Weird chess openings: The fishy 1.c4 b5 2.cxb a6!

By Leon Watson / On / In Chess openings

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As some of you may know we set up an over the board team recently to play in the Summer Chess League in London, which in my spare time I try to help organise.

The team is called The InChessables, and is captained by my friend Chris Rebbeck (another Chessable user) and has among the players the streamer ChessPatzerUK, Jacques Tivillier.

The InChessables logo, inspired by the film
The InChessables logo, inspired by the film

So far our results have been pretty good… a 4-0 whitewash in the first round and a 3-1 win this week. We are, right now, top of the table.

There’s been some good games played, and some not so good games. But today I want to share with you what I can only describe as a very odd game.

It was played by Maik Naundorf, aka feingeist on Chessable, on board 1. Maik is a very strong player (2153 Elo) and one of our most frequent users, which is why we wanted him on our team.

Maik Naundorf Vs Ed Mospan in the Summer Chess League
Maik Naundorf Vs Ed Mospan in the Summer Chess League

In fact, he made a diversion from his holiday in the UK just to play. So why was this game so odd? Well, take a look yourself – here it is in all its glory:

Nice finish, eh, Maik really reeled him in. But have you seen that opening before? Maik said afterwards that he’s played 1,200 games in the English and never seen 1.c4 b5 2.cxb a6!

“I’m not sure, but I think my opponent was trying to play a Benko against 1.c4,” he added. “I was confused, I almost found it funny. It was a funny game.”

However, the player he was up against was no mug – he’s roughly 1600 Elo – so he will certainly have known what he was doing – to an extent. Afterwards, this guy said he knew beforehand he was playing a much higher rated player and just wanted to try and take him out of book.

Against somebody as “in-book” as Maik that’s probably not so bad an idea. He does, after all, have a points tally on Chessable of more than 100 million (most on IM Raj Panjwani’s Hyper Accelerated Dragon book, which he knows back-to-front).

Reel them in

A quick look at my 2014 Mega Database – a bit out of date admittedly – reveals that there have been 52 recorded games when this has been played. And White “only” has a win percentage of 52.9%.

Surely this isn’t a good opening? Surely not? No, it absolutely isn’t. Don’t be silly.

Most of the games, perhaps unsurprisingly, appear to be games where there is a big rating difference. Weak players have played black – and perhaps tried something similar to Maik’s opponent – or stronger players may have decided to take it a bit easy early on.

Despite that, there are a few games in which the rating differences have been close and the black player has won – and some between very strong players.

For example this game from the German Bundesliga between a 2378 and a 2325, which the 2325 wins:

It seems playable, just, although Black obtains no compensation for the sacrificed pawn.

Apparently, this offbeat opening was dubbed the Halibut Gambit by Eric Schiller “because it belongs at the bottom of the sea”. It is after all decidedly fishy.

Does anyone here fancy looking into it? Head over to our discussion on it here.

About Leon Watson

Leon is a national newspaper journalist from London, England. He is an avid chess fan, and writes regularly about the game. Apart from chess, he loves cricket, Tottenham Hotspur FC and spending time with his son.
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