I've been playing chess for some time and I've studied lots of theory, but I don't know what to play against 1. d4. I'm searching for something with good chances for black but without much theory.

Note: If someone has some videos or theory on Chigorin that would work really fine.

  • 2
    The book about Chigorin defense I recommended in my answer is called The Chigorin Defense According to Morozevich. Good luck! Best regards. Jan 28, 2014 at 17:36
  • 3
    Choosing openings is like choosing shoes of different styles. They might all be the same number but only some will suit you! Dec 8, 2014 at 15:53
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    Curious that this question which is clearly complete nonsense still gets answers. But these can't be better, unfortunately.
    – Niels
    Mar 8, 2015 at 20:56
  • 1
    "I've studied lots of theory, but I don't know what to play against 1. d4..." I wonder, usually 1.d4 is the exactly just the second chapter of any chess book.
    – gented
    Dec 13, 2016 at 20:16

11 Answers 11


Unfortunately for you, there is no such opening.

You see, the problem with 1.d4 is that d pawn is protected from the very start, unlike his "colleague" e pawn. While it is possible to cut down on theory learning against 1.e4 by simply attacking the e pawn ( Alekhine's defense, Scandinavian defense, Petroff defense in a way ) thus forcing White's response, you can not use the same method against 1.d4 since the pawn is protected as I mentioned earlier.

So your only chance is to find an opening that has the least amount of theory to learn, but be warned--all good defenses against 1.d4 have lots of theory worked out to move 30 and sometimes beyond. Just because the number of branches is small does not mean that the sub-variations are short.

Yet another problem with 1.d4 and an important one--I use this all the time to quickly demolish opponents with weak opening knowledge--most of the good defenses to 1.d4 can be dodged by careful move order transposition!

Your problem is far more complex because of this. Currently Nimzo-Indian scores very well against 1.d4 but can be dodged if White plays 3.Nf3 instead of 3.Nc3. Then you are forced to adopt Queen's gambit declined or Queen's Indian defense and both of those openings give slight advantage to White, which severely reduces your chances to win.

King's Indian defense still holds but is prone to become "refuted" from time to time, only to be revived again with some great novelty. Still this defense, along with Queen's gambit declined does offer you one benefit other defenses do not:

White can not use transpositional tricks to kick you out of your opening!

You can play both openings against anything White throws at you, whether it is 1.c4/1.Nf3 or 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3/g3 or whatever. Still, if White is a weaker player he can exploit the King's Indian defense to exchange early and try to draw--he has good chances to fulfill this goal as things currently stand.

Queen's gambit declined is also immune to transpositions and has that benefit that its exchange variation is everything but a draw! It leads to some exciting positions and both opponents must know what they are doing. It is highly theoretical but the number of lines is fairly low. They are not razor-sharp but you need to know them or else you will be "smothered to death". Black usually parries White's threats first, and "shoots" later. Most of the time you get the king side attack but it usually draws. Queen's gambit declined lines without the exchange variation are also theoretical, but the number of lines is relatively small there as well.

If we compare King's Indian defense and Queen's gambit declined then KID gives you better winning chances compared to QGD, but you will benefit more as a player from playing QGD since its pawn structure can arise in many other openings ( Nimzo-Indian, Caro-Kann to name just a few ). Also, QGD lines have withstood the test of time while KID is always in some kind of crisis from time to time.

To make the choice between these two, you should see what type of pawn structures you play against 1.e4 and base your choice on that:

If you play Caro-Kann/French defense/Alekhine's defense... then go with the QGD, but if you play the Sicilian/Ruy Lopez/1...e5 in general then go for KID since the pawn structure is similar. That way you will shorten the amount of time you need to learn the opening and its middle-game.


[fen ""]

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6!? 3.g3!

and "bye bye" Chigorin! You will enter a Catalan if you are lucky or will get smashed by the pressure White's light squared bishop will exert on your center.

If you still need something on Chigorin defense seek games of A.Morozevich. I think he also wrote a book on the Chigorin defense as well-Google and you shall find it!

