I'm about 1800 FIDE and I wanted to incorporate e4 e5 to my repertoire as black, however, as soon as i started studying it, it became clear to me that its one of the most complex openings to prepare.

So can you guide me to the right approach in learning this opening? What are the best resources? Where can i learn the ideas instead of just memorizing lines? Do you have an tips regarding this opening? And who are the best practitioners or e4 e5?

much appreciated!

4 Answers 4


There are a lot of good resources on 1. e4 e5 lines. I would recommend you combine some study of an up-to-date theoretical work (Bologan's two books, Black Weapons, and Bologan's Ruy Lopez are very good, and all you would need for a long time) with going through some games. For example, if you want to get a good feel for where your pieces belong and typical maneuvering in closed Ruy Lopez positions, going through Karpov's games as Black in these lines can teach you a lot.

Ultimately, you are going to have to memorize some sharp lines. Many of the gambits played in the Romantic era in chess come after 1.e4 e5, and it is simply not possible to play these positions correctly without learning some theory. The good news is that Black usually has a number of sound options against White's sharper tries.

The big advantage of 1.e4 e5 over all other defenses to 1.e4 is that once you learn the various gambits and deviations (Scotch, Vienna, Ponziani, etc.), you have a choice among a large number of completely sound Ruy Lopez systems with Black, all of which are eminently playable, many of which are quite different from each other, and all of which give you chances to play for a win. This is why many of the top players use 1...e5 as their main defense to 1.e4. It is a great opening to choose for the long term, because if you get bored with one Ruy Lopez system you can just learn another.


One useful strategy of learning any opening, be it 1.e4 e5 or any other system, is to read books, study games and play games. Having said this, I would say that up until Elo 2300, opening theory is less important compared to skills in endgame and middlegame. If you want to get a good return on investment of your time, I would recommend studying Queen endgames, Rook endgames and all other endgames. As for openings, 1.e4 e5 is a massive opening system. There are other opening systems you could consider that will be easier to learn and use in practice. Since it seems that you do not have a routine in learning new opening systems, starting with 1.e4 e5 seems to be a risky choice.

  • 1
    Totally agree with you, I don't know when it comes to be useful but almost pretty sure that for less than 2000 rated players is just a gigantic work and gaining not much as one can gain by spending time on other aspects than opening. Lots of variations, tactical shots, positional and strategical understandings, ... it's just way too much different sort of patterns. Dec 14, 2015 at 14:59

The move 1 ..., e5 is the most popular answer to 1 e4 together with the Sicilian defence 1 ..., c5 and leads to as many different variations. If you decide to use it, you need to be prepared to meet:

  • the moves 2. d4 or 2. Bc4 (actually rare occurrences),

  • the King's gambit 2. f4,

  • the Vienna game 2. Nc3,

  • the natural 2. Nf3 that leads after 2 ..., Nc6 either to the Spanish 3. Bb5 or the Italian 3. Bc4 or the Scottish 3. d4 (not to mention some less popular continuations), all of them rich of different continuations and ideas.

In order to cut on the number of continuations that need to be "understood" (I don't like to use the term "memorized" as a mechanical memorization of moves is never useful in chess) you may choose variations that limit the number of white choices. E.g. after the King's gambit 1. e4 e5 2. f4 you may opt for 2. ..., d5 (which has also the advantage of likely annoying white) or 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6 (Philidor) or Nf6 (Russian) to avoid the vastness of the Spanish/Italian systems.

It is true that up to about master level the opening preparation is not so relevant as mastering middle- and endgames techniques, but moving in a known land is always better than navigating randomly, I think. Also remember that "it is always better to know well a not-so-good opening then to know not-so-well a good opening" (as a grandmaster once told me).

Anyway, in order to learn a vast and complex system of openings like those arising from 1 e4, e5 (or any other) one should

  • read books which care more about explaining plans and ideas than listing variations and analysis,

  • replay (grand)master games where the continuations of choice were employed, better if the games are commented by the player themselves or other valid GMs,

  • play, play, play.

  • You contradicted yourself a bit there -- playing the Russian (Petroff) completely eliminates your 4th bullet. That's the whole reason I play it. Most often transposing into the Four Knights, so you've got to know that one, but the Ruy Lopez is off the table if you want.
    – Jeff Y
    Dec 21, 2015 at 0:30
  • I don't see any contradiction. I said that the Russian allows to "avoid the vastness of The Spanish/Italian systems" which arise after 2 ..., Nc6 Dec 25, 2015 at 21:47

There are two main lines after 1. e4 e5. 2. Nf3.

The "easy" line is 2... Nf6 (Petroff's Defense), which leads to a symmetrical position.

The more complicated line is 2.... Nc6 (Ruy Lopez). It is the most common, and studied opening in chess, and if you want to rise above 1800, it will help to be at least "conversant" in it, if only to know what to avoid.

There are many variations; pick at least one or two and study it thoroughly, as former World Champion J.R. Capablanca did. There are many books and other resources on the Ruy.

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