# Petrov Defense (Theory, Variations, Lines)

The Petrov Defense – also known as the Petrov’s Defense, Russian Defense, Russian Game, Petroff Defence, and Petrov’s Game – is a distinguished and well-respected chess opening out of 1. e4 (Open Game), named after the Russian chess player Alexander Petrov.

This symmetrical response, where 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 are played, has been a part of the chess world since the mid-19th century and has been employed by many world-leading players.

Despite its drawish reputation, Petrov’s Defense offers various attacking opportunities for both sides, with some lines being quite sharp.

## Move Order of the Petrov’s Defense

In Petrov’s Defense, the primary move order is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6.

This symmetrical move order places an emphasis on the central squares and aims to counteract white’s control over the center of the board.

For white’s third move, there are several options, including 3.Nxe5, the Classical Variation, and 3.d4, the Steinitz Variation.

Both of these variations often lead to similar positions, and there is no clear reason to prefer one move over the other.

## Theory, Strategy, and Purpose of the Petrov Defense

The theory behind Petrov’s Defense is to allow black to quickly counter-attack in the center, challenge white’s control, and fight for equal footing from the start. Often, a trade occurs, and black, after gaining a tempo, has a well-placed knight.

The purpose of this opening is to provide black with solid, if somewhat passive, positioning that avoids early clashes and tension.

## Variations of the Petrov Defense

Petrov’s Defense has multiple variations. Two of the most significant are the Classical Variation, which commences with 3.Nxe5, and the Steinitz Variation, which starts with 3.d4.

Additionally, there’s the Cochrane Gambit with 4.Nxf7, considered speculative but entertaining.

Another variation, 4.Nc4, is known as the Paulsen Variation, but is seen as less effective. However, it has seen some play at the grandmaster level.

The Stafford Gambit, a more dubious variation starting with 3…Nc6?!, sets numerous traps and has gained popularity in online blitz and bullet games.

In Petrov’s Defense, the third move by white is crucial in dictating the direction and character of the game.

In more detail will explore some of the most important and widely adopted variations below.

### 3.Nxe5: The Classical Variation

The most popular move for white on move three in Petrov’s Defense is 3.Nxe5, known as the Classical Variation.

After this move, black’s most common response is 3…d6, leading to a series of exchanges that can result in symmetrically balanced positions.

White aims to drive away black’s advanced knight on e4 with future moves such as c4 and Re1.

If white can successfully accomplish this, they obtain a lead in development, albeit often at some structural cost.

#### Mason-Showalter Variation

Petrov’s Defense: Classical Attack, Mason-Showalter Variation is characterized by the line:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.O-O Be7 8.c4 Nb4
This line had widespread popularity in the early-1900s and 1910s, but has since become much less popular, though it is near equality for both side (slight edge for white).

### 3.d4: The Steinitz Variation

Named after Wilhelm Steinitz, the first official World Chess Champion, 3.d4 is another common choice for white in the Petrov Defense.

This move is also known as the Steinitz Variation and typically leads to an open game with sharp tactical possibilities.

Depending on black’s response, the game might transpose into the Philidor Defense or continue along unique lines of the Petrov Defense itself.

### 3.Nc3: Transposition to the Four Knights or Three Knights Game

The move 3.Nc3 may seem innocuous at first glance, but it offers white the flexibility of transposing the game into either the Four Knights Game or the Three Knights Game, depending on black’s responses.

The Four Knights Game occurs when black responds with 3…Nc6, while the Three Knights Game remains on the board if black opts for other moves, such as 3…Bb4.

### 3.Bc4: Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit or Two Knights Defense

With the move 3.Bc4, white enters into the realms of the Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit or the Two Knights Defense, again contingent on how black responds.

If black responds with 3…Nc6, the game typically transposes into the Two Knights Defense.

If black opts for 3…Nxe4, white has the opportunity to play 4.Nc3, leading to the exciting and complex lines of the Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit.

### 3.d3: A Quieter Approach

Finally, though not as frequently seen in high-level games, the quieter move 3.d3 is also a viable option for white.

This move aims for a less aggressive, more positionally-oriented middlegame, reducing the immediate tension in the center of the board and offering opportunities for a slower build-up of pieces.

## Evaluation of Petrov’s Defense

The Petrov Defense is generally evaluated at around +0.40 to +0.65 for white.

## Theory & Continuation Lines of Petrov’s Defense

Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from the Petrov Defense starting move order 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 that you would see at the highest level of play.

