The Inverted Hanham: A Universal Opening for White

Updated on March 23, 2018

An Opening for Everything

This is an opening that I discovered through trial and error, and didn't realize until recently that it had a name. The Inverted Hanham is quite close to the King's Indian Attack, which itself can be played against many openings. I use a slightly different move order to make it universal. For KIA players, this can easily be adapted for your system.

1. d3
1. d3

1. d3

A couple of notes here. First of all, if you look up the Inverted Hanham on any other page, you will find that the first move is actually e4. So why do I play d3? This is mainly to avoid the Scandinavian, which opens 1. e4 d5. Both KIA and the Inverted Hanham are unplayable at this point. Opening with d3 ensures we can continue with our plan regardless of what black plays.

For those of you who may be aghast that I play such a 'weak' opening move, let me assure you that we will be playing e4 very soon, and there is nothing black can do to stop us. The Inverted Hanham is an e4 opening, I am just altering the move order.

2. Nf3
2. Nf3

2. Nf3

Black has many possible responses after 1. d3. But the two most common are either d5 or e5. In the next few sections, we will discuss what happens when black pushes one of his central pawns. Our setup will not change for the alternate moves, but I will tackle them separately below.

With 1..d5, black is hoping to take advantage of white's 'passiveness' by making a strong central thrust. We play 2. Nf3 to prevent black from playing e5 next turn, which would give him two central pawns. Black will usually attempt to occupy the e5 square anyway - more on that in a minute.

Had black played 1..e5 instead, our idea would be similar. In that case, 2. Nf3 attacks the e pawn, which black must now take time to defend. The resulting opening will be the same.

3.  Nbd2 in response to Nf6
3. Nbd2 in response to Nf6

3. Nbd2

Assuming black played either d5 or e5 as his first move, he will now generally play Nc6. In the figure shown, black has played Nc6 to prepare e5. If black has already played 1..e5, then he plays Nc6 to defend the e pawn.

The purpose of 3. Nbd2 is to set up 4. e4. With our knight on d2, e4 is now unstoppable. For KIA players, the knight often ends up on d2 anyway, so this style of play should be very familiar, if a little strange in move order.

4. e4 taking control of the center
4. e4 taking control of the center

4. e4

At long last, we take control of the center! Black probably advanced his other central pawn last move, with either 3..d5 or 3..e5. The result will be the diagram shown, either way.

Here we may part ways with our KIA friends, who will be playing g3 shortly. For Inverted Hanham players, our path lies in another direction.

5. Be2 completes the Inverted Hanham
5. Be2 completes the Inverted Hanham

5. Be2

And now we have the finished product with 5. Be2. I have shown the classic setup in the diagram, with black playing 4..Nf6. Black can choose to play other 4th moves, often developing one of his bishops. It is generally best to develop our bishop on the 5th move regardless of black's play, in order to allow castling. I sometimes play 5. c3 if I want to attempt an early queenside pawn push. (More on that below.) But this completes our basic tour of the Inverted Hanham setup. I will explore some strategies and alternate positions in the following sections.

After 6..O-O?!
After 6..O-O?!

Queenside tricks - the safe plan

So you have your Inverted Hanham set up. What to do now? I recommend trying some queenside expansion. While this may not be as exciting as an all-out kingside attack like the King's Indian (discussed in a bit), it makes for a safer game. At club level, white usually comes out a pawn ahead. Here's why.

After 5. Be2, it seems logical that black should place his dark squared bishop somewhere and prepare to castle. It can end up on practically any square of the diagonal, but it often lands on c5. A perfectly nice, attacking square, right? Let's find out.

We respond, not with 6. O-O, but with 6. c3. The point is to prepare b4 and harass the bishop. It also allows our queen to come out to a4, which is often a useful square for her in the Inverted Hanham opening. Note that if black had played 5..Bb4, we would have played 6. c3 with tempo.

Now, it's a mistake for black to castle here. (See figure, after 6..O-O.) Now white will play 7. b4, driving away the bishop. The bishop must go to d6, but often black does not see the danger and puts it on e7 or b6. Do you see what happens?

White now plays 8. b5! The knight is forced to retreat, leaving the e5 square unguarded. And now we can pick up the pawn with 9. Nxe5.

Black opponents who are wise to this will play a6 early on to avoid this entire line. But I find that a lot of opponents are unfamiliar with this tactic at club level.

