What is a good opening system for black that leads to closed play against 1.e4?

E.G. - against 1.d4 I like to play the Slav & am looking into the Czech Benoni. I am looking for something similar against e4. I currently use the Caro-Kann, and briefly used the French, but am wanting to look at some other options.

In particular, an off-beat line that doesn't have a ton of theory would be nice.

Thanks in advance for your replies!

  • Confused by your use of "closed/positional"... you don't think they're the same, do you? Feb 21 '14 at 12:25

In principle, a "good" system that leads to a closed game is not possible to achieve unless the opponent co-operates in achieving a closed position.

You probably already know how White can achieve an open game with the French or Caro Kann or Alekhine or simple symmetrical king pawn openings.

  [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
  1. e4 e5 (1...e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. c4) (1...c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4)             
  (1... Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. d4 d6 5. exd6 )
  2. Nf3 (2... Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4) Nc6 3. d4
  (2. f4!?)

So I think your best bet would be those openings which do not move a pawn in the center very early on. The only "good" openings among those (regularly played by Grandmasters) would be the Pirc or Modern Defense.

The Modern Defense does tend to be an off-beat line (good for you since that's what you're looking for). It can often transpose into the Pirc. The general principles of the Modern and the Pirc are the same - develop the Bishop on the flank and counter in the center at a later stage. If White co-operates in closing the position, which usually happens if Black plays e5 followed by White's d5, then Black can counter with the f5 break.

      [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
      1. e4 g6
      2. d4 Bg7

This is the basic position of the Modern Defense. As you can see, this position can be reached even after 1. d4, so it's very flexible.

There are many different ways for White to continue in this position. Black's usual idea is to play d6 followed by a later e5, although there are games where Black has tried to break white's center with c6 and d5 or even c5.

Here, I give some sample lines which may lead to closed positions, including all three ideas of c5, d5 and e5. Note that even in these lines, White has the option to open the position, but it doesn't necessarily give White an advantage in doing so. In fact in many lines, White prefers to close the position to cramp Black for space.

   [FEN "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
   1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 (3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. Qe2 O-O 6. O-O c6 7. Bb3 Bg4
   8. Nbd2 e5) (3. c4 d6 (3... c5 4. d5 d6 5. Nc3 Nf6 6. Nf3 O-O 7. Be2 Bg4 8. O-O
   Nbd7 9. h3 Bxf3 10. Bxf3 a6) 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Be3 e5 6. d5 Nce7) 3... d6 (3... c6
   4. Nf3 d5 5. e5 Bg4 6. Bf4 Qb6) 4. Nf3 (4. f4 Nf6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Bd3 Na6 7. O-O
   c5 8. d5) (4. Be3 Nf6 5. Qd2 c6 6. f3 b5 7. g4 h5 8. g5 Nfd7 9. f4 Nb6 10. Nf3
    O-O) 4... c6 5. Be2 Nf6 6. O-O O-O 7. a4 Nbd7 8. h3 Qc7 9. Be3 b6 10. Qd2 Bb7
   11. Bh6 a6 12. Bxg7 Kxg7 13. Qe3 e5 *
  • I think the Philidor as suggested below would be better. I play the Modern/Pirc. There is a lot of theory possible, and to play the Modern, you should explore the Pirc theory to know when there are favorable transpositions. Many lines are very tactical, as you have to play actively as a Modern/Pirc player to avoid being smothered. In Particular, the Austrian Attack can blow wide open very early.
    – newshutz
    Feb 22 '14 at 18:41
  • In order to reach Philidor, you have to assume White avoids more aggressive options like King's Gambit or Vienna Gambit, and there is a lot of theory possible there too. Even in Philidor White has options to open up the position with 4. dxe5 or even with 5. g4!? in some cases. If Black wants closed positions, I still hold that Modern is the best bet against 1.e4.
    – Wes
    Feb 22 '14 at 19:13
  • The Modern ends up open in most lines of the Austrian Attack. The current Philidor move order starts with 1...d6, so the f2-f4 gambit lines are not really in play, but then you have to play some kind of Modern or universal 1...d6 lines after 2.f2-f4, anyway. There is no magic bullet.
    – newshutz
    Feb 24 '14 at 1:41

Another positional option is to play the Hanham variation of the Philidor Defense.

   [FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nbd7 5. Bc4 Be7 6. O-O O-O

Because of move order issues mentioned in my answer to this question, it might be better to reach this position with a move order like

   [FEN ""]
1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nbd7 4. Nf3 e5 5. Bc4 Be7 6. O-O O-O

This position, if you can reach it, can be played without much preparation. A common plan for black is to expand on the queenside with c6, a6, b5. Some experience is needed to pick up the nuances of this variation.


Almost any main line black defense can be made open if white does not want a closed game.

The only opening(s) I am aware of that are always closed (at least til the middle game) are those I know as hedgehogs with black moving no pawn past the 3rd rank and developing pieces on the second.

This is a very poor setup unless you are playing beginners as a good player will find a way to break through and win easily thanks to the space and development advantages.

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