The 17 Best Chess Openings For Black

Since its creation, many books have been written and a lot has been theorized on the subject of chess openings. Many of the classical defenses over time have been neutralized and others that people thought proved wrong, flipped, and nowadays are cutting edge. The defenses depicted below try to work around that.

1. Berlin Defense

The position is reached after: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6

And the critical line suggested is: 

  1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. 0-0 Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8

 Kasparov – Kramnik Classical World Championship Match

Kasparov-Kramnik line, this “tool” was used by Vladimir Kramnik in the 2000 World Championship, Kramnik at the time an inferior player than Kasparov correctly assessed the situation and opted for this line.

He did so knowing that this line transposes into a “bland” position, where white’s advantage is not concrete. The result? He drew every game as black against Kasparov and won twice.

Furthermore, the result of this opening leads to long-term positional play, far away from Kasparov’s tactical sharpness. If you opt for this opening is very easy for white to “blunder” or make an inferior move and equalize the position.

Before Kramnik introduced this opening, only a handful of top games featured this opening, nowadays this defense is in common use by top players including Magnus Carlsen. 

This defense many times lead to long boring games with many drawing chances for black.

Also Read: 15 Best Chess Openings For White

2. Benoni Defense

The position is reached after: 

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5

Suggested line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 “Modern Benoni”

This opening is a good tool against the queen’s pawn players, cutting away the queen’s gambit lines. This opening is chosen because it produces many 1-0 (wins) instead of 1/2-1/2 (draws) therefore this tool is used in “must-win” situations as black.

White has a space advantage, in mild open games. If black manages to arrange his queenside setup and dodge whites’ threats, he could be in a good position to strike back.

Also Read: How To Control The Center In Chess?

3. French-Sicilian

The position is reached after:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6

This opening can lead into the Taimanov Sicilian

  1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nc3 Qc7

“Sicilian Taimanov”

Popularized by the 70s top player Mark Taimanov. This sharp line can lead to many tactics, black surrenders the center in order to get a solid pawn structure, piece mobility, and no short-term threats. His major problem is the light square bishop who he eventually needs to develop.

White has the option to march the pawn to f4 and make the classical Sicilian attack as white with the f and e pawns situated in the 4th rank. This is not the end of the world because he is committing his kingside safety in order to do so. This defense leads to very interesting games.

4. Slav Defense Triangle System

The position is reached after: 

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 e6

 “Triangle System”

This opening is so basic in its nature but so deep that many books have been written about it, this tool was also used many times by the great Alexei Shirov.

The main goal is to simply create a pawn triangle by pushing his pawns.

The downside is that black will have some trouble developing his pieces but on the upside, his structure will be very solid and very hard to break.

Also Read: Best Chess Opening Principles For Starters

5. Grunfeld

Within the “Indian systems’ (1.d4 g6) after c4 and g6 are different from the plan Bg7 and 0-0 which is the king’s Indian defense is to strike in the center with d5.

This opening is a hyper-modern approach like the Alekhine defense to quickly strike the center (different from the Kings Indian). Fig below

If white decides to go for the mainline trading knights in the center, he will end up with a soft pawn in c3 prone to receive attacks. Black can add pressure with moves like c5 and bg7 see fig below.

This opening was featured four times in the 1990 Kasparov – Karpov World Championship Match being one of Kasparov’s favorite tools even until recent times and also used by Magnus Carlsen in his match against Anand

6. Nimzo-Indian

The position is reached after: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 (fig below)

This opening is another way to fight against the queen’s gambit-like systems and their interactions. A common choice of Magnus Carlsen, the basic goal of this defense is to prevent e4 (because if played the pawn would be hanging) and restrict white’s center control. This idea applies to Classical variation, Mainline, and Saemish variations.

All in all, this opening will lead many times into open setups with a small advantage for white and white needs to be extra precise to maintain his advantage because at any moment this could flip (different case than playing quiet positional games where white can slip and still be advantageous)

Very famous YouTube game between Misha Osipov (3-year-old prodigy), white vs Anatoly Karpov, black “2016″

For example, in this setup black decides to challenge the center with c5 and that pawn cannot be taken because white gains a pawn but restricts all of his queenside pawns if black decides to make a move like Kc6

7. French Defense

With the French Defense, an equilibrium is quickly reached with the closed center that protects Black’s casting.

