Polish Opening

Polish Opening
William T Green

William T Green

Jul 09, 2023

Familiarize yourself with the basics

The Polish Opening is a chess opening that starts with move 1. b4. 1 b4 had little success as an opening until 1919 where Savielly Tartakower beat Richard Reti. After years of trial and error it took Alexei Sokolsky, a soviet GM, to master the opening and became a force to be reckoned with. This move is also known as the Sokolsky Opening, and it is considered an offbeat and unorthodox opening. Despite its reputation as a surprise weapon, it can lead to interesting and unbalanced positions, which can catch the opponent off guard and create opportunities for a tactical attack.

The Polish Opening represents the first move as 1 b4. aims to control the center of the board with pawns, rather than pieces. It allows for the pawn to gain space queenside threatening a left flank expansion. The moves hinders the opponent from placing their knight on c6. to defend their pawn structure, and potentially create weaknesses that can be exploited later in the game. The dark-squared bishop will exert considerable influence on the a2-h8 diagonal, while the light-squared bishop has the flexibility to choose between e2 or d3 deployment, or even a fianchetto if time permits. The Polish Opening offers flexibility and is adaptable to various Black set-ups, but caution must be exercised against a King's Indian formation or an early ...d5. 

Black's main defensive systems involve advancing the e-pawn or d-pawn two squares at once or playing an early ...c6 to attack the b-pawn quickly. The most critical option for Black is 1...e5, which may require White to sacrifice material to avoid a passive position. The positions after 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 f6!? require accuracy from both players, while the line 1.b4 c6 2.Bb2 a5 weakens the b-pawn before attacking it with pieces, and the recommended gambit is 3.b5!? as seen in the Benko Gambit.

Polish Opening Mainline: 1...e5 Response

1.b4 e5  2.Bb2 Bxb4. 3 Bxe5 Nf6 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bb2 d5 6.e3 O-O 7.c4

Black's response to b4 is extremely critical here, in this example black is going to play a popular and complex variation of the Polish Opening. With e5, the opponent takes space in the center with its pawn while simultaneously threatening to take the pawn on b4. However, let's look at how the masters have played this opening.

After the bishops take the pawns: White has two central pawns remaining, black has the ability to develop its pieces faster.

If black does not play 3...Nf6, white willl simply win the pawn on g7 while threathening to to the rook on h8 as well.

4...Nc6, white brings its bishop back to Bb2, because we do not want to exchange a bishop for knight for black wins the exchange since bishops are typically worth more in endgames.

Once black plays 6... O-O, White hits Black with the devastating 7.c4, Black is going to lose that pawn on d5 a number of ways. White has given up some of its development to take control of the center by having the only two central pawns.

Lets inspect some variations after white plays 7.c4

Here Black is going to take on the gambit and take 7... Pxc4

Famous Polish Opening Games:

Game 1: Magnus Carlsen vs Davi Sulzbacher (2022)


1.b4 d5 2.Bb2 Nf6 3.e3 g6 4.c4 c6 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.Be2 O-O 7. O-O a5 8.b5 Nbd7 9.Nc3 Nb6 10.c5 Nc4 11.Bxc4 dxc4 

12.bxc6 bxc6 13.Ne5 Be6 14.Nxc6 Qc7 15.Nd4 Bg4 16.f3 Bd7 17.Ba3 Rab8 18.Rb1 Rxb1 19.Qxb1 Rb8 

20.Qc2 e5 21.Nde2 Bf5 22.e4 Be6 23.Rb1 Bf8 24.Rxb8 Qxb8 25.Na4 Nd7 26.Nec3 Qc8 27.Nd5 Nxc5 28.Nab6 Qc6 

29.Qxc4 Qxb6 30.Nxb6 Bxb6 31.Nxc4 a4 32.Nxe5 f6 33.Nc4 Kf7 34.d4 Nd3 35.Bxf8 Kxf8 36.a3 Nf4 37. Kf2 Ne6 38.Ke3 1-0

Key Moves and Mistakes:

13.Ne5 white makes a mistake giving black -0.74.

13...Be6 is a blunder because black gives up the free pawn on c6.

24...Bf8 is a big mistake by black because black is already in a losing position and traded on white's terms.

25.Na4 almost throws whites advantage away

28...Qc6 is a blunder that costs black the game, it leads to a queen trade when white has the positional advantage, black gives up its only attacking piece when white has two extra pawns.

Game 2: Alexey Sokolsky vs. Strugacs


1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 f6 3.e4 Bxb4 4.Nc4 Nc6 5.f4 exf4 6.Nh3 Nge7 7.Nxf4 Na5 8.Bxf6 Rf8 9.Nh5 Nxc4 10.xg7+ Kf7 

11. O-O Kg8 12.Qh5 Rxf6 13.Rxf6 Ng6 14.Rxg6 hxg6 15.Qxg6 Kh8 16.Ne8 Qe7 17.Nf6

Key Moves & Mistakes:

7...Na5 is a mistake by black that is +1.34 trying to chase the bishop

10Nxg7+ is given a great move by putting black in check and setting up its mating net.

12.Qh5 is given a great move, the black king now has three pieces all within a couple of squares away from attacking.

14.Rxg6 Sokolsky then sacrafices... THE ROOK, a brilliant move

15...Kh8 was a blunder that lost black the game.

Polish Opening: Tips & Tricks

Develop your pieces quickly: 

In the Polish Opening, it's important to develop your pieces as quickly as possible. This will give you more control over the board, and will make it easier to launch an attack on your opponent's position.

Be aware of tactical opportunities: 

The Polish Opening can lead to tactical positions, where small advantages can quickly turn into a winning position. Keep your eyes open for tactical opportunities, and be prepared to take advantage of them when they arise.

However, keep in mind that if you do not stick to the opening theory and lose focus of your rear flank advantage, black white neutralizes the position and eliminates any positional advantage you may have had.

Why should you play this opening?

The Sokolsky opening is the way to go, my friends. The reason? Your opponent is sure to be caught off guard by the positions that arise. The key to achieving good positions from the opening is to play reasonably sound systems with which you are familiar and comfortable, while your opponents are uncomfortable and unfamiliar! By doing so, your opponents will surely make mistakes which you can exploit to win.

But don't get me wrong, I said "reasonably sound". If you're looking for a small advantage with no risk, then the Sokolsky is not for you! After the best practical continuation (in my opinion), 1 b4 e5! 2. Nb2 Nxb4!, Black can be guaranteed an active position for the first ten moves or so. However, we believe that White is not worse here, and the first player has the significant practical advantage of being on familiar turf, given proper preparation.

Speaking of familiarity, the Sokolsky opening is flexible enough to offer players of widely varying styles positions to suit their tastes. Alexei Sokolsky himself was a solid, perhaps even a stolid, player; a plodder if you will. His contemporary, Boris Katalymov, an equally ardent devotee of this opening, was a daring tactician who reveled in risky flank attacks. Bukhuti Gurgenidze loves unusual, closed structures, while I myself detest closed games. There is truly something for everybody in the Sokolsky.

So, if you're looking to explore untrodden paths, if you enjoy thinking for yourself, or if you prefer to play chess and not variations, then you've come to the right place. Memorization is only required for the sharpest lines occurring after 1 b4 e5. Other first moves for Black place a premium on understanding and judgment. A careful study of the material in this book will provide you with a grasp of the basics of numerous structures your opponents will try, and the confidence to confront them effectively.

By following these steps, you can become a skilled player of the Polish Opening and use it to your advantage in your chess games.