Alekhine’s Defense

Alekhine’s Defense – 1. e5 Nf6 (Theory, Variations & Strategy)

Among the many defenses in chess, Alekhine’s Defense holds a unique spot.

This defense, named after the former World Chess Champion Alexander Alekhine, is an audacious and hypermodern opening that draws the opponent’s pawns forward, setting up the stage for a counter-attack.

Move Order of Alekhine’s Defense

In Alekhine’s Defense, the game begins with the moves 1. e4 Nf6.

Alekhine’s Defense
1. e4 Nf6

Here, Black deliberately allows White to advance their central pawns in order to subsequently challenge them.

This approach fundamentally shifts the game from traditional symmetrical openings, and as the game progresses, White’s pawn center often grows to include pawns on c4, d4, e5, and f4.

The underlying strategy of Alekhine’s Defense is hypermodern in nature. Black tempts White’s pawns forward to form a broad pawn center, with plans to undermine and attack the white structure later in the game.

Since opening immediately loses any sense of symmetry or balance, making it a good choice for aggressive fighting players.

Theory, Strategy and Purpose of Alekhine’s Defense

The core strategy of Alekhine’s Defense is one of provocative hypermodern defense.

By encouraging White to overextend their pawn structure, Black aims to undermine and attack this overextended center later on in the game.

The approach breaks away from traditional openings that emphasize the immediate occupation of the center.

Rather, it focuses on controlling the center from a distance and then aiming to break down the opponent’s central control.

Variations of Alekhine’s Defense

Alekhine’s Defense features several noteworthy variations.

The Encyclopedia of Chess Openings classifies these into four codes: B02 through B05. B02 represents the initial moves of the defense, 1.e4 Nf6.

The subsequent codes denote different variations.

B03, for example, includes the Exchange Variation and the Four Pawns Attack and begins with 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4.

B04 represents the Modern Variation without 4…Bg4, starting with 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3.

Finally, B05 represents the Modern Variation with 4…Bg4, beginning with 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 Bg4.

Each of these variations offers unique tactical opportunities for both Black and White.

In Alekhine’s Defense, Black intentionally allows White to create a broad pawn center in the belief that this formation can be attacked and dismantled in the middlegame.

Main line of Alekhine’s Defense: 2.e5 Nd5

The main line involves White aggressively pushing their central pawns forward and launching their pieces.

Two main sub-variations include the Exchange Variation and the Four Pawns Attack.

Exchange Variation: 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6

In the Exchange Variation, White seeks a more modest spatial advantage and attempts to simplify the game.

Black has different options to recapture the pawn on d6, with each option leading to different kinds of positions and game plans.

For instance, 5…exd6 leads to more solid positions, while 5…cxd6 allows Black to aim for more dynamic counterplay with a preponderance of central pawns.

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb4 5. exd6

Four Pawns Attack: 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4

In the Four Pawns Attack, White tries to gain a large spatial advantage and put Black under immediate pressure.

Black, on the other hand, seeks to undermine White’s overstretched center and capitalize on any weaknesses.

Black has multiple viable moves such as …dxe5, …g5 (the sharp Planinc Variation), and …Bg4, aiming to challenge and break down White’s formidable pawn center.

Four Pawns Attack: 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4
Four Pawns Attack: 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4

Minor Variations

Minor variations include O’Sullivan’s Gambit and the Balogh Variation.

In O’Sullivan’s Gambit, Black hopes to take advantage of White’s intention to gain space and control, while in the Balogh Variation, White refrains from pushing the f-pawn and focuses on piece development.

Voronezh Variation

An important sub-variation of the Exchange Variation is the Voronezh Variation, where White delays kingside development to counter Black’s undermining strategies.

This variation can lead to complex middlegame positions with intricate strategic and tactical battles.

Overall, Alekhine’s Defense offers rich strategic and tactical opportunities for both sides.