Here are the best/most common third moves for white in Petrov’s Defense in order of strength:

• 3.Nxe5: The Classical Variation
• 3.d4: The Steinitz Variation
• 3.Nc3: May transpose to the Four Knights Game or the Three Knights Game
• 3.d3: A quieter, less frequently seen approach
• 3.Bc4: May lead to the Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit or transpose to the Two Knights Defence

We’ll do lines for each:

### 3.Nxe5

3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. c4 Nc6 9. cxd5 Qxd5 10. Nc3 Nxc3 11. bxc3 Bf5 12. Bf4 Bxd3 13. Qxd3 Bd6 14. Ng5 f5 15. Bxd6 cxd6 16. Nh3 Rae8 17. Nf4 Qe4

3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 Be7 6. Bd3 d5 7. O-O Nc6 8. c4 Nb4 9. Be2 O-O 10. a3 Nc6 11. cxd5 Qxd5 12. Re1 Bd6 13. Be3 Be6 14. Qc2 h6 15. Bd3 Nf6

3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Bf5 7. O-O Be7 8. Re1 O-O 9. c4 Nc6 10. cxd5 Qxd5 11. Nc3 Nxc3 12. bxc3 Bxd3 13. Qxd3 Rae8 14. Bf4 Bd6 15. c4 Qa5 16. Bd2 Rxe1+ 17. Rxe1 Qxa2

3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Be7 7. O-O Bf5 8. Re1 O-O 9. Nc3 Nxc3 10. bxc3 Bxd3 11. cxd3 Nc6 12. Qb3 Rb8 13. a4 h6 14. g3 a6 15. Bf4 Qd7 16. h4 Bf6 17. Re3

### 3.d4

3. d4 Nxe4 4. Bd3 d5 5. Nxe5 Nd7 6. Nxd7 Bxd7 7. O-O Bd6 8. c4 O-O 9. c5 Be7 10. Nc3 Nxc3 11. bxc3 c6 12. Qc2 h6

3. d4 Nxe4 4. Nxe5 d5 5. Bd3 Nd7 6. Nxd7 Bxd7 7. O-O Bd6 8. Nc3 Nxc3 9. bxc3 O-O 10. Qh5 f5 11. Re1 Qf6 12. Qf3 c6 13. Bf4 Rae8 14. Qg3 Bxf4 15. Qxf4 c5 16. c4

3. d4 Nxe4 4. Nxe5 d5 5. Bd3 Nd7 6. Nxd7 Bxd7 7. O-O Be7 8. c4 Nf6 9. Qb3 dxc4 10. Bxc4 O-O 11. Qxb7 c5 12. dxc5 Bxc5 13. Nc3 Rc8 14. Qf3 Bd4 15. Bb3 Re8 16. Nd5 Bc6 17. Nxf6+ Bxf6

3. d4 Nxe4 4. Nxe5 d5 5. Bd3 Nd7 6. Nxd7 Bxd7 7. O-O Be7 8. c4 Nf6 9. Nc3 dxc4 10. Bxc4 O-O 11. Bf4 Bg4 12. Qd3 Bh5 13. Rfe1 c6 14. d5 Bd6 15. Bxd6 Qxd6 16. dxc6

### 3.Nc3

3. Nc3 Nc6 4. Bb5 Nd4 5. Bc4 Nxf3+ 6. Qxf3 Bc5 7. Qg3 O-O 8. d3 Re8 9. O-O c6 10. Bb3 Nh5 11. Qf3 Nf6 12. Be3 d6 13. Bxc5

3. Nc3 Nc6 4. Bb5 Bd6 5. O-O O-O 6. d3 a6 7. Bc4 h6 8. Re1 Bc5 9. h3 d6 10. Ne2 Be6 11. Bxe6 fxe6 12. Ng3 Qe8 13. c3 Ba7 14. Be3

3. Nc3 Nc6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 cxd5 9. O-O O-O 10. h3 c5 11. Qf3 Be6 12. Rd1 Ba5 13. Bf4 h6 14. Be5 Bc7 15. Bxf6 Qxf6 16. Qxf6 gxf6 17. Be2 Rad8

3. Nc3 Nc6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 O-O 9. O-O cxd5 10. h3 c6 11. Bf4 Re8 12. Qf3 a5 13. a3 Bf8 14. Rfe1 a4 15. Rxe8 Qxe8 16. Bg5 Qe5 17. Bxf6

### 3.d3

3.d3 Nc6 4. c4 Bc5 5. h3 d6 6. Be2 O-O 7. O-O Bd7 8. Be3 a5 9. Nc3 Re8 10. Na4 b6 11. Qd2 Nd4 12. Nc3 a4 13. Bd1 a3 14. b3

3.d3 Nc6 4. c4 Bc5 5. Be2 d6 6. Nc3 Bg4 7. Be3 Bxf3 8. Bxf3 Nd4 9. Qd2 O-O 10. Bd1 Ne6 11. h3 c6 12. O-O a5 13. a3 h5 14. Ne2 h4 15. Nc3 Re8