Still, be prepared to learn another opening as well just in case wHite "kicks you out" of Chigorin with the move order I posted above.


This is my Achilles heel as well, and this is what I did to solve it.

If you have questions leave a comment and I will reply.

Hopefully this answer will help you to solve your complex problem.

  • 7
    It should be noted that one big advantage of the "nimzo move order" 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 (intending to meet 3.Nc3 with 3... Bb4) 3.Nf3 d5 is that it dodges what is thought to be White's most dangerous setup in the QGD; the one with the bishop on g5 and the knights on c3 and e2. In fact, you'll find that everyone at the highest level of chess plays either that move order or 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7 with Black. Indeed the worst that can happen to Black with the nimzo move order that /s?he/ gets into the Lasker (D57) or Tartakower (D58) variations which are very solid - if unexiting.
    – kahen
    Jan 29, 2014 at 15:45
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    This move order has the further advantage that it gives Black the option to go 3... c5 against some White 3rd moves leading to a Benoni. A lot of players don't want to play the Benoni against 3.Nc3 due to the Taimanov attack (A67), but are perfectly happy to play it against 3.Nf3 or 3.g3.
    – kahen
    Jan 29, 2014 at 15:47
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    @kahen: All that is true, but I had to keep the post as brief as possible, and the information you stated can be found in most of the QGD repertoire books. Still, after Be7 you forgot to mention that White can try Bf4 instead of Bg5 but then again, this is also covered in repertoire books. If OP decides for QGD his toughest task would be to find a repertoire book that covers all the possibilities for both sides thoroughly and is up to date. All this discussion deserves a new thread, in my humble opinion. Best regards. Jan 29, 2014 at 17:08
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    "d pawn is protected from the very start :" this sounds funny, honestly ; in Nimzovitch's time people believed in such "deep" explanations, but now they don't. So from the start you more or less disqualify yourself, and the abuse of bold letters doesn't improve anything.
    – Niels
    Mar 8, 2015 at 21:08

If you want a variation that is rarely seen but still offers decent positions (depending on the strength of your opponent of course) you can try

[FEN ""]
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6

Yet, if you want good attacking chances, then you can try the Dutch system

[FEN ""]
1.d4 f5


[FEN ""]
1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5

The Dutch system does contain some theory. At the same time, it can help you land some nice knock-out blows to anyone who does not have a clue what is going on. For example

[FEN ""]
1.d4 f5 2.Bg5 h6 3.Bh4 c6 4.c4 Qa5+ 5.Nc3 g5 6.Bg3 f4

Notice how c7-c6 looks passive, yet Qa5+ has the point of vacating the d8-square for the black King, thus enabling g7-g5 without any Qd1-h5 checkmate tricks!

  • Thanks, i like chigorin defense though. You happen to have some theory on it? perhaps some videos or anything ?
    – Panzer
    Jan 28, 2014 at 17:09
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    Nope. But you should include this information in your question and you might get some nice suggestions!
    – user2001
    Jan 28, 2014 at 17:10

Problem with d-pawn openings is that you won't get away without learning substantial amount of theory.This goes true for every single line from systems like Stonewall and Colle to Queen's Indian Defense. I don't really know of a system which doesn't require the enormous amount theory generally associated with d-pawn openings. Chigorin has very little theory associated with it because it is a an unusual opening and its theory is not very well developed. Here are some suggestions:

Against 1.d4 d5 2.c4 you can try Albin Counter Gambit (ECO:D08–D09). This is an attempt get out of well developed theoretical lines of Queen's Gambit.(Morozevich is the only one who regularly this variation at Master level.)

[FEN ""]

1. d4 d5 2. c4  e5

If you like tactical positions and imbalances,you could try Modern Benoni(ECO:A60–A79)

[FEN ""]

1. d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6*

If you are looking for solid positional play,you could try Modern Defense(ECO:B06).(I would recommend this since you can use it against King pawn openings as well)

Note: It is actually categorised Under King Pawn openings.

[FEN ""]

1. d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7

My personal favorite against Queen's Gambit is Tarrasch Defense(ECO:D32–D34).

