Black against e4

White’s move e4 is probably the most common White opening move (along with d4). This is a move of the King pawn (or "e’ pawn) and in the old notation White has played “Pawn to King 4”.

There are many openings for Black to play against 1.e4. Black’s main choices are whether to copy Black by moving 1..e5 or else to choose one of the various other King pawn defences such as the Sicilian Defence.

What’s the best move against e4? Good question! All I can tell you is that there are many grandmasters who would like to know the answer to this question. The Sicilian Defence gets the most votes. A lot of grandmasters will choose the Nadjorf Variation of the Sicilian Defence (including the Poison Pawn variation). Other grandmasters have had success with the French Defence or the Caro Kann defence. The King Pawn Openings are also reasonably popular, such as the Petrov Defence. But there are a lot of other openings that get a run every now and again against e4.

The list of popular Black openings against e4 includes:

  • 1.. e5 … King Pawn Openings. Black copies White. This is the most common reply in beginner chess, and it’s a very respectable opening. The move “1..e5” has become less common in master chess, although for no particularly good reason. The move is strong and time-tested with many sub-variations possible.
  • 1.. c5 … Sicilian Defence. Certainly the most popular Black reply in top-level tournament chess. It is an aggressive opening for Black with many variations and lots of tactical play.
  • 1.. d5 … Scandinavian Defence. An active and aggressive reply. This opening is quite popular and there are quite a few gambit lines.
  • 1.. c6 … Caro Kann Defence. This is an under-rated and very playable defence for Black. The Caro takes the sting out of lots of lines. It is usually a quite even game where it is difficult for White to establish an advantage.
  • 1.. e6 … French Defence. A solid defence that is time-tested and still often played today. It has an undeserved reputation as solid and passive, but Black often launches deadly counter-attacks, and some of the main lines are very tactical and unbalanced.

Some of the less commonly seen but quite playable lines for Black against e4 include:

  • 1… b6 … Owen Defence. A solid and somewhat passive defence, Black fianchettos the queenside bishop with Bb7. Regarded as somewhat inferior an opening in master chess, but it is very playable in beginner and intermediate tournament chess.
  • 1.. d6 … Pirc Defence (with Nf6, g6, and Bg7) or perhaps a Philidor (1.e4 d6, 2. d4 e5!?, the “Lion variation”). The Pirc is an active defence where Black fianchetto’s the kingside bishop and plays for an attack against the center. Play in the Pirc is usually attacking and tactical, but Black can sometimes get squashed by a strong white kingside attack.
  • 1.. g6 … Modern Defence. Black aims to fianchetto the bishop with Bg7 and attack against the center, similar to the Pirc Defence. Unlike the Pirc defence, Black avoids Nf6 and doesn’t force White to play Nc3, so White can often play c4 and get three strong center pawns.
  • 1.. Nf6 … Alekhine Defence. This is an odd counter-attacking defence, that isn’t often played. Black allows the Knight to get biffed around a number of times, and White can establish a strong pawn center, which Black must then attack.
  • 1.. Nc6 .. Nimzowich Defence. An unusual but playable defence where Black allows White to play e4 and d4, and then Black attacks against the White center pawns.

Some of the less respectable lines against e4 include:

Some very odd moves for Black to play would be:

  • 1..f6 (just plain bad move, weakening the Black king)
  • 1..f5 (just plain bad move, losing a pawn for a start)
  • 1..Nh6 (just plain bad move). White should play d3 or d4, aiming to do Bc1xh6, ruining Black’s pawn structure if it forces g7xh6.
  • 1..Na6 (just plain bad move). White should play e3 or e4, aiming for Bf1xa6.