The Double Fianchetto Opening: Good or Garbage?

In many modern chess openings you’ll fianchetto one of your bishops. But the double fianchetto opening is actually pretty rare.

But if one fianchetto is good, why aren’t two fianchettos even better?

Let’s take a closer look at the double fianchetto opening and see if it’s a good opening choice or not.

Double fianchetto system

In the double fianchetto system, you start by fianchettoing both the bishops right away.

So you want to play the moves b3, Bb2, g3, Bg2 in pretty much any move order.

Since you can play this set up as white regardless of black’s moves, it’s referred to as a system rather than just an opening.

However, this does give away the entire center. And black can play e5, d5, and c5, gaining a lot of space and active play.

So normally white starts by playing Nf3 to prevent the move e5 and then continues to double fianchetto.

Of course, black can respond to the double fianchetto in a lot of different ways. But one of the more popular lines according to the database is:

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 c6 4. b3 Bg4 5. Bb2

Double fianchetto openings

When talking about double fianchetto openings, the system with Nf3 mentioned above comes to mind first.

However, there are other openings as well in which you fianchetto one bishop early on and wait to see what your opponent does before committing to fianchettoing the second bishop.

Depending on what your opponent plays, it might be better not to double fianchetto right away and keep the option open to develop your second bishop somewhere else.

The English opening is particularly well known for having many lines in which one or both of the players double fianchetto.

In the diagram below, white has decided to fianchetto both bishops after fighting for the center with moves such as Nf3 and c4.

In the second diagram below, you can see that there are also many variations in the English opening in which black decides to fianchetto both bishops.

Of course, double fianchettos can also occur in a variety of other openings. The position below comes from a Sicilian defense.

Reasons to play a double fianchetto

Some players swear by the double fianchetto opening and will try to play it whenever possible.

Let’s look at some reasons to play a double fianchetto set up:

1. Little opening theory: the double fianchetto is pretty uncommon, so not a lot of people study these openings. This means you don’t have to study a lot of theory to start playing the double fianchetto system.

2. Works against many set-ups from black: you can play the first few moves in the double fianchetto system regardless of your opponent’s responds. Which means you don’t need to prepare a ton of theory and you might gain a time advantage on the clock.

3. Flexible opening: the double fianchetto set up is quite flexible and lets you play on one of the flanks or in the center.

Reasons not to play a double fianchetto

You don’t see double fianchetto positions very often in games by players above the 2000 rating.

Although the double fianchetto has advantages, it also has some important drawbacks that you need to be careful of.

1. Playing a double fianchetto take a lot of time: fianchettoing a bishop takes two turns. One to move the pawn and one to move the bishop. So it takes four moves to fianchetto twice. In the same four moves, your opponent could place two pawns in the center and develop two pieces.

2. Doesn’t help the development of other pieces: playing a center pawn opening lets you develop the bishop and the queen, gives an additional development square for the night and might eventually open up a file for the rooks. But fianchettoing a bishop only helps to activate the bishop.

3. The bishops target opposite sides of the board: when you double fianchetto both your bishops will target the opposite side of the board. One bishop will target the opponent’s kingside and the other the opponent’s queenside. This might sound good, but in most cases both attacks are too weak to be decisive. Having both bishops on the same side of the board means they can coordinate their attacks more effectively.

4. You give up control of the center: although a fianchettoed bishop keeps an eye on the center, it’s not as effective as simply placing one of your pawns in the center. Moreover, if you fianchetto directly, you’ll give your opponent full control of those important central squares.

5. Gives away the first move advantage: as white you have slightly higher winning chances because you can occupy the center first. But if you start by fianchettoing a bishop, you are giving up this advantage. That doesn’t mean you are losing, but it’s not very ambitious either.

Is the double fianchetto good?

Countless games over the past decades and thorough engine analysis has shown that the double fianchetto is not ideal.

And at the grandmaster you hardly ever see that double fianchetto set up because it’s considered to be dubious.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t play it as a beginner or intermediate player.

For players below the grandmaster level, the double fianchetto opening can be a good surprise weapon to quickly take your opponent out of theory and start playing real chess.

If you look at the double fianchetto system in the grandmaster database, you can see that white and black have roughly equal winning opportunities.

However, your chances really depend on what set up your opponent chooses to go with.

If your opponent takes control of the center with moves such as d5 and c5, it’s normally better to fight for the center instead fianchettoing a second bishop right away.

But if your opponent goes with a more passive set up with moves such as c6, d5, and e6, a double fianchetto set up will give equal chances.

For example, I tried playing the double fianchetto system against a strong engine and ended up in this position.

Before making any moves, the engine gives white a small advantage of roughly +0.30. But in the position above, the engine already evaluates the positions to be -0.35.

Although this position is still playable, it does show that black has already equalized after just 5 moves.

Conclusion

The double fianchetto isn’t very popular among grandmasters.

But although a double fianchetto opening might not be the best theoretically, it can still provide good chances for beginners or intermediate players.

Since double fianchettos are pretty uncommon, you can quickly take your opponent out of opening theory.

Of course, it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons of playing a double fianchetto defense beforehand.

For more opening ideas, you can also read my articles on the best defenses in chess and my favorite gambits for white.