# Chess Opening Theory/1. e4

King's Pawn Opening
 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
Position in Forsyth-Edwards Notation (FEN)
Moves: 1. e4
ECO code: B00–B99, C00–99
Parent: Starting position
Responses:

## 1. e4 · King's Pawn Opening

The move 1. e4, the King's Pawn Opening, is the most popular first move at all levels of the game and was the favorite opening move of world champion Bobby Fischer, who called it 'best by test.' White's assertive opening move opens lines for the queen and the king's bishop (a good thing to do).

1. e4 also fights for control of d5 and f5, which might or might not be relevant later, because Black if they wanted to could just take those squares away again by playing 1...e6. If White wants to develop some pieces, the most important square they control by playing 1. e4 is, in fact, the e4 square itself. As long as there's a white pawn on e4, there can't be a black pawn on e4, which means White's g1-knight can be developed to f3 without fear of getting kicked away by a pawn and losing a tempo.

Just as White indirectly claims the f3 square by playing e4, Black has to bear in mind that f6 will not be a safe square for Black's g8-knight if White can simply advance their e4-pawn to e5. The simplest way for Black to fix this problem would be to copy White and play 1...e5 in response. White may also be dreaming of playing d4 next move, creating a strong 'classical' center, and 1...e5 by Black interferes with that plan.

Openings with 1. e4 are traditionally considered more sharp and attacking than those with 1. d4, but this is an extreme generalization, and both players will have many more opportunities to influence the type of position that appears. 1. e4 positions are in general more forcing than 1. d4 positions, meaning that the number of good moves in any position is lower because your opponent is threatening to do something horrid to you, which can make them easier for beginners to understand.

### Black's responses

Games in which Black responds with 1...e5 are called Open Games, whereas games with Black responding by any other move are known as Semi-Open Games (or Asymmetrical King's Pawn Games). It's useful to think of black's responses to 1. e4 as motivated by one of the following counterplans:

1. Establish a pawn on e5, securing a share of the centre for Black (1...e5).
2. Establish a pawn on d5, securing a share of the centre for Black (1...c6 or 1...e6).
3. Attack White's e-pawn immediately (1...d5 or 1...Nf6).
4. Leave White's e-pawn alone but prevent white from achieving the classical centre with e4 and d4 (1...e5 or 1...c5).
5. Ignore what White is doing, allow White to build the classical centre and deal with it later (1...d6, 1...g6, 1...Nc6, 1...b6, or 1...a6).

#### Plan 1

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...e5   (Open Game)

Plan 1 (pawn on e5, share centre) can be carried out very simply with 1...e5. Black sees what White has and wants the same thing. However, White's argument is that moving first in a symmetrical position is eventually going to favour the player moving first.

#### Plan 2

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...c6   (Caro-Kann Defence)

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...e6   (French Defence)

Plan 2 (pawn on d5, share centre) is the motivation behind 1...c6, the Caro-Kann Defence, and 1...e6, the French Defence. If Black tries to put a pawn on d5 immediately, White will capture it, so in order to maintain a pawn on d5 Black needs to be able to recapture with a pawn from either c6 or e6.

#### Plan 3

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1...d5   (Scandinavian Defence)

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...Nf6   (Alekhine Defence)

Plan 3 (attack White's e-pawn) leads to 1...d5, the Scandinavian Defence, and 1...Nf6, the Alekhine Defence.

#### Plan 4

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...e5 (Open Game)

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...c5   (Sicilian Defence)

Plan 4 (prevent White's e4 & d4) is a pleasant side effect of 1...e5 (mentioned above for Plan 1).

But, with 1...c5, the Sicilian Defence, Black can prevent White's d4 advance and also create an asymmetrical position of attack and counter-attack. The Sicilian and 1...e5 are the most popular replies to 1. e4 among top players.

#### Plan 5

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1...g6   (Modern Defence)

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...d6   (Pirc Defence)

There are multiple ways of carrying out Plan 5 (ignore White's centre, deal with it later).

• 1...g6, the Modern Defence, signals Black's intention to put a bishop on g7 controlling a swathe of the centre, before deciding on further action.
• 1...d6 is the Pirc Defence, a hypermodern response to White's 1. e4.

