There are some situations in chess where a pawn push in the center is the most played move, and also the one suggested by engines. However this is not done for winning material, but just for trading pawns. One such example arises from the Philidor Defense:

rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3

3. d4 is the move I'm talking about, and the game after that move usually continues like in the PGN above.
I don't fully understand the advantages that White gains by exchanging its d-pawn for Black's e-pawn, ending in the position shown above. They are both central pawns controlling central squares. Can someone tell me some insight or considerations I'm probably missing?

  • 1
    White is the sole controller of the d4 square. Not to mention his strong grip on d5 square as well. A Nc6 will not contest that square because after Nxd4 Qxd4 that square is still white's. Black's other possible target in center could be the e4 square. (Notice I am talking about squares here not pawns or pieces). But e4 can easily be protected and over-protected: Re1, and even Bd3 if things get that far. Black's d5 push will be more difficult as white can soon develop pieces and put a rook on d1. On some openings W fights so hard to have such a control on d4 and here she has got it!
    – user13438
    Mar 13, 2022 at 9:51

3 Answers 3


The main ideas behind d4 serve several purposes.

  1. It threatens dxe5 winning material.
  2. It opens up your pieces, like the Bc1, in particular.
  3. It gains space since the trade on d4 leaves white with a pawn that is more central than black's d6 pawn.
  4. And probably most important, and this is typical of many double-king-pawn openings, and that is that it is easier to inhibit black from playing the freeing d5 move. If he manages that move soon, he has generally solved all his opening problems, and the two center files will open up, and the major (heavy) pieces will be traded.

Warning: I am only 1800 rated in lichess.

I believe one reason for playing 3.d4 is that after the exchange on d4. White has a majority of pawns in the kingside which is one of the reasons to later mount an attack on the kingside.

If Black tries to hold on to the square d5 with Nc6(Nd7), White can then play Bb5 putting under attack once again the d5 pawn. Then, Black is probably more or less forced to exchange on d4 as defending the d5 pawn with Qe7 looks bad for Black. The black-coloured bishop has bad prospects and even after fianchettoing, White could probably close the center with d5 and then it is claear it will be hard for Black to activate its bishop.


White has for sure achieved various advantages:

  1. The white knight at d4 is well centred
  2. Black's pawn at d6 blocks the bishop on f8 from developing
  3. Black will probably complete development by putting bishop on e7, knight from b8 to d7 and castling, which is a solid but cramped position for a long time
  4. From a practical standpoint white's position is easier to play. Plans are easier to find. White could castle either king or queenside, or could eventually look at playing f4 with an e5 central crush through. In a tournament game with a clock running white would have a nice practical position and black has to find a plan somewhere

For all the above white playing d4 and letting the pawns exchange [d pawn for e pawn] is all worth it for white. It was the cramped, unambitious move 2...d6 that made it worth it for white.

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