Saragossa opening starts with 1.c3. It is not popular because it does not do much to control the center on the first move. Similar to 1.e3 or 1.d3, this move can also be used to transpose into a popular line.
We will look at various possible alternatives arising after 1.c3.
If black plays 1…c5, white can transpose into Sicilian Alapin variation with 2.e4.
Black can choose from popular replies with 2..d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 or 2…Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.d4
Black plays 1…d5
After 1.c3 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 white gets into 1.d4 d5 sidelines with structures similar to queen’s pawn openings.
White can play a London system structure with Bf4-e3-Bd3 or simply colle system with e3-Bd3-Nbd2 and try to push e4.
The game can go 3…Bf5 4.Bf4 c6 5.Nbd2 Nbd7 with symmetrical position.
As you can see, the move c3 has not contributed much in white’s initiative. It has turned out to be passive and black has comfortably developed his pieces same as white.
1.c3 d5 2.g3 c6 3.f4 leads to the structure similar to Bird’s opening. However, move c3 is not usually seen in the Bird’s opening.
The game can go 3…g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg2 Qb6 6.d3 Nf6 7.Qb3 Nbd7
Black has gained an equal position since white’s pawn structure seems disharmonious. The game continues as a positional battle from here on.
Black plays 1…e5
1.c3 d5 2.d4 exd4 3.cxd4 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.Bf4 is a possible line.
After 5…Bd6 6.Bxd6 Qxd6 7.e3 Ne7 8.Bd3 Bf5 9.Ne2 Nd7 we have a playable position for both sides.
On 2nd move, white exchanged black’s center pawn for his c pawn. Thus, white has two center pawns against black’s one. But black has a possibility of attacking the center with c5 and a possible outpost on e4 after 0-0-Re8-Nf6…etc.
White plays 2.Qc2
1.c3 e5 2.Qc2 is a unique line to Saragossa opening.
After 2…d5, white can play 3.d3 Nd7 4.e4 Nf6 5.Bg5 trying to establish strong center with e4 square. The structure resembles King’s Indian attack but without white’s fianchetto bishop on g2.
And lastly, white can go for the King’s Indian attack type structure with 1.c3 e5 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 Nf6 4.d3 c6 5.Nf3 Bd6 6.0-0 0-0 7.Nbd2
In any case, black has well-developed pieces and a comfortable game.
Game played with Saragossa opening
Here is a game played between Michalik, Peter vs Certek, Pavel
Saragossa opening can be played to avoid popular openings and complicated theoretical lines. But white also lets go of his first move advantage because move c3 doesn’t prove to be useful in most lines.
It is not recommended for serious games. It can be played in practice games to understand how various opening transpositions can happen after 1.c3. You can also try 1.c3 2.Qa4 just for fun in blitz games.