Black can exploit White’s ambitious center and aim for counterplay, while White can secure a solid spatial advantage and develop their pieces harmoniously to launch an effective middlegame attack.

It’s important for both players to be well-prepared and to understand the common themes and ideas associated with this opening.

Modern Variation: 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3

The Modern Variation of Alekhine’s Defense is a strategy that develops the knight to f3 instead of c4, emphasizing a slower, more solid, but somewhat less ambitious approach.

Depending on how Black responds, this can lead to a variety of different game structures.

  • 4…Bg4 is a common response from Black, looking to pin the knight and potentially trade off White’s knight, which is a key defender of the center.
  • 4…g6 is another frequent response, preparing to fianchetto the bishop to control the center and oppose White’s pawn setup.
  • 4…dxe5 is a more aggressive line, named the Larsen Variation, aiming to eliminate the advanced pawn and challenge the knight that captures on e5.
  • 4…c6 is a passive but sturdy response, creating a difficult-to-attack position.

Balogh Variation: 3.d4 d6 4.Bc4

In the Balogh Variation, White opts for a somewhat offbeat but still popular line.

The idea is to apply immediate pressure on the f7 pawn and create opportunities for a quick attack.

However, it can contain some traps for the unprepared player, especially if Black plays 4…dxe5 5.dxe5 Nb6??, leading to losing the queen after 6.Bxf7+.

Two Pawns Attack: 3.c4 Nb6 4.c5

The Two Pawns Attack, or the Lasker Attack or Chase Variation, is an aggressive variation where White advances the pawns on the c and e files, attempting to grab space early on.

However, it can potentially cost White a pawn and leaves the d5-square weak.

The game character in this variation is typically more strategic than in the Four Pawns Attack.

Black’s usual response is 4…Nd5, after which the knight can be challenged by White’s Bc4 and Nc3.

Black can then play …c6 or …e6 to support the knight and later challenge White’s advanced pawns with moves like …d6 and …b6.

Two Knights Variation: 3.Nc3

The Two Knights Variation is another common response to Alekhine’s Defense.

It introduces an element of imbalance early in the game as it willingly accepts potential doubled pawns after 3…Nxc3.

White has two main ways of recapturing:

  • 4.dxc3 provides rapid piece development, but can lead to a somewhat dry position if Black plays carefully. Nevertheless, poor defensive moves from Black can allow White to take advantage quickly, such as in the line 5.Bc4 dxe5?? 6.Bxf7+!, winning the queen.
  • 4.bxc3 results in a large central pawn formation for White, which can serve as the basis for a kingside attack. This structure bears some similarity to the Winawer variation of the French Defense.

Minor sidelines after 2.e5 Nd5

There are several less-common lines that can also arise after 2.e5 Nd5.

For example:

  • 3.d4 d6 4.Bg5, as played in the game Endre Steiner–Alexander Alekhine, can lead to an early confrontation in the center of the board. After 4…h6 5.Bh4 dxe5 6.dxe5 Bf5, Black can follow up with …Nc6 and …Ndb4, targeting the c2 pawn.
  • 3.d4 d6 4.Be2 is a more subtle line. The bishop move prevents Black from pinning the knight with …Bg4, while also preparing for a potential f2–f4 pawn advance.
  • 3.c4 Nb6 4.a4, known as the Emory Tate line, is a more ambitious approach from White, aiming to chase away the black knight and disrupt Black’s development. This line, however, is double-edged and can backfire if not handled correctly.

Alternatives to 2…Nd5

After 2.e5, the most common response is 2…Nd5, but there are a couple of other knight moves that are playable, though less common:

  • 2…Ng8, named the “Brooklyn Defence” by GM Joel Benjamin, brings the knight back to its original square. Though it appears to waste time, it is surprisingly solid and White has only a small advantage according to theory.
  • 2…Ne4, is a dubious choice, often leading to an advantage for White after a series of well-coordinated moves. John L. Watson and Eric Schiller amusingly dub this the “Mokele Mbembe” variation. The line goes 3.d4 f6 4.Bd3 d5 5.f3 Ng5 6.Bxg5 fxg5 7.f4! g6! 8.Nf3! g4 and then after a series of tactical blows, White usually ends up with a winning advantage.

