Alekhine Defense

Alekhine Defense is a chess opening that starts with King’s Pawn Opening (1.e4), and Black responds with the hypermodern 1…Nf6. This move allows White to advance the central pawns up the board and kick that Knight away. Black typically aims to undermine those pawns later and has a solid set-up.

Alekhine Defense

Alekhine Defense took its name from the former World Champion Alexander Alekhine in the 1900s. It was played before but was only popularized once Alekhine Defense was proven to be a reliable opening  for Black. Many of the best players after that time have played this line in their matches to surprise their opponents. Nowadays, it is not considered a top option due to White’s extra options in several stages of the opening.

Winning percentages on both sides

Master Games Statistics

Results Rate
Victory for White 37%
Draw 37%
Victory for Black 26%

Statistics from 49 Million Amateur Games

Results Rate
Victory for White 48%
Draw 4%
Victory for Black 48%

Main Ideas

The main plan by Black is to let White advance the c-d-e pawns, undermine them with the typical c6-pawn break, and capture them one by one. White often aims to have strong central control and space benefits. Black usually hunts the extended pawns and goes for pawn breaks to weaken those pawns. If White stabilizes with the extra space, they can be advantageous. If Black can catch White too advanced, they can win pawns or gain positional edges.

Alekhine Defense Theory

Alekhine Defense Variations often lead to strategic and calculative positions.

The Exchange variation of the Alekhine can lead to symmetrical pawn structures where both parties try to outplay each other or more dynamic games where Black can aim for a more ambitious route in the short term.

The Four Pawns Attack leads to positions where White has massive pawn dominance in the center, whereas Black places their pieces ideally and tries to claim that those pawns are overextended.

The Modern Variation often leads to more strategic games where White remains with extra space, and Black organizes their pieces to assault White’s pawn structure.

Exchange Variation: 5.exd6

The variation starts with Alekhine Defense (1.e4 Nf6), and White advances the e-pawn to e5 (2.e5) to kick the f6-Knight and gain space and central control. Then, Black defends the Knight and brings it to the d5-square (2…Nd5). This allows White to solidify their e5-pawn by going 3.d4. Then, Black attacks the e-pawn with the typical d6-pawn break (3…d6). This allows White to attack the d5-Knight with another tempo and advance their c-pawn to c4 (4.c4). Black Knight locates itself on the casual b6-square (4…Nb6) to keep an eye on the c4-pawn and limit White’s further advancement. Then, White captures the d6-pawn (5…exd6) and does not allow Black to take on e5 and create an overextended e-pawn on e5-square.

Alekhine Defense Exchange Variation

After 5.exd6 occurs, Black can either take with the c-pawn (5…cxd6) or e-pawn (5…exd6). 5…exd6 leads to symmetrical pawn structures, and these games tend to be more positional than cxd6.

If Black captures with the c-pawn (5…cxd6), They will have more pawns toward the center once they play the e5-pawn push. This will change the game’s flow from White obtaining the center to Black claiming the center in the next couple of moves. One sample line on this variation could be 5…cxd6, 6.Nc3 (developing the Knight) and 5…e5 (claiming the center). Here, White can trade the Queens off with 7.dxe5, 7…dxe5, and 8.Qxd8, 8…Kxd8.

A more rich version of the continuation can be 7.Nf3 (Putting pressure on the e5-pawn), 7…exd4, and 8.Nxd4.

In this position, Black would be left with an isolated d-pawn. Since the direct d5-push is not easy from Black, that pawn is considered a weakness positionally. White controls more space in these variations on the Queenside, allowing them to maneuver their pieces rapidly to the best possible squares. White can improve the f1-Bishop and castle on the short side. Then, they can stack both the Queen and the Rook to the d-file and put pressure on the isolated d6-pawn. Black will aim to utilize the long diagonals by going Be7-Bf6 and try to discoordinate White’s position.

If Black captures with the e-pawn instead (5…exd6), both parties could improve their pieces without having too much action on the board. Black typically wants to position their b8-Knight on c6 and induce d5. Once d5 is pushed, they position the Knight to e5 and put pressure on the c4-pawn. White usually develops all pieces easily and castles Kingside. If White can prevent Black from developing their pieces, they can prove an advantage. One sample variation could be 5…exd6 6.Nf3 (developing the Knight), 6…Be7 (improving the Bishop), 8.Bd3, 8…Bg4 (pinning the f3-Knight), 9.h3 (kicking the f4-Bishop away), 9…Bxf3, 10.Qxf3, 10…Nc6 (developing the Knight and attacking the d4-pawn), 11.d5 (protecting the pawn and attacking the f3-Queen and c4-pawn) and 12.Qe2. As seen in the example line, Black pieces can find squares despite the lack of space, and White’s c4-pawn can be targeted easily in many variations. If Black does not play precisely, they can fall behind in development, and the position can be hard to untangle.

