Originally written by Eric Schiller
The Pterodactyl is reached by many different move orders. The essential elements are a kingside fianchetto, …c5, and …Qa5 for Black when White establishes the pawn center with pawns at c4, d4, and e4. The early queen development is reasonable here because she is not overly exposed at a5. It is not easy to force it to evacuate. Ray Keene named the variation. He wrote that “The reptilian element in the opening’s designation is a kind of homage to Black’s infamous fianchettoed bishop from the Dragon Variation, a hallmark of both lines. I have been using the Pterodactyl on and off in my own games occasionally since 1981.”
Classifying the Pterodactyls
Since very few lines have had sufficient passionate support to qualify for named variation, I’ll use a few conventions to organize things.
Classifying according to general strategy
Various types of pterosaurs are used to describe Black’s strategy.
Pterodactyl is used when all four key moves are played (…g6, …Bg7, …c5, …Qa5)
Rhamporhynchus is an early form of pterosaur, with the sharpest teeth and most dangerous tail. I use this for the lines where White captures at c5 an Black captures with the Queen.
Pteronodon is an evolutional branch that was toothless and almost tail-less. I use that term to describe the lines where Black has exchanged the powerful bishop at g7 for the knight at c3.
Quetzalcoatlus (ket-sal-ko-at-lus) was the largest of the pterosaurs, with a wingspan over 12 meters! For the openings, I apply it to the variations with a stable d4/c5 center and Black plays …d6.
Named for Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent god of the Aztecs and Toltecs of ancient Mexico. [revised 9-2001]
Siroccopteryx is used for lines where Black plays cxd4.
Pterosauric and Non-pterosauric terms help describe White’s strategy
Benoni is used whenever White advances a pawn to d5.
Sicilian involves White bringing out both center pawn and both knights.
Gambit involves a pawn sacrifice
Eastern is used for the lines with Nc3 but not Nf3
Western is used for the lines with Nf3 but not Nc3
Anhanguera “old devil” when White supports the center with Be3 or Nge2
Austriadactylus “Austrian finger” f4
Bogolubovia BOH-guh-loo-BOH-vee-a (f) named to honor Nikolai Nikolaevich Bogolubov (1872–1928), Russian paleontologist, who described the type specimen “Ornithostoma” orientale Bogolubov 1914.
Rhamphorhynchus von Meyer 1847 “beak snout”
RAM-fo-RING-kus has a toothless “beak-like projection on the snout” beyond the front teeth, which was designed to help capture fish.
Siroccopteryx Mader & Kellner 1999 “Sirocco wing”
sih-ro-KOP-te-riks (Sirocco + Gr. pteryx “wing”)* (f) referring to the sirocco, a hot, dry, dust-laden wind originating in North Africa and blowing across the Mediterranean Sea.
Pteranodon Marsh 1876 “winged no-tooth” (“toothless flyer”)
Because Black parts with the precious dark square bishop in the lines where Black plays an early …Bxc3, the “toothless flyer” seems an appropriate model.
In this article, I introduce the variations of the Pterodactyl and examine lines recommended in various books, especially those claiming to be a complete repertoire for White. In each case, I note where Black might wish to depart from the line. The purpose here is just to make a quick reference to the lines that opponents will find if they seek help in the literature. I haven’t tried to cover all of the literature, just a representative sample. You may want to keep this game up-to-date by adding material from newer books or those I haven’t mentioned. I’ve included brief introductions to the many types of Pterodactyls, so that you can get the feel for those lines as well. 1. e4 Lines without d4 are at the end of this article.
1… g6 Many books give only generic advice against the Modern Defense lines. The particular move order of the Pterodactyl often falls through the cracks. Some 1.e4 repertoire books have coverage only via the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4, but only when 2.Nf3 and 3.d4 are already part of the repertoire. 2. d4
[2. Nc3 Bg7 3. f4 My “White to Play 1.e4 and Win” did not recommend an early d-pawn advance, and 3…c5 would just lead to a Grand Prix Attack. The Pterodactly is not a good idea against this formation. I suggest: 3… c6 The line in the book continues
(3… c5 4. Nf3 Qa5
Austrian Grand Prix Pterodactyl
) 4. Nf3 d5 5. e5 Bg4 6. Be2 Bxf3 7. Bxf3 e6 8. O-O Ne7 9. b3 Nf5 10. Kh1 and here instead of the weak attacking move 10…Qh4, which is met by 11.Ne2, Black can play 10… Nd7 11. d4 O-O Black can play …f6, with equality.]
