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I recently learned that this is a valid way for White to play for advantage against the Philidor:

[FEN ""]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Bb5 Bd7 6.Bxc6 Bxc6

According to the Lichess database, White has won 59% of games from this position, while Black has only won 34%. The Masters database also heavily favors White, with 31% White wins / 17% Black wins.

What are the ideas behind White's 4.Qxd4 move, and why does it have such a high winrate? What is White's motivation for violating principles like bringing out his queen very early / giving up the bishop pair?

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    What is your alternative to 4.Qxd4 that doesn't violate any princples? 4.Nxd4 violates principles by moving the same piece twice in the opening. – bof May 13 at 1:43
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    in the final position, the queen controls so many squares in the center. And importantly, cannot easilly be kicked away, so basically it exert's it's dominant influence into the game. – CognisMantis May 13 at 2:03
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    @bof There is no such principle as "don't move your piece twice" that applies here, since d4 forced Black to move the same pawn twice. You shouldn't think chess in those terms. – David May 13 at 6:38
  • These are wavy guidelines, not principles. By involving her Queen, White is obeying higher principles like initiative, forcing captures, rapid development, more advanced pawn center, and not retreating. Computers have taught us this is the best way to play. Your position is with White to move. Compare the Kingsides! Black can barely manage to harass the Queen even if he spent several moves. – BaseZen May 13 at 20:33
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The principle is to not bring out the queen too early when it can be easily attacked. In this situation there's no easy way for black to attack the queen on d4, so it's not too early. So instead of being a weakness, the queen in a central square is a huge strength.

A very similar phenomenon happens in the following line of the Scotch game where white develops the queen early and gets a +.6 edge and 43%/21% winrate on lichess.

 [FEN ""]
 1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6, 3.d4 exd4, 4. Nxd4 Nxd4 5.Qxd4
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  • In the line I showed though, the queen is attacked immediately and we end up giving away the bishop pair just to deal with the knight. Why is it worth doing this? – James Ko May 13 at 1:21
  • I mean that at the end of the line the queen is safe. As for losing the Bishop pair, that’s certainly a longterm weakness, but apparently the active queen, stronger center, easier development, and extra tempo compensate. – Noah Snyder May 13 at 1:43
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Well, why shouldn't it? It's a developping move that recaptures the pawn. "Don't move your queen early" is not really a "principle". The correct "principle" would be "activate your pieces better and faster than your opponent", which often involves some rules of thumb like "don't move your queen early" or "don't move the same piece several times", but some of those "derived rules" are broken in almost all major openings

White has a great spatial advantage, and a lead in development. His pieces have better squares to go to. A quick queenside castling followed by an e5 break could be a threat to deal with.

Anyway please note that 4.Qxd4 scores worse than 4.Nxd4 (ChessTempo's database), so (IF statistics are a valid way to judge it), it's not the best move in that position but rather just another reasonable way to answer 3...exd4?!. 4.Bc4 scores even better by the way!

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    4.Bc4 does not score better in the lichess masters db, in fact Black scores better than White there. And even in the lichess games database, looking at e.g. Blitz or longer, 2000 or stronger, once again Bc4 does not score better than the other two moves. There, Qxd4 does in fact score best, however, in the masters DB it is Nxd4 that scores best. – koedem May 13 at 7:06
  • I've chosen ChessTempo's database. With no filters, Bc4 is the best-scoring move. With 2200+ filters it's oddly 4.c3!?, but the sample is small – David May 13 at 7:10
  • I see. Might be worth adding to the answer since it's not clear from context and the OP mentioned using the lichess db. – koedem May 13 at 7:11
  • @koedem Probably. I'll add it. Anyway that's not the main focus of the answer, but rather the fact that some " opening principles" don't apply to most actual positions. – David May 13 at 7:12
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This position also arises from the Old Steinitz variation of the Ruy Lopez.

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 d6 4. d4 exd4 5. Qxd4

White has achieved the Ruy dream pawn structure and a space advantage. Likely followups are either c4 or Nc3 then Nd5. Black may give back the bishop-pair to eliminate the strong Knight.

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