Petrov Defense

Petrov Defense starts with the moves 1.e4 (King’s Pawn Opening) e5 2.Nf3 Nf6. The move order was pioneered by the Russian chess player Alexander Petrov in the 19th century; therefore, it is also known as the Russian Game.

Petrov Defense

Along with the Berlin Defense, Petrov’s Opening is also considered one of the most solid choices Black can play against 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 and the opening is regularly played at the highest level or even in Classical World Chess Championship matches such as the games in 2018 between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana.

Winning Percentages on both sides

Results Rate
Win for white 26%
Draw 62%
Win for black 12%

Main Ideas

It is fair to say that Petrov Defense is not the most ambitious choice for black. As we can see from the drawing rates in the table provided above, there is a high chance of drawing the game for black due to the symmetrical nature of the line. Instead of playing for a win, black aims to stay safe and have a peaceful game.

Considering that many openings arising from King’s Pawn Opening (1.e4) lead to aggressive battle, by playing Petrov’s Defense, black deprives white of the opportunity to play a dynamic game. This might be stylistically hard for white to meet, and thus this opening is a great weapon to tame aggressive players. At the same time, by playing Petrov Defense, black avoids massively theoretical openings such as Ruy Lopez as well as the Italian Game.

One of the key plans for Black in the Petrov Defense is to develop quickly and efficiently, aiming to get all the pieces out and castle safely. This can be done with setups like Bd6-0-0 or Be6-Qd7-0-0-0 in some cases. At the same time, white may try to challenge black’s control over light squares in the center by playing moves like c4. If Black castles kingside early, white can attempt to castle queenside and launch a quick kingside attack.

Petrov Defense Theory

In the Petrov Defense, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 black responds by copying white’s last move and striking at the center by counterattacking the pawn on e4 with 2…Nf6, instead of defending the pawn on e5 with 2…Nc6. Many variations in the Petrov Defense lead to a symmetrical pawn structure on both sides of the board with a perfectly balanced position. This makes it hard for both sides to create an imbalance due to a lack of weaknesses. In most of the variations, black seeks consolidation of the position, while white will try to create chances.

In the starting position of the Petrov Defense, black has basically 3 main moves to decide: either capture the central e5 pawn with 3.Nxe5 (Main Line), or defend the pawn with 3.Nc3 (Three Knights Game) and try to create an imbalance by playing 3.d4 (Steinitz Variation). While 3.d4 and 3.Nxe5 often transpose into each other, the Three Knights Game transposes to the Four Knights Game after 4.Nc6, leading to a quiet game. In the main line with 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxe4, white has various options to choose from: claiming control at the center with 5.d4 (Classical Attack), trying to eliminate black’s powerfully centralized knight with 5.Nc3 (Nimzowitsch Attack), pinning the knight with 5. Qe2 and finally chasing black’s knight away with 5.d3 before playing d4.

Main Line: 3.Nxe5 d6

Petrov Defense Mainline

Before we take a look at black’s most standard reply against 3.Nxe5, which is 3…d6 (3…Nc6 would be the Stafford Gambit), we need to answer the question of why black does not simply capture the pawn on e4 with 3…Nxe4 as a response to 3.Nxe5. This seemingly natural move has been played around 100 times less than 3..d6 (18.789 games with 3…d6 vs. only 186 games with 3…Nxe5 in the database), and the main reason for that is that black ends up either in a worse position or a pawn down in most of the cases:

Going back to the main move, 3..d6, white’s only reasonable move is to retreat the knight back to f3 (4.Nc4 does not make much sense as the knight is misplaced on c4). Black then almost always captures the pawn on e4: 4.Nxe4. White has a couple of reasonable moves to choose from: 5.d4, 5.Nc3, 5.Qe2 and 5.d3. The move 5.Qe2 (Cozio or Lasker Attack) leads quickly to an exchange of the queens with no positional imbalance: 5…Qe7 6.d3 Nf6 7.Bg5 Qxe2 8.Bxe2 Be7.

While playing 5.d4 directly is preferred over 5.d3 Nf6 6.d4, 5.d3 is not an inferior move and is a perfectly valid approach.

Classical Attack 5.d4

Petrov Defense - Classical Variation

Classical Attack is the standard continuation of the main line in the Petrov Defense. Instead of attacking the knight on e4, by playing 5.d4 white simply wants to grab the center, which also opens the diagonal for the bishop. 5…Be7!? is not a recommended move for black, so most of the time black continues the game with 5…d5. We now have the so-called thematic Petrov Center.

In such structures, white typically strive for a timely c4 to challenge blacks’ control of the center. If black captures on c4 with dxc4, it leads to an open position with a very common pawn structure called IQP (Isolated Queen’s Pawn). The side with an isolated pawn will seize a space advantage for its pieces and try to attack. The side playing against an isolated pawn will typically try to simplify the position and transition safely into the endgame, where the isolated pawn becomes an easy target, which makes it a liability rather than an asset. With these ideas in mind, both sides usually continue to develop their pieces: 6.Bd3 Nc6.

It is important to note that instead of 6…Nc6, Black can also try 6…Bd6 with the idea of replying c4 with c6: 7.0-0 0-0 8. c4 c6

Here, 9.Qc2 over 9.Re1 is recommended for white. After 9.Qc2 white is basically playing for two results, meaning it is a risk-free game for white. 9…Na6 10. a3 white prevents Nb4, 10…Bg4 11.Ne5 and now it leads to a very forced line due to tactical reasons: 11..Bxe5 12.dxe5 Nac5 13.f3 Nxd3 14.Qxd3 Nc5 15.Qd4 Nb3 16.Qxg4 Nxa1 17.Bh6 g6 18.Bxf8 Qxf8 19.cxd5 Qc5+ 20.Kh1 and white have good attacking prospects with ideas such as e6, h4-h5-h6 or Nc3-Ne4-Nf6.

