A Comprehensive Guide to the Reti Opening 1.Nf3

IM Siegfried Baumegger     January 22, 2024

1. Introduction

2. Basic Concepts of the Reti Opening

3. Reti Opening - Kramnik vs Fridman

4. Systems after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4

5. Systems after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4

6. Systems after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5

7. Black’s Alternatives on Move One

8. Odds, Ends & Conclusion


1. Introduction

Strong players like Johannes Zuckertort regularly played the move 1.Nf3 in the 19th century. He would combine it with d4 – leading the game back to the various Queen’s Pawn Openings. In the 1920s, Richard Reti began to link 1.Nf3 to new ideas: attacking the center from the flank (mostly with c4), without an early commitment to d4 or e4. This was often combined with the Fianchetto of the king’s bishop or a double Fianchetto.

Systems with Nf3 and c4, form the base of this article. Many of these bear some close relation to the English Opening, with fluent transitions. Our goal is to show the most important directions and some core theoretical lines, to get a good overview of the varied types of positions they can lead to.

Richard Reti (born 1889 in Pezinok, Slovakia) had a historical peak rating of 2710 (December 1920). Together with other innovators like Aaron Nimzovich and Gyula Breyer he counts as one of the “Hypermodernists”. He published his ideas, regarding the development of chess, in the brief but instructive “Die neuen Ideen im Schachspiel” (1922). Reti was also a composer of endgame studies. The most famous one demonstrates a must-know technique in pawn endgames: the Reti Maneuver.


2. Basic Concepts of the Reti Opening

Transpositions and Move-Order Tricks

With 1.Nf3 the game can transpose back to 1.d4 in several ways and some players regularly do so. Then why not play 1.d4 in the first place? With 1.Nf3, an experienced player can use these transpositions as an opening weapon. The aim is to deprive Black of his favourite defences against 1.d4 by using specific move orders. Some examples:

  • Preventing the Grünfeld – 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 g6 and now 4.e4!. If Black goes instead for 3...d5, White has various Anti-Grünfeld lines ready – see “Systems after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4”.
  • Anti-Queen’s Indian – 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 b6 3.g3 Bb7 4.Bg2 e6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d4!?. We have transposed to the Queen’s Indian Defence, having avoided Black’s most active response to the Fianchetto System – the Variation 4...Ba6.
  • Neo-Catalan – 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.d4, transposing to the Catalan, having prevented the solid system with 4...Bb4+.

Attacking the Opponent’s Center

A favourite stratagem of Reti was to first build up piece-pressure against the opponent’s center and later to attack it with a central pawn-thrust. The game Reti-Yates, New York 1924, illustrates this perfectly:


After 17.d4! e4 18.Ne5! White took the initiative and won a fine game. Take note of Reti’s trademark queen and bishop battery on the long diagonal! The New York tournament of 1924 saw Reti scoring further wins against Bogoljubow, Alekhine, and the reigning World Champion Capablanca with 1.Nf3!

Setting Up a Double Fianchetto


From g2 and b2 the bishops exert influence over the central squares and put pressure on Black’s queenside and kingside. White’s build up can become very powerful, as soon as he manages to coordinate the strength of the bishops with his other pieces – our sample game Kramnik-Fridman shows this perfectly. The double Fianchetto is a universal setup and is applicable against almost all of Black’s defences. If you are interested in a low-maintenance yet poisonous repertoire, you may want to have a look at the course Double Fianchetto System with GM Sipke Ernst!


3. Reti Opening - Kramnik vs Fridman



4. Systems after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4

The Advance Variation 2...d4

Black fights immediately for a space advantage - this is the most ambitious line he can go for. Black is known to be in fine theoretical shape after both 3.g3 Nc6 and 3.e3 Nc6.  If White wants to fight for the initiative, he has to react with the principled  3.b4!, when the mainline runs 3...f6 4.e3 e5 5.c5!? a5!. White cannot keep his structure and is forced to keep playing very concretely. 6.Qa4+ Bd7 7.b5 Bxc5 8.Bc4.


