Philidor Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6

The Philidor Defense is a passive but playable opening for Black, usually reached by the move order 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6. It is named after the 18th century French master Francois Philidor, who preferred 2...d6 to the more common alternative (then and now) of 2...Nc6. 

Starting Position

The Philidor is defined by Black's second move, 2...d6. Although it is the third-most common move in the position, it is only played about 1/30th as often as 2...Nc6 and 1/3 as often as the Petroff Defense (2...Nf6). At the same time it is 10 times more popular than the #4 move, the Latvian Gambit (2...f5).

If you watch GM Benjamin Finegold's Lessons on the Philidor, he also teaches the alternative move order 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5.


  • Black builds a solid base in the center
  • Avoids the Ruy Lopez (2...Nc6 3.Bb5)
  • Black leaves the c6 square free, so the c-pawn can later advance


  • Black's central presence is rather passive
  • 2...d6 blocks in the dark-squared bishop


White has two main responses to the Philidor, 3.d4 and 3.Bc4. Black generally responds to the first of those moves in one of three ways, not including Philidor's own move 3...f5, which is considered inferior today.

Philidor Defense
White's two main responses to the Philidor. 3.d4 happens in about 80% of Philidor games.

Exchange Variation (3.d4 exd4)

More than half of Philidor Defense games end up in this position, given the popularity of both 3.d4 and 3...exd4. After the typical continuation 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7, White has several responses.

Philidor Defense
The most common position in the Exchange Variation, at which point White can and regularly has played several moves.

Nimzowitsch Variation (3.d4 Nf6)

Nf6 is a typical move in any Philidor variation but can be played as early as move three, and is in fact the second most common try. Black's has its best results of any Philidor line if White plays the typical reply 4.Nc3, but White does very well playing 4.dxe5 instead.

Hanham Variation (3.d4 Nd7)

3...Nd7 is the typical opening move of the Hanham Variation, which also includes the moves ...c6 and ...Be7. Black aims to develop naturally while controlling some central squares.

3. Bc4

White can play 3.Bc4 to develop naturally while avoiding Black's main lines. Black must be careful not to end up in a trap known as Legal's Mate.

How to Play Against the Philidor Defense

Against the Exchange Variation, 6.g3 and 6.Bf4 (win rate of 49% and 52%, respectively) score much better than 6.Be2 or 6.Bc4 (36% each). Against 3...Nf6 there is the 4.dxe5 line shown above for a 58% win rate for White. And the Hanham tends to do poorly against standard moves as below.

Although it wins at a slightly lower percentage than 3.d4, 3.Bc4 is seen far less often and so can have surprise value.


The Philidor Defense predates its namesake, with one Ruy Lopez de Segura game on record as well as appearing four times in the writings of Gioachino Greco. Philidor analyzed and recommended it in his 1749 treatise L’Analyse du jeu des Echecs. There are only a handful of records of Philidor playing the opening, but most of his games were not written down and lost to time.

Francois Philidor
Philidor in 1777.

The Philidor has had very few regular practitioners over the years. No world champions except Alexander Alekhine have played it more than a handful of times, and sometimes seemingly by accident, such as when GM Garry Kasparov arrived in a Philidor position in 1979 by the move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 d6 3.Nc3 Nbd7 4.e4 e5. GM Etienne Bacrot is probably the best player to have used it somewhat often, making it part of his opening repertoire from 2003-05.

Famous Games

By far the most famous game in the Philidor Defense was a crushing defeat for Black against the star American Paul Morphy in the famous Opera Game. However, Black's problems did not begin with the second move but rather the third, the weak 3...Bg4.

A young Alekhine showed how to win with the Philidor against careless play by White.


Although generally not recommended for high level players, the Philidor Defense is good for those who want to avoid main lines of the extensive theory that exists in the Ruy Lopez or Petroff. Visit the Explorer to play around with lines and move orders.


Learn The Philidor Defense

Learn the key ideas and move orders in the Philidor Defense for both White and Black.
19 min
10 Challenges
Top Players