The Orangutan Opening in Chess

Introduction to the Orangutan opening

The Orangutan opening (primarily known as the Sokolsky opening, the Polish opening, or Polish Attack) is an unorthodox opening in the game of chess. It’s rarely used in official top-tier tournaments and chess games – even though by official statistics it’s the ninth most used opening in the game of chess, out of 20 possible options or white.

One of the pioneers of this particular chess opening was Alexey Sokolsky. He was a Soviet chess player whose specialty was the opening game. He used this particular style (1.b4) with success in many of his games. Eventually, he even wrote a book about it in which he detailed his opinions and ideas about the main opening and its variations.

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But where b4 got its Orangutan name is through an anecdote. The day before a game between Tartakower and Maróczy back in 1924, it’s said that the players visited the local zoo. As a joke, Tartakower asked one orangutan monkey (named Suzan) which opening he should play the following day. Eventually, he settled on b4 – which became colloquially and anecdotally known as the orangutan opening. But what are the Orangutan’s merits?

Pros and Cons of the Orangutan opening

Many laypeople would see the b4 Orangutan opening as a mistake – a move whose primary purpose is to surprise and shock the opponent into making a mistake. But this is not the case. The main merit of the b4 opening is that it puts huge pressure right off the bat on the queen’s side of the table – attacking the important c5 field near the middle. One of the ideas for white would be to open up the bishop – though this will be quite doable in other openings, as well.

There are several continuations that white could play in the case of b4 – and many of these continuations involve devious traps. For example, one such continuation could be 1. b4 e5 2. Bb2 Nc6? 3. b5!. After this line of moves, black will be forced to retreat with the knight after which white can capture the black pawn on e5 and have a much stronger position than black.

Another trap that black may fall into is 1. B4 e6 2. Bb2 Bxb4??. This leaves the rook undefended, and white will capture with two moves with the bishop.

One of the most frequent continuations with the Orangutan opening is 1. b4 e5 2. Bb2 Bxb4 3. Bxe5 Nf6. This leaves both sides happy with what they’ve done. White has managed to trade a weaker flank pawn with black’s stronger, more important central pawn. However, this leaves black with a lot of options for opening and developing the pieces – getting an advantage over white as the game progresses.

The Orangutan opening is not without its faults and disadvantages, though. The first disadvantage is that the b4 pawn for white has no natural defender in this position. This means that black could decide to immediately attack this undefended pawn with the dark bishop and white would have to maneuver the pieces to defend. If white decides to go for the Orangutan opening, then white goes for flank development and indirect attacks on the middle – but black retains the option to go and take the middle of the board directly and start developing devastating attacks from there.

Conclusion

All of the pros and cons of the Orangutan openings in chess make it a not so popular option in top-tier games. There will naturally be anecdotal reports of top chess players using this opening from time to time and with reasonable success – but, at the current rate, it’s unreasonable to expect that the Orangutan opening will go mainstream. This is not to say that you won’t be able to develop deadly traps for your opponent if you use it. If you want to learn more about it, be sure to read Sapolsky’s book for an in-depth analysis of the Sokolsky Opening, otherwise known as the Orangutan Opening.

We have a full set of articles on Chess Openings here on Becoming a Chessmaster.