Only eight moves passed but a lot has happened! Black ambitiously fought for space and White went for a pawn sacrifice to make use of the weakness created by 3...f6. GM Ivan Cheparinov presents a serious analysis of 2...d4 3.b4 in The Reti - Part 2. Together with Part 1 (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4) he offers a complete, high-level repertoire for White.

Is it necessary to go for this as White? The answer is “yes”, if you like a sharp, fully-fledged fight! If such highly theoretical lines are not your cup of tea, it makes sense to investigate 2.e3 (see the repertoire of GM Davorin Kuljasevic, mentioned below) and 2.g3 - see GM Michael Roiz’ theoretically detailed two-part repertoire  1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 - Expert Repertoire for White - Part 1, and Part 2. GM Ioannis Papaioannou’s course 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 - Play the Reti provides you with practical lines, that can be played without extensive preparation.

Slav Setups 2...c6, Part I - White plays 3.g3

3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2. Now Black has a choice between the solid moves 4...Bf5 or 4...Bg4 and the sharp 4...dxc4. The latter can lead to play in the spirit of some sharp Catalan gambit lines. For example 4...dxc4 5.0-0 b5 6.d3! cxd3 7.Ne5! Bb7 8.a4, with a strong initiative. The highly theoretical main continuation runs 5...Nbd7 6.Qc2 Nb6 7.Na3 Be6 8.Ng5 Bg4 9.Nxc4 Bxe2 10.Nxe5 Bh5 11.Re1.


11...h6!. After the logical 11...e6? Black gets crushed after 12.Bf3!, when f7 can no longer be properly defended. Now 12.Ne4 has been played in the most games, while the irrational 12.Ngxf7!? Bxf7 13.b4, sacrificing a whole piece for purely positional compensation, has also been tried with some success.

After 4...Bg4 5.Ne5, Black should avoid 5...Bh5?! (the bishop is missed on the queenside and becomes a target) 6.cxc5 cxd5 7.Qa4+ Nbd7 8.Nc3 e6 9.g4! Bg6 10.h4!.


The threat of trapping the bishop with h4-h5 forces a concession. Better continuations are 5...Bf5 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.Qa4 Bd7 and 5...Be6 6.cxd5 Bxd5 7.Nf3 c5. With these, Black keeps solid and playable positions, while White can hope for a small theoretical plus.

Finally, the other solid line 4...Bf5, can lead directly into a slightly better endgame for White after 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.d3 e6 7.Be3!? Qxb3 8.axb3. White should avoid stumbling into 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3 Nc6! 7.Qxb7 Bd7!, when Black gets excellent compensation for the pawn after for example 8.Qb3 e5 9.0-0 e4 10.Ne1 h5!?.

Slav Setups, Part 2 – White plays 3.e3

With this modest looking move White may later transpose to the Slav Defence, but he also has some aggressive attacking ideas ready. 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6. Alternatively Black may go for 4...g6 (probably leading the the Schlechter Defence of the Slav) or 4...a6 (probably leading to the Chebanenko System of the Slav). However, 4...Bf5?! is not recommended due to 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3, when Black’s best move is the unappealing 6...Bc8.

After the main move 4...e6 there might be an argument for White to transpose to the Meran or Anti-Meran Variation with 5.d4 Nbd7 6.e3 or 6.Qc2, while having avoided the Classical Slav. Continuing in Reti-style with 5.b3 Nbd7 6.Bb2 Bd6 7.Qc2 0-0 8.Be2 leads to this position:


Now a routine move like 8...b6 can be answered by 9.Rg1!?, intending g2-g4, when White’s attack, supported by the b2-bishop can be quite dangerous. 8...e5 is slightly premature due to 9.cxd5 Nxd5 (worse is 9...cxd5? 10.Nb5 Bb8 11.Rc1 followed by Nc7) 10.Ne4 Bc7 11.g4!? or 11.Ng3 with good prospects for White in each case. Best is 8...Re8, when due to the positional threat of ...e5, starting a flank attack with Rg1 can no longer be justified. White transposes to a quiet line of the Anti-Meran with 9.d4.

The course Repertoire against the King's Indian Attack and English Opening by GM Alvar Alonso is written for Slav players who want to play their favourite setup against 1.Nf3 and 1.c4.

