Best Reply Against the Reti Opening: 8+ Factors!

The reti opening is probably the one that started the hypermodern movement. It is an opening strategy in chess where the center is controlled by the pieces instead of the pawns.

Although the hypermodern approach is really not the meta right now it is still popular. I have seen many go for the reti opening on online games for example. I think that people need to learn how to deal with it.

Based on my research here is what I found:

The best reply against the reti opening is e6. After the move Nf3, e6 is an invitation to a queen’s gambit declined. According to the data e6 is the best reply against Nf3. It is a solid approach that locks the position for black.

Of course there is no “true” best opening, it is relative. What works for one person might be a complete dud for the other. However this is just from the data so I think that this is important. This article will be interesting, let’s get started.

Introducing the reti opening

This is sort of an analysis article from the data I’ve compiled looking at 365chess.com’s statistics. I have poured hours in order to get the data in order.

All data are taken from their website, wherein different databases might provide different results.

The reti opening is a breakthrough in the era of romantic chess. Back in the day sacrifices and unrelenting attacks are common. This requires people to attack the center early and get space.

If you want to attain a beautiful combination then it is better if you have more space. This is reasonable, and so the only opening scheme is to always go for the center with pawns. However there were a couple of chess masters who think that there is a better approach.

This has become the hypermodern movement, they propose the idea that you can control the center even without the pawns. The main opening choice is the reti, which today has become a popular opening.

What is the reti opening?

The reti opening is an opening move from white that starts with Nf3. There are many variations but they all start from playing the Nf3 move. Look at the picture below to see the reti opening:

(Insert picture here)

This is a hyper modern approach where the knights are used to control the center. Usually the center is controlled by the pawns in the opening, this is an unorthodox way of doing it. The reti opening can also transpose to the other variations of e4 and d4.

Best reply against Nf3 (based on popularity)

After combing through the data I have decided to separate them into two parts. One is how the engine evaluated the position and the other was based on popularity. I think I will start looking at what the other people played first (popularity).

It is interesting how the majority of people deal with the reti opening along with some other stuff. You can see the tale below.

Look at the table to see the best reply to Nf3 based on popularity.

Move No. of GamesLast playedWinning percentageDraw PercentageLosing Percentage
Nf6 138,955202037.1 %38.4 %24.5 %
d5 81,806202037.3 % 36.7 %26 %
c5      35,163202034.2 %36.8 % 29 %
g6 16,981202034.9 %34.2 %30.9 %
f5 9,750202041.1 %30.4 %28.5 %
d6 8,869202038.1 %31.8 % 30.1 %
e6 6,398202044.1 %30.5 %25.4 %
Nc6 4,307202050 % 24.3 %25.7 %
b6 1,683202038 % 33 % 28.9 %
c6 7,560202046.8 %25.9 %27.2 %
Swipe left if you are on mobile to see the whole table.

It seems that most people would reply Nf6 after Nf3. This is a nice mirror move that keeps black’s options open. My theory on why it is popular comes with its flexibility, you can do so many variations after this.

Nf6 is the most popular reply for the reti opening, this tells us that there is something about it that makes people comfortable. Of course the winning percentage will be more skewed since people are playing it more, therefore diluting the data.

There are also other major contenders which makes this list interesting. Since people have been playing it so much there might be some value in trying to learn these opening moves.

To summarize, among the dataset on the (human) sample taken, the best five replies would be the following: Zukertort Opening (Nf6), Zukertort opening 2nd variation (d5), Sicilian invitation (c5), Kingside fianchetto (g6), and Dutch variation (f5). This is ordered from the most favored to the least favored.

Beginners should try these variations since it clearly makes people comfortable enough to play them. This doesn’t mean however that this is an objective analysis, it is quite subjective actually.

I think we should also consider what does the chess engine indicate. They are after all the strongest entity to ever play chess, their opinions must mean something. Of course I have also compiled the data taken from the chess engine’s recommendations.

Let’s look at the engine evaluation side:

Best reply against Nf3 (based on engine evaluation)

Move No. of games playedEngine DepthEngine Evaluation
e6 6,39831+0.08
Nf6 138,95538+0.09
c5 35,16336+0.15
c6 7,56131+0.17
d5 81,80633+0.27
Nc6 4,30730+0.34
b6 1,68326+0.38
d6 8,86930+0.46
g6 16,98137+0.48
h6 44,37620+0.60
Swipe left if you are on mobile to see the whole table.

As you can see the list for the engine’s recommendation is not that different from the table above. There are some minor differences when it comes to placements but they are pretty much the same.

It is apparent though that e6 surprisingly makes its way to the top 1 to no avail. In the previous list it is buried deep under many other moves. I was surprised but enlightened at the same time.

Now that I think about it, e6 is reasonable since the queen’s gambit declined is solid for black. Among all other openings the Berlin defense is probably the only one that comes close to the queen’s gambit declined.

The reti opening is also known for this. People will delay playing their actual moves and play Nf3 to see how black responds first. By playing e6 you are already tempting a queen’s gambit declined which is good for black.

To summarize, as per engine evaluation, here are the five best moves against the reti opening: Queen’s gambit declined invitation (e6), Zukertort opening (Nf6), Sicilian invitation (c5), Slav invitation (c6), and Zukertort opening 2nd variation (d5). This is ordered from the best to worst.

Are the engine’s suggestions the only ones that matter?

Of course not. There is a reason why e6 is not played by the majority of players. My theory is that most people who are included in the data are beginners. Basically playing the best moves are not as important in their level.

In lower tiered games it is not important to be perfect, you just have to be good enough in order to win. The other opening replies based on popularity must be what is comfortable for beginners. Probably ones where there are not a lot of complications that can mess up the game.

If we are talking about objectivity though it is important to see what the engines think. Although even this may change in the future as the chess engines themselves become stronger.

Why is all this data important?

Opening moves dictate the tempo moving into the middlegame. Since the white pieces have the first move it will always be a bit better than the black pieces. 

I mean when just starting, I definitely find white’s openings to be much easier to implement than that of what I had with black. If you are playing the black pieces you don’t want this early lead to enlarge much more, you want to play the best reply.

Think about it though, mastering a particular line with black doesn’t necessarily always translate to be able to play such positions. Having a broad repertoire is important.

On the other hand, the white pieces will always have the ability to avoid the prepared line in alignment with what’s preferred by the player. This adds more strength to the white pieces.

Since there is no actual best first move for black (black doesn’t get to move first), we can only assume to answer what is the best reply for white’s best move. And the best replies can be deduced by looking at this data.

Conclusion

If you are a beginner then it is best to play Nf6 in reply to Nf3. Most people play it, probably because of its flexibility. There are many positions to transpose to after Nf6 which makes it  a good option.

However if you are going to ask me, a more objective approach is to look at the engine. What does the engine say? That matters a lot to me. Chess engines are ridiculously good at chess after all.

The best ten replies against Nf3 include: e6 (Queen’s Gambit invitation), Nf6 (Zukertort opening), c5 (Sicilian Invitation), c6 (Slav Invitation), d5 (Zukertort opening 2nd variation), Nc6 (Black Mustang), b6 (Queenside Fianchetto), d6 (Pirc Invitation), g6 (Kingside Fianchetto), and h6 (Basman) ranked from highest to lowest by evaluation provided by the engine.

Looking at this data this is my ultimate conclusion. However I understand if you have a different one. One way or the other this article will be helpful to someone, thank you for reading.

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