Understanding The Reti A12

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4

When Alekhine legitimized the Reti Opening in the 1920's, it included almost any game that began with White's moves Nf3 and c4. Reti popularized this sequence against all defenses, demonstrating the "hypermodern" strategies of flexible restraint of the center pawns and the fianchetto of both bishops. As the opening became accepted, there developed some structure to it and a clearer classification between it and other openings. Nowadays, the Reti Opening refers only to those variations in which Black plays d5, White plays c4 (after Nf3), fianchettoes at least one bishop, and does play an early d4, transposing into the Catalan or Neo-Grunfeld.

White's setup lacks direct aggression and so allows Black the choice of many sensible defensive positions. Compared with the Queen's Gambit, Slav or Catalan openings, Black appears to have no troubles: he develops his minor pieces without hindrance and can claim his share of the center. White's initiative of the first move does not vanish, however, but takes subtler forms, with pressure and possibilities of expansion in all sectors of the board.

The Reti Opening is thoroughly hypermodern. White's plan is to attack Black's central formation from the flanks, while also operating on the queenside with the help of a long-range bishop which will be stationed at g2.

Flank Game Strategy
In the Flank games, White shirks the responsibility of building the ideal pawn center and instead tries to control that critical area of the board with piece pressure, usually involving a fianchetto at g2. The Reti Opening, 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4, is perhaps the purest version of this strategy. The Reti offers temporary custody of a pawn which, if captured by 2dxc4, can be regained later with Na3 or Qa4+. White can choose to fianchetto the other bishop as well, or independently as in the Nimzo-Larsen Attack (1.Nf3 d5; 2.b3).

White can also adopt the strategy of playing a defense with an extra tempo. This is the strategy behind the English Opening, which gives Black the opportunity to play the White side of the Sicilian formation after 1e5.

Basic Reti Theory
The Reti opening is 1.Nf3 d5 but then what? Well almost anything, only d2-d4 should not be played immediately for that would be the Queen's Gambit. The typical moves are 2.c4 and 2.g3, less topical is a setup with b3 and Bb2. The first player should be prepared to react to any black scheme. Even d2-d4 will be played in the end. But it's just this variability, which makes the White setup so dangerous to black.

The first obstacle to overcome in the opening is always the same. You must learn to get your pieces into play first before pulling the trigger on an attack. But so many players act like children that can't wait to get on with a all out attack usually with just their Queen before completing development and castling. They forget that the primary goal of the opening is not to try and win the game, but to first get a playable middlegame, and that fact is violated time and time again for you to take advantage of.

The basic idea behind the Reti is to let black set up in the center first with d5, then to challenge him from the flank with c4 and from a distance with a bishop at g2 and often b2. The advantage of the Reti is that you can keep black in the dark for a long time about your exact intentions, leaving black pretty much on his own to make decision. In the absence of firm targets, those decisions are often bad decisions.

Unfortunately, this leaves uninformed opponents free to choose their own ground for battle. There is little chance for a quick kill, and Reti games tend to be long tense maneuverings affairs.

White generally has to balance two critical questions, 1. Should I play cxd5, and 2. Should I play d4? You also have to watch carefully for black's dxe4.

When do you play cxd5?

In general, white exchange on d5 when he's in a position to take advantage of the half-open e-file, when he can saddle black with an isolated d-pawn, when black can't recapture with a pawn, or when he's forced to relieve pressure on his won c-pawn by trading it off.

One thing is certain. A random exchange is a bad idea. White starts the game with an edge, and the timing of the trade could be critical. White should maintain the tension as long as he can, watching carefully for an opportunity to trade with an advantage.

When do you play d4?

The option of playing an early d4 is one of the most abiding, and confusing constants in the Reti universe. White holds back the d-pawn voluntarily. As soon as white pushes d4, we have moved outside the scope of the Reti into the Queen's Gambit, the Slav, the Catalan, the English, or any one of a half dozen other possible queen's pawn structures.

In fact at the professional level one of the primary functions of the Reti is to postpone d4 until white can enter positions he is comfortable with, often bypassing known proclivities in black's repertoire.

So d4 is really a question of style and preparation. If you are comfortable with the Queen's Gambit or the Slav, you might choose D4 in one position while refraining in another.

If black plays his bishop to c5, white can often play d4 with a gain of tempo. Of course, as soon as d4 is pushed, tempo or no, white leaves familiar Reti ground, so he often sticks to d3 just to keep close to home.

Given the fluid nature of the Reti, it would be a mistake to forego d4 anytime you think if gives you an advantage. It's all an art of:

Transposition "To d4, or not to d4that is the question"

From the student's point of view, there are really two important classes of transposition in the Reti. Via Class I transpositions, you can drop into standard Reti positions from a number of different move orders - 1.Nf3, 1.g3, 1. c4, 1.d4, and even 1.e4 and even 1.e4 - among others, can lead to the Reti positions as evidenced by the number of games in the Chessbase database that forego more standard Reti move orders . Via Class II transpositions, you often have the chance to bail out of the Reti in mid game into standard Queen's Pawn, English or Indian structures.

Class I transpositions are interesting. They underscore the transposition richness of the Reti and tell us something about chess at large, it is highly significant that a move as alien to the Reti move order as 1.e4 can still twist and turn and find its way back into typical Reti channels as often as it does. But it's not likely that you will ever aim for Reti structures by opening 1.e4.

Class II transpositions are a different story, especially those involving a white d2-d4 push. Why? Because this move in particular can make you and opening alchemist, suddenly converting the bright alloy of the Reti into a familiar metal altogether different in character and objective at the push of a pawn, when and how and if you choose. Now that is real power!