To combat this, Black launches an attack on the queen’s wing with c5 and against the d4-pawn, where they will end up aiming the most of the black pieces;

The problem however is the development of the light-squared bishop, which is enclosed in the queen’s wing without a good square to be placed; for that reason, they will try to change it or pass it to the king’s wing.

For his part, White will try to protect his weakest point “d4” and will try to launch an attack on the king’s wing before Black’s white bishop arrives. (Fig below)

This bishop should not be captured, even it can if it is not in very advantageous conditions. As White mounts an attack on the king’s wing he must keep an eye on what happens on the queen’s wing and stop the attack if it becomes dangerous.

8. Petrov Defense

This opening is characterized by the moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6

The Petroff is often misunderstood as a dull opening. At its core, the opening fights E4 preparations such as the Italian or the Spanish opening.

The Petroff is actually a very aggressive defense, but the symmetrical pawn structure may not be appealing to many players. It has been popular at the top levels for many decades and enjoys the reputation of being a very solid defense and was played in two of the three last world championships.

The key to understanding this opening is knowing how pawn chains work. The mainline has many similarities to some queen’s pawn

 Magnus Carlsen against Julio Ernesto Zuniga, a similar kind of setup to the queen’s gambit

Position after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. c4 Nf6 9. Nc3 Nc6

9. Sicilian defense

The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings classifies the Sicilian Defense under the codes B20 through B99, giving it more codes than any other opening.

Also, in recent times an analysis made by the chess informant showed that 17% of all games between grandmasters, and 25% of the games in the Chess Informant database, began with the Sicilian. Still, many databases show that 1.E4 proved less successful than 1.D4 mainly due to the significance made by the Sicilian.

At a top tier, these opening needs lots of studies to make a novelty due to their 500 years of study. But at lower levels, equilibrium is easily reached. The opening is characterized by 1. e4 c5. 

A suggested line is: 

Sicilian Defense, Accelerated Dragon

White’s plan is to later push f4 and blacks’ goal is to quickly castle by playing moves like bg7 and nf6 and have a strong pawn chain.

10. Bogo-Indian Defense

Position after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+

The idea of ​​3 … Bb4 + is to change pieces and simplify the position, which in theory favors the defense. The problem with changing pieces so early is that Black gets rid, somewhat prematurely, of his dark-squared bishop.

Also, the normal thing is the fianchetto of the queen-bishop on b7. To make up for the fault, he must place his pawns on dark squares; and you must play the entire game accurately.

However, White does not achieve an advantage as clearly and as easily as one might think. All in all, it is a rarely used defense.

11. Tarrasch Defense

The Tarrasch Defense is a universal weapon against tight openings. It can be raised both against 1.d4 and 1.c4 as well as 1.Nf3. Black plays e6, d5, and c5 and achieves good control of the center and an active game of pieces.

Kasparov’s favorite in his young years is a defense with high strategic content. Both with white and black In the Tarrasch Defense many positions and questions are exposed that are common for any chess player, of any level.

Therefore, this opening should be common territory for any player who wants to play proper chess. 

“Tarrasch Defense”

12. Dutch Defense

The Dutch Defense is an effective way to play against 1.d4, its an “uncommon response” like The Sicilian Defense, although it has the flaw that Black makes his intentions clear from the start, and White can play against it.

The advantage is that White cannot fight in any way, and since it is not a very popular defense it is possible that he has gaps in this defense; Unlike the black, who when he chooses it is because he has studied it.

Within the Dutch Defense, the “stone wall” system, which has its own strategic characteristics, deserves special attention. The Staunton Gambit was, for a long time, the most effective way to fight the Dutch Defense, but good plays have been discovered for Black, and it is not a popular line.

More popular is the Leningrad variant, a mix of Dutch Defense and King’s Indian Defense. In general, Black will try to attack the kingside, and White must counterattack in the center. The break at e4, in good condition, is usually the most effective.