[FEN ""]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5

If any of above openings Doesn't seem appealing , you can try Dutch Defense(ECO:A80–A99).Hikaru Nakamura plays this opening a lot by the way.

[FEN "put your fen here but it's optional. You can leave this tag out"]

1. d4 f5 *

I do love King's Indian Defense. But I love smashing it as white(Again you will have to learn ridiculous a lot of theory here.)

Have fun.

A little edit: This is all assuming that you don't want to bolster the position up and go for a draw playing Slav Defense(ECO:D10–D19)(This doesn't help because you must learn almost the same amount of theory you have to learn to play Queen's Gambit Declined).


Of course, the answer is "that depends" :)

If you are less than expert strength, then you will unlikely play much theory, anyway. If you are expert strength and asking this question, congratulations, you have a lot of talent. I highly recommend against memorizing much opening theory until you are expert strength.

What you are likely looking for is an opening that is easy to understand the main ideas.

I would not recommend the Indian defenses. Only the old Indian is relatively easy to understand, but it runs out of gas as you get stronger. Only if you play the Philidor against 1.e4 is the old Indian a good choice.

The Rat 1.d4 d6 2.c4 e5 would be a good choice, but you have to be ready to play the Philidor, Pirc or Modern if your opponent plays 2.e4 (The Pirc and Modern are extremely hard to understand)

One good choice would be to play the Queen's Gambit Accepted (QGA). 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 White will get a central pawn majority, black will get development while white works to regain the pawn, and counterplay with a c7-c5 strike.

Another good choice would be the Queens Gambit Declined (QGD). 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 e6 Black will have a bad light square bishop, but after c7-c6 his position is very solid and hard to crack. Black will work to free his game with an eventual c6-c5 or e6-e5 break. White may free black's light squared bishop with the exchange varation (cxd5 exd5) in order to have more options.

I recommend the Slav with ...Bf5. The Slav threatens to turn the Queen's gambit into a real gambit, by supporting the d5xc4 capture with b7-b5. Black will use the time white spends in regaining the pawn by developing his pieces. A good starting book is "The Slav move by move" by Lakdawala

[FEN ""]
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 

White has to play 5.a4 to prevent b7-b5 holding on to the pawn. If white plays 3.Nc3 you should eventually consider transposing to the QGA with 3...dxc4, as this is a line in which white has a lot of problems.

[FEN "rnbqkb1r/pp2pppp/2p2n2/8/P1pP4/2N2N2/1P2PPPP/R1BQKB1R b KQkq a3 0 5"]

5...Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4

Black can either castle or play Nbd7 here. One needs to look out for white sacrificing his e-pawn for a kingside attack, but e3-e4 is usually diffused by Bg6 and declining the sacrifice. White has a central pawn majority and the space that goes with it, but black's light square bishop is in the game, and c6-c5 or e6-e5 pawn breaks can strike back at that center.

Playing the Slav will get you interesting games with chances for black, while providing you with lots of good learning experiences.


What is your rating? If it is 1800-2000 FIDE/ 1900-2100 USCF then the Chigorin is a great choice. The best book in my opinion is the misleadingly titled Play 1...Nc6 by Christoph Wisnewski (Scheerer) which recommends the Chigorin and 1...Nc6 against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 dealing with transpositional play from white (and 1.e4 Nc6). Quite a short book and should be easy to get hold of from Amazon. Good luck! For more info see this thread http://www.chesspub.com/cgi-bin/chess/YaBB.pl?num=1183569483/165


Actually, what has been written is incredibly misleading. There is a defense to 1. d4 that is forcing. It is 1...e5, The Englund Gambit. Mostly, this defense is played in blitz chess. However, if you know it backwards and forwards as Black, you will give White fits because White barely studies this defense and it can be quite sharp. The only book I've seen written in English is The Englund Gambit by Ken Smith (2360) and John Hall (2456). Just remember, you have to study this defense for it to be effective. If you don't, you'll find yourself trying to find complicated moves on your own, OTB.

