Alberto Chueca, FIDE Trainer & International Master 
The Best 10 Openings for Black
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The Best 10 Openings for Black

In this post, I analyze a list of what I consider The Best 10 Openings for Black in chess. We will be highlighting the main variations of these lines, as well as commenting on the kind of positions we get with them, some insights, concepts, and typical plans, and we will talk about great players who used these variations.

I decided not to sort them, because I don’t consider one better than the other. All of them are good choices, and it’s a matter of like and style what you decide to play. Besides, some of these defenses are against King’s Pawn, others against Queen’s Pawn, etc., so I think comparing doesn’t make too much sense.

 

10- Petrov Defense

ECO C42-C43 (ECO is the Code for this line in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings)

  1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6

Named after Alexander Petrov, this is a strong and solid variation. In move 2, instead of protecting the e5 pawn with the popular Nc6, Black counterattacks White’s central pawn with Nf6. This defense has a reputation of being solid and passive, but actually that’s relative, it depends on the line played on the board.

White has two main options in move 3: d4 (C43, Steinitz Variation) and Nxe5 (C42, Classical Variation).

Great masters Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik, Vasily Smyslov and Fabiano Caruana used Petrov frequently.

 

The Best 10 Openings for Black: Top 9 and 8.

09- Slav Defense

ECO D10-D19

  1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6

This is a good option against Queen’s Gambit. The idea is to protect the center without blocking the light squares bishop, so very often Black can develop it out of the chain of pawns.

Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand, and Vassily Ivanchuk used Slav Defense.

08- Sicilian Defense

ECO B20-B99

1.e4 c5

This is the most popular, famous, aggressive, best-scoring Defense in chess. When Black plays c5, they break the symmetry but keep fighting for the center.

Actually, more than one defense, this is a set of defenses (a set of sharp knives). Najdorf, Classical, Dragon, Scheveningen, Kan, Taimanov, Kalashnikov, Sveshnikov are some of the main lines Black can play (assuming White plays Open Sicilian with 1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 and 3.d4).

Although in move 2, White can try to avoid all those complicated and dynamic lines, by playing 2. c3 (Alapin), 2. Nc3 (Closed Sicilian), etc.

Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, and Veselin Topalov have played Sicilian often.

The Best 10 Openings for Black: Top 7 and 6.

07- Dutch Defense

ECO A80-A99

  1. d4 f5

When Black plays Dutch Defense, they can decide whether to develop dark squares bishop over the Fianchetto (Leningrad Dutch) or over e7 (Stonewall Variation, playing d5 later). Even when Dutch is not a very popular variation in these days, it seems like a nice option to break the symmetry in the center and play something different.

World Champions Alexander Alekhine and Mikhail Botvinnik played Dutch Defense.

 

06- French Defense

ECO C00-C19

  1. e4 e6

This is a popular and strong defense. In move 2 Black will play d5 fighting for the center. But in some lines, the pawn on e6 is blocking Black’s light squares bishop, that’s a problem Black has to deal with, but very often they can either trade it or develop it to d7 targeting the queenside.

White has 3 main ideas: Protect the pawn with either Nc3 or Nd2, advance the pawn (e5), and exchange (exd5).

Mikhail Botvinnik, Tigran Petrosian, and Teimour Radjabov played French Defense.

Definitely one of the best 10 openings for Black.

 

The Best 10 Openings for Black: Top 5 and 4.

05- Nimzo-Indian Defense

ECO E20-E59

  1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Ab4

Named after Aron Nimzowitsch, this is one of the best options for Black against Queen’s Pawn. A very typical idea in this line is to trade the bishop on c3 and create some damage in White’s pawn structure (doubled pawns on “c” file). Later they will put a lot of pressure on the weak pawn on c4, by playing Nc6-a5, Ba6, Tc8, and c5, etc.

White can play in some different ways, but the two main systems are Rubinstein (with 4. e3) and Classical Variation (with 4. Qc2).

Nimzo-Indian is so strong that very often White avoids it by playing 3. Nf3.

 

04- Caro-Kann Defense

ECO B10-B19

  1. e4 c6

Named after Horatio Caro and Marcus Kann, some people might say Caro-Kann is a passive Defense, but I rather would say this is a strong system with a solid pawn structure. So, the idea is similar to French Defense (in move 2 Black will play d5 fighting for the center), but this time we are not blocking the bishop on c8.

 

The Best 10 Openings for Black: The top 3!

03- Grunfeld Defense

ECO D70-D99

  1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5

Named after Ernst Grunfeld, in this Defense, Black seems not to care about the center (White will get an amazing central pawn structure with c3, d4, and e4, anyone would say this Defense it’s completely wrong).  However, Black has the idea to put a lot of pressure on those pawns, sometimes creating interesting weaknesses. The advance c5 is essential for Black, and also the bishop on g7 is a great piece in this line. An interesting fact is that in “The Game of the Century” (Byrne vs Fischer) they played some Grunfeld Variation.

Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov played this interesting defense.

 

02- Scandinavian Defense

ECO B01

  1. e4 d5

This is a dynamic and different defense. Among the elite is not such a popular line, but they still use it from time to time to surprise their opponents. It seems like a nice option for Club Players though. Scandinavian Defense has a clear problem, and it’s the development of the Queen in move 2 on the mainline. So, White can take advantage of this and get a tempo moving the Knight to c3. Something good is that the pawn structure for Black is solid and without weaknesses almost always.

Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand have used Scandinavian Defense.

 

01- Benko Gambit 

ECO A57-A59

  1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5

This is a dynamic and aggressive option, the line continues very often with 4. cxb5 a6, Black sacrifices a pawn, but they get some nice compensation with some development advantage and also half-open files on “a” and “b”.

Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Tal used Benko Gambit.

So, this is the list of The Best 10 Openings for Black.

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