The Drunken Master Opening – a Treasure House of Tactics, Traps, Tricks, and Trolling!
How would you react if your opponent just moved all their pawns to the third rank of the board in the opening and still managed to hold ground? Wesley Falcao, a National Master living in New York, did exactly this in some of his blitz games. The result: this seemingly drunken manner of opening the game actually caught some strong players including IMs and GMs off guard, provoked errors and produced some really entertaining games. In this article, Wesley shares many games thematically, annotates almost every game and asks the readers to give it a try, at least in an online blitz game. Photo: Wesley Falcao
Back in 2018 when my first article was published on the Drunken Master opening, I only had a rudimentary understanding of it and my experience with it was still very limited. Since then I have played more than 2000 games in online blitz and many of them were in the Drunken Master opening. I had plenty of battles against very strong players including several FMs, IMs and even GMs and I managed to win quite a few games against them (and lose many too)! I went back and looked through all of these games to identify common themes and patterns in the Drunken Master opening. It was a herculean effort that spanned over three months since I was not able to spend time on it every day. I felt that I owed this to the chess world, since this opening is my own flawed but unique contribution to chess! It is a rich treasure of chess that needs to be shared.
Here, at last, is a collection of games that I want to present to you that show the rich ideas and entertaining possibilities that this opening has to offer. I have only selected a few of the richest and most entertaining games in each category so as to not overwhelm the reader with too much material. It will be easier to go through the sections in the order that they are presented. Most sections have a “featured” game (the first game) that presents the main theme followed by more sample games in that theme. The sample games are mostly presented in a reverse chronological order with more recent games presented first. It was not feasible to analyze or annotate every single game in detail since over 200 games are included! Nevertheless, you will find plenty of analysis and annotations to follow the games and even enjoy yourself a bit while doing so. I certainly haven't exhausted all of the riches of this opening. I think I'm still merely scratching the surface. I invite the reader to do their own analysis and discover new ideas and interesting possibilities. I would love to see how other chess players play these positions.
In my previous article, most of the games were against players of roughly my skill level. I continue that trend in this article. My online blitz rating since the previous article was generally in the 2300-2500 range. Most games are 3 minute rated online blitz games with no increment (under the username ChessRevelation). However, against such "strong" (erhm, I'm strong) opponents it's hard to demonstrate some of the most basic ideas of this opening, so I have also included a few games I played against lower rated opponents in casual games. For these I used a lower rated account (TheDrunkenMaster) and if I played a rated game then I'd often be generous and offer them a draw at the end!
I will state unequivocally that I consider the Drunken Master opening to be fundamentally flawed and dubious. Nevertheless the strategic ideas, tactics, traps, etc. that can be learned in a unique way through this opening are universal and will help the reader improve in these areas. In my computer analysis I found plenty of games with amazing ideas that certainly enriched my own knowledge of chess. I hope you will appreciate these ideas even if you do not have any appreciation for the opening itself!
Mate - The Most Basic Idea
Checkmating the enemy king by opening up rooks against it is the most basic idea in the Drunken Master opening.
Too easy, right? :D Well, only if you are lucky enough to play lower rated opponents. The sections coming up soon will mostly feature strong players. But for now, let's continue for a while with lower rated opponents.
The different ideas of this opening are generally executed better against lower rated opponents who do not offer as much resistance. This section will give you a general feel for the ideas and themes which we will explore more in the coming sections, and against much stronger players!
Getting Serious Now
OK. We've looked at some games against lower rated opponents. The reader must have a general feel for the opening by now. Now it is time to look at games against stronger players. We will explore the different themes and ideas of the opening in the upcoming sections.
Doubled Rooks on the h-file
This is a very common theme in the Drunken Master opening. The h-file often gets opened up and becomes a highway for the rooks to penetrate. Often, the rooks are doubled on the h-file even before a single minor piece is developed!
It's not always feasible to achieve the dream of doubling rooks on the h-file. Often the play is on the g-file. Sometimes, the files do not open very easily and you have to play to the demands of the position.