2. Nc3 Version of Alekhine’s Defense

The 2.Nc3 variation in the Alekhine’s Defense offers an interesting alternative to the main line 2.e5, allowing White to defend the e4-pawn directly and to avoid theoretical battles that Black players may be more familiar with.

If Black decides to play 2…e5, the game can transpose into the Vienna Game or the Four Knights Game, which are both well-established openings with plenty of theory.

Black can also choose to play 2…d6, which usually leads to the Pirc Defence.

The independent Alekhine line is 2…d5, also known as the Scandinavian Variation. After 2…d5, 3.exd5 Nxd5 4.Bc4, Black has multiple playable responses:

  • 4…Nb6 or 4…Nxc3 can lead to a roughly equal position.
  • 4…e6 is solid but blocks in the light-squared bishop.

Another interesting option is 3.e5 after 2…d5. This is a more combative choice and Black has multiple responses:

  • 3…d4, challenging White’s knight on c3.
  • 3…Nfd7, which can transpose to the Steinitz Variation of the French Defence after 4.d4 e6. Alternatively, 4.e6 is a sharp and less common option.
  • 3…Ne4 or 3…Ng8 are both somewhat unconventional but playable.

The line 3…d4 can lead to complex positions, especially after 4.Nce2 Ng4, or 4.exf6 dxc3 5.fxg7 cxd2+, leading to quick castling for White.

Despite 2.Nc3 being less common than the main line 2.e5, it has been regularly employed by Jonny Hector against the Alekhine, particularly against the 2…d5 variation, and he has achieved good results.

Therefore, many experts, including authors such as Davies, Cox, and Taylor, have recommended 2…e5 over 2…d5 against 2.Nc3.

2…Ng8 Version of the Alekhine’s Defense

Black can also return the knight to its original square, g8, if white goes with the most common 2. e5.

It is more passive but playable and necessitates effective counterattacking as white builds up a strong center to start the game.

The line:

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Ng8 3. d4

Is called the Brooklyn Variation of Alekhine’s Defense.

Black then usually goes with 3…d6 to start counterattacking white’s center advantage.

From black’s perspective:

Alekhine's Defense: Brooklyn Variation - 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Ng8 3. d4
Alekhine’s Defense: Brooklyn Variation – 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Ng8 3. d4


Other 2nd Moves Options for White in Alekhine’s Defense

The Alekhine’s Defense has several less common alternatives to the mainline 2.e5 and 2.Nc3 for White’s second move:

  1. 2.d3, the Maroczy Variation, is considered somewhat passive, as it blocks in White’s light-squared bishop. If White fianchettoes that bishop, the game can transpose into a King’s Indian Attack. While 2.d3 is playable, some experts consider it uninspired. After 2.d3, Black can opt for 2…d5 and 3.e5 Nfd7, which could potentially lead to an equal position.
  2. 2.Qe2 typically leads to an equal game after 2…e5. This move, though less common, allows for more flexibility in White’s future development.
  3. 2.Bc4, the Krejczik Variation, allows Black to gain the bishop pair and seize space in the centre. While this line is rarely seen, it is playable. It’s named after Josef Krejcik, an Austrian master who was known for his unorthodox style of play.
  4. 2.Bd3 is a move that aims to transpose into a Kopec System, an opening system named after IM Danny Kopec, that is often used against Sicilian, Caro-Kann, and Alekhine defenses.
  5. 2.c4 gambits the e4 pawn in favour of superior development after 2…Nxe4 3.Nf3. This line is quite rare but has been seen in some grandmaster games, and can also lead to a transposition into the King’s Indian Defense after 2…g6 3.Nc3.
  6. 2.f3 is another rare move. Players who enjoy the black side of the Latvian Gambit could essentially end up playing it after 1.e4 Nf6 2.f3 e5 3.f4!?
  7. 2.Nf3, known as the John Tracy Gambit, leads to the loss of the e4 pawn for doubtful compensation and is considered a poor choice. Despite its dubious reputation, this gambit can lead to unconventional and interesting positions.