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. e5 dxe5 4. dxe5 Qxd1+ 5. Kxd1 Ng4! Knight forks f2 and e5.

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
The position after 3 moves of the Pirc Defence. White's d-pawn is next in line to be undermined.

In the Pirc Defence, the move 1...d6 prepares the move 2...Nf6. In Alekhine Defence (mentioned above for Plan 3), 1...Nf6 can be met by 2. e5 kicking the knight back. But, in the Pirc, after 1...d6 2. d4 Nf6, the move 3. e5 doesn't work because of 3...dxe5 4. dxe5 Qxd1+ 5. Kxd1 Ng4! forking the pawns on e5 and f2.

So instead, White's usual move to defend the e-pawn is 3. Nc3. Now, White's d-pawn is vulnerable to the advances 3...c5 or 3...e5 because neither White's e-pawn nor c-pawn can defend it.

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...Nc6   (Nimzowitsch Defence)

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...b6   (Owen Defence)

 a b c d e f g h 8 8 7 7 6 6 5 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1 1 a b c d e f g h
1...a6   (St. George Defence)

Plan 5 also covers a number of fringe options.

• 1...Nc6, the Nimzowitsch Defence. Black is able to react to 2. d4 with a thrust of either the d-pawn or e-pawn.
• 1...b6 is a similar idea to 1...g6 but doesn't have the benefit of preparing kingside castling.
• 1...a6 is mostly famous for having been played by Tony Miles against then World Champion Anatoly Karpov, and having thus acquired the name St. George Defence. Often Black will follow up with 2...b5, expanding on the queenside.

### Rare Responses

Other rare responses include:

• 1...f5?, the Fred Defence/Duras Gambit. This is not too good of an idea. Black gets a lead in development but little compensation for the sacrificed pawn after 2. exf5 Nf6. This can lead to another variation of the Fool's Mate after 2. exf5 g5?? 3. Qh5#
• 1...f6?, the Barnes Defence. A rare move that is not a good idea, as it removes the f6 square for the knight and weakens the kingside. Even so, Thomas Wilson Barnes (after whom it is named) beat Paul Morphy, one of the most influential grandmasters in the 19th century, with this opening. Its only benefit is that it gets out of theory.
• 1...g5?, the Borg Defence (opposite of Grob) is another option Black has, however it is a bad one because it does weaken the kingside severely. The g5-pawn can serve as a hook for White (h4) later on. This also can lead to a Fool's Mate for Black.
• 1...a5?!, the Ware Defence is equally weak as 1...h5. It just wastes a tempo.
• 1...h5?!, the Pickering Defence simply wastes a tempo and weakens Black's position.
• 1...h6?!, the Carr Defence, is another time-wasting move, but it usually transposes into the Borg Defence anyways after 2. d4 g5.
• 1...Na6?! develops the b8-knight to an inferior square.
• 1...Nh6?! develops the g8-knight to an inferior square.
• 1...b5? simply loses a pawn to 2. Bxb5.

## Statistics

Approximate chances
White win 39%, Draw 29%, Black win 32%.
Estimated next move popularity
c5 39%, e5 26%, e6 12%, c6 8%, d5 4%, d6 4%, g6 3%, Nf6 2%, Nc6 1%, b6 1%, other moves less than 0.5%.
move average 365Chess.com (big) Chess Tempo (all) chessgames.com Lichess (masters) Lichess (database)
1...c5 39.1% 41.4 43.0 41.2 46.3 23.4
1...e5 25.9 24.0 22.2 28.6 22.7 31.8
1...e6 12.4 13.1 12.9 12.0 12.1 11.8
1...c6 7.8 7.4 8.2 7.4 7.8 8.3
1...d5 4.1 3.5 3.2 2.0 2.0 9.9
1...d6 4.0 4.3 4.3 3.5 3.6 4.3
1...g6 3.1 3.0 3.0 2.7 2.9 3.9
1...Nf6 2.1 2.3 2.1 1.8 1.8 2.5
1...Nc6 0.8 0.7 0.7 0.5 0.5 1.4
1...b6 0.6 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.2 2.0
1...a6 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.3
1...f5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2
everything else 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3

