Surviving the Opening as Black

May 12, 2011, 5:22 PM |

Two Modern "One-Size-Fits-Most" Defenses for Black

In my last blog article, I covered the early opening for white.  OK.  So what if you're playing black?  First of all, just realize that white has a tempo on you from the start. If white plays perfect chess, the very best you can hope for is a draw. However, this doesn't happen often below Master level games. So your objective is to survive the opening, get into a tactical middle game, and look for draw or winning combinations. Here you have two choices at the club level - Classical or Universal Defenses.

Classical Defense - Contest center control and develop minor pieces. Pick your favorite defense against e4 or d4 and play those. If you know the lines better than your opponent, you should have an easy game. However, be warned - 1.e4 e5, leaves black vunerable to Ruy Lopez, Italian, King's Gambit, to name just a few choices by white.

The French defense against e4 and Nimzo-Indian against d4 avoid this problem. Both are solid defenses and can begin with 1....e6.  This keeps white "in the dark" for a few moves.  However, both these defenses have been studied in depth, so you have a lot of homework to do to play them well.

If you don't want to study openings much, I recommend the Modern defense as a good "One-Size-Fits-Most" classical defense for club players against both e4 and d4 openings. It is relatively easy to play for black without a lot of study. Essentially, black plays the same five moves in the early opening. The idea is to castle early and get into the middle game with some equality. However, please note that move order is critical: always start with d6 & Nf6. Here are some typical Modern openings:


Universal Defense - Usually a three rank defense where by black endures an early cramped game while waiting to launch a powerful counter attack against white's center or castle. I've had a lot of success in OTB games against higher ranked players using various versions of the Hippopotamus Defense. The Hippo variants are definitely "One-Size-Fits-Most" and can be played against any white opening. Although most "classical" chess players openly disdain the Hippo, it was a favorite of Boris Spassky and he used it liberally in World Championship games. Here's the classic Hippo:


I've used a Modern Hippo Variant with good success against higher rated players in OTB games. Here's variant I like:



Here's a typical Spassky Hippo game for your enjoyment:


In any case, just get out there and play! Chess is suposed to be FUN, so go have FUN!