3.d3 Nc6 4. c4 Bc5 5. Be2 d6 6. O-O Bg4 7. Nc3 Bxf3 8. Bxf3 Nd4 9. Rb1 a5 10. a3 c6 11. b4 axb4 12. axb4 Bb6 13. g3 h5 14. h4

3.d3 Nc6 4. c4 Bc5 5. Be2 d6 6. h3 h6 7. Be3 Nh5 8. Bd2 a5 9. Nc3 Bd7 10. a3 Nf6 11. O-O O-O 12. Be3 Re8 13. Qd2 Nh7 14. Rfd1 Nd4 15. Bxd4 exd4 16. Nb5 Bxb5 17. cxb5

### 3.Bc4

3.Bc4 Nxe4 4. Nxe5 d5 5. Be2 Bd6 6. d4 Nd7 7. Nd3 O-O 8. O-O Re8 9. Bf4 Bxf4 10. Nxf4 Nf8 11. Nd2 Qg5 12. g3 Ng6 13. Nxe4 dxe4 14. Nxg6 Qxg6 15. Re1 Bh3 16. Bf1 Bxf1 17. Kxf1

3.Bc4 Nxe4 4. d3 Nc5 5. Nxe5 d5 6. Bb3 Bd6 7. d4 Bxe5 8. dxe5 Nxb3 9. axb3 d4 10. Qf3 O-O 11. O-O Nc6 12. Re1 Re8 13. Bf4 f6

3.Bc4 Nxe4 4. d3 Nc5 5. Nxe5 d5 6. Bb3 Bd6 7. d4 Bxe5 8. dxe5 Nxb3 9. axb3 O-O 10. O-O d4 11. Bf4 Nc6 12. Qd3 Re8 13. Na3 a6 14. h3 Be6 15. Qg3 Qd5 16. Rfd1 Bf5

3.Bc4 Nxe4 4. d3 Nc5 5. Nxe5 d5 6. Bb3 Bd6 7. d4 Bxe5 8. dxe5 Nxb3 9. axb3 d4 10. Qf3 O-O 11. O-O Nc6 12. Re1 Re8 13. Bf4 f6 14. Bg3 fxe5

Both 3.d3 and 3.Bc4 give up white’s opening advantage.

3.Bc4 is graded around -0.70 for white.

## History of Petrov’s Defense

Petrov’s Defense was first popularized by Russian chess player Alexander Petrov in the mid-19th century.

Over time, it has been employed by many world-leading players, including world champions Vasily Smyslov, Tigran Petrosian, Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik, and Fabiano Caruana.

It has also become popular among many Chinese grandmasters

While the opening has a reputation for being drawish, numerous historical games, including Pillsbury’s game against Emanuel Lasker in 1895, testify to its dynamic and rich character.

## Is Petrov’s Defense Good for Beginners or Intermediates?

Petrov’s Defense can be a solid choice for both beginners and intermediate players, although it requires a good understanding of chess principles, particularly those concerning the importance of central control and piece development.

For beginners, this opening provides a good foundation in these principles, while also offering a reliable and solid opening repertoire.

For intermediate players, it presents opportunities to dive deeper into chess strategy, with a wealth of intricate variations and strategies to explore.

## How Often Is Petrov’s Defense Played at the Grandmaster Level?

Petrov’s Defense has seen extensive use at the grandmaster level, demonstrating its soundness and validity as a competitive opening.

Many of the world’s leading players have adopted it, due to its solid structure and the counter-attacking opportunities it provides.

However, its popularity tends to fluctuate based on current opening trends and individual player preferences.

## Petrov’s Defense vs. Ruy Lopez

### Why might a player choose Petrov’s Defense over the Ruy Lopez?

Petrov’s Defense is a more symmetrical response to 1.e4 and has a reputation for being less combative than the Ruy Lopez.

It can lead to a more balanced position and is a solid, robust option for Black, often leading to a quieter, more positional game.

By contrast, the Ruy Lopez can lead to highly tactical and sharp positions with imbalanced pawn structures and complicated middlegame plans.

Some players might prefer Petrov’s Defense because it helps avoid the extensive theory of the Ruy Lopez and can potentially steer the game into less familiar territory for the opponent.

### How does Petrov’s Defense avoid common opening traps found in the Ruy Lopez?

In Petrov’s Defense, the game develops differently from the Ruy Lopez.

In the Ruy Lopez, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5, white is aiming to exert pressure on Black’s e5 pawn indirectly.

On the other hand, in Petrov’s Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6), Black immediately challenges White’s control of the e5-square and the center.

