Many openings that are mentioned online pander to the white pieces, this is mostly because white who will have an extra tempo, can take advantage of the position better than black. Most of black’s opening choice is for defensive purposes, this has led to a lack of information to the best openings for black.
This article however will go through all of that and list the best opening choices for black that have also been proven at the top level, something with history. If you are struggling with the black pieces then this list is for you, it will give you a better understanding on what opening works for the black pieces.
Keep on reading if you are interested.
Table of Contents
Sicilian Defense: Najdorf Variation
The Sicilian defense: Najdorf variation is probably the most popular chess opening at the top level, it is a solid opening that doesn’t give as many advantages for white. The most known expert in this opening is Maxime Vachier Lagrave, he utilizes the Najdorf to its maximum and has rarely lost games in this line.
Black may look like he’s gasping for straws since the black king’s development is further delayed with the a6 move, however this is only an illusion that could never be taken advantage of. The najdorf is a solid defense, even in elite games where computers have reigned supreme the najdorf is still well-accepted.
It is one the most popular since black can go for a relatively safe position or a dangerous one, this flexibility does allow players to adapt in any situation. One could play a safe game leading to a drawish endgame, or go for something aggressive yet still solid.
By playing a6 black is neutralizing the b5 threats from the two knights and the light-squared bishop, it could become tricky if the b5 square is not covered. Black also kinda waste a move to see how white would respond, this can make black even castle queenside if some weird variation had been played.
The only downside of this opening is it needs a tremendous amount of experience in order to be fully utilized, its theories can expand more than 12+ moves. Beginners might feel uncomfortable with these kinds of openings, however due to its flexibility and solidness, it is one of the best for black.
The Berlin defense is another popular opening for black in the top level, popularized by Vladimir Kramnik as he took down the mighty Kasparov with it without losing a single game. This line is basically an invitation to a quick endgame, there is forced variation that results in an equal endgame position.
It’s drawish nature is probably the main reason it has been popularized to the leagues of the elites, super grandmasters are looking for many ways to draw. It doesn’t allow much aggressiveness and quickly suppresses attacks, it is solid in that regard.
Another thing that is so attractive with this opening is the ease of use, even beginners can memorize the main line of the berlin. There isn’t much white can do to turn a berlin into a crazy game (although it is possible), expect the game to be “equalish”.
On the other hand black do have some counterplay if white don’t decide to go for the main line, it is the reason vladimir kramnik has taken down garry kasparov. It is best when used against aggressive players, the position can be simplified and broken down.
Queen’s Gambit Declined
The Queen’s gambit declined is also a popular opening at the top level, it is another solid opening that is the most favored reply against 1.d4. This opening doesn’t give a lot of advantages for white, although the downside is the light-squared bishop on c8 that is hard to develop.
For the same reason as with the other openings in this list, the queen’s gambit declined is favored for its solid pawn structure that can remain stable. It is hard to break down this opening, black have to play many bad moves in order for white to take advantage.
In fact it is white that can mess up big time since there are traps involving the bishop to b4 square, white can lose a whole piece if it is not played correctly. Overall it is a solid opening that is good for beginners, there are not a lot of opportunities to mess up and it can easily move to the middlegame.
King’s Indian Defense
The King’s Indian defense is not as popular in the super grandmaster league but is commonly seen in grandmaster games, black gives up the control of the center in this line. Though with a cramped space to work with, black is usually solid and can keep undermining the center for opportunities.
It is a hypermodern opening that sacrifices center control for early piece development, the king’s indian defense to be specific is a solid opening if played correctly. The downside is of course white can control the center, black will have a harder time maneuvering since there’s not a lot of space.
This is why some people do not play this line, the position becomes too cramped and moves are harder to identify. However there is a reason it is still played at the grandmaster level, it is a solid reply to 1.d4 while still allowing some chances.
It is played solidly for the most part, however there are instances where both black and white can have an aggressive game. One of the reasons to play this in the lower level is its unpopularity, most people do not study this line and can become inferior when facing it.