## Theory table

1. e4

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Evaluation
Sicilian Defence ...
c5
Nf3
d6
d4
cxd4
Nxd4
Nf6
Nc3
a6
Be3
e5
Nb3
Be6
f3
Be7
Qd2
O-O
+/=
Ruy Lopez ...
e5
Nf3
Nc6
Bb5
a6
Ba4
Nf6
O-O
Be7
Re1
b5
Bb3
d6
c3
Na5
Bc2
c5
+/-
French Defence ...
e6
d4
d5
Nc3
Nf6
Bg5
Be7
e5
Nfd7
Bxe7
Qxe7
f4
O-O
Nf3
c5
Qd2
Nc6
+/=
Caro-Kann Defence ...
c6
d4
d5
Nc3
dxe4
Nxe4
Bf5
Ng3
Bg6
h4
h6
Nf3
Nd7
h5
Bh7
Bd3
Bxd3
+/=
Scandinavian Defence ...
d5
exd5
Qxd5
Nc3
Qa5
d4
Nf6
Nf3
c6
Bc4
Bf5
Bd2
e6
Nd5
Qd8
Nxf6
Qxf6
+/=
Pirc Defence ...
d6
d4
Nf6
Nc3
g6
f4
Bg7
Nf3
O-O
Bd3
Na6
O-O
c5
d5
Rb8
Qe2
Nc7
+/-
Modern Defence ...
g6
d4
Bg7
Nc3
d6
f4
a6
Nf3
b5
Bd3
Bb7
Qe2
Nc6
e5
Nh6
d5
Nb4
+/-
Alekhine Defence ...
Nf6
e5
Nd5
d4
d6
c4
Nb6
f4
dxe5
fxe5
c5
d5
e6
Nc3
exd5
cxd5
Qh4+
+-
Nimzowitsch Defence ...
Nc6
d4
d5
e5
Bf5
Nf3
e6
Bb5
a6
Bxc6+
bxc6
O-O
c5
c3
cxd4
cxd4
h6
+-
Owen Defence ...
b6
d4
Bb7
Bd3
e6
Nf3
c5
c3
Nf6
Qe2
Be7
O-O
Nc6
e5
Nd5
dxc5
bxc5
+/-
St. George Defence ...
a6
d4
b5
Nf3
Bb7
Bd3
Nf6
Qe2
e6
O-O
c5
c3
d5
e5
Nfd7
dxc5
Nxc5
+/-
Duras Gambit ...
f5
exf5

Nf6

d4

d5

Bd3

c5

c3

c4

Bc2

e6

Qe2

Bd6

fxe6

Qe7

Nf3

Bxe6

+-
Barnes Defence ...
f6
d4
e6
Bd3
Ne7
Nf3
c5
d5
d6
O-O
Ng6
Nc3
e5
Re1
Be7
Ne2
O-O
+-
Borg Defence ...
g5
d4

Bg7

Bxg5

c5

c3

Qb6

Nf3

cxd4

cxd4

Nc6

Nc3!?

Nxd4

Nd5!

Qxb2

Rc1

Nxf3+

+-
Ware Defence ...
a5
d4

e6

Nc3

d5

Bd3

Nc6

Nf3

Nb4

Be2

dxe4

Nxe4

h6

O-O

Nf6

Nxf6+

Qxf6

+-
Pickering Defence ...
h5
d4

e6

Nf3

d5

exd5

exd5

Bd3

Bd6

O-O

Kf8

Re1

Nc6

h3

Nb4

Bf1

Bf5

+-
Carr Defence ...
h6
d4

e6

Bd3

d5

Nc3

c5

dxc5

Bxc5

exd5

exd5

Bb5+

Nd7

Qxd5

Qe7+

Qe4

a6

+/-
O'Neill Gambit ...
b5
Bxb5 Nc3

Nf6

Qe2

e6

Nf3

a6

Ba4

c5

O-O

Nc6

Bxc6

Bxc6

Ne5

Bb7

+-

## All possible Black's moves

 QuickNavigation Na6a6a5 b6b5 Nc6c6c5 d6d5 e6e5 Nf6f6f5 g6g5 Nh6h6h5

## References

• Nunn's Chess Openings. 1999. John Nunn (Editor), Graham Burgess, John Emms, Joe Gallagher. ISBN 1-8574-4221-0.