Saragossa Opening

The Saragossa Opening is a solid, passive flank opening starting with 1.c3. By playing the c-pawn forward, White gives the center to Black to achieve the set-up they want.

Saragossa Opening

Saragossa Opening took its name from a chess club in Spain that conducted this opening in the early 1900s. It is rarely played at a high level and is considered an unambitious line by many authorities.

Winning percentages on both sides

Master Games Statistics

Results Rate
Victory for White 29%
Draw 38%
Victory for Black 33%

Statistics from 13 Million Amateur Games

Results Rate
Victory for White 48%
Draw 4%
Victory for Black 48%

Main Ideas of Saragossa Opening

The main goal of 1.c3 is to reinforce the d4-pawn push. By going d4, White holds a solid pawn structure, which allows them to develop the pieces without dealing with too much theory. White usually aims to strike the enemy by creating a certain type of pawn structure. Mostly, games occur on this opening transition to positional and closed games where both sides aim for the ideal pawn breaks and create vulnerable squares to exploit them.

Saragossa Opening Theory

1…e5 variation often leads to reversed Caro-Kann structures, where both sides place their pieces in the ideal locations and go for the optimal pawn breaks. 2.d4 is the most common and prominent reply to this variation.

1…Nf6 line can lead to various types of lines. Black can fianchetto the f8-Bishop on g7 and strike with the c5- and d5-pawn pushes. White can try to have a pawn structure suitable for their attack, like a Stonewall-type structure where they try to expand on the Kingside.

1…e5 variation

This variation starts after Black responds with 1…e5. The idea of 1…e5 is to challenge the d4-pawn push and control the center.

Saragossa Opening - 1...e5 variation

White has several options; the most prominent one is to immediately go for the prepared d4-pawn push (2.d4). Since both c1-Bishop and f1-Bishop cannot develop, White needs to act fast and play the pawns obstructing the way of those Bishops. This continuation is often deployed at a high level because other candidate moves are hard to play without positional expertise.

The move ‘1.c3‘ creates squares for the d1-Bishop on the Queenside. The Queen can also land on the c2-square to prevent the enemy’s c8-Bishop from improving on the f5-square. It is not advised to do that immediately because Black can control the center by going d5 in the next turn.

The 2.Na3… 3.Nc2 maneuvers do not offer strategic or positional advantages. They usually allow Black to expand in the center, develop, and enter a closed position without trading any pieces. Even though it is not advised, Black cannot cash out their advantage immediately due to White’s lack of weaknesses regarding the pawn structure.

2. d4 line

Saragossa Opening - 2. d4 line

As the most common response to 1…e5, this line starts with 2.d4. The purpose of the c3-pawn is to prepare the d4-pawn push and recapture with the pawn to control the center.

After d4 is played, Black can either capture the pawn (2…exd4), defend the pawn (2…Nc6), or push the pawn (2…e4).

If Black captures the pawn (2…exd4), White recaptures with the c-pawn (3.cxd4). The pawn structure would resemble a reversed version of the Caro Kann Defense Exchange Variation. These games are often strategic, and both sides develop their pieces to their ideal squares to create the desired pawn breaks.

White usually places the c1-Bishop to f4 (4.Bf4), plays e3 (5.e3), moves the f1-Bishop to d3 (6.Bd3), develops the Knights, advances the a- and b-pawns forward, and puts one of the Rooks on the c-file to conduct a minority attack.

Black, on the other hand, usually gets a strong foothold on the e4-square and the e-file. They can improve their pieces, place one of the Knights on e4, and create a Kingside attack with an f5-pawn push.

One sample line in this exchange variation could be 3…d5 4.Bf4 c6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Nf3 Bd6 8.Bxd6 Qxd6 9.Be2 (preparing to castle), 9…O-O 10. O-O, and 10…Nbd7. In the resulting position, both sides would finish their development and prepare for the middlegame. a3-b4-b5 pawn pushes are usually aggressive ideas for White, trying to weaken the c6-pawn and assaulting the backward pawn with Rc1-Qc2 later. Black usually goes for Ne4 if White intends to exchange the light-squared Bishops. It is important not to allow Black’s b5-pawn push after b4 is pushed because the c4-square would be vulnerable for the d7-Knight (Nb6-Nc4 maneuvers).

