I believe that 4 knights opening is the most popular opening, especially among average players. I play it a lot, that's why I want to analyse it. I'm an average player, so I hope you can help me.

Some people like to play 4 knights game like this

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5

But I don't like to exchange my bishop for a knight, early on, so I play something like

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d3 d6 5.Be2 Be7 6.O-O O-O

This is just an example where both player are trying to control the center, develop their minor pieces and castle. So you can think of any position, since most of the 4 knights game positions will most probably look a lot like that.

Both sides castled, now, how to continue without exchanging too much material? I'm just an average player, what I would do is

[FEN ""]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d3 d6 5.Be2 Be7 6.O-O O-O 7.d4 exd4 8.Nxd4 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 

That's what I would do but I don't like this position, black is going to chase my queen, which happened to me a lot of times, and I'll end up moving the queen, losing space tempo, space and advantage of being one move ahead. If black played c5 I'll have to bring back my queen, if Qc4 then Be6. Materials are equal, black gaining tempo while developing his pieces. And both sides lost too much material to open the position.

I don't see anyway to continue the game if white didn't play d4. And in many games you'll end up swapping queens too early in the game if the d file was open.

So is it possible to play the 4 knights opening without trading too much material in order to open the position? (I'm asking about black and white.)

  • Note that chess players use the term "losing material" and "sacrifice" to mean that they have lost more material than their opponent. As a bishop is worth about the same as a knight, chess players would call this "exchanging pieces" or "trading your bishop for a knight" rather than "losing material".
    – dfan
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 23:23
  • 1
    Also, in the final position you give above you have exchanged off one piece and one pawn and have more space and plenty of pieces left to attack with. Black doesn't have any particularly good moves to harass your queen with; playing ...c5 leaves his d6 pawn weak. You still have plenty of pieces, don't worry about the fact that you traded one of them.
    – dfan
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 23:25
  • @dfan the final position is an example, a lot of times, the d file will be opened and queens will be exchanged. and you're right I'll edit my question and use the term "exchange"
    – Lynob
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 23:33
  • 1
    Just play 4.d4. If he exchanges on d4 twice, your queen will be strongly placed in the center and it's not easy for him to chase it away without weakening himself. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 12:14
  • @Fischer - Checkout this great video by NM Dereque Kelley on the 4 Knights: chessopenings.com/four+knights
    – xaisoft
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 2:53

4 Answers 4


There isn't really anything wrong with what you show as an example in my opinion. White is in the superior position. Just because the queen is attacked once does not mean that you are going to lose a tempo. If Black moves c5 to attack your queen on d4 then that is a blunder in my opinion, and can be countered with qd3. In this position stockfish gives White a +0.64 advantage with 23 moves of depth. So I would say that you are on the right track. Continue to dominate that center, and then look towards exploiting Black's weak pawn on d6 by getting your f rook involved and developing your other bishop. Game on!


On move 4, d3 seems a little passive and a loss of a move if you are going to move the d-pawn to d4 anyway. Instead of imitating after 4. d3, black is better off playing d5 taking control of the centre and having more active play. If you want a more open position, play 4. d4, which transposes to variations of the Scotch.


You don't have to exchange the bishop for the knight even if you use the 4.Bb5. This position is very similar to the Ruy Lopez and you could easily reach the same position from the Ruy Lopez. One variation of the Ruy Lopez has the bishop back off to a4 if the a-pawn advances to threaten it.

You also have the option of Bc4 before d3, which keeps your bad bishop active and outside the pawn chain, if you don't want to move Bb5 at all. Also the d3 move seems too passive. d4 is more aggressive and would lead to an open position the way you want much more easily. It also doesn't hem in the white bishop even if you don't move the bishop first.


4.d3 is extremely passive and allows black at least equality after 4...d5. There's no reason to play d3 there since the e4 pawn is already defended. You're essentially wasting a move to block your own bishop.

You basically have four decent 4th moves.

  1. Bb5 is likely the strongest move. It overlaps with the Ruy Lopez which is considered one of the best openings in chess for white (although c3 is more typical than Nc3 in the Ruy). The downside it that it requires a deep understanding of positional play which is likely outside the understanding of most class players.

  2. g3 is the Glek system. This is probably more what you're looking for. It is somewhat passive but far less than than 4.d3. It's fairly respectable scoring 55.5% in the Lichess database (main line Ruy scores 55.0%) and doesn't have that much theory to learn. If you want something in the 4N that gives you good winning chances while avoiding early exchanges and without memorizing a lot of theory, this is it.

  3. Bc4 is the Italian 4 knights. It's probably playable but the very simple 4...Nxe4 is going to leave white in a difficult position to play that is highly tactical

  4. Be2 is also very passive but the Bishop serves a defensive function and white retains the option of playing d4 in one move. This is a little better than 4.d3

Two other options: 4: Nxe5 is a very strong gambit. Black can equalize but below master level it is very hard for black to play. 4. d4 is a Scotch-like opening but the main problem is there isn't really an an advantage to playing Nc3 before d4. You rule out some of white's best lines but don't gain anything in the process.

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