The Petroff/Petrov defense is an opening excessively played by Fabiano Caruana against Carlsen in their world chess championship, it leads to an equal position. In most lines of the petroff the position is open yet white cannot take advantage, a lot of people play it.
If you have noticed a pattern to the openings mentioned, they all have closed pawn structures that make the opening hard to break down. However the petroff is not one of those openings, it is a solid line that still gives the players open room to work with.
This is favorable for players who prefer engaging in open positions rather than in closed ones, there are more possibilities when there is more room to work with. Most of the lines in petroff would lead to an equal position, however if one of the sides do not play the correct moves they could easily be taken advantage.
Magnus Carlsen himself with the white pieces has been unable to convert a single game against Fabiano Caruana when Petroff is on the board, it is solid. Players so also want to head straight into an equal endgame can also play this line since it features variations that can lead to that
The French defense is an opening that has been thought to be dead (along with queen’s indian defense) because of the Alphazero vs. Stockfish match, however it is still quite effective. Although not as favored in elite play it is used to win many games played online, it is also quite simple to understand.
There are some who claim that the french defense is dead, however it still remains to be one of the most popular openings in online games. It may be dead in elite games where players have memorized computer lines, however it is still dangerous if not suppressed correctly.
There are many ways white could be in a worst position or even lose an entire piece while playing against the French, there are complications to be made in this line. The primary idea however is to pile up on the d4 square, this is usually a weak square for white.
If the one playing the white pieces is a beginner they are unlikely to even defend the d4 square and lose it, this one definitely makes white’s position collapse in just one turn. Even if they do manage to defend the d4 square there will be chances for the french to turn into another weapon, it is a flexible opening for black.
The Caro-kann defense is also a solid defense although not as played at the elite levels, black will have a center that is hard to break through in this line. The only downside is that black will have a slightly harder piece development, if you studied the lines this would not be a problem though.
The downside of this opening is the closed pawns structure, in this line it is hard to make room for any play and black’s moves will become predictable. It will be hard to break down for white, but it is also act as a supreme blockade for black, this makes it a double-edged pawn structure.
Another downside of this opening is the difficulty in developing the pieces, due to the nature of how the pawns are exactly placed, pieces are harder to develop. The bishop on f8 to be specific will take a lot to be developed since the knight has to come out first, making the development quite tricky
However if black can overcome this issue that it will be hard for white to push for anything, in fact this the reason why Mikhail Botvinnik had been undefeated for a long time. The caro-kann install some restrictions to the user but presents an impregnable in defense for the opposing side, it is quite good.
Sicilian Defense: Scheveningen Variation
The Sicilian defense: Scheveningen variation is also not as popular in the elite levels but is still played occasionally, black rushes to castle instead of playing the a6 move (najdorf). It is a solid opening although some people do not play it since complications can be made by white.
If you have noticed this is not that different from the sicilian najdorf with the only difference of the pawn being pushed e6 instead of pawn to a6, however it is quite different. Believe it or not this is a more dangerous variation of the sicilian since white can push for something immediately, which is why it is not as popular.
Despite of this it still remained to be one of the best opening for black, the reason being that pushing for a win will be risky for white as well. White can get an advantage by causing an early pawn storm to the kingside, however it can also backfire and hurt white’s position.
Most players would be too much of a chicken to make the game complicated and just castle kingside, in this case the scheveningen variation has completed its job. Once white has missed the chance to go for an aggressive play style then black can be considered safe, pretty solid in fact.
If white does play aggressively then the tip of the balance will be in disarray, any one of the two players can win due to the complications involved. If white has backed down from this challenge then it is pretty much a safe middlegame for black , something where everything is calm.
There are many great openings for black that had been provided in this case, the most prominent are the sicilian najdorf amd the berlin defense. If you are looking for a solid setup with some flexibility then you should choose between these two, these are great openings.
If you are the experimental type however it is not bad to go for the other openings mentioned, try it for yourself and see what works. Every individual is different and what might work for you can be different from the top 2, thank you for reading.