Réti Opening – 1.Nf3 (Zukertort Opening)

Réti Opening (Zukertort Opening) - 1.Nf3

Among the various openings that a player can choose, the Réti Opening (also known as the Zukertort Opening), or 1.Nf3, stands out for its flexibility, unconventional approach, and potential to transpose into various other openings.

This article looks into this strong opening, its move order, theory, strategy, variations, and historical context, and how it suits players of different skill levels.

Move Order of the Réti Opening

The Réti Opening, named after the Czech Grandmaster Richard Réti, typically starts with the moves 1.Nf3 and sometimes 2.g3, leading to the fianchetto of the king’s bishop.

Réti Opening (Zukertort Opening) - 1.Nf3

It’s a hypermodern opening that focuses on control of the center from a distance, rather than immediate occupation.

The general move order in the Réti Opening is 1. Nf3, followed by 2. g3, 3. Bg2, 4. O-O, with Nf3 serving to control the crucial d4 and e5 squares, and g3 allowing for the bishop to be fianchettoed.

A common opening line: 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2

Theory, Strategy, and Purpose of 1.Nf3

The core theory behind the Réti Opening is fundamentally hypermodern: control the center of the board indirectly, allowing the opponent to occupy it with pawns before undermining and counterattacking.

This is a departure from classical principles, which advocate for immediate occupation of the center with pawns.

The main strategy is to engage in a flexible setup that can transpose into a wide range of positions, keeping options open for several moves into the game.

Variations of the Réti Opening

There are several key variations in the Réti Opening, allowing for adaptability based on the opponent’s response.

The two major variations are the King’s Indian Attack and the English Opening.

In the King’s Indian Attack, white can potentially aim for a pawn push to e4 or d4, depending on black’s setup.

In the English Opening variation, white might choose to play c4, aiming for a strong central presence and to possibly transpose into a different opening entirely.

Let’s look at some other popular variations of 1.Nf3, from ECO codes A04-A09:

A04 Réti Opening or Zukertort Opening: 1.Nf3

In the A04 variation, the move order is simply 1. Nf3. Here, White is looking to take control over the central e5 and d4 squares.

Depending on Black’s response, White may decide to follow up with c4, d4, e4, or g3.

The strategy behind each choice varies but generally revolves around maintaining flexibility, developing pieces, and controlling the center.

A05 Réti Opening: 1…Nf6

The A05 variation is characterized by Black’s first move being 1…Nf6. This move aims to contest control of the e4 square and prepare for Black’s own central pawn push, often with …d5.

If White continues with the typical Réti moves (2.g3, 3.Bg2), White will aim to counter-attack the center rather than occupy it directly.

A06 Réti Opening: 1…d5

The A06 variation of the Réti Opening sees Black advancing the queen’s pawn to d5.

This directly challenges White’s aim to control the center of the board.

White often responds with d4 to counter the d5 pawn or may continue developing with g3, preparing to fianchetto the king’s bishop.

Santassiere’s Folly: 2.b4

The Santassiere’s Folly involves an early pawn push with 2.b4.

This unusual approach looks to grab space on the queenside and can be used to disrupt Black’s development plans.

However, it can also create weaknesses in White’s position that must be carefully managed.

Nimzowitsch–Larsen Attack: 2.b3

The Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack is characterized by 2.b3, preparing to fianchetto the bishop on b2.

This formation allows White to exert pressure on the e5 square and aids in the control of the central d4 square.

A07 Réti Opening, King’s Indian Attack (Barcza System): 1…d5 2.g3

The A07 variation, also known as the King’s Indian Attack or Barcza System, involves fianchettoing the king’s bishop early with 2.g3 in response to Black’s 1…d5.

This allows White to prepare an eventual e4 push, aiming to challenge Black’s central control.

Keres variation: 2…Bg4

The Keres Variation sees Black developing the bishop to g4 to pin White’s knight to the queen.

The aim is to disrupt White’s plans and create potential for tactical possibilities.

Yugoslav variation: 2…c6

In the Yugoslav Variation, Black responds to White’s opening move with 2…c6.

This is a solid, defensive move that prepares for a future …d5 advance.

A08 Réti Opening, King’s Indian Attack: 1…d5 2.g3 c5 3.Bg2

The A08 variation, another type of King’s Indian Attack, sees Black expanding in the center with c5.

This aims to challenge White’s influence over the d4 square and can potentially lead to open lines in the center of the board.

A09 Réti Opening (properly): 1…d5 2.c4

In the A09 Réti Opening, White responds to Black’s 1…d5 with 2.c4.

This directly challenges Black’s d5 pawn and aims to undermine Black’s central control.

Advance variation: 2…d4

In the Advance Variation, Black responds to 2.c4 with 2…d4.

This aims to establish a strong pawn center and put pressure on White’s position.

