It’s that wonderful time of the year, and similar to Halloween, we are all wondering if there are any fun, exciting openings that can be played over the festive period to rejoice the season of goodwill!
After some deep research and an online meeting with Santa Claus, he has confirmed there appears to be two known Christmas themed chess openings and these are highlighted below.
However, his knowledge of chess is not as good as it once was, after all there are so many computer games now available that he needs to understand, so he would like to ask our readers if they think there are any Christmas openings we have missed.
With such an apparent shortage of such festive openings we are sure there is plenty of scope and opportunity for our local players to invent many more! Perhaps we will soon be hearing about the Reindeer Attack or the Brussels Sprouts Gambit? One thing for sure, this last opening may come with a health warning!
So, do you want the bad Santa or good Santa Opening news first?
Think we will start with the bad Santa!
(A) The Santa Claus Attack!
This is recognised by 1.e4 e5 2.b3
We are not sure how this opening derived its name but rumour has it that it was conceived on Christmas Eve (what a surprise!). Perhaps there is also the idea of keeping all options open by delaying the development of his reindeer (knights). There is a certain amount of logic to White’s second move. Santa is looking to attack the Black pawn on e5 with Bb2 and maybe also undermine it with a timely f4. However, with the bishop moving to b2 to justify the 2.b3 move, if the f4 move is then played, Santa may have a significant weakness along the dark g1 to a7 diagonal. If f4 is not played, then Black should stand a little better in all lines as the bishop on b2 will be hitting either a capped chimney or a fireplace which has been boarded up!
A sensible way for Black to play seems to be with 2…Bc5 (known as the Grinch Defence as the Grinch is trying to steal Christmas!)
3.Bb2 Nf6!? (3…Nc6 may be positionally sounder but less fun and we all want to have fun at Christmas!). White has 4 main options:
(A1) 4.Bxe5!? d6 5.Bb2
5.Bxf6? Qxf6 would be an immediate disaster for Santa as there is the dual threat of mate on f2 and the rook on a1. Maybe Santa won’t mind this as he will get to deliver some Christmas presents early but perhaps this is a bit too early!
Even after the mainline with 5.Bb2 it is Black who can play with plenty of Christmas spirit and joy with 5…Bxf2+!? 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Ke1
Instead, Santa can venture forward at his peril. 7.Kf3? loses to Bg4+! whilst 7.Ke3? Qe7 meets a similar fate.
7…Qh4+ 8. g3 Nxg3 9. Nf3 Qe4+ 10. Kf2 Nxh1+ with interesting chances. One thing for sure, Black seems to be having all the fun!
(A2) 4.Nc3 blocks the bishop. One exciting way for Black to play might be with 4…0-0 5.f4?! d6 7.Nf3
If 7.fxe5 dxe5 8.Nf3 Nc6 9.Bb5 Nd4! and Black is well on top (see diagram below).
7…exf4! 8.d4 Bb4 and Santa can now hang up his stocking due to the pressure on his e4 pawn and weaker king!
(A3) 4.Nf3 blocks the f-pawn and is not really in keeping with the festive spirit. A simple way for Black to play is with 4…Nxe4 5.Qe2 Bxf2+ 6.Kd1 d5 and if 7.d3 then 7…Bb6 and Black will remain at least a pawn up with the better game. Sorry Santa, this does not look much good either.
(A4) 4.d3 looks positionally unappealing as it blocks in the bishop on f1 and creates too many dark square weaknesses.
Black can develop normally and be a little better but one enterprising way to play is with 4…0-0 5.Bxe5?! d5! 6.exd5 Re8 7.d4 Bxd4! 8.Qxd4 Nc6! and Santa is busted!
Conclusion: There is not too much to recommend this festive opening although Line A1 may just about be ok. However, even here 3…Nc6 seems to provide some advantage to Black. It certainly looks like it is Santa who is the one offering early gifts with not much in return but as we know, this is what Christmas is all about!
And here is the good Santa opening!
(B) The Christmas Tree Dutch Variation!
This seems to be on a much sounder footing than the poor old Santa Claus Attack!
A lot of the analysis belongs to GM Simon Williams who used it very effectively to beat GM Mark Hebden. This is a variation of Simon’s favourite Dutch Defence and its ‘Christmas Tree’ name was originally given by IM Richard Palliser as Black’s structure looks like … funnily enough … a Christmas tree!
It is used mainly against White’s fianchetto line which is played approximately half the time against the Dutch and there is a simple four part plan for Black.
Part 1 – Build the Christmas tree!
1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 g6
Notice the uncanny resemblance!
Part 2 – Fianchetto the bishop, castle and prepare e5.
5.O-O Bg7 6.c4 O-O 7.Nc3 d6
Part 3 – Stop White, if you can, from playing e4 by playing Ne4 first and then swap off this knight for White’s knight on c3.
If 8.b3 then you can use the same plan with 8…Ne4 9. Bb2 Nxc3 10. Bxc3 Nc6. Play might follow 11.Re1 e5 12.dxe5 dxe5 13.Qd5+ Kh8 14.e4 f4 (see diagram below).
If now 15.Nxe5 then 15…fxg3 16.hxg3 Qe8 looks a bit awkward for White.
8… Ne4 9. Qc2
If 9.Nxe4 fxe4 10.Ng5 d5 11.f3 h6 12.Nh3 dxc4 and Black has slightly the better chances due to pressure that can be exerted on the d4 pawn (see diagram below).
If instead 10.Qxc3 e5 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Nxe5 Nd7 13.f4 Qe7and Black has a good play (see diagram below)
Part 4 – Play e5!
If 11.e4 then 11…Nc6 or f4!? and Black has sensible chances.
11…dxe5 12.Ba3 Re8 13.e4 Nc6
(13…f4!? may be even stronger e.g. 14.gxf4 Nc6! The position is about level but Black could be the only one having all the fun!)
14.Rad1 Qf6 15.exf5 Bxf5
16.Qb3 Bg4 17.Rd3 e4 18.Rde3 Bh6 and Black is much better as in Hebden v Williams. Simon won!
For a quick summary, please click on the following YouTube video by Simon.
Conclusion: This looks like it is fun and easy to play. Full marks to Richard Palliser and Simon Williams!
If you like this line for Black then the Christmas Tree variation can be also played with the White pieces a move ahead with 1.f4 which must be good but beware of early e5 systems for Black!
Both of these Christmas Openings look fun to play in Blitz but the latter looks the sounder and could work in standard play.
Maybe you might know of another Christmas Opening which we have missed. Please do let us know.