Ways for Black to Respond to e4 Opening Move in Chess

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If you are playing black, you likely want a good response prepared for 1.e4, white's most popular opening move. White has many reasonable options for their first move, and 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 those have been tried often enough to be considered theoretically relevant.


Top Responses to an E4 Opening in Chess

That said, there is a pecking order for the top five moves. And only eight moves can be regarded as common in tournament play. Here is a look at the top eight responses to white's common opener.

  • 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. This is a dynamic move leading to unbalanced positions where both sides can fight for a win. The c5 move is one of the best ways for black to fight for an advantage against e4.

  • 02 of 08


    A classical response to e4 is to fight back in kind by moving the king's pawn two squares forward. This leads to an "open game," a term used to describe a game that features 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, it is not a fair characterization since many lines are quite sharp, and the draw percentage for the French defense is not much higher other popular responses to e4.

  • 04 of 08


    The c6 move signals the Caro-Kann Defense, an exceptionally solid opening that is perhaps less ambitious than the other more popular moves. 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 first 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. The Pirc defense, starting with d6, 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 are far from busted, allowing the Pirc to retain some popularity at all but the highest levels of chess.

  • 06 of 08


    The Scandinavian defense, starting with d6, allows white to immediately take a pawn, which black will usually recapture by bringing out the queen on the second move. 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. 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. 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 play e5 next, dislodging the knight. But that is 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.