Alphazero is legendary, in a world dominated by chess engines who perform brute force calculations, it shines as a beaming light. Alphazero’s games against stockfish will forever be engraved in history, it is quite remarkable.
When alphazero hits the scene the players are impressed, not only by the result of the games, they are also impressed by the way alpha zero wins. The way it plays isn’t really like an engine, it plays like a human.
The way that it plays is just reminiscence of how the old players like paul morphy create brilliancies. It made us question what really is the right way to play chess.
One of the things that alphazero impacted the most is our opening theory, which engines like stockfish are hailed as the strongest.
Alphazero showed how our theoretical understanding of openings might actually be wrong.
In this article I will be discussing the favorite chess openings that alphazero uses/rated. It will allow us to understand the opening phase better, also we can even apply it in our own games.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Why is it important to learn this information?
Chess engines are some of the best entities that have ever played the game. If the best chess player in the world suggests a particular move yet the engines do not like it, people will value the opinion of the engines more.
Alphazero is an innovative chess engine that has shaken the chess world to its core.
It has pushed the boundary between human and has engines, as it is a chess engine that plays like a human.
Its legendary battle with stockfish is a sight to see, it has proved that it is a very strong engine capable of playing beautiful chess.
Learning which openings alphazero prefers allows us to analyze the legitimacy of popular openings.
For example, after the introduction of Alphazero, several openings have lost their legitimacy in the top level (Queen’s Indian defense and French defense).
Consequently we should also analyze which openings it prefers in order to apply such openings in our own games.
Alphazero’s favorite chess openings for the white pieces
I have analyzed some of alpha zero’s games where it wasn’t forced to use the opening books. Most of the matches between alpha zero and stockfish was when the matchmakers forced a certain opening on the engines.
This will be a good test on which engine is stronger, however, this is obviously not very useful for this article.
For this reason, I have taken a look at some of the unpublished games between alphazero and stockfish (that are published recently) in order to create this list.
I have also seen the data where Alphazero analyzes many popular openings in order to express the best one. Here are my findings:
1.) Queen’s gambit
This is the most favorite line that alphazero always plays. He had also rated it highly, having the most number of expected wins among all the other openings for white. This is quite a surprise since alpha zero is known for its dynamic “human” approach.
You would expect that it would highly rate “e4” openings over “d4” openings since it fits its play style.
This is not the case though, alphazero really likes the queen’s gambit. In the games against stockfish, stockfish usually plays the queen’s gambit declined which is expected.
However there are some games where stockfish goes for the queen’s indian defense, just to diverge from alphazero’s typical queen’s gambit.
Nonetheless, Alphazero still goes for the queen’s gambit set up against the queen’s indian defense. The queen’s gambit allows a game that is more positional then tactical, which is reminiscent of some positional brilliancies by Alphazero.
2.) English opening
This is another surprise for me while I am researching this, I have found that alphazero really rates the english opening highly.
The english opening is probably the most positional opening in chess, it is a very quiet line. In most games played with the English opening, the match usually enters into an “improving the position” phase instead of having initiative-inducing moves.
In the games where Alphazero is not forced to play any opening line, the English opening is the second most frequent opening for white. It is quite funny since Alphazero can transpose into both openings.
When it plays c4 sometimes it will still go for d4 transposing into the queen’s gambit line.
Sometimes it is the other way around, it will exchange the d4 pawn early and then transpose to a position that you can get from the english opening.
3.) Reti opening
The reti opening is one of the most popular openings from the hyper modern approach.
In the hyper modern approach, the pieces are used to control the center instead of the pawns. In the reti, the knight is already developed forward in order to control the center immediately.
It seems that Alphazero agrees with the chess masters of the past (the reti opening was created a long time ago).
Alphazero plays it consistently in the games where it is forced to play any opening moves, it is interesting.
You would think that this innovative chess engine would be interested in playing the most popular opening move, which is e4. But no, it actually rates the reti higher than e4.
If I were to guess, it is because the reti is very flexible, you could transpose into the queen’s gambit or the english opening from the reti.
You can change your approach as you see the moves of your opponent, perhaps this versatility leads to Alphazero rating this opening highly.
Nonetheless this proves that the reti opening is a worthy opening consideration for the white pieces.
