When defending against 1. e4, I'm a French Defense player. I enjoy the French Defense very much, and my win rate with it is fairly good. Lately, though, I've been wanting to explore new defenses, only to spice my game up (I'm getting bored of the typical positions that come out of the french, as wild as some of them may be).

I consider the french to be solid, yet not flexible. By this I mean that the usual French setups are hard to break and resilient, but offer little strategical freedom (this is, there are few logical strategical plans that actually fit the position). It is as if I'm playing all my games with the same two or three long-term plans, not because of lack of imagination, but because this are the plans that usually emerge as logical in the typical positions.

In opposition to this, I'm looking for a new defense that prioritizes flexibility above all, even if not as solid as the french. An opening that offers a wide variety of strategical ideas and creative play. The Sicilian is a candidate, but there are too many variations to learn and I'm not interested on it at the moment. I'm considering also the Pirc Defense, which I believe to be also flexible enough.

Can anyone recommend a flexible defense against 1. e4? Comments on the mere ideas of flexibility/solidity in the defensive setup are welcome too, as of course these relates to the actual question.

  • 2
    I am actually in the same boat as you. I'm a French player but branching out. Idk what level you are playing at but you may want to look at some of the 2. ...e6 Sicilian lines. The Taimanov and Paulsen/Kan are very dynamic and fascinating (and will not be THAT unfamiliar if you play the French).
    – rougon
    Feb 17, 2020 at 4:17
  • 7
    To be frank, your question is not logical: You want a flexible opening with a wide variety of strategic plans, yet the Sicilian requires you to learn too many variations? The fact is that if you want that much variety, it will require many different variations, and the Sicilian is perfect. The same thing for 1.e4 e5, which also leads to many different positions, but there is so much theory. Maybe you should just add another opening like the Caro. Feb 17, 2020 at 4:25
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    Let's face it, there are only four solid choices against 1.e4: 1...e5, 1...c5, 1...c6, and 1...e6. All the rest are questionable as far as I am concerned, so pick one. If you want variety, you are going to have to learn a lot. Feb 17, 2020 at 4:25
  • 1
    @lafinur From your description, the Caro might indeed not be that fitting, although it's really playable and sound as a system, so I'd still give it a try. And why not give a fair share of try to the Pirc, and to get started and develop a feel for its underlying ideas I definitely recommend watching the Seirawan lecture on it (a true expert of the Pirc). Do bear in mind that both these system can have strange learning curves, so make sure to balance study and practice to develop a real feel for them.
    – Ellie
    Feb 17, 2020 at 16:51
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    It was actually that lecture which made me consider the Pirc! Thanks for the great insight, @Phonon!
    – lafinur
    Feb 17, 2020 at 17:15

4 Answers 4


It sounds like you are drawn to the pirc so try it out and see. The pirc/modern is very flexible and if you play the king's indian that you can transpose into that if White plays c4 to make a universal system.

I like the fluidity of being able to see how my opponent sets up first and then respond. I like the dynamic potential. Rather than backward black's position feels like a "coiled spring" ready to lash out. I haven't been blown off the board with e2-e4-e5 and h2-h4-h5 in a while so I think I am getting the hang of the direct assault lines.

  • Thanks for the answer, Michael. The possible transposition into a King's Indian makes it even more interesting!
    – lafinur
    Feb 17, 2020 at 15:30

I recommend e6 Sicilians. You could even use the move order 1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5. There are a lot of transpositional possibilities. If you look at some great player who played the French a lot, see what other defense they used; Petrosian for example.

It is important to have some Sicilian understanding and if you are in a must win situation against a White player who wants a draw then the Sicilian is a must.

What you play against d4 openings could also steer your choice. For example, if you play the King's Indian Defense, then Pirc/Modern lines could have some knowledge overlap. If you play the Slav, then the Caro-Khan makes since...

Another important element is what will you enjoy studying. Personally I played the Najdorf Sicilian exclusively for a long time, but I loved Tiger's Modern (a repertoire book by Tiger Hillarp Persson) so much I adopted the Modern (There is a newer edition called The Modern Tiger).

here is a recent book with good reviews for you: The Sicilian Taimanov (Grandmaster Repertoire) by Antonios Pavlidis | Sep 7, 2019

  • An excellent answer to my questions, thank you very much for your insight and the book recommendation, I will definitely check it out. You made good favoring the Sicilian too, so I'm starting to consider it. Thanks!
    – lafinur
    Feb 17, 2020 at 21:53
  • This is a great answer. I highly recommend Tiger's books as well. The first book is a classic I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys chess books. The second book is expanded and more up-to-date. Before I played the KID/pirc/modern I played the Slav/Caro but found it harder to play for a win from a caro then the pirc. Probably I never understood the caro well enough. Feb 17, 2020 at 23:21

I see your point clearly and I was once in your place as well in deciding the right opening for me. I would hate to choose the character of the position over objectivity. There are only 4 objectively sound replies to 1. e4. Those being 1...e5, 1...e6, 1...c5, and 1...c6. All the others are in theory suboptimal. I would say that the best way to get a flexible position is to not contest the center with the pawns and the most extreme version of this is the Hippo(Not the best choice). If you got good results with the french you should also with the Caro-Kann and it's a little more flexible. Remember to choose objectivity over character.

  • Thanks SubhanKhan, I suppose what you say about flexibility comming up from the hipermodern approach of not contesting the center with pawns, but rather with the pieces, is true, since you are not making any pawn-structure compromises early on in the game. Thank you for the good insight!
    – lafinur
    Feb 17, 2020 at 15:31
  • "There are only 4 objectively sound replies to 1. e4. Those being 1...e5, 1...e6, 1...c5, and 1...c6" - Can you tell me how the Pirc, Modern, Alekhine, Scandanavian and Nimzovich have been refuted?
    – Ian Bush
    Feb 17, 2020 at 16:38
  • @Ian Bush can you then tell me why the Pirc, Modern, Alekhine, Scandanavian, and Nimzowich aren't played at the top level? They, of course, haven't been refuted, but they are suboptimal.
    – SubhanKhan
    Feb 17, 2020 at 23:15
  • Quoting James Vigus FM in The Pirc in Black and White: "In elite all-play-all tournaments in which a draw with Black is a good result, the Pirc - like the Scandinavian or Alekhine defence - is not a good percentage choice" "There is in reality one set of theory for super-GMs, and another for everyone else" Also Ponomariov "The Pirc was one of my main openings ... especially when I had to win not only with White but also WITH BLACK" (Empasis mine). If a good result is a draw the Pirc is not the best choice. But in a Swiss where Black wins are needed it is fine. For most this is more relevant.
    – Ian Bush
    Feb 18, 2020 at 16:02

You want too much.

Either play d6 or the sicilian. Else just play e5 when they play e4.

in spite of erroneous claims e5 is as solid a defense as any other first move and it gives you those different positions you say you prefer over the limited french strategy type positions.

  • Hard to understand what you mean by me "wanting too much". And you talk as if d6, the sicilian and e5 are the only truly considerable alternatives, which might be an overstatement. But yes, of course e5 is as solid as any other good defense, I'm considering it. Thanks.
    – lafinur
    Feb 17, 2020 at 15:29
  • What is wanted is not possible. You cant have flexibility without having many variations. d6 e5 and sicilian are the best options if you do not like the french limitations. Feb 17, 2020 at 15:55
  • I'm okay with many variations, I don't have a problem with that. It's only the sicilian that goes a little bit beyond "many variations", it's a whole world.
    – lafinur
    Feb 17, 2020 at 16:24
  • true that has a LOT of them but so does 1...e5 Feb 17, 2020 at 16:44

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