Advance Variation, Michel Gambit: 2…d4 b4 3. f6

In the Michel Gambit, a subvariation of the Advance Variation, White counters Black’s 2…d4 with 3.b4, a surprise move that aims to take advantage of the advanced black pawn’s lack of support.

Accepted: 2…dxc4

In the Accepted Variation, Black decides to capture the c4 pawn with 2…dxc4.

This allows White to regain the pawn with 3. Qa4+, while simultaneously developing the queen.

Accepted, Keres Variation: 2…dxc4 3.e3 Be6

In the Keres Variation of the Accepted line, Black develops the bishop to e6 after capturing on c4.

This aims to maintain the extra pawn while developing a piece and reinforcing control of the center.

Magnus Carlsen Teaches Reti Opening To Alexandra Botez

Evaluation of 1.Nf3

1.Nf3 is generally evaluated around +0.20 for white.

We rate it as the #3 of 20 for best opening moves.

Some may view 1.c4 as a better opening move, but 1.Nf3 widely considered the third- or fourth-best opener.

Theory & Continuation Lines of 1.Nf3

Some theory and continuation lines and variations following 1.Nf3 include:

1… c5 2. c4 Nf6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 5. Nb5 d5 6. cxd5 Bc5 7. N5c3 O-O 8. e3 Qe7 9. Be2 e4 10. O-O Rd8 

1… c5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. d4 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 e6 9. Be2 Qa5+ 10. Bd2 Bb4 11. Rb1 Bxd2+ 12. Qxd2 Ke7 13. Qxa5 

1… c5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. d4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 g6 7. e4 Bg7 8. Rb1 O-O 9. Be2 Bg4 10. O-O Bxf3 11. Bxf3 cxd4 12. cxd4 Bxd4 13. Rxb7 

1… d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Be2 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. Qc2 Re8 9. Rd1 b6 10. e4 dxe4 11. Ng5 Qc7 12. h3 e5 13. d5 

1… d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Be2 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. Qc2 Re8 9. Rd1 b6 10. e4 dxe4 11. Ng5 Qc7 12. h3 e5 

1… d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. cxd5 cxd5 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bf4 a6 7. e3 Bg4 8. h3 Bxf3 9. Qxf3 e6 10. Bd3 

1… d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. cxd5 cxd5 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bf4 a6 7. e3 Bg4 8. h3 Bxf3 9. Qxf3 Rc8 10. Bd3 e6 11. O-O Bd6 12. Rac1 Bxf4 13. Qxf4 O-O 

1… Nf6 2. d4 d5 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Be2 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. Qc2 Re8 9. Rd1 b6 10. e4 Nxe4 11. Nxe4 dxe4 12. Qxe4 Qc7 

1… Nf6 2. d4 d5 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Be2 O-O 8. O-O Re8 9. Rd1 h6 10. b3 b6 11. Bb2 Bb7 12. e4 Nxe4 13. Nxe4 dxe4 

1… Nf6 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 d5 4. d4 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Bd3 dxc4 8. Bxc4 O-O 9. O-O b5 10. Bd3 Bb7 11. Ng5 h6 12. Nge4 Bc7 13. Nxf6+ Nxf6 14. Ne4 Nxe4 15. Bxe4 Rc8 

History of the Réti Opening

The Réti Opening bears the name of Richard Réti, a leading figure in the hypermodern movement in the early 20th century.

Réti popularized this opening in the 1920s by successfully using it against World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca in 1924.

However, the opening was actually first played by Johannes Zukertort in the 19th century, hence it is also known as the Zukertort Opening.

Réti’s success brought the opening into mainstream chess, where it has remained a popular choice.

Réti Opening: Lecture by GM Ben Finegold

Whether It’s Good for Beginners or Intermediates

Given its flexibility and potential for transposition into various other openings, the Réti Opening can be a good choice for both beginners and intermediate players.

For beginners, it provides a simple and solid setup that is less likely to lead to early tactical complications.

For intermediate players, it offers a strategic richness that allows for a wide array of middlegame plans, depending on how the opening phase unfolds.

How Often 1.Nf3 Played at the Grandmaster Level

The Réti Opening, while not as popular as some openings like the 1.d4, 1.e4, or common variations like the Ruy Lopez, is still regularly seen in Grandmaster play.

Its flexibility and unpredictability make it a useful weapon at the highest levels of chess.

Grandmasters like Vladimir Kramnik, Anatoly Karpov, and Magnus Carlsen have used the Réti Opening to great effect in their games.

Unusual Réti Opening Lines

Some unusual Réti Opening lines:

Réti Opening: Santasiere’s Folly

1. Nf3 d5 2. b4 

Réti Opening: Santasiere's Folly1. Nf3 d5 2. b4 
Réti Opening: Santasiere’s Folly –  1. Nf3 d5 2. b4

Réti Opening: The Potato Variation

1. Nf3 d5 2. a4 

Réti Opening: Quiet System

1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 Nf6 

Réti Opening: Tennison Gambit

1. Nf3 d5 2. e4 

Réti Opening: Réti Gambit

1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 

The Réti Gambit is considered roughly even or slightly better for white and could be a solid opening reply to avoid theory.

