# Black's defense against 1. e4

I looked at eight different responses to 1. e4 listed in chess opening theory. They are c5, d5, e5, c6, d6, e6, g6, and Nf6. For each response I played out 10 mainline opening moves and then compared the relative advantage gained by black in each of the defenses.

I guaged the relative advantage using the positional value computation of the engines on a scale in which the material value of a pawn is 100. At the start white holds an edge of 18 points by virtue of owning the first move. We compare this advantage to the positional value after 10 moves to evaluate the effectiveness of black's defense. The selection of 10 as the number of moves to play is somewhat arbitrary but it probably does get us to the end of the opening. Anyway, here are the results.

(a) 1. e4 c5

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. Nc3 Bg7 5. O-O Nf6 6. e5  Ng4 7. Bxc6 dxc6 8. Re1 O-O 9. d3 Nh6 10. Ne4 b6

Black gains 18- 7 = 11 points

(b) 1. e4 d5

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. d4 Qxd5 4. Nc3 Qd8 5. Nf3 e6 6. a3 Nc6 7. Bc4 h6 8. O-O Bd6 9. Qe2 O-O 10. Ne4 Re8

Black loses 45 - 18 = 27 points

(c) 1. e4 e5

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O Qf6 6. d4  exd4 7. Bg5 Qd6 8. Qxd4 Qxd4 9. Nxd4 Bd6 10. Ne2 Bg4

Black gains 18 - 7 = 11 points

(d) 1. e4 c6

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ exf6  6. Nf3 Na6 7. a3 Nc7 8. Bd3 Qe7+ 9. Be2 Be6 10. O-O Qd7

Black loses 24-18 = 6 points

(e) 1. e4 d6

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nbd7 4. Nf3 e5 5. Be2 Be7 6. a4 O-O 7. O-O exd4 8. Qxd4 Re8 9. Rd1 Bf8 10. Be3 c6

Black loses 31-18 = 13 points

(f) 1. e4 e6

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bb5+ c6 6. Bd3  Bd6 7. Qe2+ Be6 8. Ng5 Qe7 9. Nxe6 Qxe6 10. Qxe6+ fxe6

Black gains 18 - 10 = 8 points

(g) 1. e4 g6

1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nf3 d6 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. Be2 O-O 6. O-O a6 7. a3 Nc6 8. d5 Ne5 9. Nxe5 dxe5 10. Bg5 Qd6

Black loses 27-18 = 9 points

(h) 1. e4 Nf6

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. d4 d6 5. exd6 exd6 6. Nf3 Bg4 7. Be2 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. h3 Bxf3 10. Bxf3 Nc6

Black loses 37-18 = 19 points

To be sure these differences in positional value are very small and can surely be overcome by tactical play but it may be useful for the black player to note the following:

1. Of the 8 responses by black 3 are winners and 5 are losers.

2. The winners are 1. e4 c5 (+11), 1. e4 e5 (+11), and 1. e4 e6 (+8)

3. The losers are 1. e4 d5 (-27), 1. e4 Nf6 (-19), 1. e4 d6 (-13), 1. e4 g6 (-9), 1. e4 c6 (-6)

These data appear to suggest that black does not gain any advantage by playing d5 (Scandinavian), Nf6 (Alekhine), d6 (Pirc) or g6 (Modern) unless he or she has a specific strategy, trick, or trap up their sleeve that is faciilitated by these openings. I would think that players rated under 2000 would want to shun the losers and stick with the tried and true defenses such as e5 ane c5. I was surpirsed to find that e6 appears to be just as good as e5 and leads to more complex positional possibiilities for advanced players.

I should add that I computed the pooled variance of all 161 positional values as 12.6 which means that the standard deviation is 3.55. These values do tend to jump around from move to move and so there are probably not statistically significant differences among these values except possibly for the extreme ends of the data. For example, 1. e4 e5 is surely a better defense than 1. e4 d5. Personally I would not want to play any of the loser defenses except to explore the possibilities.

Cha-am Jamal

Thailand

• 2 years ago

This is great! Have you done this for 1. d4?

• 3 years ago

thank you oran. i will look into that line and see what i can find

• 3 years ago

i find the scandi the most annoying defence for black to play actually because you have to play totally their game in order not to become worse and if they play properly they can gain immense pressure. you've analysed the Nf6 scandi in a line where white easily secures the advantage the Qxd5 scandi is much harder to play against IMO

• 3 years ago

thank you for that reminder, oran, but still, don't you think that the scandinavian defense is weak? do you use it?

• 3 years ago

once again engine evaluations are meaningless in the opening, all these defences are drawn by engines by best play so they all reach equality at some point

• 3 years ago

hello karatekitte

Sicilian Najdorf: after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 we find that white has gained 5 points which means that the relative positional strenghts have not changed and therefore the opening is good for white and it is not an effective defense for black.

French Advance: after 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 white's position has deteriorated by about 5 points - too small a change to be significant and so i would say in this defence black has been unable to erode white's first move advantage although white moved the same pawn twice. The positions area about the same as it was before the first move.

Modern Pirc: after 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4 c5 5. Nf3 Bg4 or 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. c4 d6 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Be3 e5 white has strenghthened his position by 37 points and so I would say that this is a weak defence by black.

• 3 years ago

Thanks Jamalov!

• 3 years ago

karatekitte, thank you, i will add this info in a comment later

• 3 years ago

I noticed you didn't use the prime lines like the Najdorf, modern Pirc, advance French. I think that analysis using the more popular lines would be conclusive

• 3 years ago

thank you ranger_squad. engines do differ and the initial disadvantage may go away in the middle game or endgame. enjoyed reading your very informative and insightful comments. still, i think that computer analysis will eventually send more of the historically important openings into retirement. for example 1. e4 d5. also i would not advise anyone to play the alekhine simply because there are better responses to 1. e4

• 3 years ago

my personal experience says d5 c5 ..i agree with most part of the post..but in some games i played suggested GM opening like e4 nf6 alkhine.. engine shows it weak but if you play it correctly..even engine starts equallising whites initial advantage..similar experience with scicilian dragon..and one more thing to note. different engines give different initial advantage to different openings.for openings we can consult past GM games and we know to improve middlegames and endgame engines are very strong.

• 3 years ago

I think the bottom line is that in defenses such as scandinavian, alekhine, and pirc black digs himself a hole although there are certain tricks and traps that may come into play in those lines if white makes a mistake.

• 3 years ago

alex (countryman of mikhail tal) thank you for your comment. i am also a big fan of 1. e4 e5 because i believe that this opening at once contains the strongest first move for white and the strongest response to that move by black.

• 3 years ago

hello oran, how are you doing? i agree with you in the sense that at our level of play it really boils down to who will make the fewer blunders but still i am loath to put myself at a disadvantage with things like scandinavian or alekhine.

• 3 years ago

sorry to put a downer but it is very known that engines are usless in the opening moves apart from showing very obvious blunders and all those responses are perfectly sound.

• 3 years ago

good job. Somehow I like e4-e5 respond the best.

• 3 years ago

i like counterattacks jan48. in fact, when a piece is attacked even before i look at moving it or defending it my first reaction is to look for a tit for tat counterattack. but my point here is that if you are black and you have played one of the loser defenses you have voluntarily handicapped yourself unless you have some kind of strategy or trap that requires the appparently weak defense.