve ever witnessed, at any level of chess, that began with the Sodium Attack!

The opening derives its name from the “Na” in the notation for white’s first move – “Na” being the elemental symbol for Sodium.



Perhaps one day you’ll encounter an opponent who decides to get a bit too creative and opt for this opening…so let’s see how the game can go!

An early Nc4?

One idea white may have when playing the Sodium Attack is to play Na3-c4 as early as move 2.

For example, 1. Na3 e5 2. Nc4 Nc6 3. e4

Sodium Nc4

Surprisingly, I was able to find two Master-level chess games that featured this position. In both cases, black opted for 3…Nf6 and the game was eventually drawn.

3…d5 looks like a promising option for black, blowing open the center. The queen will actually be comfortable on d5, since it can’t be harassed with the usual Nb1-c3 idea thanks to white’s strange opening play!

3…f5!? is also promising, with the idea of 4. exf5 Nf6 (Qh5 must be prevented) and now black will push forward in the center and seek to recoup the lost pawn with interest. This line is known as the Durkin Gambit.

Retreating the Knight

Another idea white may have in the Sodium Attack is to retreat the knight to the c2 square. A sample line might be 1. Na3 d5 2. c3 e5 3. Nc2 c5 4. g3 Nc6 5. Bg2 Nf6 6. d3 Be7 

Durkin Opening

Play is starting to resemble a goofy version of the King’s Indian Attack, as white may look to finally strike at the center with e2-e4 in the near future.

It’s not clear why white would spend two tempos to put the knight on c2, when it can come to d2 (a seemingly more useful square) in one turn!

Striking with c4

Finally, one other idea white may try to employ is to use this knight to support an early c2-c4 advance.

Of course, white could simply play 1. c4 if their goal is to advance the c-pawn, so it’s still hard to understand the rational of the Sodium Attack here!

After 1. Na3 d5 2. c4:

Sodium Attack c4

Black could actually ignore the central pawn tension and just play 2…e5, if they so choose.

This goes against all of my “pattern recognition” in the opening – black can almost never allow an early cxd5 with no pawn to reinforce the d-pawn! The queen will be hit by an early Nc3 and white will get a great position…

…but of course here, the knight stands on a3, and such an idea is no longer possible!


2…d4 could also be considered, opting for more of a Benoni-like position. I don’t like this option as much because it somewhat justifies white’s early knight move (the knight DOES sometimes come to the rim of the board in the benoni, dropping back to c7 [or here c2] to support an eventually push of the b-pawn!)


Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the simple 2…e6 either. Magnus Carlson actually played this line as white once against a 2400 player for “fun” and won, so anything’s possible!


The Sodium Attack is a rare opening, and for good reason. The knight serves no real purpose on a3, and will likely take two turns to find an inferior square than a “normal” square like c3 or d2!

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