I like to play 1. e4, as I favor open and dynamic positions, and feel comfortable with most black responses, but I there are some openings I don't like, e.g. Sicilian or French. My aversion might be unreasonable, but I would like to know how to deal with this situation psychologically. Should I play e.g. 1. d4 instead in order to avoid these responses at all? Should I study these openings and try to overcome my aversion? Should I voluntarily use "drawish" lines like the exchange variation in French? Should I play unusual lines in order to throw the opponent out of the book (e.g. f4 in both openings)?

  • 1
    IMO, I find your comment that you favor dynamic positions and that you don't like playing against the Sicilian to be contradictory! I think you just have not found a good response to it that you enjoy. Take a look at the English Attack and the Yugoslav Attack for the Dragon variation. These are as exciting and dynamic as you can get. Jul 20, 2012 at 13:16
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    I do avoid 1. e4 in serious games because of such boring defenses as the French one. Dec 4, 2012 at 22:09

7 Answers 7


As Black, the Sicilian and French are my favorite defenses to 1. e4.

Both White and Black want to have the initiative. If Black plays these particular defenses, it is specifically with the intent of taking the initiative away from White.

The best mind set is to take the defensive and play "Black," but with an extra move. In this way, you will learn the advantage of having the first move.

The other way so to play these defenses as Black, and find out what problems he faces. In the French, the light squared bishop can easily become "bad," so if White trades the black squared bishops, and then your light squared bishop for a knight, White may have the advantage. In the Sicilian, Black risks getting overrun on the kingside, if his center-queenside play proves inadequate. These are issues he might not run into with the Ruy, or other defenses to 1. e4.

  • I'd upvote for finding out what problems they face if that didn't led too easily to both sides going for the draw. Dec 4, 2012 at 23:57

No matter what your first move will be, you will always run the risk to encounter some openings you don't like. It's the same with endgames. At example, I do hate mating with bishop and knight, but I had to do it once to win the game. Should I have avoided that endgame or agreed to an early draw instead, just because I don't like it (and because I forget half the time how to win this bloody endgame)? Avoidance is no option, sometimes you just have to endure unpleasantness. Never throw away a game by drawing early only because you don't like the opening.

Secondly, don't play something to "punish" your opponents because they played something you didn't like. Your opponents will always try to play something which is unpleasant to you, like attacking your king and mating you ;) If you like the exchange variation of the French, then by all means play it. But if you play it just to annoy your opponent ("hah, that will teach you to play the French ever again..."), think twice. You are playing to win the game, not to eradicate the love for the French opening in the world! Only ever choose a line because it suits your goal (like getting a good position, winning/drawing the game etc.).

My suggestion is to look into the reasons of your aversion. Don't you like the resulting positions? Ask yourself why. Is it because you don't understand them or because your play is not as good in them as in other positions? Then you found a spot worth of improvement! Is it because you don't like the kind of play resulting from such positions (like too many or too few open lines, etc)? Nearly every opening offers lines to steer the game into different kind of waters. Have a look at some games of your unpleasant openings, pick the ones you would have enjoyed most to have played and then look deeper into the lines/systems that the White player employed there. In the long run, you need to hone your skills even in areas you are not interested in. For some people it's those boring closed positions, the next one can't stand pawn endgames, etc., but to become better, you have to master those situations as well. And as soon as you do, you will begin to like those situations. So this is the way to go to avoid unpleasant situations: Make them pleasant to you because you can handle them.

That said, I must say that if you are really unhappy with the openings your play produces, changing your opening repertoire might be a terrible good idea, indeed. Just don't expect you can avoid playing unwanted openings that way. Every opening move can lead to openings you don't like.

  • I think I don't like the end positions: In French I end up with my pawn center and queen side attacked, in Sicilian I end up in a scrambled position and have difficulties to develop. In both cases I have problems to find a useful plan or the weak spots of my opponent (except the rare cases where I can launch a king side attack in French).
    – Landei
    May 7, 2012 at 9:26
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    @Landei this sounds like you should aim at getting a better understanding of the plans in those openings. Both the Sicilian and the French are rich of fascinating plans and goals - for both sides. How about browsing through a few books that introduce the general ideas of those openings without bogging you down with heavy theory? It will help you tremendeously in finding good plans for development and midgame, plus avoiding the strategic pitfalls your opponents will try to push you in.
    – Ray
    May 7, 2012 at 12:45

I agree with Ray. It seems you are facing some problems you can't solve in the positions resulting from the opening. I would suggest that you watch some games played by Grandmasters in the particular openings that you have problems in. And while you watch the game, try to guess the move the player is going to make. It is a good way to improve your overall chess skills as well. And if your aversion persists, it might mean that the variation you have chosen doesn't suit your playing style. If so, see games in other possible variations and choose the variation that results in positions comfortable to you.


Should I study these openings and try to overcome my aversion?

You should do this. Face your fears don't avoid them. But you have to be very careful here to understand what "study" means in this context. It does not mean memorization, it means understanding. Set yourself a task of finding out what is going on in the first three moves of these openings, then build your understanding from there.

Another approach is to increase your knowledge of strategy and middlegame, then no matter what openings are thrown your way you can be at ease knowing the game is always going to move into an area you are comfortable with.

If you are a beginner I would hazard a guess that the most efficient approach would be a combination of understanding just the first few moves of these openings then putting most of your effort toward middlegame study.


While you can't control the moves of your opponent, you can always pay him with the same coin by choosing a less common move in a variation started by him. That'll stress him out a bit too :-)


Steer the game into positions you like.

The exchange French is not drawish below master level. White can unbalance the position with c4. Plus, French players hate seeing the exchange as much as you hate seeing the French so there's a psychological advantage too.

The Alapin Sicilian leads to similar pawn structures but is extremely sound and very active for white. Engines love the Alapin.

The best advice though is to beat the openings you hate and in that way encourage the opponent to choose new openings.


From my (rated around 2200) experience, which might be useful to you...

I used to spend little time on studying opening theory and almost exclusively played the Kings Indian Attack for which you need to know virtually nothing. Playing the KID as black also helped.

Then at some point I decided to study some proper openings ... 1. e4 was my choice. Since there is an awful lot of opening theory to learn I chose a step by step approach: learning some openings in reasonable depth. Currently this entails: the Sicilian Najdorf, Dragon, Caro Kann, Ruy Lopez/Spanish. Still I haven't gotten around studying the French and all the other Sicilians.

In cases where I face the French or an unknown (to me) Sicilian I chicken out and switch to a KIA-type set up. So for instance a game could go 1. e4 e6 2. d3 d5 3. Nd2...

It is not great but works for me for the time being.

So my advise would be: yes, you should certainly study openings. Particularly the Sicilian if you like open tactical positions. For the time being you could consider a KIA setup or alternatively pick some easier to learn lines such as the French exchange variation.

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