2… Bg7 3. Nc3 This move order leads to the Eastern or Sicilian Pterodactyls.
[3. c4 introduces the Central Pterodactyl. Of course Black can also head for a Modern Defense or King’s Indian. 3… c5 4. d5
(4. Ne2 d6 5. Nbc3 Qa5
4. dxc5 Qa5+ 5. Nc3 d6
4. Nf3 Qa5+
4… d6 5. Nc3 Bxc3+
) 6. bxc3 Qa5
7. Qb3 Nf6 8. Bd3 White has a small advantage in Dragan Barlov’s “1.d2-d4 White is Better!”
3. Nf3 c5 This move order leads to the Western or Sicilian Pterodactyls. This is often recommended via 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 c5. Dragan Barlov’s “How to play against the Sicilian Defence” gives 3.c3, but this can transpose, since he follows it with 4.d4. Nick de Firmian’s “Modern Chess Openings”
(MCO14) mentions possible transpositions to Dragons and Benoni, but no Pterodactyls. 4. dxc5
(4. c3 Qa5
5. Nbd2 cxd4 6. Nb3 Qd8 7. cxd4 Nf6 8. Bd3 O-O 9. O-O Nc6 10. e5 Ne8 11. Bf4 White has a small advantage. Barlov cites Kernazickij vs. Tabarov, Soviet Union 1978.
4. Nc3 See 3.Nc3 c5 4.Nf3 move order.
4… Nf6 5. Nc3 Qa5 reaches the Sicilian Anhanguera) 4… Qa5+
5. Nc3 Modern Chess Opening Encyclopedia provides analysis only of knight moves, but our Sicilian Pteronodon is reached after 5…Bxc3+!?, which they omit.
3. f4 c5 4. c3
(4. Nf3 Qa5+
) 4… Qa5
5. Nf3 cxd4 6. Nxd4 d6 7. Be3 Nf6 8. Nd2 O-O
3. g3 c5 4. Nf3 Qa5+
King Fianchetto Pterodactyl
3… c5 Many repertoire books assume 3…d6 instead. Keene and Levy’s “An Opening Repertoire for the Attacking Player”, for example.
4. Nf3 Leading to the Sicilian Pterodactyls.
[4. Be3 Players who have the 150 Attack in their repertoire will probably choose this move. In Aaron Summerscale’s “A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire”, …d6 is always included. So the Pterodactyl with an immediate Qa5 is not mentioned. 4… Qa5
5. Qd2 cxd4 6. Bxd4 Bxd4 7. Qxd4 Nf6 has done quite well for Black.
4. dxc5 Qa5
(4… Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 Qa5 Eastern Pteronodon. Not mentioned in Emms’ “Attacking with 1.e4”
6. Qd4 Nf6 7. Qb4! is the main line.
(7. e5? Nc6!) 7… Qc7 8. Nf3 Nc6)
5. Bd2 Qxc5 6. Nd5 John Emms “Attacking with 1.e4”. This is also the recommendation of Chris Baker in “A Startling Chess Opening Repertoire”. It is fair to say that this line is the consensus recommendation among the authorities. Therefore it is essential to study it thoroughly. 6… b6 Kasparov and Keene, in BCO2, give only the 6…Na6 line. 7. Bb4
(7. Be3 Qc6 8. Bb5 Qb7 9. Bf4 Bxb2 10. Rb1 Bg7 11. Nf3 Kf8 12. Nc7 Qxe4+ 13. Be3 Bc3+ 14. Kf1 Bb7 15. Nxa8 Bxa8 16. Rb3 Bf6! 17. Qd2 Baker acknowledges the position is unclear. Both sides can play for a win. Learn this line because there are a lot of tactics. ) 7… Qc6 8. Bb5 Qb7 9. Bc3 Bxc3+!?