If black thwarts your plans with a6 or a5, then you can still begin pushing pawns on the queenside and maybe fiancetto the bishop to b2 at some point, with a decent game. Even when I can't win the pawn, I will sometimes play b5 if I can anyway, just to annoy black and force his knight onto a worse square.

The position after 7..Bg4
The position after 7..Bg4

Playing as a modified KIA - the risky plan

Kingside Mayhem

What if you want something a little more daring? Black has not yet prepared to castle, and he is doubtless going to be working on that. In KIA, we would have brought out the g3 pawn, and we would need one more move to get our bishop to g2. But in the Inverted Hanham, we can go ahead and castle.

What now? One way is to continue in the KIA style. This can be very sharp play, and it requires some knowledge of the inner workings of the King's Indian Attack middle game. In the figure, I have played the following game:

1. d3 e5

2. Nf3 Nc6

3. Nbd2 d5

4. e4 Nf6

5. Be2 Bc5

6. O-O O-O

7. Re1 Bg4

White's idea in the KIA is to bring the knight to f1, where it can travel to several different locations, such as g3, e3, or even h2 on some occasions. The biggest difference between KIA and the Inverted Hanham is that we cannot yet play Nf1. If we did, black could then win the e4 pawn, which in the KIA would be already guarded by the rook on e1. (Here the rook is blocked by our bishop.)

What to do? Playing a kingside attack in this position requires some bravery. The ousting of black's knight from f6 is the key, and the most straight-forward way to attempt that is to start pushing the kingside pawns. One example...

8. h3 Be6

9. g4!?

And now we see that in order to make the final push to g5, white must first play Kg2 to guard the h3 pawn. (Whilst still guarding the f2 pawn.) Black may get some counterplay on our airy king. But now black has to worry about us playing things like Rh1, and the white bishop is a little better positioned to attack than it is in the KIA. So this is the big tradeoff when pursuing a KIA type attack.

Alternatively, you could try to defend your e pawn with another piece. Such as...

8. h3 Be6

9. Nh2

Now you have the f3 square free to place either the bishop or f pawn on. Or the knight can leap into g4 to challenge black's knight directly.

I am still experimenting with these ideas, and I would love to hear from some KIA players what your thoughts are on these types of positions. There is very little information out there on the Inverted Hanham, so please post your theories and experiences!

Inverted Hanham - Tough or Fluff?

The Inverted Hanham is nearly identical to the King's Indian Attack, but doesn't have the same popularity. What do you think about this rare opening?

Is the Inverted Hanham the next big trend, or is there a reason it has remained in obscurity?

Inverted Hanham against a Modern setup
Inverted Hanham against a Modern setup

Inverted Hanham vs. the Modern/Pirc

Suppose your opponent is really into the fiancetto, and has no interest in pushing his center pawns. What does the resulting structure look like?

Here is one example:

1. d3 g6

2. Nf3 Bg7

3. Nbd2 Nf6

4. e4 O-O

5. Be2

And white is perfectly fine. I would probably play 6. c3 next, just to give that dark-squared bishop some granite to chew on.

Inverted Hanham vs. the Sicilian
Inverted Hanham vs. the Sicilian

Inverted Hanham vs. the Sicilian

Some black players love their c5. What happens when the two openings clash? Something like the following...

1. d3 c5

2. Nf3 d6

3. Nbd2 g6

4. e4 Bg7

5. Be2

Black will expand on the queenside, and white should attack on the kingside.

Black loses a pawn after playing 4..d4?!
Black loses a pawn after playing 4..d4?!

Black overreaches with d4

Sometimes, black gets carried away in the opening and tries to come further into the center than he should. An early d4 is often punishable with c3, followed by bringing the queen to a4 or b3, depending on the situation. Then black's e5 pawn is often gobbled up by one of white's knights, or by the queen. Here's a game I recently played:

1.d3 d5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Nbd2 e5

4.e4 d4?!

5.c3! Bg4

6.Be2 Bd6

7.Qb3 Rb8

8.cxd4 Bxf3

9.Nxf3 Nxd4

10.Nxd4 exd4

11.Qa4+ c6


Black really made me work for it here, but I'm up a pawn because of 4..d4?! If black does somehow manage to save all of his pawns, his queenside usually ends up in a pretzel. d4 is definitely bad for black, and should be punished with an immediate c3.