Queen’s Gambit Declined Setups 2...e6, Part 1 – White plays 3.g3

With 2...e6 3.g3 we reach the so-called Neo-Catalan. There’s a close relation to the Catalan but also some important differences. 3...Nf6 4.Bg2. Now we have a major branching point. Black can go for a reversed Benoni with 4...d4, for example 5.0-0 c5 6.e3 Nc6 7.exd4 cxd4 8.d3.


The extra tempo is of course quite useful for White but on the other hand Black’s position has proven itself to be quite viable. Lively play with chances for both sides can follow, e.g. 8...Bd6 9.Bg5 h6 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 11.Nbd2 Qe7 12.a3 a5 13.Ne4 Bc7 14.b4!?.

4...dxc4 is normally answered by 5.Qa4+ Nbd7 (5...c6 is also possible) 6.Qxc4 a6 (6...c5!?) 7.Qc2. An important prophylactic move! 7.0-0 allows 7...b5 followed by ...Bb7 with equality. 7...c5 (7...b5? is now bad due to 8.Nd4) 8.Nc3 Qc7 9.0-0 b6 10.d4 Bb7. Black has managed to develop his light-squared bishop. White keeps a slight initiative after 11.Bf4 Bd6 12.Bxd6 Qxd6 13.Rfd1 0-0 14.e4.

Finally, classical development with 4...Be7 5.0-0 0-0 is always topical. Now White can transpose to the Catalan with 6.d4 – a practical choice, or go for the double Fianchetto with 6.b3 – see our sample game Kramnik-Fridman.

Queen’s Gambit Declined Setups 2...e6, Part 2 – White plays 3.e3

Following 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 (4.b3!?), Black has the options 4...c5, 4...dxc4, 4...Be7, and 4...b6 (4...c6 transposes to the Slav setups). Let’s begin with 4...c5 5.cxd5, when Black has the choice to play with an isolated queen’s pawn with 5...exd5 6.d4. By accepting the IQP Black gets free development, while White can hope the potential weakness of the d5-pawn and the d4-outpost in the long run. After the alternative capture 5...Nxd5 White may enter an enterprising gambit line. 6.Nxd5 exd5 7.b4!?.


The idea of this pawn sacrifice is to get the bishop to b2 to hamper Black’s development and to seize the d4-square by deflecting the c5-pawn. Practice shows that White gets full compensation. Apart from this, simple development is also possible: 6.Bc4 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Qe2 Nc6 9.d4. By delaying d4 until now, White has prevented some options by Black. This time White accepts the IQP, which offers interesting attacking possibilities. A sample line: 9...cxd4 10.exd4 Bf6 11.Rd1 Nce7 12.Ne5 b6 13.Ng4 Bb7 14.Nxf6+ Nxf6 15.Bg5 Ned5 16.Bxd5 Bxd5 17.Qe5 Bb7 18.d5!.


White manages to advance his d-pawn by using the pins on the h4-d8 diagonal and the d-file. After 18...Bxd5 19.Rd4!? or 18...exd5 19.Ne4! White has a dangerous initiative.

Playing in Queen’s Gambit Accepted style with 4...dxc4 (compare also 2...dxc4) is very solid. In the QGA White normally avoids playing an early Nc3 – as the knight can get hit by ...b5-b4. White might want to investigate the aggressive idea 5.Bxc4 a6 6.0-0 (6.a4 c5 7.b3!?) b5 7.Bb3 Bb7 8.d4 c5 9.e4!?, which offers good practical chances.

Let’s see some of White’s ideas after classical development by 4...Be7. A popular continuation is 5.b3 0-0 6.Bb2 c5 7.cxd5. With 7...exd5 8.d4 can again accept an IQP, though in a comparatively good version for White: Black would like to have his dark-squared bishop on the more active square d6. After taking with the knight 7...Nxd5, the following line has become popular: 8.Qc2 Nc6 9.a3 b6 10.h4!?.


This none to subtle but dangerous approach was introduced in the game Karjakin-Anand, candidates tournament, Moscow 2016, and brought White a fine victory. Objectively the position is unclear, though practical result favour the attacking side. It’s very easy to lose the game with the “natural” 10...Bb7?, when 11.Ng5 g6 12.Nxh7! offers White an already decisive attack after 12...Kxh7 13.Nxd5 Qxd5 14.h5.

