The 5 Best Chess Openings for Black (with variations)

In the complex world of chess, opening strategies play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the game.

For black, choosing the right opening is even more critical, as it sets the tone for the entire match and helps counteract the advantage gained by white due to the initial move.

Knowing the best chess openings for black can provide a solid foundation for any player, ensuring a well-prepared, competitive game.

Objectives of black’s opening strategy

Black’s primary objectives in choosing an opening strategy are to neutralize white’s initial advantage, establish control over central squares, and ensure the safe and efficient development of all pieces.

Moreover, black aims to create dynamic imbalances, challenge white’s plans, and ultimately transition to a favorable middlegame position.

By focusing on these objectives, black can improve its chances of achieving a winning position during the game.

Sicilian Defense


Najdorf Variation

The Najdorf Variation is among the most popular and aggressive options within the Sicilian Defense.

Originating after the moves

1.e4 c5

2.Nf3 d6

3.d4 cxd4

4.Nxd4 Nf6

5.Nc3 a6

This opening provides black with flexibility, central pawn control, and possibilities for significant counterplay.

Endorsed by several world champions, including Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, the Najdorf Variation is known for its rich, tactical nature and can lead to sharp, double-edged battles on the board.

Dragon Variation

Another combative option within the Sicilian Defense is the Dragon Variation, characterized by the moves:

1.e4 c5

2.Nf3 d6

3.d4 cxd4

4.Nxd4 Nf6

5.Nc3 g6

This opening sets up a hypermodern pawn structure and puts pressure on the critical d4-square, engaging white directly in the center.

The Dragon Variation typically leads to opposite-side castling, resulting in intense battles and the potential for swift strikes against the opponent’s king.

Scheveningen Variation

The Scheveningen Variation is a more solid and positional approach to the Sicilian Defense, defined by the pawn structure resulting from

1.e4 c5

2.Nf3 d6

3.d4 cxd4

4.Nxd4 Nf6

5.Nc3 e6

In this variation, black prioritizes controlling central squares and delaying the deployment of its light-squared bishop.

The Scheveningen Variation often leads to pawn structures resembling the Hedgehog System, where black adopts a compact defensive posture while simultaneously seeking opportunities for counterattacks.

This balance between defense and counterplay makes the Scheveningen Variation a favorite amongst well-rounded players.

French Defense


Advance Variation

The Advance Variation of the French Defense arises after the moves

1.e4 e6

2.d4 d5


In this variation, white pushes the pawn to e5, creating an immediate space advantage but also creating a potential target.

Black’s primary plan is to undermine the advanced e5 pawn and subsequently counterattack in the center.

This variation can lead to a somewhat closed position, where maneuvering and strategic planning are crucial for both sides.

Classical Variation

The Classical Variation is an alternative option within the French Defense, characterized by the moves

1.e4 e6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 (or 3.Nd2)

In this variation, white opts for more traditional piece development rather than the advanced e5 pawn push.

Black typically challenges white’s pawn structure in the center and aims to create counter-attacking possibilities ideally suited for players seeking a balanced, positional battle.

Winawer Variation

The Winawer Variation is a highly tactical, complex line within the French Defense, beginning with the moves 1.

e4 e6 2.

d4 d5 3.

Nc3 Bb4.

By pinning white’s knight, black seeks to exert pressure on the e4 pawn and disrupt white’s pawn structure.

This variation often results in an imbalanced pawn structure for both sides, leading to dynamic, double-edged middlegame positions.

Players choosing the Winawer Variation should be well-versed in its sharp tactics and resulting middlegame plans.

Caro-Kann Defense

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Classical Variation

The Classical Variation of the Caro-Kann Defense is a solid and reliable option for black, characterized by the moves

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 (or 3.Nd2) dxe4

4.Nxe4 Bf5

Black engages in a symmetrical pawn structure and focuses on steady piece development.

The Classical Variation often leads to a balanced middlegame, where both sides have chances for strategic maneuvers and plenty of opportunities for counterplay.

Advance Variation

In the Advance Variation of the Caro-Kann Defense, white opts for the pawn push

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.e5, creating space in the center but also giving black a clear plan of undermining the pawn structure.

Black typically plays for c5 and f6 pawn breaks, chipping away at white’s center while maintaining a solid position.

