The Orangutan, otherwise known as the Polish or Sokolsky opening is an irregular opening in chess that often related to closed positions and is considered to be a less common approach. It has the potential to throw off opponents who aren’t familiar with it, but many players have criticized it because if black plays wisely then white doesn’t have much opportunity for central advantage.
History and Theory
One of the first players who researched it was Alexey Sokolsky, a Soviet player, and opening theorist at the international Master’s level. He took a practical and theoretical approach to the Orangutan and was highly successful in many of his games with a thorough knowledge of its application. Before Sokolsky, the Orangutan was played by Hunt, Bugayev, Englisch, Schlechter and later Tartakower.
The reason why it’s also called the Polish opening is in honor of Savielly Tartakower, but the Orangutan name developed later after an iconic game between him and Maróczy famously played in 1924 which resulted in a draw. The comical name Orangutan was coined because it is seen as an eccentric and outlandish opening that catches most amateurs off guard. However, using it against a player who is well versed in responding to it might not yield much fruit for the Orangutan.
Here’s the move-by-move sequence of the main line of the Orangutan.
1. b4 e5
The main idea behind the opening b4 is to gain a quick advantage on the queen’s side, and it’s a rather blatant approach by white. It’s an unorthodox move because the general rule of thumb is to play the center to the best of your ability. With b4 you gain some central space but it’s seemingly not as powerful as occupying a central square with either d4 or e4. Black responds with the power move e5 and asserts dominance in the center naturally which is something you would normally see from white with e4 in the current meta. When examining this opening, the fact of the matter is that black has more central control than white at this point, but white is gearing up to gain a queen-side advantage which is the main motive of b4 and it looks rather threatening to the untrained eye.
2. Bb2 Bxb4
The move Bb2 is known as the Fianchetto and is usually played in this line and it sets up the king for a convenient castle later on. Moving the bishop here also exercises central influence with an aggressive line towards black’s kingside where they also plan to castle and can later yield some elusive attack combinations if white isn’t careful. From there, white usually decides to take the pawn on b4 and you end up with two active bishops on the board.
3. Bxe5 Nf6
We now see another similar move from white played which is to naturally take the pawn on e5 which eradicates any central pawns from both players. You can see how this opening would be considered strange and unorthodox from the traditional lines where both players immediately try to establish dominance with their pawns in a competition for the critical central squares. The obvious threat here for black is that the bishop is now threatening to take the pawn on g7 so black has no choice but to address this with a simple Nf6 move. This is really the best option because it develops a minor piece to influence the center and is also supported by the queen so you don’t have to worry about doubled pawns.
This tutorial is worth watching on the Polish opening.
If you want to watch a tutorial on what to do against the Oranguatan opening, this is a good video to watch.
Because white has committed to such an aggressive queen-side opening, it’s important that you follow through with your strategy and not forsake it or face the consequences of a discombobulated position.
If you are playing for an advantage on the queen-side then that is where you should focus your development and plan of attack, and black will start to realize this quickly and attempt to buffer it with defensive moves. Both players have reasons to be happy after the opening pawn exchange, and there is potential for both to control the center. However, many have argued that white will have more of this control while white continues to break through on the queen-side.
Black will commonly have a lead in development when white uses this opening, but as white, you will succeed in exchanging a less important flank pawn for a key central black pawn which will serve as an advantage. It is now black’s job to defend the queen-side while getting the king to safety and initiating an effective counter-attack while always keeping the center in mind.
Depending on the variation, it might be wiser for white to wait and develop more before committing to a full-on queen-side attack or it might not be strong enough to be effective. When you’re skilled in the Orangutan variations you can have some thrilling games where both players have opportunities to create some fireworks on the board.
The Orangutan opening can be incredibly strong against lower-ranking opponents who aren’t familiar with it. Even the more experienced players can have a hard time knowing exactly what to do which means that you might benefit from their lack of knowledge if you make it a point to really learn it well.
The main strength of this opening is that it can result in an incredible queen-side advantage that looks more intimidating than it is against a skilled player. It gives you some interesting strategic potential that will give black the impression that you’re swinging on the vines and they might even smile when you play this opening.
There is a potent psychological advantage to playing this opening because it can be rather disarming. It forces players to change their modality of thought which is usually accustomed to the e4 or d4 pawn openings.
One of the notable weaknesses of the polish system is that black will generally have more opportunities to control the center while white focuses more on an aggressive queenside attack.
Another problem with playing this opening is that you are trumpeting your intentions to black when you don’t even know their strategy. This might give them an advantage in effectively defending, and most high-ranking players are very good at keeping the Orangutan in a steel cage. They know how to brace for it and most likely have studied the lines that work best against defending their queen-side.
Black’s intention is to slow this attack as much as possible while finding the right openings and weaknesses in white’s position for a counter-attack. Both players have opportunities, but a player who’s familiar with defending against flying bananas on the board can easily even out the sought-after advantage.
1. b4 Nf6 2. Bb2 d5 3. e3 e6 4. b5 c5
In this variation, black avoids the exchange of pawn entirely and forces white to a pressing threat to his newly exposed b pawn. White then defends by pushing the pawn and black effectively thrusts to the center with the c pawn. This line will usually continue with 5. Nf3 Bd6 and from there white will play c4 in the center which leads to a highly complex strategic game that daunting to even grandmasters.
If you find yourself playing black and don’t want to slip on any banana peels by playing the Orangutan’s game then this is a great variation to put a damper on their plans and have an interesting game that focuses more on fighting for the center.
The German Defense
1. b4 d5 2. Bb2 Qd6!?
This is the perfect strategy for black if you’re looking to make things even more obscure by responding with a defensive system they aren’t familiar with. Players will often tell you to not develop the queen until later in the game or she will be powerless and exposed. However, in this particular circumstance, it serves a valid purpose.
First, the queen will threaten the b pawn and white will commonly respond by advancing the b pawn forward. You will find this doesn’t work though because white will lose material in a sneaky double attack. After 3. a3 e5 the queen will effectively support e5 which gives black full center control. This is not good for whites cause, and you will find that more fluent chess players initiate the German defense against the Polish opening.
In lower levels of play, it is incredibly useful for practicing and learning the system because people simply aren’t used to it. When you get to the higher ranks, it might be problematic as players will initiate some of the more advantageous variations from black that lead to complex positions you might not be able to handle. It’s fun to execute from time to time but is rarer in tournament play being the ninth most used opening.
Why is it named after a primate?
Orangutans tend to be seen as silly creatures that are unpredictable in swinging from vines and climbing trees. It’s similar in this opening because the board is just unfamiliar territory like you’re in the jungle and playing a monkey’s game. Playing it and playing against it are both great ways to learn from the Orangutan opening.
Do top players use this system?
Some top players do use this system to throw off other opponents with a curveball to test their knowledge and create complex positions to which they might be more accustomed. See the examples listed to gain insight into how the games develop and conclude. If you’re playing on an online chess match then it’s pretty rare to see this opening played. It’s also exceedingly rare in tournaments with players favoring e4 and e5 as the stable, reliable, and familiar openings to progress to victory in a more serious setting.
The Orangutan opening is one that you won’t see often, nor will you see in tournaments of Grandmaster players. It’s rare, however it’s still beneficial to learn so you know how to play against it in case you ever encounter it as it can be played just to throw your opponent off as they likely haven’t seen it or haven’t played against it in a long time.