The Drunken Master opening, by its very nature, is a provocative opening and provocation is one of the main themes in it. Who wouldn't want to "punish" such a bad opening? Often, opponents overexert right from the beginning in order to refute the opening and their attacks can be beaten by stubborn resistance. Opponents can also often make strategic or tactical mistakes in such situations (and so can you!)
The "Classical" Variation
The "pure" or "classical" variation of the Drunken Master opening arises when the side playing the opening arranges all of its pawns (without exception) on the third rank first and only then proceeds to move them further. Sometimes this approach is necessary when it's not easy to push pawns two squares directly. Personally, I have found the classical variation to be a very "solid" way of playing the Drunken Master opening, if such a thing can even be said about this opening!
The Long Diagonal
The long diagonal is another prominent theme in the Drunken Master opening. A bishop often takes aim at the enemy king from the a1-h8 and a8-h1 diagonals. Combined with the rooks on the g and h-files, this combination can be deadly. Still, it's not easy to open the long diagonal in many cases and in many games it just so happens that the opportunity arises to put the bishop (or queen) there. One has to be alert to these possibilities and make the most of them when they come.
The King Walk
Aside from the chief Ra-h2/h7 maneuver, the king walk is the most aesthetically pleasing maneuver in the Drunken Master opening when pulled off successfully. The king is often under fire on its original square and castling kingside may not be an option. In such cases, the king begins to “walk” towards the queenside to find safety there.
Sometimes opponents go for immediate activity in the center and this can often lead to the opening of central files. In such cases playing on the g and h-files is not an option and counter measures in the center are called for. Often, an interesting way of dealing with this problem is to attempt an exchange sacrifice of the Drunken Rook on the d4/d5 squares. In rare situations, the side playing the Drunken Master opening may also attempt a timely central pawn push either as a defensive measure or to gain an advantage.
Loose bishop on d3/d6
Normally, opponents advance their c-pawn to gain space. This often means that a bishop on d3/d6 is unprotected or only protected by the queen. If the d-file opens up, this creates possibilities of attacking that bishop, usually with a pin and battery of the Drunken Rook on d7/d2 and the unmoved queen on d8/d1. Many strong players have fallen for this and ended up being a piece down right out of the opening. For the featured game I will show a rather unusual possibility.
“Pawns are the soul of chess”, said Philidor, and pawns are definitely the soul of the Drunken Master opening. There is a lot of potential energy hidden in the Drunken setup and with a timely pawn break it can be released with devastating effect.
Not all games in the Drunken Master opening lead to wild tactical complications. It also often provides rich possibilities for positional chess. Because pawns are so heavily involved, it often leads to the creation of holes and outposts for anchoring pieces (especially knights), pawn weaknesses and pawn islands with their peculiar strengths and weaknesses, trapped or restricted pieces, blockades, etc.
Often the opponent's pawns are advanced without much protection. The side playing the Drunken Master needs to be on the lookout for these weak pawns and grab them when the opportunity arises. Sometimes, as in the case of the central e-pawn, the elimination of the central pawn not only wins material but also removes a major thorn in the position and thus an entire sequence of moves can be played just to capture this central pawn.
Most Drunken Master games are often decided in the middlegame. However, occasionally an endgame is reached. On rare occasions there may even be an outright shortcut to a favorable endgame.
Sometimes the Drunken Master can give you opportunities to move into what I call "sober” variations that are normal playable chess positions. Usually these lines offer immediate equality or even a slight advantage. Sober variations are especially effective against a familiar opponent who expects you to play “drunken” and is not expecting a sudden switch to “sober”. Sober variations can also be used when the risk of playing “drunken” is both objectively and subjectively too high (one may argue that's always true for the starting position but my results with this opening have convinced me that's not always the case!).
I have tried experimenting with variants of the Drunken Master by introducing the Drunken effect into standard openings such as 1. e4, the Sicilian, the Dutch, the Dutch reversed (Bird's opening or Stonewall Attack type structures), the Benoni, and so on. I will admit that I have not had great results with it and this remains a largely unexplored area. However, I must say that the the Drunken variants in the Czech Benoni do tend to be pretty interesting. For the featured game I'll include a game in this variant that I played online anonymously against an anonymous opponent. Who knows? This may well be the beginnings of the “Drunken Benoni” opening!