Each of these alternatives provides a unique twist on the Alekhine’s Defense and can lead to a wide range of interesting middlegame positions. However, they’re less common for a reason: they often allow Black to equalize or even seize the initiative early in the game.

Alekhine’s Defense: Modern Variation

The Modern Variation of Alekhine’s Defense is characterized by the line:

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3

This involves the standard two knight moves for black plus the standard d6 move, with white going Nf3.

Alekhine’s Defense: Modern, Schmid Variation

The Modern, Schmid Variation goes by the line:

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 Nb6 4. Nf3 d6 5. a4 

Alekhine's Defense: Modern Variation - 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 Nb6 4. Nf3 d6 5. a4
Alekhine’s Defense: Modern Variation – 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 Nb6 4. Nf3 d6 5. a4

This starts putting pressure on the flanks to support white’s strong center.

This gives black a cramped position.

Black generally responds with 5…a5 and then will develop the knight to a6.

This reached peak popularity in the 1920s when Alekhine himself played it frequently, representing 5-6% of all games played in the mid-1920s.

We can see through continuations like the following that black can slowly break down white’s central control and gain equality or an advantage:

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 Nb6 4. Nf3 d6 5. a4 a5 6. Nc3 Na6 7. Be3 Nb4 8. d5 c6 9. dxc6 bxc6 10. Be2 d5 11. Nb1 e6 12. c3 Na6 13. O-O Nd7 14. Nd4 c5 15. Nf3 c4 16. b3 cxb3 17. Nbd2 b2 18. Ra2 

Evaluation of Alekhine’s Defense

Alekhine’s Defense is generally evaluated at around +0.70 to +1.10 for white

Theory & Continuation Lines of Alekhine’s Defense

Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from Alekhine’s Defense starting move order 1.e4 Nf6 that you would see at the highest level of play.

White is generally split between the third move of attacking the knight again with 3. c4 or supporting the e5 pawn with 3. d4:

3. c4

2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. d4 d6 5. f4 dxe5 6. fxe5 Bf5 7. Nc3 e6 8. Nf3 Nc6 9. Be3 Bg4 10. Be2 Bxf3 11. gxf3 Qh4+ 12. Bf2 Qf4 13. c5 Nd5 14. Nxd5 exd5 15. Qb3 O-O-O 16. Qe3 Qxe3 17. Bxe3 f6 18. f4 fxe5 19. fxe5 

2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. d4 d6 5. f4 Bf5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be2 e6 8. O-O dxe5 9. fxe5 Be7 10. Nc3 O-O 11. Be3 f6 12. exf6 Bxf6 13. Qd2 Qe8 14. Rad1 Rd8 15. Qc1 Rf7 16. Rd2 Rfd7 17. Rfd1 

2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. d4 d6 5. f4 dxe5 6. fxe5 Bf5 7. Nc3 e6 8. Nf3 Nc6 9. Be3 Bg4 10. Be2 Bxf3 11. gxf3 Qh4+ 12. Bf2 Qh6 13. c5 Nd5 14. Nxd5 exd5 15. Qb3 O-O-O 16. Qe3 Qxe3 17. Bxe3 f6 18. f4 g6 19. O-O Bg7 20. Rad1 Rdf8 21. Kh1 fxe5 22. fxe5 Rxf1+ 23. Rxf1 

2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. d4 d6 5. f4 Bf5 6. Nc3 dxe5 7. fxe5 e6 8. Nf3 Nc6 9. Be3 Bg4 10. Be2 Bxf3 11. gxf3 Qh4+ 12. Bf2 Qf4 13. c5 Nd5 14. Nxd5 exd5 15. Qd2 Qxd2+ 16. Kxd2 g6 17. Be3 f6 18. exf6

