The Inverted Hanham: A Universal Opening for White

Updated on October 4, 2019
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Zirtoc is an avid chess player and an amateur photographer. He loves discussing chess openings.

Learn about the Inverted Hanham in chess.
Learn about the Inverted Hanham in chess.

An Opening for Everything

This is an opening that I discovered through trial and error, and I 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 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
  12. Qxd4

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

Inverted Hanham: Tough or Fluff?

The Inverted Hanham is nearly identical to the King's Indian Attack, but it 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?

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

      Kolbjoern Johansen 

      17 months ago


      I also experiment with inverted Hanham or the White Lion. I have purchased the White Lion and the Black Lion books from Jerry Van Rekom. They are highly recommended. In faster time controls this opening is very good and given me great results because the other players use a lot of time because they are not so familiar with the opening. They all think they have a very good position and finds out it not that easy. However the opening is objectively not the best but gives a fairly even position.

      There is something wrong with your move order here:

      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 ??????

      Then Bxf2!! but also Ng4 is good. you have to play h3 first.

      But even after that lets say h3 instead of Re1, then Black plays Re8, then we play Re1, then Be6 and then maybe g4 is ok. But still where is the attack for White?

      The attack gets even stronger with the g4 plan if Black plays the h6 move, because then we have a hook and something to attack.

      If you purchase the Black Lion DVD in Chessbase by simon williams he likes to play this but not with castling for White, but instead play c3, Qc2, a4, h3, Nf1, then a possible g4 and Ng3. It is very risky but gives a lot of Dynamic possibilities. But this plan must be played very carefully because there are many tricks when this is not good at all and does not work! So you have to know when to play it.

      Keep in touch and we can share some thoughts about it, I have many analysis for the Black pieces. But are working on playing it for White also but it takes a lot of time to analyse it and come up with correct and good ideas.

      send me email at and we can study it at

      Talk to you soon!

      Best regards

      Kolbjoern Johansen Norway FIDE 1704

    • profile image

      Sean Castleton 

      5 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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