Finally 4...b6, when a modern idea is 5.cxd5 exd5 6.g3!?. White develops the bishop to g2, where it would be placed perfectly in case of Black going for a structure with hanging pawns. It is in general not recommended to combine e3 and g3 but here it’s possible! Trying to punish White with 6...Bd6 7.Bg2 Ba6?!, runs into 8.b4! followed by b5. Instead, after 7...0-0 8.0-0 Re8 an intriguing positional fight is ahead. For example 9.Re1!?. Prophylaxis against ...Ba6, while at the same time preparing d3-e4. White will play d4 only in response to ...c5. 9...Nbd7 10.d3 Ba6 11.e4!, with chances for both sides.


If this mix of aggressive and sound positional ideas in this e3-lines appeals to you, check out the repertoire by GM Davorin Kuljasevic, based on the Reti with e3 - Reti Opening - Repertoire for White after 1.Nf3 d5 2.e3. Note, that he starts with 2.e3, thus avoiding the line 2.c4 d4.

Playing in Queen’s Gambit Accepted Style 2...dxc4

Apart from transposing to the QGA after 3.e3 Nf6 (3...Be6!?) 4.Bxc4 c5 with 5.d4, White can go for 5.0-0 e6 6.Qe2 a6 7.Rd1!? (still not committing the d-pawn) 7...b5 8.Bb3 Bb7 9.a4! b4 10.d3!?.


White’s idea is to block the action of the b7-bishop by e3-e4 and to develop his queen’s knight to the nice outpost on c4. Also the pawn on c5 might become a target after e4, Be3, Rac1.


5. Systems after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4

One motivation of 1.Nf3 is to deny Black his favourite defences against 1.d4, or to lure him into sub variations that take him out of his repertoire. We will look at specific move orders White can use to combat Grünfeld, King’s Indian, Queen’s Indian, and Nimzo-Indian setups.

Anti-Grünfeld Setups after 2...g6 3.Nc3 d5

Now instead of transposing to the Grünfeld proper with 4.d4, White has various options that contain a little poison. For example 4.Qa4+ Bd7 5.Qb3, 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Qa4+, 5.Qb3, 5.Qc2, and the currently popular 5.h4!?, on which the two-part course Expert Anti-Grünfeld Repertoire - Part 1 and Part 2 by GM Michael Roiz is based on.

Another slightly annoying line can be 5.e4 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1.


Even this innocent looking endgame contains some subtleties worth knowing. It’s worthwhile to study the games of the great technician Ulf Andersson to get a good understanding of this position! For starters, the seemingly obvious 7...Bg7 is already considered to be an inaccuracy as from there the bishop is biting on granite. Instead, 7...f6 followed by ...e5 is considered to be an equalizer.

The practical problem Black faces against these lines is not only to be ready for all of them, but also that the character of the play can be quite different from the Grünfeld. By not committing a pawn to d4, White takes away Black’s main target of counterplay.

Anti-Kings Indian Setups

Many Reti players are quite happy to transpose to the King’s Indian after 2...g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.d4, while having avoided the Grünfeld. For people who prefer not to enter the theoretical jungle of the KID, there’s the option playing setups without the move d4, e.g. 2...g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.0-0 d6 6.Nc3 e5 7.d3.


This position, resembling a reversed Closed Sicilian, is the starting point of GM Michael Roiz‘ course Reti Opening - Repertoire against the King's Indian Setups (his move order is 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3). In these types of closed positions, understanding the positional subtleties is more important than concrete theoretical knowledge.

Going for a double Fianchetto with 2...g6 3.b3 or the more experimental 3.b4 are other playable and none too theoretical options.

Anti- Nimzo and Anti-Queen’s Indian

Apart from avoiding anything resembling a Nimzo by not putting a knight on c3, there’s also 2...e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 (4.Qb3 or 4.g3 are good alternatives). Similar to the Capablanca System of the Nimzo-Indian, White’s idea is to take the pair of bishops with a3, without accepting doubled pawns. Not having d4 on the board, tends to be in White’s favour as his pawn structure stays more flexible.

