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?

  • 2
    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#)
    – Daniel
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 14:25
  • 1
    These traps are great in theory, but I hardly find one who falls for them nowadays
    – xaisoft
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 14:31
  • Yeah, I wouldn't go for it as White or fall for it as Black.
    – Daniel
    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!
    – Daniel
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 14:11

4 Answers 4


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?
    – xaisoft
    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 :)
    – Daniel
    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.
    – PeskyGnat
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 15:35

To complement Daniel's answer: Black often aims for the solid Hanham setup with Nf6, Nbd7and 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
  • 4
    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.

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