2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. d4 d6 5. exd6 exd6 6. Nc3 Be7 7. Bd3 Nc6 8. Nge2 O-O 9. O-O Bg4 10. Qc2 g6 11. a3 Re8 12. b3 d5 13. c5 Bxe2 14. Nxe2 Nd7

3. d4

2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4 Bf5 6. Nc3 dxe5 7. fxe5 e6 8. Nf3 Nc6 9. Be2 Qd7 10. O-O O-O-O 11. Be3 f6 12. a4 fxe5 13. Nb5 exd4 14. Nfxd4 Nxd4 15. Nxd4 Qd6 16. a5

2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4 Bf5 6. Nc3 e6 7. Nf3 dxe5 8. fxe5 Nc6 9. Be2 Be7 10. O-O O-O 11. Be3 f6 12. exf6 Bxf6 13. Qd2 Qe7 14. Rad1 Rad8 15. Kh1 h6 16. Qc1 g5 17. d5 Ne5 18. b3 exd5 19. Bxb6 axb6 20. Nxd5 Qg7 

2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4 Bf5 6. Nc3 dxe5 7. fxe5 Nc6 8. Be3 e6 9. Be2 Be7 10. Nf3 f6 11. O-O fxe5 12. d5 Nb4 13. Nxe5 O-O 14. Bg4 Bd6 15. dxe6 Bxg4 16. Nxg4 Qe7 17. Qe2 Rae8 18. Rxf8+ Rxf8 19. Rd1 Nc6 

2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. exd6 exd6 6. Nc3 Be7 7. Bd3 Nc6 8. Nge2 O-O 9. h3 Re8 10. O-O Bf6 11. b3 d5 12. c5 Nd7 13. Be3

2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. exd6 exd6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be2 Be7 8. Nc3 O-O 9. h3 Bf6 10. O-O Re8 11. Bf4 Bf5 12. Rc1 h6 13. Re1 a6 14. b3 d5 15. c5

2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4 dxe5 6. fxe5 Nc6 7. Be3 Bf5 8. Nc3 e6 9. Nf3 Be7 10. Be2 O-O 11. O-O f6 12. exf6 Bxf6 13. Qd2

2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4 dxe5 6. fxe5 Nc6 7. Be3 Bf5 8. Nc3 e6 9. Nf3 Be7 10. Be2 f6 11. O-O O-O 12. exf6 Bxf6 13. Qd2 Qe7 14. Kh1 Rad8 15. Rad1 Nb4 16. Qc1 c5 17. dxc5 Nd7 18. Nd4 Nxc5

Example Game of Winning With Alekhine’s Defense

Below is the move order of a game where black wins by successfully using Alekhine’s Defense:

