Since I have discussed 1.c4 previously, I’ll focus on other moves, starting with…
1.Nf3 — Definitely NOT for keeping things simple
Unless you are married to 1.e4 until death-do-you-part, opening with 1.Nf3 seems very appealing because of the flexibilty it allows in the closed openings. You can weave in and out of different systems based on your preferences or the opponent you are facing.
I’ve dabbled with 1.Nf3 since 1999 (A Strategic Opening Repertoire by John Donaldson). Conclusion: the move is more trouble than it’s worth.
Prepare an opening repertoire based on main lines, then play it. Start with 1.e4, 1.d4, or 1.c4. Your rating will thank you. Don’t get cute. More often than not, you’ll confuse yourself or you’ll wind up in lines your opponents know better than you do!
There is one more move to seriously consider that doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often:
1.g3 — A reasonable choice!
Obviously, this move commits White to a kingside fianchetto; otherwise, I think it could be a good choice for the right player. Black cannot be sure what exactly he’s facing, or not facing: 1.Nf3 takes away the King’s English (1.c4 e5), the Benko, Albin, and Budapest…but it also creates limitations against the Queen’s Gambit, Grunfeld, and King’s Indian, for example.
GM Samy Shoker has made a career of this move and wrote a book about it, with Emmanuel Neiman.
Now onto a bunch of moves I don’t recommend against your peers or better. My commentary may be harsh or dismissive, but that’s exactly how strong opponents will treat these moves.
Yes, they are playable. No, you should not be struggling for equality with the White pieces! It’s not the right way to play chess (though anything is fine occasionally). Sorry, not sorry!
I wholeheartedly agree with Greg Shahade when it comes to building an opening repertoire.
Of course, all of this goes out the window if you are facing significantly weaker opposition, or find yourself in a blitz/rapid competition.
1.b3 — I thought Spassky refuted this in 1970?
I’m kidding…sort of. In case you don’t know, I’m referring to this:
50 years have passed since this game; even now strong players occasionallly use Larsen’s Opening. So why do I bring up this game?
Black’s play is easy and natural; White’s setup is shaky from the get-go. Why do this to yourself?
Once again, I’m not saying to never use it, but please don’t on a regular basis!
1.f4 — Are you sure?
Be honest, Bird’s Opening regulars: how many of you push the f-pawn because you don’t want to spend time and energy studying something else?
Experienced opponents will be on guard from the beginning, recognizing the latent attacking potential in your setup and prepare for it long in advance.
One can argue White is playing a Dutch with an extra tempo, so it can’t be that bad. Still, I would not want to use it all the time against players who know it’s coming.
1.Nc3 — Pointless
Most likely, this move will box you into worse versions of openings you’re desperately trying to avoid. Next…
1.b4 — At least it gains space and doesn’t weaken the kingside…
I think the Orangutan (or Sokolsky’s Opening) is a great opening for creative types to employ against someone rated 400+ points below them, because it is not completely ridiculous, admittedly.
Fittingly, New York IM Yury Lapshun wrote a book about it, co-authored with late National Master Nick Conticello. RIP, NIck.
But I’ll echo what I’ve said many times already: White is taking on a handicap by regularly using this against peers.
1.g4 is, to me, a riskier version of stuff like 1.b4. Instead of this, you’re better off pushing the a- or h-pawns, if you feel you must.
If you want to play with chemicals, the Sodium Attack (1.Na3) and Ammonia Attack (1.Nh3) at least develop a piece.
Again, no argument from me if you want to use this stuff against much lower-rated players, or in non-classical settings. Otherwise, avoid!