This early challenge of White’s e4 pawn sidesteps various traps associated with the Ruy Lopez, as the game’s structure will be significantly different.

For example, traps involving an early d4 from White, often seen in the Ruy Lopez, are not relevant in the Petrov’s Defense.

### Can Petrov’s Defense transpose into the Ruy Lopez?

No, Petrov’s Defense cannot directly transpose into the Ruy Lopez.

These two openings have distinct move orders and pawn structures that prevent them from transposing into each other.

The Ruy Lopez begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5, whereas Petrov’s Defense begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6.

In the Petrov, Black immediately attacks the e4 pawn, whereas in the Ruy Lopez, Black develops the knight to c6 and allows White to build a pawn center with d4 in some variations.

However, both openings can lead to rich, complex middlegames that require a deep understanding of chess strategy and tactics.

## FAQs – Petrov’s Defense

### 1. What is Petrov’s Defense in chess?

Petrov’s Defense, also known as the Russian Defense, is a chess opening characterized by the moves:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6

This symmetrical response was popularized by Alexander Petrov, a Russian chess player of the mid-19th century.

It was often considered drawish, but it presents attacking opportunities for both sides, and a few lines are quite sharp.

The Petrov Defense avoids certain common lines like the Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano, and the Scotch Game.

### 2. What is the reputation of Petrov’s Defense?

The Petrov Defense has a reputation for being drawish, meaning games with this opening often end in a draw.

However, it should not be considered passive as it offers attacking opportunities for both sides, and some lines are quite sharp.

It has been used by many of the world’s leading players, including world champions Vasily Smyslov, Tigran Petrosian, Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik, and Fabi Caruana.

### 3. What are the main lines in Petrov’s Defense?

White’s two main choices for the third move in Petrov’s Defense are 3.Nxe5, the Classical Variation, and 3.d4, the Steinitz Variation.

• In the Classical Variation, White’s third move is 3.Nxe5. After this move, the most popular response for Black is 3…d6. The game may then follow the main line with 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3, where White will try to drive Black’s advanced knight from e4 with moves like c4 and Re1.
• In the Steinitz Variation, White’s third move is 3.d4. Black can capture either pawn, and possible responses are 3…exd4, leading to 4.e5, or 3…Nxe4, leading to 4.Bd3.

### 4. What are the ECO codes for Petrov’s Defense?

The Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO) codes for Petrov’s Defense are C43 (for 3.d4) and C42 (for all other lines).

### 5. What are the less common third moves for White in Petrov’s Defense?

Less common third moves for White include 3.Nc3 and 3.Bc4.

• 3.Nc3 can transpose to the Three Knights Game or the Four Knights Game.
• 3.Bc4 can lead to the Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit or transpose to the Two Knights Defense.

The move 3.d3 is also occasionally seen, but it is considered quiet.

### 6. What is the Cochrane Gambit?

The Cochrane Gambit is a variant in the Classical Variation of Petrov’s Defense, where after 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3, instead of the standard 4…Nxe4, White plays 4.Nxf7.

This move is described as “speculative but entertaining”, offering chances for both sides.

### 7. What is the Paulsen Variation?

The Paulsen Variation is a line in the Classical Variation of Petrov’s Defense, where White plays 4.Nc4 after 3.Nxe5 d6.

Although not commonly seen, it is occasionally played at grandmaster level.

### 8. What is the Stafford Gambit?

The Stafford Gambit is a dubious line of Petrov’s Defense, with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nc6?!

It sets a number of traps and became popular in online blitz and bullet games in the early 2020s.

Despite being a pawn down, Black can create complications if White is not careful.

### 9. What is the Boden-Kieseritzky Gambit?

The Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit is a line in Petrov’s Defense that occurs after 3.Bc4 Nxe4 4.Nc3.

It is not considered wholly sound as Black has several viable options, including accepting or declining the gambit.

### 10. What are the main ideas of the Steinitz Variation?

The Steinitz Variation starts with 3.d4. Depending on Black’s response, the game can branch into various lines.

Black can capture either pawn with 3…exd4 or 3…Nxe4, or play 3…d6, transposing into the Philidor Defense.

A complex tactical sequence often seen in master games follows after 3…Nxe4 4.Bd3 d5 5.Nxe5 Bd6 6.0-0 0-0 7.c4 Bxe5 8.dxe5 Nc6 9.cxd5 Qxd5, leading to an approximately equal endgame.

## Conclusion

Petrov’s Defense is a historically significant and strategically fascinating chess opening.

Its symmetry, solid structure, and counter-attacking nature make it a viable choice for players of all levels, from beginners to grandmasters.

While it may appear drawish at first glance, those who delve deeper will find many variations and strategic nuances to explore, making it a rewarding and worthwhile addition to any player’s repertoire.