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Ng8 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bd3 Nb4 7. O-O e6 8. Be3 Nxd3 9. cxd3 dxe5 10. dxe5 Ne7 11. Rc1 b6 12. a4 Nf5 13. Bg5 Qd7 14. Ne4 h6 15. Bf4 Bb7 16. a5 b5 17. g4 Ne7 18. Nc5 Qd5 19. Nxb7 Qxb7 20. Bd2 O-O-O 21. Qe2 Nd5 22. d4 Be7 23. Rc2 Nb4 24. Bxb4 Bxb4 25. Ra1 Rd7 26. h3 Rhd8 27. Rac1 c5 28. b3 Kb8 29. dxc5 Qc6 30. Ne1 Rd4 31. Rb1 Bxa5 32. Ra1 Bb4 33. Rcc1 Rd2 34. Qf3 Qxf3 35. Nxf3 R2d3 36. c6 Ka7 37. Kg2 Kb6 38. Rab1 a5 39. g5 Rc8 40. Rd1 Rxd1 41. Rxd1 Rxc6 42. Rd4 Bc3 43. Rg4 hxg5 44. Nxg5 Rc7 45. Nf3 g6 46. Kf1 b4 47. Nd4 a4 48. bxa4 Bxd4 49. Rxd4 Ka5 50. Rd8 Kxa4 51. Ke1 b3 52. Kd2 b2 53. Rb8 Ka3 54. Ra8+ Kb3 55. Rb8+ Ka2 56. Ra8+ Kb1 57. f4 Rc2+ 58. Kd1 Rc4 59. Kd2 Rxf4 60. Ra7 f6 61. exf6 Rxf6 62. Ke3 Rf5 63. Kd3 Rf3+ 64. Kd2 Rxh3 65. Ra5 Rg3 66. Ra6 e5 67. Ra4 g5 68. Ra5 e4 69. Ra7 Rd3+ 70. Ke2 Kc2 71. Rc7+ Rc3 72. Rxc3+ Kxc3 73. Kf2 b1=Q 74. Kg2 Qd1 75. Kh3 Qf3+ 76. Kh2 e3 77. Kg1 e2 78. Kh2 e1=N 79. Kg1 Qg2# 

This game is also illustrative for needing to promote to a knight in the endgame to avoid a stalemate by promoting rook or queen.

History of Alekhine’s Defense

Alekhine’s Defense is named after the fourth World Chess Champion, Alexander Alekhine.

The opening is named after Alexander Alekhine, who introduced it in the 1921 Budapest tournament in games against Endre Steiner and Fritz Sämisch.

He was not the first player to use the defense, but his use of it in two games against Efim Bogoljubov in the World Championship match in 1922 brought it significant attention.

It was considered a bizarre defense at the time, opposing classical school principles, but it gained traction and respect over the years.

It has been adopted by many players seeking to disrupt White’s initial control of the center.

Whether Alekhine’s Defense Is Good for Beginners or Intermediates

Alekhine’s Defense, while interesting and potentially effective, is not typically recommended as the primary defense for beginners.

This is due to its hypermodern nature, which relies on principles different from those traditionally taught to new players.

These principles, such as overextending the opponent’s pawns and attacking from the sides, can be difficult for beginners to grasp and execute correctly.

So even though it offers rich strategic content, it may not be the best choice for complete beginners due to its asymmetrical nature and the need to understand nuanced positional concepts.

For intermediate players, however, Alekhine’s Defense can be a valuable addition to their strategic arsenal, offering complex and rich positions that require careful planning and execution, offering opportunities for creative and aggressive play..

How Often Alekhine’s Defense Is Played at the Grandmaster Level

While not as popular as some other defenses at the Grandmaster level, Alekhine’s Defense is still seen in high-level play.

In the past, Alekhine’s Defense was more popular, with players like Bobby Fischer and Viktor Korchnoi employing it in their games.

It is usually employed as a surprise weapon, used to bring the game into less explored territory and disrupt an opponent’s preparation.

It still has proponents like GM Vassily Ivanchuk and occasionally sees play from players like Magnus Carlsen, especially in faster formats where deviations from known theoretical paths have value due to the lack of time available to calculate (see below).

It’s often played in blitz, given it’s something that’s still reasonably solid with its +0.70 to +1.10 evaluation but not well-known to the point where it forces people to think.

Grandmasters such as Nick de Firmian have observed that Alekhine’s Defense causes the game to immediately lose any sense of symmetry or balance, making it an appealing choice for aggressive fighting players.

The opening’s fashion could quickly change if a champion of the opening takes up the cause, as the results Black has obtained in practice are good.

Magnus Carlsen plays BEAUTIFUL ALEKHINE’S DEFENSE to CRUSH GM Sanan in Blitz

FAQs – Alekhine’s Defense

What is Alekhine’s Defense?

Alekhine’s Defense is a chess opening that begins with the moves: 1. e4 Nf6.

