How Should You Play Against an Irregular Chess Opening?

Ruy Lopez, Sicilian defense, Queen’s gambit declined, you are probably familiar with these openings.

How can you not be?

It is something that you’d literally encounter every other game on lichess or, it is like being repeated on replay.

Playing against these openings over and over again has an unintended consequence though, which is that you will get used to dealing with these variations.

However there will come a time when you will encounter an opponent that plays an irregular opening.

Most irregular openings are not that good, which is why people rarely play them in the first place.

However, the value is that most people do not know how to handle these kinds  of openings, they struggle against it.

This article will be talking about the ways to deal with irregular openings to help you on this.

It can become annoying when you lose against a “poor” opening. Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Which chess openings are considered irregular?

Irregular openings in chess are those that are not played on a regular basis. Some of the examples are Modern defense, Polish opening, Bird opening, and Owen defense.

There are many other irregular openings out there, most don’t even have a name.

If you had been playing chess for quite some time, you would have an idea which openings are usually played.

Optimal openings usually fall into three categories: they are either classical, hypermodern, or modern. Irregular openings do usually do not belong in any of these types.

It is not like playing beyond these “regular openings” is forbidden, more like these “regular openings” are just the best openings out there.

Irregular openings are usually not that good, the only reason that people play them is for the shock factor (or they may just be giving an odd). Sometimes this works especially on faster time controls.

Since people don’t know how to play against them, they flop later in the game. 

How should you handle irregular openings in chess?

I have two pieces of advice for you if you want to win against someone that plays an irregular opening.

First is that you shouldn’t force an attack. When people see an irregular opening, they just want to get into the attack since they know that they have a better position.

This is somewhat true, irregular openings do require the wielder to give up some advantages (there is a reason why some openings are irregular).

However this causes some complications, the position will become messy if you force an initiative.

Instead, what I want you to do is the opposite, which is to handle the position strategically (long term) instead of rushing in for the attack.

If you have a better position then you should be able to outplay your opponent in the long run.

You don’t have to rush and win in some 15 moves after the bird opening is played, you just need to position your pieces and play normally.

I have to say this because a lot of people try to make something happen instead of waiting, probably because they feel that they are being humiliated.

Stay focused, just play normally and don’t make the position complicated. The only exception is if you have a winning move that you have calculated to be playable.

In this case you can go into the attack as long as you have visualized everything properly.

The second advice that I can give to you is to not take any free pawns or pieces that are being offered.

The thing with the usual openings is that we have likely encountered such openings in the past, this makes us attentive to the traps that lie within it.

It is not like we can see 100% of all the traps in the Ruy Lopez (not most people at least), but at least we know which moves are safe to play conceptually.

The thing with these irregular openings is that you have likely not studied or encountered any of them in the past.

This means that if there are any traps that lie within these variations (which is likely), you will head straight into it.

My advice is to just not take any free pawns or pieces that are being offered.

Most of the time, these “free pieces” actually come with a terrible positional compensation, sometimes they can even win back the material relatively quickly.

The only exception is that if you do not see a threat from a free pawn or piece that is being offered, you should also look at the rating of your opponent.

If they have a high rating and they offer a piece in an irregular opening, you probably shouldn’t take it. I wouldn’t, it is likely to be a trap.

Even if they are lower rated, I will still have to calculate seriously in order to see if they just messed up.

My advice is to just not take it if it seems fishy. It is likely to be a trap, something that can ruin your position. 

Why do some people lose against irregular chess openings?

If I can summarize why most people lose against irregular openings, it is because they are impatient.

When they see an opponent playing an irregular opening, they just try to make something happen as fast as possible.

This is no way to play chess, rushing will always lead to a worse position when there is no initiative to be made.

I think that part of it is the ego, we just hate being underestimated. At least I do, and this is also true for most people.

When there is an opponent playing an irregular opening, we just think that they are not being serious.

We don’t try as much and are likely to force something instead of playing positionally.

I think that this is a mistake, playing positionally against irregular openings is the way to go.

Unless that there is a one hit combination, you should play for the long term. 

You shouldn’t worry too much when playing against an irregular opening.

Here’s the thing, there is a reason why certain openings are not played as much. It is because they are just bad or substandard openings, if they are good openings then people would start playing them frequently.

Even in elite tournaments, you would rarely see an irregular opening being played.

Most of the time it is all about the Ruy Lopez, Italian game, Sicilian defense, English opening, etc., openings that are quite predictable in nature.

This is because popular openings are just better theoretically, they are the best opening moves in the position.

If you are struggling against irregular openings then you are likely dealing with a shock factor.

You are just not used in playing against uncomfortable positions, and therefore you play worse.

You shouldn’t really worry about irregular openings, if they are not played frequently then they are not that good.

The struggle comes with the unfamiliarity of it, but know that such openings are substandard. 


If you want to play well against irregular openings then I have two pieces of advice for you.

First (1) is that you shouldn’t rush for the attack, complicating the position will only favor those that played the irregular opening.

Second (2) is to not accept any free pawns or pieces unless you are sure that it can be taken.

If an opening is rarely played, then you are likely not aware of the traps that are involved in the opening.

You should avoid taking free pawns or pieces that are being offered, especially if the opponent is higher rated. If they are lower rated then I would think about it, but you should still calculate if anything funny is going on.

It really boils down to patience, make sure that you are still playing for the long-term even against an irregular opening.

Play positionally until you see a powerful combination, then you can go for it. If you follow this advice then you would win against these kinds of openings.

That is all for this article, thank you for reading.