GM Joel on the Polar Bear Print E-mail
By GM Joel Benjamin   
March 18, 2009
Mr. Benjamin,

I am an A class player rated around 1850.  I prefer openings which have very forcing lines, which lead to similar positions regardless of my opponent's play.  Playing like this allows me to use the majority of my time focusing on the middle game positions.  This has lead me to respond to 1.e4 with the Scandinavian and 1.d4 with the Stonewall Dutch - each of these have few lines relative to openings like the Sicilian, Ruy Lopez, or Grunfeld.  

I write to you to see if you have suggestions on similar ideas for the white side.  1.e4 and 1.d4 have so many possible responses, some of which my opponents will inevitably know better than myself.  A friend of mine (rated around 1770) has stumbled across a system developed by Icelandic GM Henrik Danielsen which he calls the "Polar Bear System" - what seems to be a combination of Bird's opening and the Leningrad Dutch.  My friend has had a surprising amount of success with this system.  Is this the forcing system I'm looking for and is it actually a legitimate opening?

There are many lines GM Danielsen discusses, but one position which appears frequently includes 1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 c5 3.g3 Nc6 4.Bg2 Nf6 5.O-O g6 6.d3 Bg7 7.c3 O-O 8.Na3, then preparing for the e4 break.

Position after 8.Na3

GM Danielsen had a website which was, but it seems to expired.  You can see all his videos now at He has a large number of videos on this system.

I hope to hear from you soon!

Bill Frame

Catholic University Chess Club President


Though you use the term “forcing,” I think you really mean the opposite.  Forcing lines are ones that require specific replies from your opponents.  You are happy to give them plenty of options, as long as you are able to play relatively the same way each game.  You are looking for a “system” like the Colle or London Systems, openings where White’s moves are fairly consistent from game to game.

It’s more difficult to do that with Black; I’m not sure if your openings really fit that bill.  Certainly if you play any form of the Dutch (1…f5) you have to be prepared for attacking systems like 2.Nc3 or Bg5, or outright gambits like the Staunton (2.e4).

I’m not a big fan of systems in general because the richness and diversity of positions you receive from an opening stimulates your learning and improvement.  Systems are easier to play, but unless you have a tendency to get blown out in the opening or get into time pressure habitually, I don’t recommend them.

That being said, this opening might meet your objectives. The Polar Bear simply IS a Bird’s Opening or reversed Leningrad Dutch.  The fancy title probably refers to the treatment with c3 and Na3, which is not the way Black most commonly handles the Leningrad Dutch.

The opening is reasonable enough (it’s a semi-mainstream defense with an extra tempo), but it’s not entirely “forcing” in the way you mean.  Your opponents can force you into defending against a gambit attack with 1…e5 2.fxe5 d6—From’s Gambit.  Alternatively White can actually turn it into a King’s Gambit with 2.e4, but that isn’t what you are looking for either.

White can try to back door into the Polar bear with 1.g3 and 2.Bg2, with f2-f4 to follow later.  Danielsen tried this method against Yury Shulman in the first round of the Dresden Olympiad.  He succeeded in winning the game, but not in the Polar Bear.  Shulman played an early e7-e5, thwarting White’s arctic ambitions (the game ventured into a reversed Benoni).

The only way to know if this opening is right for you is to test it out.  Experimentation is a healthy thing.  Have fun.

At the 2009 SuperNationals , GM Joel will be co-hosting a seminar "Preparing Students for International Competitions" along with FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky, IM Armen Ambartsoumiam and WIM Beatriz Marinello. More on the SuperNationals schedule here.