Named after the former World Chess Champion Alexander Alekhine, this defense is considered a hypermodern opening where black induces white to overextend their pawns in the center with the plan to counter-attack and undermine this structure later in the game.

What is the main strategy behind Alekhine’s Defense?

The primary strategy behind Alekhine’s Defense is to provoke white into advancing their central pawns early in the game.

This strategy aims to exploit weaknesses in white’s position by attacking the overextended pawns and undermining white’s central control.

What are the different variations of Alekhine’s Defense?

The Encyclopedia of Chess Openings categorizes Alekhine’s Defense into four codes, B02 through B05:

  • B02: 1.e4 Nf6
  • B03: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 (including the Exchange Variation and Four Pawns Attack)
  • B04: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 (Modern Variation without 4…Bg4)
  • B05: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 Bg4 (Modern Variation with 4…Bg4)

There are several key variations in Alekhine’s Defense, each with its unique characteristics:

Main Line

  1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5

Four Pawns Attack

  1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4

Exchange Variation

  1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. exd6

Modern Variation

  1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3

Two Pawns Attack

  1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. c5

Two Knights Variation

  1. e4 Nf6 2. Nc3

Other 2nd Moves for White

White can also play 2. d3, 2. Qe2, 2. Bc4, 2. Bd3, 2. c4, 2. f3, or 2. Nf3, leading to various transpositions and unique lines.

What type of player should use Alekhine’s Defense?

As observed by GM Nick de Firmian, Alekhine’s Defense is best suited for aggressive, fighting players.

This opening leads to asymmetrical positions, often leading to complex and unclear situations on the board.

Therefore, players who are comfortable in such scenarios and can handle unexpected complications may benefit from using this defense.

Bobby Fischer also used the defense occasionally against 1. e4.

How can White respond to Alekhine’s Defense?

White can respond to Alekhine’s Defense by pushing the pawn to e5, attacking the knight.

This leads to the characteristic central pawn structure of Alekhine’s Defence (c4, d4, e5, and potentially f4).

Then, depending on black’s response, white can choose between the Exchange Variation, the Four Pawns Attack, or the Modern Variation.

Alekhine’s Defense has several main variations, including:

  • Exchange Variation: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6
  • Four Pawns Attack: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4
  • Modern Variation: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3
  • Balogh Variation: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Bc4
  • Two Pawns Attack: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.c5
  • Two Knights Variation: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.Nc3

What are some typical pitfalls or mistakes to avoid in Alekhine’s Defense?

One of the common pitfalls for players using Alekhine’s Defense is failing to successfully undermine white’s central control.

If black is unable to effectively counter-attack, white’s central pawns can become a significant advantage.

Similarly, white needs to be careful not to overextend without adequate protection, as black’s strategy revolves around exploiting such weaknesses.

How do I practice Alekhine’s Defense?

You can practice Alekhine’s Defense by setting up the positions in the different variations and playing through them.

Studying grandmaster games where Alekhine’s Defense was used can also be beneficial.

This would provide an understanding of how the theory applies in actual gameplay and how to react to various responses from the opponent.

Online chess platforms and chess software also offer resources for learning and practicing specific openings.

Are there any famous games featuring Alekhine’s Defense?

Alekhine’s Defense has been employed in many high-level games.

Perhaps the most famous of these is the game between Alexander Alekhine and Aron Nimzowitsch in 1926, which displayed Alekhine’s tactical prowess and understanding of this defence.

Studying such games can provide a deeper understanding of the potential tactical and strategic ideas within this opening.

Who Are Some Famous Players Who Have Used Alekhine’s Defense?

Alekhine’s Defense was introduced by Alexander Alekhine in 1921.

Famous players like Bobby Fischer, Viktor Korchnoi, Vassily Ivanchuk, Lev Alburt, and Magnus Carlsen have employed this defense.

It has been used in significant matches, including the World Chess Championship 1972 where Bobby Fischer used it twice against Boris Spassky.

