Bulletin No.26 – Animal Openings Part 2: The Birds

Cropped version of a photo by Rhododendrites (Wikimedia) under CC BY-SA 4.0

Did you know?

There are at least 24 recognised openings and variations with animal names – and that excludes dubious ones you can find in some corner of the internet but won’t find in any book. This makes animals one of the most popular themes for naming openings along with grandmasters and places.

Last week we looked at the mammals. This week will cover our avian friends.  Part 3 will cover all other creatures.


Bird Attack

We start with the first of four “Bird” openings. Like the other three this is actually named after Henry Bird but it is still an animal, and presumably the surname Bird was named after the creature in the first place.

The Bird Attack is a line of the Italian Opening / Giuoco Piano. It is characterised by 5.b4 which is the third most popular choice. It is thought to lead to an even position but has been played by Mamedyarov in a serious game and by Aronian, Caruana and Nakamura at blitz and rapid.

Our verdict: Like other lines in the Italian it is trying to squeeze something out of very little.
Strength: 7
Fun Factor: 4 About as exciting as most Italian lines!


Bird’s Defence

Bird’s Defence is a variation of the Ruy Lopez characterised by 3…Nd4. It allows white a steady advantage if he knows what he is doing.

Our verdict: It’s an attempt to do something a bit out of the ordinary in the Lopez, can lead to interesting positions and may work well against an inexperienced player.
Strength: 5
Fun Factor: 7


Bird’s Opening

Starting 1.f4 this opening is sound and has been played by top GMs recently, especially in rapid events, but is deemed to throw away white’s advantage. The old way of playing it was with b3, the modern way is with g3. White also has to be ready for the From Gambit with 1…e5.

Our verdict: Sound and a bit different
Strength: 5
Fun Factor: 6


Bird Variation

This is actually a sub-variation of the Pelikan variation (see below) of the Sicilian, with 7.Bg5 and 8…Be6

Our verdict: Almost anything in the Pelikan/Sveshnikov is interesting and quite playable.
Strength: 6
Fun Factor: 7


The Hawk

A very dubious defence starting 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c4 3.d5 c4?!

There are some tricky lines but white has a number of ways of gaining a large advantage. Below is a game where Jonathan Speelman treated it with the contempt it deserves.

Our verdict: Just a few tricks, no real plan.
Strength: 3
Fun Factor: 5


Kingfisher Gambit

This is a line in the Dutch starting 1.d4 f5 2.Nc3 d5 3.e4    It is normally played with violent intentions but black can choose a quiet and comfortable path in the main line if he so wishes.

Our verdict: Crude but OK.
Strength: 5
Fun Factor: 7 unless black plays the 4…e5 line.



Pelikan is Czech for pelican and is named after the Czech-born Argentinian Jiri Pelikan. This is the variation of the Sicilian which nowadays is more commonly called the Sveshnikov and in the past has also been called the Lasker or Lasker-Pelikan variation.

It is a fighting variation that was very popular from the late 1970s through to 2010, but became less used as safe ways for white to keep an edge were found and other lines were analysed through to drawn endgames. Nonetheless it was employed successfully by Magnus Carlsen in his 2018 world championship match against Caruana.

Below is a complex and fascinating game from that match.

Our verdict: Strong and interesting – a Rolls Royce opening.
Strength: 8
Fun Factor: 8


The Vulture

Another Benoni offshoot with 3…Ne4. The best reply is 4.Qc2 after which white has a large advantage.

Our verdict: Not competely unsound but certainly not the best opening.
Strength: 4
Fun Factor: 5


We have 8 properly recognised avian openings with perhaps the worst being the Hawk and the best being the Pelikan, which is a also a candidate for being the most interesting.

But do you agree with our assessments? Have we missed any bird openings? And do you have any games we could publish featuring these openings?

We would love to hear from you. If you have any feedback or a game please send it to us using the form below.

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