Meeting 1.e4: Semi-Open Games

| 4 | Opening Theory

Here I will try to sketch Black's possible answers to 1.e4 excluding 1...e5. There are a number of very suitable defences:

By far the most popular is the Sicilian (1.e4 c5), to which I will devote another full post. At this place it is sufficient to mention that it is the ideal weapon for players wishing to go for the full point when Black. This is because the Sicilian avoids a symmetrical structure while not giving too much ground, thus providing scope for an awful lot of active ideas for both sides. Alas, it has become the opening with the largest body of theory at all, due to its continuing fame .

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5

is the French Defence. In a large number of cases White will play e4-e5 eventually (he can do so even on the third move!), when the second player will try to demolish that clamp by moves like c7-c5 and f7-f6 and mounting piece pressure against the d4 and e5 squares as well. His most obvious problem is the development of the c8 bishop, which is obstructed by the white-squared pawn chain. The good thing about the French is that you can learn it by understanding the typical plans and piece placements according to the different pawn structures rather than by memorizing long opening lines. On the downside you have to cope with very different pawn structures, like the closed centre with d4-e5 and e6-d5 pawn chains, or the exchange centre after e4xd5 e6xd5, which seems to lack ambition on White's part, but might still be hard to win as Black, or the dangerous Tarrasch Variation 3.Nd2, where Black is saddled with an IQP and has to drum up some activity to compensate for his structural weakness.

Yet there are still some sharp lines to learn, the most prestigous is 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Nc6 7.Qg4 Nge7 8.Qxg7 Rf8, where Black will castle long and has chances for a counter-attack on bothe sides of the board.

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5

The Caro-Kann contests the centre by d7-d5 as well, this time without locking in the light-squared bishop behind the e6 pawn. It is very solid and well respected, even to such a degree that Bent Larsen once said that the downside of picking it up when young is that it deprives you of getting more solid with oncoming age!

Like in the French, you can navigate your path by typical plans, but have to put up with a variety of central structures: A locked formation with white pawns on d4 and e5 again, or an unresolved centre in the mainline 3.Nc3 or the dangerous Panov Attack 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4. This time White has got the IQP, but his active potential must not be underestimated!

1.e4 d5 2.exd5

is the Scandinavian. 2...Qxd5 leads to positional play similar to some Caro-Kann or Aljechin lines. The typical plans are pretty easy to understand, and as special plus piece placement is pretty straightforward. However, Black may find it difficult to achieve full equality in the critical main lines.

2...Nf6 doesn't enjoy such a good reputation as 2...Qxd5, but the character of the ensuing play is very different. Often tactical abilities are more important here than positional ones.

1.e4 Nf6,

the Aljechin Defence. Black dares White to chase around the knight by 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.c5 Nd5 5.Bc4 e6, after which he attacks the over-extended white centre. In the main lines after 4.d4 d6, his lack of space forces him to be pretty resourceful in his search for counterplay, but on the other hand it is quite easy for White to over-extend his position. Theory suggests that in the main lines the first player keeps an edge, though.

Obvioulsly you need to make sure you are aware of the possible transpositions into different openings if White elects not to play 2.e5, and have a suitable variation ready up your sleeve as well.

1.e4 g6 (Modern defence) or 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 (Pirc Defence)

are quite related to each other. They can be applied against both 1.e4 and 1.d4 (or 1.c4, for that matter). Usually the second player is happy to accept a space disadvantage, only to strike back at the White centre later, mostly by means of c7-c5 or e7-e5. Again, White has a variety of plans at his disposal:

-He can build a solid position with e4, d4 Nf3, Nc3, Be3, Be2, 0-0 and possibly h3 to prevent any annoying piece from landing on g4. Active measures will be taken only after calmly completing development. Although this may seem a bit naive, combatting this concept can be tiresome as Black.

-Or White starts a vicious attack, either by f3 in conjunction with Be3, Qd2, a subsequent Bh6 and kingside pawnstorm or by an early f2-f4, which is the most popular procedure.

While not quite as ambitious as many Sicilian lines, the Pirc and Modern Defenses are a suitable means to go for tactical play and consequently the full point without having to know an awful load of theory.

1.e4 b6

and 1.e4 Nc6 are other tries of avoiding too much theory while still achieving a playable position. Although not outright bad, I have the impression these systems are quite easy to meet for White, as natural and easy-to-find moves seem to be good in most cases.

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