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    e5 is forcing but it will not serve you permanently in the long run . May 10, 2017 at 6:58

Honestly I am surprised that after so many users comments that only KID,QGD,Catalan,Dutch and other defences have been mentioned but few have realised the Power of Semi Slav/Slav Defences .

Slav/Exchange Variation and Semi Slav (Botvinnik/Meran ) are the best counter attacking defences against d4 . Ok true they have huge lengths of theory but if you study them carefully you will find that Black has an mind boggling initiative and White has a hard task to keep Black at bay . You can study Kramnik/Kasparov/Anand games where you would find interesting games and you find yourself getting attracted to these Variations .

One more thing : You might need to learn some side-lines too as you cannot force them to limit in these openings .


I am a confirmed 1.e4 fan and have also found playing against 1.d4 as black somewhat of a challenge, probably because I so rarely ever play 1,d4 myself (though I do plan to learn the Colle at least and try and play more with 1.d4. I firmly believe it helps in your chess play if you can play openings with both colours!).

Anyway as I usually play 1....e6 against 1.e4 and play the French as Black, I usually play 1.....e6 against 1.d4. If I get lucky white may transpose to a French with 2.d4 but more likely he will play something else and most commonly 2.c4 and head to a Queeen's Gambit of some such!

So after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 I have been playing the English defence with 2...b6. This is quite rare I think and the English defence more usually occurs after 1.c4 (English opening), yet there is scope for transpositions here. I would recommend you try 1.....e6 against 1.d4 and try the English defence. There are lines you need to know in the English defence ie it can be played with or without f5 and you need to be aware of the English defence gambit (this can arise by transposition:1 d4 e6 2 c4 b6 3 e4 Bb7 4 Nc3 Bb4 5 f3 f5 6 ef Nh6!?).

Again after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Black can play 2...f5 and go for a Dutch opening (I'd recommend the Stonewall Dutch which I've recently looked at but not yet played a game with!).

Another interesting try after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 is the Keres defence with 2....Bb4+. I have dabbled with this and it is eminently playable as black (drawback maybe losing your good bishop as black early on).

However you go after 1.d4 e6 2.c4, you should be aware of the classic black defences against 1.d4 especially the Nimzo and BogoIndians (these positions can arise very easily from the Keres defence).

Really I doubt there is one "cure" for black playing against 1.d4. Classically the Kings Indian defence or the NimzoIndian defence have done well for black and you should at least be aware of them. My son (used to be a very strong as a junior player) played the Benko gambit when allowed to and I'd really like to try this myself as it leads to exciting games. I have also played the vonHennigSchara gambit and that is a great way to try bamboozle your opponents. I have also played the Budapest gambit and that is another fun way to play against 1.d4 but maybe these gambits are best in blitz play!

So to summarise: Playing against 1.d4 there are many choices but if you like playing the French defence as black, I'd recommend you play 1.d4 e6 and if the opponent 2.c4 then play 2...b6 and try the English defence but be prepared to be very flexible with it!

I hope that helps a little..and wish you good results against 1.d4. Enjoy :-)


My initial reply to d4 is Nf6, because it is "non-committal." (It prevents an immediate e4).

If White plays c4 next, you have several choices. You can play e6, opening a diagonal for the Black squared bishop, and preparing a Queen's Indian or Nimzo-Indian defense without committing to an early d5.

My favorite variation is g6 (Grünfeld), followed by the fianchetto on the third move. I can castle as early as the fourth move. This, plus the advantage of holding my pawns back, may cause White to overextend.


If you like the French as Black against e4, play the Queen's Gambit Declined against d4. It'll lead to similar pawn structures and the closed/semi-closed structures you like against the French.

One thing: watch out for the Exchange QGD. Unlike the French version, it is not the "boring" variation; in fact, the QGD Exchange is probably the critical line for White!


Guh. Theory - theory - theory - you throw that word around like it is a light blanket in a blizzard.

Play something you are comfortable with. If 'theory' you are trying to avoid, run away from the Nimzo-indian, Catalan, Slav, King's Indian.

What is your rating? Do you even know what opening 'theory' is? If you are not 2200+ then it's a moot discussion.

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