Position after 6. dxe4
Position after 6. dxe4

Help! Black just took my e pawn!

Now it may happen that your opponent decides he wants to trade the pawns off in the center. It seems to me that black would want to keep the two center pawns, so I don't think it's anything for white to worry about. Just make sure you take back with the pawn and not the knight on d2. For example:

1. d3 d5

2. Nf3 Nc6

3. Nbd2 e5

4. e4 Nf6

5. Be2 dxe4

6. dxe4

It's not a big deal. But in some move orders, you might not have the bishop to guard the queen on d1 yet - if you were to take with the d2 knight early on e4, then black can trade queens on d1 and force you to take back with the king. If you follow the rule to always take back on e4 with the pawn, you'll always be safe.

Final position in Tartakower vs. Koenig, Vienna 1922
Final position in Tartakower vs. Koenig, Vienna 1922

Grandmaster Win with Inverted Hanham #1

Savielly Tartakower vs. Imre Koenig in Vienna, 1922. Tartakower uses both sides of the board for the win.

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Be2 Nf6

4.d3 d5

5.Nbd2 Bd6

6.h3 h6

7.c3 Be6

8.Qc2 Qd7

9.Nf1 Rd8

10.Be3 d4

11.cxd4 exd4

12.Bd2 Nb4

13.Qb1 Be7

14.a3 Na6

15.b4 c5

16.Ng3 cxb4

17.axb4 Qb5

18.O-O O-O

19.Qb2 Nxb4

20.Rxa7 Bc5

21.Raa1 Ra8

22.Rxa8 Rxa8

23.Nxd4 Bxd4

24.Qxd4 Nc2

25.Qd6 Qb2

26.Be3 b5

27.Bc5 b4

28.d4 Re8

29.Bb5 Rc8

30.d5 Qc3

31.Bxb4 Qxb4

32.Qxb4 Nxb4

33.dxe6 fxe6

34.Rb1 Nc6

35.Rc1 Ne7

36.Rxc8+ Nxc8

37.e5 Na7

38.Bc4 Nd5

39.Bxd5 exd5

40.f4 g5

41.f5 Nc6

42.e6 Kf8

43.f6 Nd4

44.e7+ Kf7

45.Kf2 Ne6

46.Ke3 Nc7

47.Nh5 Ne6

48.g4 Nc7

49.Kd4 Ke6

50.Ng7+ Kf7

51.e8=Q+ Nxe8

52.Nxe8 Kxe8

53.Kxd5 Kf7

54.Ke5 Kf8

55.Ke6 Ke8

56.f7+ Kf8

57.Kf6 h5

58.gxh5 g4

59.h4 1-0

Final position of Pachman vs. Nezhmetdinov, Bucharest 1954
Final position of Pachman vs. Nezhmetdinov, Bucharest 1954

Grandmaster Win with Inverted Hanham #2

What a crazy, tactical game! Check this one out:

Ludek Pachman vs. Rashid Nezhmetdinov, Bucharest 1954.

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Be2 Nf6

4.d3 d5

5.Nbd2 Bc5

6.O-O O-O

7.c3 dxe4

8.dxe4 a5

9.Qc2 Qe7

10.Nc4 Nh5

11.Re1 Bg4

12.h3 Be6

13.Bf1 Ng3

14.Bd3 Rad8

15.Ne3 Nh5

16.Nd5 Qd7

17.Rd1 Bxh3

18.Bf1 Qg4

19.Ng5 Bxg2

20.Bxg2 f5

21.exf5 h6

22.Ne6 Bxf2+

23.Qxf2 Qxd1+

24.Kh2 Rxd5

25.Bxh6 Qxa1

26.Bxd5 Rf6

27.Bg5 Kh8

28.Qe2 g6

29.fxg6 Kg8

30.Nf4+ Kf8

31.Nxh5 1-0

I think the Inverted Hanham is going to take the chess world by storm! Let me know whether you are joining the movement, or if you think there is a reason the chess world left this one in the history books.

We need your thoughts on this opening!

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    • profile image

      Sean Castleton 

      3 years ago

      Like it's counterpart the Philidor Defense (Improved Hanham) it is a solid opening with an extra tempo and sneakly leads to very sharp lines of play. Some are calling it the "White Lion" because it is an inverted "Black Lion". Personally, I don't like people taking the liberty to reinvent chess opening titles, but that's just me.


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