These games often require understanding the positional elements and piece placements of the Caro-Kann Exchange Variation.

The 2…Nc6 line protects the e5-pawn but allows White to expand in the center of the board. It is not recommended for players unfamiliar with hypermodern setups with small spaces. White usually pushes the pawns up the board with tempo, and Black aims to punish the overextension. If 3.d5 is played, the c6-Knight is often maneuvered to e7-square (3…Ne7) and then g6-square (4…Ng6). White typically pushes the e-pawn to e4 and develops its pieces (4.e4).

White can also capture the e-pawn (3.dxe5) and enter a non-symmetrical pawn structure without exchanging any pieces. The pawn structure would resemble the reversed version of the Mainline Caro-Kann.

The game can also transition to the reversed version of the French Defense after 2…e4 is played. White can place the c1-Bishop bishop on f4 (3.Bf4) and fix the pawn structure with an e3-pawn push. Then, they can aim to strike the d5-pawn on the Queenside by pushing the c-pawn to c5.

2. Qc2 system

This line begins after White goes for the early 2.Qc2. Even though the early Qc2 is not recommended, the Queen on the c2-square is a common placement in these positions, where it covers the e4-square and prepares for the c4-pushes.

Saragossa Opening - 2. Qc2 system

One system for White that can be played with 2.Qc2 is 2…d5, 3.d3 (preparing the e4-pawn push), 3…Nf6 (developing the Knight), 4.g3 (creating a fianchetto square for the f1-Bishop), 4…Bd6, 5.Bg2 Be6 6.Nf3 (preparing to castle), 6…O-O 7. O-O c6, and 8.e4 (striking to the center).

From the last position, White would intend to harass the e6-Bishop by going Ng5 and expanding in the Queenside with a4-a5 pawn pushes. If Black exchanges the d-pawn on the e4-square, it would be an equal and positional game where both sides maneuver their pieces to menace their enemy’s weaknesses.

2. Na3 and 3. Nc2 lines

This line begins with 1…e5, and White improves the b1-Knight to a3 (2.Na3) and then relocates it to the c2-square (3.Nc2).

Saragossa Opening - 2. Na3 and 3. Nc2 lines

Black can capture the a3-Knight in the second move (2…Bxa3), giving them a significant edge even though they would lose the Bishop pair due to White’s ruined pawn structure and lack of development.

One sample line where Black doesn’t capture the a3-Knight could be 2…d5 (controlling the center), 3.Nc2. 3…Bd6 (improving the f8-Bishop), 4.d4 (advancing the d-pawn and challenging the center), 4…e4 (gaining space by pushing the e-pawn), 5.g3 (preparing a fianchetto square for the f1-Bishop), 5…Ne7 6.Bg2 O-O 7.Nh3 (developing the Knight) 7…Nd7 (improving the second Knight), and 8. O-O.

The resulting position would be comfortable for Black due to better piece placement and an extra space advantage. Since there are no pieces exchanged, it is anyone’s game. White would have to go for a pawn break and exchange a pair of minor pieces shortly, aiming to equalize and create attacking opportunities.

1…Nf6 line

This variation occurs with Black playing 1…Nf6. This creates a very flexible scene for both sides; both colors can enter various set-ups. White usually controls the center with the 2.d4 pawn push or advances the g1-Knight to f3 to control the e5-square. Black can choose their system according to what White does.

Saragossa Opening - 1...Nf6 line

The 2.d4 variation often leads to closed positions where White creates a set-up to strike the enemy. Black often goes for the c5-pawn push and aims to expand on the Queenside.

The 2.Nf3 variation also often leads to closed positions like reversed Slav-type structures where White is solid, and Black tries to undermine White’s strong set-up.