In my experience, surprisingly, long castling by opponents is not as common as short castling when facing the Drunken Master. Quite a few of the themes we discussed above do not apply to positions where the opponent has long castled. The positions resulting from long castling have a character of their own. There may even be themes that are very specific to such positions. This area definitely needs more exploration. Here I provide a few games that show how the game could take shape after the opponent long castles. As you will see, the possibilities are quite varied.
I can't think of a better opening for some lighthearted (or serious) trolling of your opponents than the Drunken Master opening! And if moving all your pawns on the third rank wasn't a trolling effect enough, the Drunken Master opening offers an even more creative way of trolling. Introducing... the Fake Larsen Attack!
Fake Larsen Attack
The Fake Larsen Attack starts of as a Larsen Attack but suddenly White switches into the Drunken Master setup! This may perhaps also be tried with Black but I suppose the loss of tempi there is just too much. The advantage of playing this from the White side is that Black may play conservatively, giving White enough tempi to switch into a Drunken setup.
Sometimes, opponents try the Drunken Master themselves! This is perhaps out of frustration of having faced the Drunken Master before and lost, or perhaps a way of saying 'anything you can do I can do as well', or maybe they too just want to have some fun. Well, may the best troll win!
Drunken Master vs Troll
And at times in my “drunken” mood I ran into genuine trolls who troll because they want to troll! They sure did mess with the wrong opening, or perhaps the wrong guy!
Here are a few other miscellaneous themes in the Drunken Master. These are not as common as the ones we have mentioned earlier.
Lone Rook Attack
This is a very rare scenario where a lone developed rook with the help of pawns gets a decisive advantage.
Since almost all the pawns are advanced to the third rank or further, the enemy bishops are at times lured behind the pawns where they can get trapped.
Doubled Rooks on a different file
The h-file is the main file for doubling rooks, but there are rare opportunities to double rooks on other files, like the b-file or the g-file.
Alexander King, a fellow US National Master (soon to be FIDE Master), friend, author, chess coach, and a huge “detester” of the Drunken Master opening, once told me “your opening reminds me of shogi...it's like crazyhouse”! Sure enough there are wild games that result from this opening where pieces fly all over the place. Here is a small collection of some of the wildest games I have ever played!
It is not merely beginners who fall prey to the various traps and tricks in this opening. It has even happened to players rated 2250 and above. Here are a few such quick kills.
Concluding Comments – Try it and don't be afraid of losing!
I have presented some of my most interesting wins to you in the different themes of the Drunken Master opening. But you may ask, “Where are the games you have lost? Doesn't this opening lose?” Oh, of course it does as I already said in my first article! And if you have followed my analysis of the games in this article you must have seen the various ways in which my opponents could have played better and won. But this time I'm not going to show you the many games I have lost. That will take a whole article in itself with the various themes of losing, the main theme of course being that the opening itself is dubious!
Instead I will invite you to try this opening a couple of times in blitz games and you will find out how it loses, hahaha! I think in an article like this where I describe how I have trolled many opponents it is surely fitting that I get to troll my audience too! But I do hope you will surprise yourself by actually winning a few games, and perhaps many like I have, and have lots of fun along the way.
And if you find yourself in losing positions, I have some hope to offer to you since I have been there many times. I present to you a few games I played against strong players (even IMs and GMs!), which I should have lost but ended up winning! In a blitz game, there can be a way out of a hopeless position if you keep fighting. Your opponent, after all, is human.
About the Author
Wesley Falcao is National Master and a software engineer living in New York. Originally from Vasai, a suburb of Mumbai, Wesley was taught chess by his father when he was four. He moved to the US in 2010 to pursue Masters in Computer Science and has been living there ever since. In 2014, he got the National Master title from the US Chess Federation. He still pursues chess part time, and loves playing online blitz.