What's the best Knight move for White against this variation (loved by beginners) in the Philidor Defense?

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 c5
  • 3
    Nf3 if you have to move the knight feels right, b3 and b5 give black some kind of target, e2 is passive and f5 immediately looks just plain bad after Bxf5. But why not Bb5+, swap the bishops off and then get the knight into f5?
    – Ian Bush
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 14:18
  • Isn't Bg4, possibly followed by Nc6-e5, rather strong against Nf3? I prefer the Bb5+ and Nf5 idea. Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 14:44
  • Against Bg4 I would have thought simply h3, and if she takes take back with the queen with threats against b7 and f7 (e.g. follow up with Bc4, Qb3) and also keeping pressure against d5 so in turn helping to keep the d pawn backward. But I haven't really thought what to do if she doesn't take ...
    – Ian Bush
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 15:02

2 Answers 2


As Ian Bush already mentioned in a comment, 5.Bb5+ is arguably the strongest reply. After 5....Nd7 6.Nf5 or 5....Bd7 6.Bxd7+ Qxd7 7.Nf5, black has some serious problems with the weak pawn on d6 and square d5. Note that there are some similarities with a line in the Sicilian: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 5.Bb5+.

Other moves are less convincing. After 5.Nf5 Nf6 or 5.Nb5 a6 6.N5c3 Nf6, black is probably fine. 5.Nf3 is not a bad move, but it doesn't take advantage of black's weaknesses.

      [FEN ""]
      [StartPly "1"]

      1.e4 (1...c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 5.Bb5+) e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 c5 5.Bb5+ (5.Nf5 Nf6) (5.Nb5 a6 6.N5c3 Nf6) (5.Nf3) Bd7 (5...Nd7 6.Nf5) 6.Bxd7+ Qxd7 7.Nf5


I'm not sure if it's the best objective move but Nf3 followed by c4 seems pretty crushing to me. Black has a backward pawn on a semi-open file with no realistic way to advance it.

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