Grandpatzer got me thinking with his recent post Reti Opening: Rare Bird? He writes:
I updated my file of personal games, and it's approaching 6000 games (mostly ICC). I did a quick search, and only 6 games had Nf3, c4 and g3 as the first 3 moves for white. I did a search of my 3.4 million game database and it only came up about 12000 times...so maybe 3x as often as it does for me, but still pretty rare.
i only have 1,000+ out of 3,900 of my internet games with this opening. :)
Part of my comment was:
As to when it's a "Reti" and when it's an "English" well, after say, 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 e6 3. g3 we still don't know! People like dk (transformation) who play this a lot have subtle and devious minds.
I remember that the late Edmar Mednis wrote a good deal about this in his book Strategic Chess: Mastering the Closed Game, which I recommend as a well-annotated collection of instructive games that do not begin 1. e4. The only problem is that the book mainly takes a sophisticated strategical approach more suited to GM chess than the sturm und drang of chess at my level. There's lots of sophisticated discussion of move orders, wherein 1. c4 can become an English, a Reti, a Queen's Gambit, a Dutch Defense...and 1. Nf3 can become all of those, too! And maybe a King's Indian Attack, or even an Open Sicilian (1. Nf3 c5 2. e4!). Anyone for a Reversed Benoni?
Now, every player needs to figure out how to meet this "complex" in a way he's comfortable with, but my approach is based on "taking what ever White gives" which is generally what Black has to do in any opening. Thus:
Against 1. c4, 1. ...e5! As Mednis explained, this is why a lot of players try to get into the English via 1. Nf3. Don't let 'em! Seize the central squares White didn't, put on the pressure from move 1 and see if Black has a really well worked-out approach. Of course if he's a true "English player" he will, but I think this is the move that puts the most pressure on. Another approach that I've had some success with is 1. c4 e6 and my next Black moves will almost certainly be d5, c5 and Nc6 if allowed, playing a Tarrasch Defense formation whether White goes eventually goes d4 or not. Of course, this is only good if you're comfortable with the Tarrasch as Black.
Against 1. Nf3 I personally play Nf6 and leave almost all options open (except the Dutch Defense) but again, d5-e6 is a universal prescription, if you're not afraid to play the Black side of the Queen's Gambit. After 1. Nf3 Nf6 I'm ready to play a King's Indian formation whether White gets in d4, or not. And if you're a Sicilian player, 1. Nf3 c5 "prevents" 2. d4 (it's harmless, anyway) and just aim everything at controlling the d4 square.
Finally, those (timid or devious?) souls who play 1. g3 or 1. b3 should be firmly met with a center-pawn push, quick development and hopefully a good thrashing on the king-side. Of course, that ideal scenario doesn't always happen but I feel that these moves don't put much pressure on Black, and since we're talking about below master-level games I don't think you're going to run in to a lot of positionally sophisticated players who can turn these moves into an edge without Black doing something seriously wrong.
That's my two cents on meeting the "Flank Openings" and I'd love to hear reader's thougts on how they deal with them.