White cannot prevent a Queen’s Indian setup, though he can circumvent some important lines. For example 2...b6 3.g3 Bb7 4.Bg2 e6 5.0-0 Be7 and now 6.d4 transposes to the Queen’s Indian Defence, with the first player having avoided any ideas with ...Ba6! 6.Nc3 0-0 7.Re1 is also an interesting move order. This is not necessarily a problem for Black, if he has ...Bb7 in his repertoire against the Fianchetto System. Otherwise, a solution might be to go for the Hedgehog with 3...c5 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.0-0 e6 (see “Systems after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5”) or the Double Fianchetto with 5...g6.


6. Systems after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5

White plays 3.d4

Following 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4, Black has three main continuations. The gambit line 4...e5!?, 4...Nc6, and 4...e6. There are several other playable moves, such as 4...g6, which can lead to a Maroczy after 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.e4, and 4...b6 leading to a version of the Hedgehog.

The sharp 4...e5!? is the most popular move. 5.Nb5 d5 6.cxd5 Bc5. Black’s pawn sacrifice is purely positional. Let’s look at a sample variation to see what it’s about. 7.e3 0-0 8.N5c3 e4 9.Be2 Re8 10.0-0 Bf5 11.Nd2 Nd7.


Black’s compensation is based on the strong e4-pawn, which grants him attacking chances on the kingside. The square e5 can be used to install a queen and bishop battery with ...Bd6, ...Qe7-e5 (prepared by ...a6). White should probably not go down this road and try something else on move seven. In general the pawn sacrifice seems to offer Black adequate chances.

4...Nc6 5.Nc3 e6 can lead to a variety of positions. White has tried almost everything on move six: 6.g3 (just developing), 6.a3 (preventing ...Bb4, aiming to play e4) 6.Ndb5 d5 7.Bf4 e5 8.cxd5 exf4 9.dxc6 (immediately leading to an unbalanced, appx. equal endgame), 6.e4 (transposing to the Open Sicilian), and so on... Let’s go back to 6.g3. Now Black starts some concrete play to avoid ending up worse. 6...Qb6. There’s a whole labyrinth of lines after this - we look at one example: 7.Ndb5 Ne5 8.Bf4!? Nfg4.


An original position after only eight moves! Now the “normal” continuation is 9.e3 a6 10.h3 axb5 11.hxg4 Nxc4 12.Qb3 d5 13.Bxc4 dxc4 14.Qxb5+, leading to an equal endgame. Alternatively, White can go for some craziness with 9.Qa4!? (first played in Aroninan-Leko, Morelia/Linares 2008), though according to modern engines Black is fine after 9...Qxf2+ 10.Kd2 g5!?. One could also investigate the untried 9.Qb3!?, with similarly chaotic consequences.

4...e6 is comparatively more solid. After both, 5.Nc3 d5!? (5...Bb4 transposes to the Nimzo-Indian) and 5.g3 d5!? 6.Bg2 e5 7.Nf3 d4 8.0-0 Nc6 9.e3 Be7, Black has excellent chances to equalize.

GM Mihail Marin offers a complete repertoire for White with this system in his course Symmetrical English with 3.d4

The line 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5

With this advance Black plays quite ambitiously. White’s most principled continuations are 5.d4 and 5.e4, while 5.e3, and 5.g3 are also possible. The latter can lead to a reversed Maroczy: 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 Nc7 (a necessary preparatory move; 6...e5? 7.Nxe5!) 7.0-0 e5. This is the so-called Rubinstein Variation – a theoretically sound system and a good fighting option. White has to play actively, as otherwise Black’s space advantage will start to tell.

5.d4 normally leads to the Grünfeld Defence after 5...Nxc3 6.bxc3 g6. The most complex positions arise after 5.e4 Nb4 (5...Nxc3 6.dxc3!? is known to be unpleasant for Black) and now the most popular continuation 6.Bc4 Nd3+ 7.Ke2 Nf4+ 8.Kf1 Nd3!? 9.Qe2 Nxc1 10.Rxc1 e6 leads to a double-edged scenario.


Black’s knight excursion was quite time-consuming but has netted him the pair of bishops. By way of compensation White controls more space and has an advantage in development. As a result both sides have chances after, for instance 11.h4 Nc6 12.e5. The h1-rook can be activated via h3, while Black can try to prepare long castling.