Alphazero’s favorite chess openings for the black pieces
Now getting this information is quite difficult. In most of the games that I have watched, Alphazero plays the white pieces more than the black pieces.
This means that I cannot accurately tell which openings that it likes the most (for the black pieces at least).
Luckily I have stumbled upon the released analysis of Alphazero on various popular chess openings. This release would be my basis for the creation of this second list.
Here are my findings:
1.) Berlin defense
This is not a surprise for me.
The berlin defense is one of the most popular chess openings played by super grandmasters, it is popular for a reason.
It was first popularized by Vladimir Kramnik when he defeated the almighty Garry Kasparov (with the berlin defense) without even dropping a single game.
It seems that alphazero agrees with the analysis of these top chess players, this is the only opening I see it play in the few unpublished matches against stockfish.
The berlin defense is good for black since it neutralizes the opening advantage for a white early. Its main line consists of a series of exchanges that quickly transposes into the end game.
After a several series of moves in the berlin defense, you would already reach the end game. Even if the white pieces didn’t go for the main line, it is a very solid opening.
Most of the lines that involve it do not give many opportunities for the white pieces. Alphazero likes it, and what can I say, it is one of the best openings for the black pieces.
2.) Giuoco piano
This one was a surprise for me. I have seen Alphazero play it once (on the unpublished games), probably it’s favorite reply against the italian game.
With alphazero preferring the berlin defense against the ruy lopez, I really thought that it would prefer the two knights defense instead.
However I do understand that there is a difference, white can go for the fried liver attack in the two knights defense.
I knew that Alphazero would not fall for this trick, however I think that it just considers the two knights defense inferior because of this fact. Regardless, the giuoco piano is a good reply against the italian opening.
It maintains equality for black and would allow the white pieces to choose what to do.
After the giuoco piano the position is still about equal (only slightly better for white). I think that this is really the engine’s default reply against the italian game, to just go for the giuoco piano.
It is also rated highly on the analysis so I will put it here as Alphazero’s second most favorite.
3.) King’s indian defense
This is one of the highest rated openings for the black pieces. From what I’ve seen, alpha zero didn’t really play this on the published games against stockfish. After looking at the list of ratings that alpha zero analyzed, this has one of the highest.
The King’s indian defense is another hypermodern chess opening, you will be using your pieces to control the center rather than the pawns. It is also used in competitive play, although not that much.
There is some risk in playing this though since white can go for an aggressive line and make the game really complicated. However it is a solid opening, it is really unclear which is better between the two sides.
From Alpha zero’s perspective, it seems that the king’s indian defense is a good option for the black pieces.
In the top level, the game could go either way depending on the players. I’d say it is one of the most solid openings that you can play using the black pieces.
Should you only play the openings recommended by Alphazero?
By reading this list, you may be led to believe that these openings should be the ones you play 100% of the time.
There is a merit in playing these more than any other openings, but don’t treat this as an absolute. These engines play by very slim margins, they will get into positions where any kind of advantage exists.
It doesn’t matter if the advantage they can get is only 0.1 %, they will play it since that is what their calculation says.
With human players however things are much more complicated, you might have a worse position but have a better condition.
For example, if you are playing against an aggressive player, you may want to play a quiet positional line even when you are slightly worse. Objectively, your position is inferior, but if you are looking at the bigger picture you have the advantage.
Since they are an aggressive player, they will feel uncomfortable playing a positional game. Also there are players that perform poorly on specific openings.
I, for example, play poorly against the caro-kann defense, and I don’t know why.
Alphazero itself stated that the caro-kann defense is an inferior opening. However if you are playing against me then this might not apply.
This is only one of the cases where you shouldn’t follow an engine’s advice. You can follow it sometimes but remember to also consider other things.
Here are the three best openings for the white pieces according to Alphazero: the queen’s gambit, the english opening, and the reti opening.
For the black pieces, the ones that are highly rated (or the most played) are: the berlin defense, the giuoco piano, and the king’s indian defense.
All of these are pretty solid openings by their own right, and the fact that alphazero likes them only adds to their credibility.
It is not like you would play these openings 100% of the time, however, you will be reassured that these are safe positions when you do play them.
If one of the strongest chess engines says that a particular chess opening is good, then it is probably true.
Just remember that you shouldn’t always follow the engine’s advice since games between humans are quite complicated, however you can play them sometimes.
That is all for this article, thank you for reading.