Now here is the beauty of the Reti.

Players often choose less conventional lines like the Reti to avoid learning theory. But in the Reti you're almost always just a pawn push from the sea-change of d4-theory. There are a number of reasons why avoiding d2-d4 just to sidestep mainline theory is a bad idea.

First an early d2-d4 is almost always a good move, and almost never a bad move, after all world class GM's argue that 1.d4 is White's strongest opening move. And sometimes it clearly the best option in a position.

Second, at least 50% of the Reti's value lies in waiting for an opportunity to play d2-d4 in more advantageous position than on move 1. Maybe you know your opponents pet d4-defenses, and you're waiting until he commits forces to squares and structures that preclude them. Maybe he will make a mistake in move order or piece placement that allows d2-d4 with additional force. Maybe your opponent will just go wrong in the open field of the Reti. In any case, the opportunity to play d2-d4 is the reason and the backbone of your entire opening strategy, remaining uncommitted and entirely flexible until your opponent gives you a target or an opportunity.

It's possible to effectively deploy the Reti as a non-d2-d4 repertoire. If you play the English with 1.c4 you can use the Reti as an alternative in the same spirit. The point here is to overcome any fears of playing d2-d4. Going over other games it may become clear how many advantages were shrunk or disappeared altogether by stubbornly refusing to push d2-d4.

Thus one of the fundamental ideas here is that many would be Reti games can eventually transpose into non-Reti lines after an early d2-d4 on move one by not waiting for the right opportunity to play it in a more advantageous position and thus lose that advantage that the Reti can give you.

Mastering the art of transposition.

So the point that you must understand here is that you will never master the Reti without first mastering the art of transposition.

The Reti can be a powerful vital opening weapon in its own right. It can be played with confidence and enthusiasm.

If black withholds d7-d5, he's probably aiming for Indian systems against 1.d4 structures. You can oblige him by playing a quick d2-d4 and c2-c4, or head for English-Reti formations with c2-c4, or stick to your Reti game plan with Nf3, g2-g3, and Bg2. Most of the time black will eventually commit himself with d2-d5. If he doesn't, typical Reti themes are still relevant, and you can push d2-d4 at any point to clarify the situation in the center.

Often you are given the opportunity to play a Reti-Reversed when black withholds d7-d5. That is, by pushing an immediate d2-d4 after 1.Nf3 Nf6, you can hook black on the horns of a subtle dilemma. If he pushes d7-d5, you enter conventional d2-d4 theory, ground he may or may not be comfortable on. If he doesn't your experience with anti-Reti defenses from white side comes increasingly into play, with extra tempo in hand. The longer he withholds d7-d5, the more likely you are to see Reti formations and themes with an extra move at your disposal.

Generally that extra move is not very significant in these lines. These are not razor-sharp forcing variations in which the waste of a tempo can be fatal. But it can be dangerous, and your cumulative experience on the white side of the Reti should ensure that you're at least as familiar with the resulting positions as your opponent is, probably vastly more as your Reti investment grows through time.

1. Basic Reti
2. Basic Reti - Explication 1
3. Basic Reti - Explication 2
4. Basic Reti - Explication 3
5. Basic Reti - Explication 4
6. Basic Reti - Explication 5
7. Basic Reti - Explication 6

Chessbase Opening Report

Statistics: White scores above average at 57% Strong Grandmasters who used this line as White: Results Viktor Kortschnoj 62% Valery Salov 75% Tirran Petrosian 57% Garry Kasparov 85% Viswanathan Anand 75% Boris Gelfand 75%

Movess and Plans
If Then you should play: a) 2...c6 3.d4 Main line: 3...Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 3...Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd7 3...Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 3...e6 Critical line: 3...e6 4.Nc3 f5 5.Bf4 Nf6 Nf6 6.e3 Alternative: 3.e3 b) 2...e6 3.g3 Main line: 3...Nf6 4.Bg2 Be6 5.o-0 0-0 6.b3 3...Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.d4 3...Nf6 4.b3 Critical line: 3...dxc4 4.Qa4+ Nd7 5.Bg2 a6 6.Qxc4 alternative: 3.d4 c) 2...d4 3.g3 Main line: 3...Nc6 4.Bg2 e5 5.d3 Nf6 6.0-0 3...Nc6 4.Bg2 e5 5.0-0 3...c5 4.Bg2 Nc6 5.d3 3...g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 Critical line: 3...Nc6 4.Bg2 g6 5.d3 Bg7 6.0-0 Alternative: 3.e3 d) 2...dxc4 3.e3 Main line: 3...Nf6 4.Bxc4 e6 5.d4 c5 6.dxc5 Alternative: 3.Na3 e) 2...c5 3.cxd5 f) 2...Nf6 3.cxd5 Alternative: 3.g3 g) 2...Bf5 3.cxd5 Alternative: 3.e3 h) 2...Nc6 3.cxd5

The Games. All Mates!
1. Bogoljubow - Llyin
2. Botvinnik - Chekhover
3. Pithart - Florian
4. Lengerer - Zieroth
5. Larsen - Chandler
6. Ivanisevic - Kovacevic
7. Wirthensohn - Cairou
8. Miladinovic - Borgo
9. Salaun - Mullon
10. Izquierdo - Carvalho
11. Holmsgaard - Andersson
12. Bienkowski - Kaszynski
13. Schirm - Menk
14.Ponce Antollovich
15. Jaehnisch - Marxen
16.Beaumont - Jackson
17. Stephan - Maahs