Other Lines after 3.Nc3

Following 3...e6 4.g3 some transpositions are possible. 4...d5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.d4 is the the Tarrasch Defence, 5...Nxd5 is the so-called Keres-Parma Variation, similar to the Semi-Tarrasch. 4...b6 – the Hedgehog – is by far the main choice. After 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.0-0 Be7 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 (the main move, as exchanging the light-squared bishop is considered to be in Black’s favour) 8...d6, a fundamental structure appears on the board.


Black usually completes his setup with ...0-0, ...a6, ...Nbd7, mostly followed by ...Qc7, ...Rfe8, ...Rac8.

It may appear that Black is playing awfully timidly, mainly aiming at defending on three ranks only. But this impression is false. In most cases, Black intends to outplay his opponent in the (possibly late) middlegame, by avoiding early exchanges and forced variations. White cannot convert his space advantage into something concrete that easily while Black has several plans to create counterplay at his disposal. Among his main resources I would quote the pawn breaks ...b6-b5, ...d6-d5, and ...e6-e5 (the  latter usually with a white pawn on f4)”.

This quote of GM Mihail Marin aptly sums up why players are drawn to this system. He offers a three-part repertoire for Black, based on the Hedgehog - Marin's Solution to 1.Nf3 - Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Another option for White, 3...e6 4.e3 (4.d4 transposes to lines above), most likely transposes to “Systems with 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 – QGD Setups, Part 2 – White plays 3.e3”.

Finally 3...Nc6 4.g3, when 4...d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 leads to 3.Nc3 d5 above. Possibly it’s more promising for White to try 5.d4!?, when again several transpositions might occur, e.g. to the Tarrasch, Semi-Tarrasch, reversed Grünfeld. After the more quiet 4...g6, White keeps a slight advantage after 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4.

Apart from 4.g3, there is again 4.e3, when with the knight on c6, 4...e5!? is possible, leading to a complicated game after 5.d4 e4 6.Ne5, 6.Nd2, or 6.d5.


7. Black’s Alternatives on Move One

The Dutch 1...f5

Beside to going for the regular Dutch with 2.d4, 2.d3!? is actually a serious move! White has a cunning idea up his sleeve, for instance 2...Nf6 3.e4! fxe4 4.dxe4 Nxe4 5.Bd3 Nf6? 6.Ng5! (threatening 7.Nxh7!) g6 8.h4 d5 9.h5!.


There is no longer a satisfactory defence! As a rule Black will not play that naively, of course. However equalizing is not easy in any case: 2...Nc6 is well met by the paradoxical 3.d4!, when the misplaced c6-knight more than justifies the loss of a tempo on White’s part. I guess one of the critical lines is 2...d6 3.e4 e5 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.exf5 Nge7!?.

A second solution, more in the spirit of Reti, can be 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3, when Black can play a Leningrad setup with 3...g6. Going for the Stonewall runs into certain problems, as White profits from not having been committed to d4, e.g. 3...e6 4.Bg2 d5 5.0-0 c6 6.d3!? Bd6 7.Nc3! 0-0 8.e4!.


The square e4 is usually an outpost for the black knight in the Stonewall Dutch, but here things look quite different. White was able to force through a central pawn break and Black is already busted in a strategic sense!

In the Style of the Modern Defence or the Pirc – 1...g6 and 1...d6

Against 1...g6 the most principled answer is 2.e4, when 2...Bg7 (2...c5 3.c4 leads to the Maroczy) 3.d4 leads to the Modern Defence – a combative opening, though not at all easy to play. As transposing to an e4 opening with 3...d6 4.Nc3 does not suit every Reti player, playing a setup with c4, d4, Nc3 (likely transposing to the King’s Indian Defence) or c4, g3, etc. is of course possible

Be careful against 1...d6 – 2.e4 might land you in a Sicilian after 2...Nf6 3.Nc3 c5!. As above: Nothing wrong with playing d4, c4, etc. Be aware that avoiding d4 may lead to something like 2.c4 e5 3.Nc3 f5!?. An interesting, more principled attempt can be 2.d4 (to prevent ...e5) 2...Nf6 and now 3.Nc3!?, aiming to transpose to the Pirc Defence after 3...Nf6 4.e4.

