The Keres Defense is an unconventional, yet intriguing choice for black against the common Queen’s Pawn Opening (1. d4).
It is named after the Estonian Grandmaster Paul Keres, and it begins with the moves 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+, offering an early check to disrupt white’s plans.
This chess opening is not as commonly explored as many others, and that gives it an element of surprise that can often work in black’s favor.
Below we look into the strategy of the Keres Defense, examining its move order, theory, variations, and historical significance.
We’ll also discuss whether it’s suitable for beginners or intermediates and how often it’s played at the Grandmaster level.
Move Order of the Keres Defense
The Keres Defense is characterized by the early check given by black’s bishop after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+.
This opening is intended to catch white off-guard by delaying the development of their knight to its most natural square (Nc3) and potentially disrupt their kingside development.
Theory, Strategy and Purpose of the Keres Defense
The primary purpose of the Keres Defense is to disrupt white’s standard development, in particular, the knight development to c3.
After the bishop’s check, white has several ways to respond, which can lead to various different middlegame structures.
This opening also offers black the potential to double white’s pawns if white chooses to block the check with Bd2 and later capture with Bxd2+.
Black’s strategy in this opening is primarily based on countering white’s central control and fighting for equality.
Variations of the Keres Defense
The two main responses from white to the check are Bd2 and Nd2.
In the Bd2 variation, after Bxd2+ Qxd2, white’s queen is not ideally placed, and white has lost the right to castle queenside.
In the Nd2 variation, white avoids pawn structure damage but delays the development of the kingside knight, potentially leading to a slower start.
There are also less popular responses to the check, such as Kd1 or Qd2, but these are generally considered inferior.
Evaluation of the Keres Defense
1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+ is generally evaluated around +0.40 to +0.60 for white.
Theory & Continuation Lines of the Keres Defense
Below we can find some common theory and continuations from 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+ that you’d see at the highest level of play.
3. Bd2 Bxd2+ 4. Qxd2 d5 5. Nc3 Nf6 6. e3 O-O 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bd3 Nc6 9. Nge2 Ne7 10. f3 Nf5 11. O-O-O Re8 12. Bxf5 Bxf5 13. g4 Bg6 14. Nf4 c6 15. Rdg1
3. Bd2 Bxd2+ 4. Qxd2 Nf6 5. Nc3 d5 6. e3 O-O 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bd3 Nc6 9. Nge2 Ne7 10. f3 Nf5 11. O-O-O c6 12. Nf4 Re8 13. Bxf5 Bxf5 14. g4 Bg6 15. Rdg1 Qe7 16. h4
3. Bd2 Bxd2+ 4. Qxd2 Nf6 5. Nc3 d5 6. e3 O-O 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bd3 Re8 9. Nge2 Nc6 10. O-O Ne7 11. Ng3 h5 12. h4 c6 13. f3 Ng6 14. Bxg6 fxg6 15. Qf2 Bf5
3. Bd2 Bxd2+ 4. Qxd2 Nf6 5. Nc3 d5 6. e3 dxc4 7. Nf3 c5 8. dxc5 Qxd2+ 9. Nxd2 Nbd7 10. c6 bxc6 11. Bxc4 Rb8 12. b3 Nd5 13. Rc1 Ke7 14. Be2 Bb7 15. O-O Rhc8 16. h4 c5 17. Nxd5+ exd5
3. Bd2 Bxd2+ 4. Qxd2 d5 5. Nc3 Nf6 6. e3 O-O 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bd3 b6 9. Nge2 c5 10. O-O Nc6 11. Rad1 Qc7 12. h3 Bb7 13. Bb1 Rad8 14. Rfe1 Rfe8 15. Nf4 Ne7
3. Bd2 Bxd2+ 4. Qxd2 Nf6 5. Nc3 d5 6. e3 O-O 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bd3 Re8 9. Nge2 Nc6 10. f3 Nb4 11. Bb1 Qe7 12. Kf2 Na6 13. Nf4 c6 14. h4 b6 15. a3 Nc7 16. Bc2 Bd7 17. Rhe1 g6 18. g4
3. Nd2 c5 4. a3 Bxd2+ 5. Qxd2 cxd4 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. Nxd4 O-O 8. f3 d6 9. Nb5 d5 10. cxd5 exd5 11. e3 Nc6 12. Be2 Qb6
3. Nd2 c5 4. a3 Bxd2+ 5. Qxd2 cxd4 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. Nxd4 d5 8. cxd5 Qxd5 9. e3 O-O 10. f3 e5 11. Nb5 Qc6 12. e4 a6 13. Nc3 Be6 14. Qf2 Rd8 15. Be2 Qd6 16. O-O Nc6 17. Be3 Nd4
3. Nd2 c5 4. a3 Bxd2+ 5. Qxd2 cxd4 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. Qxd4 O-O 8. e3 Nc6 9. Qc3 d5 10. Be2 Ne4 11. Qc2 Qf6 12. O-O Rd8 13. Rd1 h6 14. Bd2 Nxd2 15. Rxd2
3. Nd2 c5 4. a3 Bxd2+ 5. Qxd2 cxd4 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. Nxd4 d5 8. cxd5 Qxd5 9. e3 O-O 10. f3 e5 11. Nb5 Qc6 12. e4 a6 13. Nc3 Be6 14. Qf2 Rd8 15. Be2 Qd6
There generally aren’t many other counters to the Keres Defense outside 3. Bd2 due to the need to protect the king.
