Monday, August 15, 2005

Philidor Defense: When white doesn't play 3. d4

For better or worse, I have become a minor "expert" on the Philidor Defense. Probably for the sheer fact nobody else in their right mind plays it (except me), I am often asked about various nuances on it. The following move order was discussed the other night:

(1.e4 e5. 2. Nf3 d6. 3. Bc4) (Black to Move)

What is black's best move? Black's confusion is understandable. It is rare in the professional chess world (and thus in chess opening books) for white to play anything other than 3. d4 (here white has played 3. Bc4).

3. Bc4 is popular in amateur chess for the same reason the Napoleon and Patzer opening are. It is white brandishly putting pressure on the f7 pawn (red pawn above) hoping for a quick, easy win. After 4. Ng5 both the white knight and bishop are bearing down on the poor pawn. Amateur and blitz chess are all about such quick and sudden attacks. It is, thus, key for the Philidor practitioner to recognize this position (I guarantee you'll see it... almost as much as 3. d4 (the universally accepted "correct" move)).

(3. Bc4 Be7) (white to move)

By far, black's move is 3... Be7 (see blue piece above). It accomplishes two things that ultimately defeat white's plans to put pressure on the f7 pawn: 1) It prevents the white knight from going to g5 (blue "x" above) (at least for now); 2) It makes white's goal of castling king side one step closer. And as an added bonus: it activates black's dark bishop, the notorious character of the Philidor (usually it is horribly cramped up). With this position, white's advantage is largely minimal.

Diagree? Let me hear about it. I purposely put quotation
marks around my self-given "expert" title.


At 1:05 PM, Blogger DreadPirateJosh said...

So what are your results with the Philidor?

At 12:16 AM, Blogger BlueEyedRook said...

It treats me well... A little less than a 50% win rate, which for me (especially with black!) is not too bad).

At 3:07 AM, Anonymous J said...

I played the Philidor myself for awhile and encountered 3.Bc4 at least half the time. Its called the Steinitz variation, and is not weak or premature by any means. Its just not as good as 3.d4 ;)

I believe the main line runs 3... Be7 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.c3 c6
with a kind of closed maneuvering game. Just the kind you want if you're playing the Philidor.

At 4:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, it's Stevens here from Thought i'd post here instead of there as you're more likely to see it. I've begun playing the Philidor a lot as black recently but i play the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6.

Try it out, i've had good results with it so far.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger BlueEyedRook said...


The 4...g6 move you note is the "Larsen Variation" of the Philidor and is one of my favorites. I think most chess literature will agree (often even if the author's impression of the Philidor as a whole is low) that this is a very sharp, solid defense. I play it often and score well with it.


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