Four Pawns Attack: 5.f4

Four Pawns Attack begins similarly to the Exchange Variation, but after 4…Nb6, White does not take on the d6-pawn and strengthens the central dominance with the 5.f4 pawn-push. This move creates open squares on the light squares (b1-h7 diagonal) for Black to position their pieces later. In this position, Black mostly captures the e5-pawn (5…dxe5) and weakens White’s pawn structure. White has to recapture with the f-pawn (6.fxe5) because dxe5 allows Queen to trade on d1, and it leads to a very pleasant endgame for Black where the overextended pawns and weak squares in White’s position will be very hard to manage.

Alekhine Defense Four Pawns Attack

Once 6.fxe5 occurs, Black usually puts pressure on the d4-pawn and develops the b8-Knight to c6 (6…Nc6). Here, Nf3 and Be3 both can protect the d4-pawn. However, 7.Nf3 allows Bg4, therefore playing 7.Be3 and delaying the Nf3 move is considered wise. Then, Black can improve the c8-Bishop to f5 (7…Bf5). White can improve the b1-Knight to c3 (8.Nc3), and since the light-squared Bishop is outside the pawn chain, Black plays 8…e6.

Since the light squared Bishop already moved for development purposes, 9.Nf3 can be played with the idea of Be2 and short side castle. Black can reply by pinning the c3-Knight (9…Bb4), and White can ignore and continue improving the f1-Bishop (10.Be2) to prepare castling on the short side.

In these positions, Black will aim to strike the extended c4-pawn by making Na5 attempts. White typically aims to solidify their pawn majority in the center and suffocate their opponent. If Black cannot create enough weaknesses and isolate those advanced pawns, they can be blown off the board.

The Modern Variation: 4.Nf3

The Modern Variation occurs similarly to the other variations of Alekhine Defense, but in the fourth move, instead of kicking the Knight away, White goes for a more principled approach with 4.Nf3. This allows White to maintain the central rein and control the game without entering risky territory. From here, Black has three viable options. They can play 4…g6, aim to fianchetto the Bishop to b7 and utilize the ‘a1-h8’ diagonal. They can play 4…Bg4, eliminate the f3-Knight, and reduce White’s central control by giving up the Bishop pair. They also plays dxe5, simplifying the game, and accept a slightly worse position.

Alekhine Defense - The Modern Variation

The g6 line would typically transition to a position where Black aims to put pressure on the e5-pawn and force the opponent to capture on d6. Once White captures the d6-pawn, Black can take with the c-pawn and then play e5-pawn push and claim the center themselves.

The 4…Bg4 line could be met with 5.Be2 (unpinning the Knight). One sample variation could be 5.Be2, 5…e6, 6.c4 (kicking the Knight), 6…Nb6, 7. O-O, 7…Be7 (preparing to castle), 8.Nc3 (Improving move), 8…O-O, 9.h3, 9…Bxf3 and 10.Bxf3. In this position, White would hold the Bishop pair, and Black would play to undermine the advanced White pawns. White would be slightly better due to the Bishops and center dominance.

The 4…dxe5 line can be met with 5.Nxe5. This would give the center to White for good without any specific compensation. Black could fianchetto the f8-Bishop on g7, similar to the g6 variation, and play c6-pawn push to stop c4-d5 attempts. White can play Bc4-Bb3 and locate all pieces into active squares.

White is marginally better in these positions, and Black often lacks ambitious counterattacks.

Pros and Cons of Alekhine Defense

Pros Cons
White can control the center and suffocate Black in many cases. Black can attack White’s extended pawns by undermining them.
White is objectively better in many variations. Black’s hypermodern approach can seem unfamiliar to new players.
White can restrict Black from developing their pieces if the enemy is unprepared. Black can utilize the weaknesses in White’s position.
White can have a very pleasant opening stage. Endgames often favor Black.

Common Traps

Alekhine Trap

The trap starts with Alekhine Defense (1.e4 Nf6) and after 2.e5 and 2…Nd5 occur, Black responds to 3.d4 with 3…e6. Then, White develops the Knight (4.Nf3), and Black improves the Knight (4…Nc6). After that, White kicks the Knight by playing a typical 5.c4 move. Here, if Black checks with 5…Bb4, they will be in trouble due to the lack of space for that Bishop after 6.Ke2 is chosen. The d5-Knight has only e7 and b6 squares, and regardless of the route of that Knight, a3- and b4 pawn pushes will trap Black’s dark-squared Bishop.


Alekhine Defense is a hypermodern opening where Black voluntarily gives up the center to White to strike back by undermining the advanced pawns. It is not the top opening choice for Black at the highest level. If White is careful enough, they can maintain their advantage and snowball to suffocate Black in their small space. Black is often favorable in endgames due to weaknesses in White’s position.

Written by
Emre Sancakli, Сhess Coach
has a rating of 2400+ on and, making him one of the top 5000 players in the world. He teaches many chess enthusiasts and even creates educational courses. As a writer, he keeps bringing his 'A game' to the content you will face on this website.
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Is the Alekhine defense good?

Yes, the Alekhine Defense is considered a good choice for players who prefer dynamic and unbalanced positions. It’s less commonly played than mainline defenses, offering chances for surprise and complexity.

Is Alekhine’s defense aggressive?

Yes, Alekhine’s Defense is considered aggressive as it challenges White to build a large pawn center, which Black aims to undermine and attack.

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