# How should I play against the Philidor defense?

As white, I often encounter the Philidor Defense by black:

``````[FEN ""]

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 d6
``````

I usually play `Nc3` or `d4` on the next move, but is this the best move? What are some lines (advantages or disadvantages) against the Philidor?

• Reminds one of the Légal Trap - 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 d6 4. Nc3 Bg4 5. h3 Bh5 6. Nxe5 Bxd1 Bxf7+ Ke7 7. Nd5#) Commented May 9, 2012 at 14:25
• These traps are great in theory, but I hardly find one who falls for them nowadays Commented May 9, 2012 at 14:31
• Yeah, I wouldn't go for it as White or fall for it as Black. Commented May 9, 2012 at 14:40
• @Danielδ could you update your comment? The second and third moves for black are the same(d6) Commented May 17, 2012 at 6:56
• Oops... should be `2. ... Nc6` Sorry! Commented May 17, 2012 at 14:11

`3. d4` is the usual move after `1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6`. Chess Opening Theory states that it is probably the best move, and also concedes `3. Bc4`:

The best move is probably `3. d4`. White threatens a queen exchange with `dxe5 dxe5 Qxd8+ Kxd8` and Black can forget about castling. It puts pressure on the center and the Black fortress may collapse at any time.

Another possibility is `3. Bc4` leading to a more positional game, playable for both camps.

Fred Reinfeld suggests the following line (exclamation marks are his) as in this game. White maintains a sharp edge:

``````[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4. Qxd4! Nc6 5. Bb5! Bd7 6. Bxc6 Bxc6 7. Nc3 Nf6 8. Bg5 Be7 9. O-O-O
``````

A good resource to study would be shredderchess.com's opening database.

• Daniel, thanks for the great insight. By the way, what did you use to make your image? Commented May 9, 2012 at 15:00
• I'm a free member of chess.com. What I did here was go to the chessgames.com game I linked above, view the PGN, copy it, go to chess.com forums and opened a new post, clicked on the "Insert position" icon, and copied the PGN file into the popup. Then I clicked through to move 9 and took a screenshot, saved it, and uploaded it. Too complicated :) Commented May 9, 2012 at 15:08
• Yeah, having some way to do this automatically while adding content here would be awesome. Even if it required typing/pasting in PGN or FEN. Commented May 9, 2012 at 15:21
• chessvideos.tv/chess-diagram-generator.php also works well for creating diagrams - you can setup a position or paste a FEN string. For pgn, try the Game Replayer
– Andrew
Commented May 9, 2012 at 15:29
• The Reinfeld reference is a bit outdated, I believe current praxis is not to play 4...Nc6 but 4...a6. Instead of 4. Qxd4, 4. Nxd4 is preferred. Commented May 9, 2012 at 15:35

To complement Daniel's answer: Black often aims for the solid Hanham setup with `Nf6`, `Nbd7`and `Be7` without surrendering the center. The problem is to find a suitable move order from the position

``````   [FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4
``````

If black plays `3...Nf6`, then white gets pressure and a solid plus after `4.dxe5 Nxe4 5.Qd5!`

``````   [FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.dxe5 Nxe4 5.Qd5!
``````

Black can try `3...Nd7` first, but then the problem is to find a good move after `4.Bc4`.

``````   [FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nd7 4.Bc4 (4...c6 5.O-O Be7 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Ng5! Bxg5 8.Qh5) (4...Be7 5.dxe5! Nxe5 (5...dxe5 6.Qd5) 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Qh5) (4...Ngf6 5.Ng5) 4...
``````

`4... Ngf6` loses because of `5.Ng5`.

`4...Be7` is bad due to the less obvious `5.dxe5! Nxe5 (5...dxe5 6.Qd5) 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Qh5`

`4...c6` is probably best, but loses the bishop pair after `5.O-O Be7 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Ng5! Bxg5 8.Qh5`

The best way to reach the Hanham is probably with the radically different move order `1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7`, although white then has the option of exchanging into a slightly better endgame with `4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8 Kxd8`.

``````     [FEN ""]
1. e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 (4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8 Kxd8) Nbd7
``````
• Another move order that's close to your last one (and my preference when I occasionally play the Philidor): `1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nbd7 4.Nf3 e5`. This avoids the quick endgame possibility in your `3.Nc3 e5` line; of course it gives White options like `4.f4`, but I've always liked the positions that then arise after `4...e5` myself.
– ETD
Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 3:55

Against the Philidor you might experiment with a line I developed myself (don't know how good it is), but if they surrender the center (i.e. exd4), then I develop a setup where I fianchetto the dark-squared bishop on b2, play f3 at some early point (with perhaps a later f4). I usually stick the other bishop on d3 then if they chop it with a knight I take back with the c-pawn, getting a better center than Black at the cost of bishop vs. knight. I usually can start up some sort of middlegame kingside pawn majority attack as a result of all this and create mate threats by Qe1-g3 along with the bishop at b2. It seems to work fairly well but I'm sure some IM/GM could refute the whole thing. Not like we regularly play against those guys though. :)

• I'm no grandmaster nor IM, I'm just a player at a rating of 2140. The idea about taking the bishop to b2 is very interesting although, it looks unnatural for Black, to accept this kind of play. It is however a bit sad, that you have not shown us a few moves, so we know how you get the bishop to b2. Anyway: `1. e4 - e5.2.Nf3 - d6.3.d4 - exd4.4.Nxd4 - Nf6.5.f3 - d5.6.e5 - Nfd7.7.f4 - Nc6.` and it seems to me that White doesn't have the time to play your idea, but most go for: `8.Be3 - Nxd4.9.Bxd4 - c5.10.Bf2 - Qa5+.11.c3 - ...` This has been known for a few years now as OK for both sides, althou
– user2587
Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 2:22
• P.s. If you do not like the Phillidore defence ( or think that Black my play it, and you dont know it very well ) you can also try to "force" Black to play a nother line via: 1. e4 - e5. and now: 2. d4 - ... This move stops the phillidore as : 2. d4 - d6 can be replay with : 3. dxe5 - dxe5 and now .4.Qxd8+ so Black may replay with either: 2. Nc6 or 2. ... - exd4. And now White have the opportunity, to get the game in to a normaly Ryo Lopez via: 3.Nf3 - Nc6.4.Bb5 - ... or scotch gambit or classisk main line.
– user2587
Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 2:33

I've always played Morphy's lines. Yes, Nxd4 is probably a little better positionally but Qxd4 leads to a maze of tactics and traps that black probably isn't prepared for.