Atomic Openings

Atomic openings have gone through several phases of development to reach this point in time, where there’s almost a standard codex of atomic openings – but atomic chess is still somewhat far from being solved. At some point in the future, it’s possible that an opening will be discovered to basically ruin atomic chess. The standard “tree” of possible moves is greatly pruned when you compare it with the tree of possible chess moves in a game of western chess. The openings are far more forced in atomic chess and simplify the game quite quickly. Piece values can be thrown out the window when you reach a certain point in the game – at that point, a single pawn more is sufficient for victory. However, in most cases – you’ll have to begin to master the game in order to understand that process.

If you’re searching for someone to tell you what opening to play, this is not the place for that. If you’ve come here in search of opening materials and learning more about the development of atomic chess openings throughout the history of atomic chess, then you’ve definitely come to the right place! I’ve split up the historical opening developments into several parts – so the aspiring reader that just wants to dive into atomic opening resources can bypass the history, but I strongly implore you to read through all the parts. Learning the history behind an opening is in most cases, much better than simply memorizing the latest theory. After all, why play moves if you don’t understand why other moves were discarded in the past?

Many players have discovered the Vlasov opening book as their introduction to atomic chess, as it continues to be one of the most enduring websites in Internet history. The central focus of this webpage is the original opening book that was written for the Atomix chess engine (the very first engine written for atomic chess, back in 1996 by Joel ‘JoelH’ Hoffman and Peter ‘Nightrider’ Schaefer). This book was not intended to be a comprehensive opening book, nor should all the lines always be played. Part of the problem with early engines is that if you didn’t program winning and losing lines into its opening book, it wouldn’t calculate them. This book is best viewed with a critical eye, and as a historical artifact meant to help your understanding of how the game has developed since its early days. Sometimes, the lines are there merely to help randomize the games that the engine would play – rather than fall victim to line repeaters, as could be the case then and even today.

Over time as the players became more developed, so did opening theory. I’ve found that you can generally divide the epochs of atomic opening theory by periods of time. As with all other games, it takes some time to study and develop optimal strategies to win. The nascent days after a game is first discovered and introduced is amongst the brightest days in the history of that game. People are enjoying themselves, playing a new game, and the thrill of discovery permeates every move. Just about anything and everything is tried out, often for the very first time ever. Mistakes are made and brilliances are found. In short, it’s much like the Wild Wild West of early Americana lore, and atomic chess was definitely the flashy new kid on the block for a while. People could play without knowing any theory whatsoever and still enjoy the game.

As time progresses though, theory is developed. Forced wins began being played by cutthroat players. The grandeur and mystique of the new game gets stripped bare. A minimal opening book became required to be able to survive the early moves of an atomic chess game. I would define the earliest period of opening theory to be the Wild Wild West era on the German Internet Chess Server (GICS) between 27 November 1995 (when atomic chess was first introduced on the server) and roughly 7 November 1996 (when Pfiffigunde completed the first major revision of the Atomix opening book. That’s nearly a full year of gestation for a very small population of avid atomic chess players.

As time moves on, knowledge grows. And in the early days of the Internet, sometimes it would take years for knowledge to be shared. Especially when it comes to competitive players. I have no doubt that some players developed a more complete view of opening theory than others did, but perhaps they did not share their knowledge with others. As such, it sometimes seems like monumental leaps are made instantaneously. It often took years of toil for advances to be made, especially with the limitations on how much data was retained in the early days.

Just remember – the earliest opening innovations were always made early in a game’s history. Today, opening innovations come in move 10+ in specific opening trees. Is that always a good development? Probably not, but it is what it is.

Here are some opening books (be aware that all of them may contain “bad” openings on purpose):

Here are some of the opening resources you’ve been looking for:

One response to “Atomic Openings”

  1. […] The Wild Wild West era of atomic chess opening theory stretched from roughly 27 November 1995 to 7 November 1996. I’ve collected as many games and other tidbits related to internet chess history, especially for chess variants as I could. Despite my efforts, I only have 27 games from the entirety of this period of time. The earliest game in my collection is a game between esha (2291) and JoelH (1990) on Tuesday, March 26, 1996 played on the German Internet Chess Server (GICS). Due to the limited space available back then, clearly only very few games survived from the early days of chess on the Internet. Most of the opening theory from this period of time got codified in the Atomix book, which I’ve written about briefly in an introduction to the history of atomic chess openings. […]

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