There is 3. Nd2, but it is not quite as strong, though it does yield an evaluation of around +0.20 to +0.40 for white.
History of Keres Defense
The Keres Defense is named after Paul Keres, an Estonian Grandmaster and one of the strongest players never to have become a World Champion.
He used this opening on a few occasions in his illustrious career, and his success with it lent the opening some credibility.
However, it’s important to note that despite its name, the Keres Defense was not a staple in Keres’ opening repertoire.
Whether the Keres Defense Is Good for Beginners or Intermediates
The Keres Defense can be a suitable choice for intermediate players who are well-prepared and looking for less-trodden paths to gain a psychological edge over their opponents.
However, beginners may find the subtleties of this opening a bit difficult to handle, as it requires careful move order handling and a deep understanding of middlegame structures.
Moreover, as it is less common, finding high-quality learning materials can be more challenging compared to other more mainstream openings.
How Often the Keres Defense Is Played at the Grandmaster Level
The Keres Defense is not often played at the grandmaster level.
While it’s not fundamentally unsound, it is considered a somewhat risky choice due to the potential for white to gain an early initiative.
Grandmasters usually prefer more solid and well-tested defenses to 1.d4, but the Keres Defense can still occasionally be seen in surprise strategy or in blitz games where the element of surprise is more valuable.
The Keres Defense is a unique, disruptive response to 1.d4 that seeks to catch white off-guard and disrupt their standard piece development.
While it’s not the most common opening, it can bring an opponent out of their preparation.
FAQs – Keres Defense
1. What is the Keres Defense in Chess?
The Keres Defense, named after the Estonian Grandmaster Paul Keres, is a chess opening characterized by the moves 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+.
This defense allows black to disrupt white’s plan to quickly occupy the center with its pawns.
It’s an unorthodox opening and not as commonly used as others, but it can take an unprepared player by surprise.
2. What is the main purpose of the Keres Defense?
The Keres Defense is designed to disrupt white’s pawn structure early in the game and unsettle white’s king’s knight, which normally would like to develop to f3.
By delivering an early check, black forces white to make a decision about the king’s knight or bishop that might not be ideal.
3. What is the key response for white in the Keres Defense?
The typical response from white after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+ is 3.Bd2.
This is the most common move as it connects the Queen and King’s Knight, and prepares for kingside castle.
Another less common but playable response is 3.Nd2.
4. What are some strategic goals for black in the Keres Defense?
Black’s main goal in the Keres Defense is to disrupt white’s plans and create imbalance.
By checking with the bishop, black forces white to make a decision that can interfere with the natural development of its pieces.
Additionally, black might also aim to trade the checking bishop for white’s knight to double the pawns on the d-file, creating a potential long-term weakness in white’s pawn structure.
5. What are the potential risks for black in the Keres Defense?
The biggest risk for black in the Keres Defense is potentially losing tempo.
Once white has blocked the check, black’s bishop on b4 could be attacked by moves like a3, forcing it to decide whether to retreat or exchange.
If black isn’t careful, this could lead to a disadvantage in development and central control.
6. How can white take advantage of the Keres Defense?
White can take advantage of the Keres Defense by rapidly developing its pieces and controlling the center.
After blocking the check, white should focus on occupying the center with pawns and getting the minor pieces out.
Exploiting the tempo gain when black decides to handle the bishop’s fate is also crucial.
7. Are there famous games that utilized the Keres Defense?
While the Keres Defense isn’t as frequently employed in top-level chess, it has been used sporadically over the years.
One of the most famous games involving the Keres Defense is Keres vs. Botvinnik (1938), where Paul Keres himself played against the defense named after him.
8. What are some variations of the Keres Defense?
While the main line of the Keres Defense starts with 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+, there are several variations based on white’s response to the check.
These include the Bd2 Variation (3.Bd2), the Nd2 Variation (3.Nd2), and the much less common Qd2 Variation (3.Qd2), which would axe the queen.
9. Is the Keres Defense suitable for beginner players?
The Keres Defense can be suitable for beginners who are interested in unorthodox openings.
However, since it involves some risk and relies on white’s response to the check, it requires careful play and a good understanding of the resulting positions.
It’s less straightforward than some other defenses and may be more challenging for beginners to handle effectively.
10. How can one study and get better at playing the Keres Defense?
Studying chess books, working with chess engines, using online resources, and analyzing games that have featured the Keres Defense can help improve your understanding of this opening.
It can also be useful to play games using the Keres Defense against different opponents to see how various scenarios might unfold.
Working with a chess coach could be another efficient way to deeply understand the intricacies of this opening.