How Has the Popularity of Alekhine’s Defense Changed Over Time?

Alekhine’s Defense was more popular in the past, especially during the 1970s.

Though not as common at the top level today, it still maintains a respectable reputation.

The fashion could quickly change if a champion takes up the opening, as the results for Black have been good in practice.

What Are Some Uncommon or Rare Lines in Alekhine’s Defense?

Some rare lines include the “Brooklyn Defence” with 2…Ng8, the “Mokele Mbembe” with 2…Ne4, and the Emory Tate line with 3.c4 Nb6 4.a4.

These variations are less common and may lead to unique and unexpected positions.

What Is the Strategic Idea Behind Alekhine’s Defense?

The strategic idea behind Alekhine’s Defense is to provoke White into overextending the pawn center.

Black allows White to gain space and make tempo-gaining attacks on the knight, believing that the imposing pawn center can later be undermined and destroyed.

It’s a choice for aggressive and fighting players.

What Are the Risks and Benefits of Playing Alekhine’s Defense?

Alekhine’s Defense offers benefits like asymmetry, complexity, and opportunities for counterplay.

It can lead to sharp and tactical battles.

However, the risks include potential overextension by Black and the need for precise play. Passive play by Black can be punished by White’s strong center.

How Can I Learn More About Specific Variations and Strategies in Alekhine’s Defense?

To learn more about specific variations, strategies, and historical games, studying chess literature, analyzing games of grandmasters who have employed Alekhine’s Defense, and practicing with computer engines or experienced players can be highly beneficial.

Can black return the knight to its original position for its second move in the Alekhine Defense?

Yes, in the Alekhine Defense, after 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5, black can play 2…Ng8, returning the knight to its original position.

However, this move is not commonly played at the top level because it’s considered passive and doesn’t challenge white’s center immediately. The move 2…Nd5 is more popular and combative.

Playing 2…Ng8 does give white a comfortable advantage, as it allows white to continue developing pieces and controlling the center without any immediate challenges from black.

The evaluation of around +1.00 indicates a significant advantage for white, but of course, the actual outcome of the game depends on the subsequent moves and the skill of the players.

Returning the knight back is also a common move when playing the Mikenas Defense (1…Nc6) against 1. d4.

Is the Alekhine Defense good?

The Alekhine Defense, characterized by the moves 1.e4 Nf6, is a reputable and playable opening for black.

It is a hypermodern defense, where Black allows White to occupy the center early with pawns, with the plan to undermine and attack this center later.

Like any other opening, its effectiveness depends on the understanding and comfort level of the player using it.

It may not be as popular as other defenses against 1.e4, but it has been played successfully at the grandmaster level.

What is the point of Alekhine’s Defense?

The main idea behind Alekhine’s Defense is to provoke White into overextending the pawn center early in the game.

Black’s initial knight move 1…Nf6 entices White to advance the central d and e pawns.

Black aims to let White build a large center and then counterattack to destabilize and break down this center, creating weaknesses and targets.

This strategy falls under hypermodern openings, where central control is exerted indirectly.

Is the Alekhine Defense dubious?

The Alekhine Defense is not generally considered dubious (it is around +0.80 for white), but it is somewhat unconventional.

It leads to asymmetrical positions that can catch opponents off guard, especially those who are not familiar with the intricacies of this defense.

However, it does allow White to gain space early in the game, and if Black is not careful, they can find themselves in a cramped position.

Like all openings, it has its pros and cons, and its success largely depends on the player’s understanding of the resulting positions and themes.


Alekhine’s Defense is a distinct and challenging chess opening that underscores the depth and complexity of the game.

Its hypermodern approach and emphasis on asymmetric warfare provide ample opportunities for exciting gameplay.

While it may not be the first choice for beginners, its potential to upend traditional play and lead to intriguing tactical battles makes it a fascinating choice for intermediate and advanced players, as well as those interested in the rich history of chess strategy.

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