9.Re1 is one of the rare lines that gives black realistic chances to play for a win in the Petrov Defense: 9…Bf5 10.Qc2 Na6 11.a3 Bg6 12.c5 Bb8 13.Nc3 f5 14.Ne2 Nc7 15.Nf4 Be8 16.h4 a5 17.a4 Qf6, black has a very solid center, and any capture of the knight on e4 will only allow black to recapture with a pawn, resulting in a stronghold for black in the center.

Now going back to 6…Nc6, the game typically continues: 7.0-0 Be7. As white has already castled, now is a good time to challenge the center with 8.c4. 8..Nb4, black wants to eliminate white’s powerful light-square bishop 9.Be2 0-0 10.Nc3 Bf5 11.a3, chasing away the knight 11…Nxc3 is the only move (if 11..Nc6 Nxd5), 12.bxc3 Nc6 13. Re1 Re8 14.cxd5 Qxd5 and this is a very classical middlegame for the move order.

Black has a better pawn structure in the long run, while white has a good grasp on the center due to the c- and d-pawns. White will try to expand in the center with c4-Bf4-Ne5 and Black will aim to control the d- and e-files with Rd8 as well as the c4 square with Na4.

Nimzowitsch Attack 5. Nc3

Petrov Defense - Nimzowitsch Attack 5. Nc3

Among all the choices white has, the move 5.Nc3 shows fighting spirit the most. The move comes with the concession of allowing black to double white’s pawns by capturing on c3 5…Nxc3. At the same time, after recapture with 6.dxc3 white has got control of the semi-open d-file as well as opened up bishop’s diagonal, which reveals white’s main idea behind the Nimzowitsch Attack: Develop pieces quickly with Be3-Qd2, followed by a queenside castle and launch a crushing kingside attack on the black’s king: 6…Be7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nd7 9.0-0-0 Ne5 10.h4 and now it is hard for black to coordinate their pieces for a counterattack on the queenside.

Thus, Black usually prefers to castle queenside to be on the safer side: 7…Nc6 8.Qd2 Be6 9.0-0-0 Qd7 10.Kb1 Bf6 11.h4 0-0-0

Even though white stands slightly better, black has higher chances of having an equal game.

Steinitz Attack: 3.d4

Instead of 3.Nxe5, white can be even more direct by playing 3.d4, known as the Steinitz Attack or Modern Attack. Very often, it can be transposed into lines from 3.Nxe5. A standard way that a game can continue in this line (3.d4) would be: 3…Nxe4 4.Bd3 d5 5.Nxe5 Nd7 6.Nxd7 Bxd7 7.0-0 and now black can either choose to castle kingside with 7…Bd6 8.Qh5 0-0 (sacrificing a pawn for activity) 9.Qxd5 Bc6, or to castle queenside 7…Qh4 8.c4 0-0-0 9. c5. In the latter variation, white is faster in the race for the attack. The move 9.c5 also prevents Bd6, which slows down black’s counterattack.

Three Knights Game: 3.Nc3

Petrov Defense - Three Knights Game

White can also opt-in for the Three Knights game with 3.Nc3. Black’s most principled reply would be to leave the territory of Petrov’s Defense and transpose into the Four Knights Game with 3…Nc6 resulting in a highly symmetrical, balanced game. If Black wants to have a bit more imbalance in the game, 3…Bb4 would be the best try: 4.Nxe5 0-0 5.Be2 Bxc3 6.dxc3 d6 7.Nd3 Nxe4 8.0-0=

Famous Games on Petrov Defense

Magnus Carlsen (2840) – Bu Xiangzhi (2705), 2017

Viswanathan Anand (2790) – Vladimir Kramnik (2788), 2016

Common Traps in Petrov Defense Opening

Trap №1

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4 4.Qe2 Nf6 5.Nc6+ winning the queen due to discovery check.

Trap №2

One of the most common traps players fall into (including the former World Chess Champion Vishy Anand!) is: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Bf5 6.Qe2 d5 d3 wins a piece due to the pin (6…Qe7 Nd5!+- followed by d3 next).

Pros and Cons of playing the Petrov’s Defense

Pros Cons
Can be stylistically difficult to face for players who prefer open games with attacking chances in an imbalanced position. Low winning chances as black. Draw is the best result black can hope for in most cases.
Black is the one who decides the opening, while 3..Nc6 allows White to determine the opening (Ruy Lopez, Scotch, Italian Game, etc.) Slow in the race for an attack in the positions with opposite side castling.
Solid structure for black with no clear weaknesses.


To sum up, the Petrov Defense is a solid and reliable option for black. While not as common among amateurs, it is a great weapon to add to your repertoire if you want a risk-free game. Additionally, the Petrov Defense has been played at the highest levels of chess and has stood the test of time. Its simplicity and flexibility make it a valuable opening to learn for players of all levels.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
Ask Question


Is Petrov Defense good for beginners?

Yes, the Petrov Defense can be suitable for beginners. It’s a straightforward opening that helps in understanding fundamental principles like development and pawn structure.

Is Petrov Defense solid?

Yes, the Petrov Defense is considered a solid opening. It offers good opportunities for equalizing and often leads to symmetrical pawn structures, which reduce the risk of early tactical complications.

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