The Advance Variation is suitable for players who prefer a strategic, closed battle while capitalizing on positional weaknesses.

Panov-Botvinnik Attack

The Panov-Botvinnik Attack is an ambitious, aggressive option for white within the Caro-Kann Defense, arising after the moves

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.exd5 cxd5


By playing c4, white seeks to open up the position and create pawn imbalances, resulting in dynamic play with chances for both sides.

Black must be prepared to counter this attack with precise play, focusing on piece coordination and centralized pawn structures to neutralize white’s plans.

This variation often leads to active positions that demand accurate calculation and a deep understanding of the resulting pawn structures.

Grünfeld Defense

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Exchange Variation

The Exchange Variation of the Grünfeld Defense arises after the moves

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.Nc3 d5

4.cxd5 Nxd5

5.e4 Nxc3

6.bxc3 Bg7, known for its sharp, open positions.

Black willingly gives up the center in the beginning, with plans to undermine and counterattack later.

The Exchange Variation offers rich and varied middlegame positions, requiring players to be well-versed in both tactics and long-term strategic planning.

Russian System

The Russian System is a solid and aggressive line against the Grünfeld Defense, starting with the moves

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.Nc3 d5

4.Nf3 Bg7


By placing the queen on b3, white applies pressure on the d5 pawn and centralizes its queen while maintaining tension in the center.

This variation leads to complex and dynamic play, demanding players to be accurate in their calculations and well-prepared for its unique pawn structures.

Accelerated Fianchetto

The Accelerated Fianchetto is a less common but flexible approach by black against the Grünfeld Defense, characterized by the moves

1.d4 Nf6

2.c4 g6

3.g3 – bypassing the traditional lines for a more closed and strategic battle.

Against this setup, black can opt for a Grünfeld-like pawn structure or transition into King’s Indian Defense formations.

The Accelerated Fianchetto offers ample opportunities for both sides, leading to strategically interesting positions where knowledge of typical plans and pawn structures is essential.

Slav Defense

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Exchange Variation

The Exchange Variation of the Slav Defense is a straightforward option for white, arising after the moves

1.d4 d5

2.c4 c6

3.cxd5 cxd5.

The resulting simplified pawn structure often leads to symmetric positions that require precise play from both sides.

This variation is particularly well-suited for players seeking a solid and stable middlegame, where strategic planning and understanding pawn structures play a predominant role.

Alapin Variation

The Alapin Variation represents an alternative approach against the Slav Defense, characterized by the moves

1.d4 d5

2.c4 c6


By delaying the capture on d5, white opts for a more patient game plan that preserves more tension in the center.

This line offers a balance of strategic and tactical possibilities, with many transpositions into other openings, like the Semi-Slav, available to either side.

Chebanenko System

The Chebanenko System, also called the Chameleon Variation, is a flexible and slightly offbeat option for black within the Slav Defense, defined by the early move

1.d4 d5

2.c4 c6

3.Nf3 Nf6

4.Nc3 a6.

The a6-move is a multi-purpose waiting tool, aimed at discouraging white from advancing the b-pawn or capturing on d5 too soon.

Black’s unorthodox setup often prompts white to deviate from typical Slav Defense plans, leading to unique middlegame positions that require creativity and adaptability from both players.


Deciding on an opening as black

Selecting an appropriate chess opening as black requires careful consideration of one’s playing style and preferences.

Players need to assess their comfort level with sharp tactics, solid positional play, and overall desire for dynamic or stable middlegame positions.

Familiarizing oneself with various opening options helps develop a starting repertoire and ensures a thorough understanding of the ensuing middlegame plans.

Adapting to white’s moves

Flexibility and adaptability are key components to a successful opening strategy as black.

White often drives the opening direction, and black must be prepared to adjust tactics and plans accordingly.

Proactively responding to white’s moves and being prepared for novel opening ideas allows black to remain competitive and maintain a strong foundation for the middlegame.

Importance of continuous learning

Improving one’s chess performance and deepening understanding of the game involves a constant learning process.

Studying openings, analyzing games, and closely examining typical middlegame positions are essential steps to mastering the intricacies of chess.

Embracing the importance of continuous learning equips players with the knowledge and skills needed to excel and stay ahead of the ever-evolving world of chess.

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