If black plays 2…c6, this morphs into a Caro-Kann defensive system.

If black replies with 2…Nf6, this morphs into the following:

English Opening: Anglo-Indian, Scandinavian Defense

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5
And if it follows this line:

1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 Nf6 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. d4 

Then it morphs into a Queen’s Gambit Declined: Marshall Defense

White can get a very strong opening this way.

English Opening: Neo-Catalan Defense

1. Nf3 c5 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O Nf6 5. c4 

This offers a King’s Indian type of attack with a Neo-Catalan Defense.

You’ll often see black try to advance to d4 in such positions:

English Opening: Neo-Catalan Defense - 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 d4 5. O-O c5 6. d3 Nc6 7. e3 Bd6
English Opening: Neo-Catalan Defense – 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 d4 5. O-O c5 6. d3 Nc6 7. e3 Bd6

Sicilian Invitation and Queen’s Gambit Invitation

With black’s pawn moves to c5 and d5 on moves 1 and 2, it also offers what’s called a Sicilian Invitation or Queen’s Gambit Invitation.

In other words, black offers white to transpose the position to more traditional Sicilian and Queen’s Gambit lines.

Réti Opening: Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack

1. Nf3 d5 2. b3 

Réti Opening: King’s Indian Attack

1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 

Réti Opening: Reversed Mexican Defense

1.Nf3 d5 2.Nc3

Réti Opening: Indian Game: Spielmann-Indian Variation

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 c5 

The line 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.d5 b5 turns into a Spielmann-Indian, Pseudo-Benko Variation:

Indian Game: Spielmann-Indian, Pseudo-Benko Variation

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.d5 b5

FAQs – 1.Nf3

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the Réti Opening (Zukertort Opening) – 1.Nf3 in chess.

1. What is the Réti Opening (Zukertort Opening)?

The Réti Opening (also known as the Zukertort Opening) is a hypermodern chess opening named after the Czech Grandmaster Richard Réti.

The opening begins with 1.Nf3, focusing on controlling the center of the board with pieces rather than pawns.

2. Why is 1.Nf3 called the Réti Opening and the Zukertort Opening?

The name comes from the two influential players, Richard Réti and Johannes Zukertort.

Réti popularized this opening in the 1920s.

Zukertort, however, had previously used it with great effect, thus it also carries his name.

3. What is the primary strategy behind the Réti Opening?

The Réti Opening is characterized by a hypermodern approach where the center is controlled with pieces rather than pawns.

Instead of occupying the center with pawns early, as in classical openings, white delays d4 (often until it can be prepared with c3) and does not play e4 at all unless the situation clearly calls for it.

4. What are the typical pawn structures in the Réti Opening?

In the Réti Opening, White typically aims for a pawn structure with pawns on d3, e3, and g3, and fianchettos the bishop on the king’s side with a move like Bg2.

Later in the game, depending on Black’s setup, White may push d4 to challenge the center or keep the position flexible.

5. What are the main line variations of the Réti Opening?

There are many possible responses to 1.Nf3, leading to a variety of different game types.

Some common continuations are:

  • 1…d5, the most straightforward response, which can lead into a variety of different openings.
  • 1…Nf6, often leading to the King’s Indian Defense if followed by 2.g3.
  • 1…c5, leading to the English Opening (reversed Sicilian) after 2.c4.

6. What is the typical piece development in the Réti Opening?

After 1.Nf3, White often aims to fianchetto the bishop with g3 and Bg2.

The other knight can be developed to c3 or d2, and the queen’s bishop can be developed to b2 or e2, depending on the circumstances.

White also often aims to castle kingside quickly to ensure the safety of the king.

7. How does the Réti Opening compare to other hypermodern openings?

Like other hypermodern openings, the Réti Opening aims to control the center with pieces instead of pawns.

Compared to the English Opening (1.c4), the Réti is less direct and allows for more flexibility in pawn structure and piece development.

The Réti can transpose into many different openings, making it a versatile choice.

8. Is the Réti Opening suitable for beginner players?

While the Réti Opening can be an effective choice at all levels of play, it may be more challenging for beginners due to its hypermodern nature.

Traditional openings that prioritize early central control with pawns can be simpler to understand.

However, with study and practice, beginners can certainly utilize the Réti Opening effectively.

9. How can I study and improve my game with the Réti Opening?

You can study the Réti Opening through a variety of methods.

Chess books and online resources dedicated to this opening can provide valuable insights. Reviewing games where Grandmasters have used the Réti


The Réti Opening offers a wealth of strategic depth, a flexible move order, and an unconventional approach to the game that sets it apart from other strong opening move choices.


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