Suggested line, Dutch Stone Wall after 1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.O-O d5

13. Modern Defense

Probably one of the most underrated openings is the Modern Defense. Modern Defense is currently not mainstream among elite chess players. However, sometimes appears as an occasional surprise weapon.

The issue with this opening is that white is allowed to take complete control of the center and at times even gain a huge amount of space. This opening is reached after 1.e4 g6. 

 “Main Line” 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4 c6 5. Nf3 Bg4 The key to this opening is that white sometimes feels like having a big advantage because of black’s passivity, but, he does not have a glaring weakness in the position.

14. Horwitz Defense

The Horwitz Defense

Horwitz Defense, being able to transpose to the French Defense, this move allows to free the action of bishop and queen in the diagonals, being able to serve as support for a future d5, and maintaining a defensive game, on the part of Black, staying behind the sixth row.

The opening is reached after: 1. d4 e6

The key to this opening is that is likely to transpose to another opening, such as the Dutch Defense, Keres Defense, French Defense, Queen’s Gambit Declined, Sicilian Defense, or Benoni Defense.

15. Pirc Defense

The Pirc Defense is reached after: 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 fig below

The main idea of ​​the defense, in line with the hypermodern school of chess, is to delay control of the center for a few moves, thus granting it to white temporarily, with the idea of ​​undermining it later through pawn breaks or direct confrontations.

The most thematic of these are c5, e5, and the c6 and b5 maneuver. This defense provides a very flexible and dynamic game, as both sides have a great wealth of options.

White can opt for classic, positional schemes, with medium and long-term plans, or on the contrary, he can confront Black with a direct attack, taking advantage of his space advantage.

16. Caro-Kahn

The opening goes by 1. e4 c6, the main idea is to support the strong d5 blow, which attacks the white center.

It usually results in structures very similar to the French Defense, but with the advantage that the black bishop with light squares has come out of his jail – the main problem for the French.

However, the c5 blow is delayed, the typical French blow in which a pawn on the flank is going to be exchanged for a central pawn, which is considered an advantage. White will try to avoid this blow because if Black does it in good condition, he will enter a very favorable game.

With a logical game, White can delay this blow for a long time, even until it is no longer dangerous. It is precisely the preparation of this coup that gives the defense a maneuvering character. In general, it can be said that the Caro-Kann defense is typical of solid and eminently positional players.

 Caro-Kann Mainline after ” 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5.” where black supported and traded d5

17. The Hippopotamus Defense (Anti-Computer system)

The hippopotamus defense is a combination of Owen’s defense and the modern defense, This opening was first popularized by Rashid Nezhmetdinov (Tal’s master) and subsequently adopted by Petrosian in the 1966 world chess championship and was also played by Kasparov, Nakamura, and Carlsen in serious events. 

The move order is not important, it just matters that the player reaches the desired setup. Many people ask how the Hippo can be any good and the idea behind the opening is to close the position as much as possible.

The desired setup with no special move order and this setup can be played also as white

There are some premises that a player should follow: Is desired to castle in an artificial way, due to many reasons but the most compelling is that a normal castle can be a very committing move and the nature of this opening is nonconcrete.

Another concept that a player should be aware of is the advance of the h-pawn as an element of attack, if the adversary launches these kinds of attacks, the player should never trade pawns and open files and may opt for pushing the g pawn instead. The importance of part coordination.

Middlegame example of Nakamura playing against Komodo with no odds in favor. In move 24 he “castled by hand” by playing Kh2. Note that Nakamura wants to keep the position as close as possible

Final Thoughts

In the article, we explored the main defenses like the Berlin, Benoni, French, and Caro-Kann which at times during history were proven to be wrong but nowadays people are making them more into consideration. 

Then we jumped into Modernism and Hypermodernism with systems such as the Hippo, Bogo-Indian, Nimbzo-Larsen, Petrov, and Grunfeld, pointing out the richness and complexity many times overestimated. 

And lastly, we also viewed the guns any player needs to have in his repertoire like The Sicilian, Tarrasch, Dutch, Horowitz, and Pirc. It’s important to understand the core ideas behind them so that the player becomes well-rounded and not biased on specific openings which also tend to kill creativity.

So that’s it! If found any value in this article then please share it with others so that it can reach more people. Thanks!

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