If you're playing Black, you'd better have a solid response to 1.e4. But much as White has many reasonable options for their first move, Black has a host of responses after White plays e4. In fact, all 20 possible Black moves have been tried in this position, and almost all of them are reasonable, and at least half of them have been tried often enough to be considered theoretically relevant.
That said, there's certainly a very obvious pecking order for the top five moves and only... eight moves can be regarded as common in tournament play. Here's a look at the top eight responses to White's most popular first move!
01 of 08
Also known as the Sicilian Defense, c5 has become the most popular way to respond to e4. Like e5 (the second entry on this list), c5 fights back in the center by attacking the d4 square. However, it does this in a very dynamic way, leading to unbalanced positions where both sides can fight for a win. That makes c5 one of the best ways for Black to fight for an advantage against e4.
02 of 08
The classical response to e4 is to fight back in kind, also moving the king's pawn two squares forward. This leads to what are known as the open games, ones that generally promote tactical battles in which both sides must be wary of quick and dangerous attacks. Popular openings like the Ruy Lopez and the Italian Opening spring from these moves.
03 of 08
The French Defense starts with e6, showing that Black intends to give up some space and mobility in exchange for a very solid pawn structure. While this opening has been given a reputation for being drawish and boring, that's not really fair: many lines are quite sharp, and the draw percentage for the French Defense isn't much higher than that for the other popular responses to e4.
04 of 08
The move c6 signals the Caro-Kann Defense, an exceptionally solid opening that is perhaps less ambitious than the moves above. In fact, it has the highest draw percentage of any move on this list. That said, it has remained popular at all levels of chess: amateurs find the basic ideas easy to understand, while professionals may like the favorable pawn structures for Black.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
While the top four moves are certainly the most popular – and are almost the only moves played in games between world-class players these days – there are several other moves that have a reasonable level of popularity. Those start with d6, which is known as the Pirc Defense. This opening allows White to build up a very strong pawn center, which has allowed the first player to score quite well in these lines. However, they're far from busted, allowing the Pirc to retain some popularity at all but the highest levels of chess.
06 of 08
The Scandinavian Defense allows White to immediately take a pawn, which Black will usually recapture by bringing out the queen on just the second move. Yet despite the fact that the queen can immediately be attacked, this opening has shown remarkable resilience, and new variations have helped bring added viability to this line. While White scores well, d5 is a better move than it may look at first glance (particularly in lines where the queen retreats to d6 rather than a5).
07 of 08
Known as the Modern Defense, g6 has a lot in common with the Pirc, and in fact, the two openings often transpose into the same lines. The Modern may be the better option, though: while it allows White to build up a big center by playing e4 and d4, it also gives Black plenty of opportunities to undermine that structure. In fact, databases show that g6 is one of Black's best tries for a win at almost every level of play.
08 of 08
At first, Nf6 may seem like a strange move: White can just play e5 next, dislodging the knight. But that's all part of the plan in the opening known as Alekhine's Defense. Named after the World Champion who pioneered the defense in the 1920s, this opening tends to lead to lines that are very odd looking compared to most of the other moves on this list, with White often advancing several pawns to chase the Black knight around the board. But White must be careful not to overextend, or the pawns will become a weakness that Black can exploit.