(9… f6 10. Qf3 a6 11. Bd3 Nc6 12. O-O-O Evaluated as better for White by Bangiev, and given by Emms.) 10. Nxc3 Nf6 I believe Black can play this position. After castling, Black plays …d6, …a6, …b5. Practical tests are needed.]
4… Qa5 The Sicilian Pterodactyl lines are not often mentioned in the literature. However, bringing out both knights is one of the most common responses to an unusual opening, so it is going to be seen quite a lot.
5. d5 The Sicilian Benoni Gambit
The Sicilian Anhanguera
(5… Nf6 6. Qd2 Nc6 7. dxc5 Ng4 8. Bc4 h5 9. O-O Nxe3 10. Qxe3 Bh6 11. Qd3 Qxc5 12. e5 White had a slight advatange in Fernandez vs. Day, according to the Modern Chess Openings Encyclopedia.) 6. Qd2
(6. Bb5+ Bd7 7. Bxd7+ Nxd7 Black has easy equality, see Ortega vs. Schiller.) 6… Nc6 See Jaracz vs. Schiller.
The Pterodactyl Unpin
5… cxd4 6. Nd5 Qd8 7. Bf4 d6 8. Nxd4 Nf6 9. Nxf6+ Bxf6 is about even.
5. Be2 d6
6. O-O Bg4
(6… cxd4 7. Nxd4 Nc6 deserves tests.) 7. dxc5 Qxc5 8. Nd5 is better for White, Arnason – Conquest, Brighton (England) 1981
5. dxc5 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Qxc3+
The Sicilian Rhamporhynchus
7. Bd2 Qxc5 8. Bd3 d6 9. O-O Nf6 10. Bh6 Nbd7 looks fine for Black.
The Sicilian Siroccopteryx
This is an opening trap.5… cxd4 6. Nxd4 Qc5!]
5… d6 I have played this move, as capturing at c3 isn’t so clear.
[5… Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Nf6 7. Nd2 Qxc3 8. Rb1 Nxe4 9. Rb3 Qd4 10. Nxe4 Qxe4+ 11. Re3 Qd4 12. Qe2 White has compensation, according to the Modern Chess Openings Encyclopedia. They cite Mortensen vs. Keene.]
6. Bd2 Bg4 7. Bb5+ Bd7! This is an improvement over Browne vs. Schiller. There I played 5…Nd7, but I was improvising in a 15-minute tournament game, and the check was a theoretical novelty at the time.
Lines without 1.e4
[1. d4 g6 Angus Dunnington’s “Attacking with 1.d4” only covers 1…d6. His preferred formation is 2.c4, 3.Nc3, when 3…c5 will come as a surprise. 2. Nf3 This is the move order used by fans of the Colle, Torre Attack. London System, and some Indian games with c4 coming later.
(2. c4 Bg7 3. e4
(3. g3 c5 4. Bg2
(4. dxc5 Qa5+
) 4… Qa5+
Queen Financhetto Pterodactyl
3. Nc3 c5 4. d5
(4. dxc5 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 Qa5
4. e3 Qa5
) 4… Qa5
) 3… c5 Raymond Keene’s An Opening Repertoire for White only has 3…d6. 4. d5
2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 c5 4. d5 Qa5 Andrew Soltis’s “Winning with d4, 2nd edition” gives only 4…Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 f5.)
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 Bg7 3. Bg5
(3. Bf4 c5 4. c3 cxd4 5. cxd4 Qa5+
3. e3 c5 4. Bd3
(4. dxc5 Qa5+
) 4… Qa5+
(4… cxd4 5. exd4 Qa5+
)) 3… c5 4. e3 Qb6 Eric Tangborn’s “A Winning White Repertoire”, based on the Torre Attack, doesn’t discuss the pure …g6 line, only those with …d6. The fact that there is no Black knight on f6 makes a big difference!
1. c4 g6 2. Nc3
(2. Nf3 Bg7 3. g3 c5 4. Bg2 Qa5 5. O-O Nc6 will not be completely symmetrical, but it is hard to see what the queen accomplishes at a5.) 2… Bg7 3. g3 c5 4. Bg2 Qa5 has not been played, as far as I know, but it is reasonable.]