2. d4 line

This variation starts with 2.d4. Black has many options; they can enter a g6-Bg7 set-up by combining c5- and d5-pawn pushes. They can also strike the d4-pawn with the immediate 2…c5 pawn push.

Saragossa Opening - 1...Nf6 2. d4 line

One sample line that occasionally occurs in this variation is 2…g6 (creating a fianchetto square for the f8-Bishop), 3.Bg5 (bringing the c1-Bishop outside the pawn chain before pushing the e-pawn to e3), 3…Bg7 (finishing the fianchetto), 4.Nd2 (improving the Knight), 4…d5 (fixing the d-pawn and entering a closed type of structure), 5.e3 (opening up the scope of the f1-Bishop’s scope), 5…O-O 6.Bd3 (developing the Bishop), 6…Nbd7 7.f4 (having a Stonewall-type structure), 7…c5 (assaulting from the Queenside), and 8.Ngf3 (finishing the development).

The resulting position is an example of the closed position that might arise from the 1…Nf6 variation. White would be able to attack from the Kingside, and Black could strike from the Queenside.

2. Nf3 line

This line starts with White developing the g1-Knight to f3 in the second move (2.Nf3). Due to the flexible nature of this opening, White can play different set-ups, depending on the opponent’s moves.

Saragossa Opening - 1...Nf6 2. Nf3 line

One sample line with a fianchetto set-up in the Kingside for White could be 2…g6 (black aims to fianchetto the Bishop on g7), 3.d4 (striking to the center), 3…Bg7 4.g3 d5 (fixing the d-pawns), 5.Bg2 Nbd7 6. O-O O-O 7.Bf4 (improving the Bishop), 7…b6 (preparing the c5-pawn push and creating a square for the c8-Bishop), 8.a4 a5 9.Nbd2 (preparing for the e4-pawn push), 9…Bb7 (controlling the ‘a8-h1’ diagonal), and 10.Re1.

In the resulting position, White would try to open up the f-file and ‘a8-h1’ diagonal by going the e4-pawn push. Black would try to go for the c5-pawn push and put pressure on the c-file.

Saragossa’s pros and cons

Pros Cons
The pawn structures are often solid for White. Saragossa Opening is considered a passive approach, and Black quickly equalizes by controlling the center.
White can get to the middlegame without trading too many pieces. Black can gain a space advantage on many occasions.
Players who are familiar with Caro-Kann as Black can prefer this opening. Black has many replies to this line, most of which are superior to c3.
Black can play most games as if they were playing White’s openings.

Common Trap in Saragossa Opening

This trap starts with Black playing 1…e5, and White responds with 2.d4. Then, Black protects the e5-pawn by improving the b8-Knight to c6 (2…Nc6). Then, White pushes the d-pawn forward to kick the Knight away (3.d5). Black plays the dubious 3…Na5 to save the Knight. Then, White plays 4.e4 to secure the c4-square. Then, if Black plays a regular move like 4…d6 and ignores White’s threat, White can play 5.b4 and capture the Knight in the next move.


The Saragossa Opening is a non-ambitious but solid opening that allows White to have a firm structure. It can transition to many openings in reversed colors. Players can conduct this line to practice their knowledge of theory and create their ideal set-ups in closed positions.

Written by
Emre Sancakli, Сhess Coach
has a rating of 2400+ on and, making him one of the top 5000 players in the world. He teaches many chess enthusiasts and even creates educational courses. As a writer, he keeps bringing his 'A game' to the content you will face on this website.
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Is Saragossa Opening Good for Beginners?

Yes, the Saragossa Opening can be good for beginners. It’s straightforward and reduces the likelihood of early tactical complications. This opening helps beginners focus on fundamental principles like controlling the center, developing pieces, and understanding pawn structure, making it a suitable choice for learning the basics of chess strategy.

Is Saragossa a strong opening?

The Saragossa Opening is not classified as a strong opening since it doesn’t offer aggressive or quick development like more mainstream openings. Its strength lies in its ability to lead to less explored positions, which can be advantageous against unprepared opponents.

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