Black plays 1...c5

With this Black pursues the idea of going for maximum control over d4 with, for instance, 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 (for 3.d4, see “Systems after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5”) 3...e5 or 3...g6. The first one can lead to the Botvinnik System: 3...e5 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0-0 Nge7 – a solid and respectable line. White can deviate with the more concrete 4.e3 followed by 5.d4.

Following 3...g6 White’s most principled move is 4.e3!. This may look “slow”, though the main point is to prepare a fast d4-d5, hitting the c6-knight. To prevent this, 4...Nf6 5.d4 cxd4 6.exd4 d5 is played, reaching a well known theoretical position that can come about via different openings. White can pose some problems with 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qb3! Nxc3 9.Bc4!.


If it were not for the resource 9.Bc4!, Black could finish his development and achieve a good game. After 9...e6 10.bxc3 Bg7 11.Ba3! is annoying. For a time 9...Nd5!? 10.Bxd5 e6 11.Bxc6+ bxc6 was popular. Black’s position is solid but quite passive. White scores well in practice as his position is easier to play due to the advantage in space and Black’s weaknesses on the black squares.

Note that when playing 1...c5, a transposition to the Sicilian Defence with 2.e4!? is possible.


8. Odds, Ends & Conclusion

Until now we mainly touched upon setups with 1.Nf3 and c4. The flexibility of Nf3 permits some other pawn formations worth mentioning.

Reversed King’s Indian


The Reversed King’s Indian or King’s Indian Attack is a favourite system of many club players. White can basically play the moves Nf3, g3, Bg2, d3, 0-0, e4 (possibly prepared by Nbd2) without bothering what his opponent does. If you are flexible enough, it can make sense to combine setups. For instance playing the King’s Indian Attack against a QGD setup, while going for the traditional c4 against systems with ...d5 and ...c6., ...or the other way around!? It depends on the style and mood of the player!

World Champion Bobby Fischer sometimes ventured the King’s Indian Attack against the French (1.e4 e6 2.d3) and the Sicilian with 2...e6 (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3). Check out the textbook attacking games Fischer-Myagmarsuren (Sousse 1967) and Fischer-Panno (1970)! For more on this, there’s King's Indian Attack Mastermind with GM Jacek Stopa.

Reversed Queen’s Indian

This is connected to the development of White’s dark-squared bishop to b2, though not so much to a specific pawn structure. 1.Nf3 d5 2.b3. It now depends on how Black continues developing. 2...c5 3.Bb2 Nc6 4.e3 might lead to a reversed Nimzo-Indian. After the 3...f6 White may investigate the exotic gambit 4.e4!? dxe4 5.Nh4.

When Black’s acts more restrained in the center, with for instance 2...Nf6 3.Bb2 e6, 3...g6, 3...Bf5, 3...Bg4 White gets more freedom in choosing his favourite scheme of development, e.g. a double Fianchetto, playing e3 and c4, etc. On the whole the Reversed Queen’s Indian is quite a solid setup for White and one somewhat neglected by theory. So, contrary to the theoretical main lines, there is still something to discover!


  • The Reti Opening is exceptionally flexible. White is committed to Nf3 but apart from that, is largely able to choose his favourite setup.
  • Many transpositions to 1.c4 and 1.d4 are possible. Make yourself familiar with them and use them to your advantage!
  • It is possible to put Black under pressure by playing very sharp and theoretical lines, which demand serious preparation.
  • Alternatively White can find setups, where he can mainly rely on his positional understanding. E.g. the Reversed King’s Indian, the double Fianchetto, or 1.Nf3 d5 2.e3 (see GM Davorin Kuljasevic’s repertoire), minimizing the theoretical workload while still having some poisonous ideas ready.
  • To play 1.Nf3 with success, it greatly helps to have a good understanding of closed openings (i.e. 1.d4, 1.c4, and 1.Nf3) in general.
  • Analyze the classics to get a “feel” for the opening. The games of Reti, Botvinnik, and contemporary practitioners like Kramnik or Mamedyarov (the list can be extended) offer excellent study material.


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