Writing an article on the best chess openings for black is difficult because it’s not that simple. In chess, context is everything. As with anything else in chess, it depends on the position. What opening you play as black depends on the moves your opponent is playing with the white pieces.
There is no best opening for Black because one opening that may be considered good against one position would be the worst possible opening you could play against another position.
For example, if white plays 1. e4, a good response as black would be to play 1… c5, which is the Sicilian Defense. So saying the Sicilian Defense is one of the top openings for black makes sense, but only in this particular position. The Sicilian Defense would be a bad opening for Black to play if White plays 1. d4.
With all that being said, this doesn’t mean we can’t put together a list of the top openings that can be played with the black pieces. Below are openings that are played more frequently at the beginner, advanced, and Grandmaster levels because they are tried and true to be effective responses to most of what the white pieces play.
Criteria Used For This List
I chose openings that are classified universally as one of the top openings that tried and true.
Putting together a list like this is difficult because there are so many factors to consider. This is why I gave each opening in the list a specific attribute in the title, such as the best opening for beginners.
Here’s how we chose openings for this list.
Tried and True
7. Caro-Kann Defense: Best Opening For Black For Intermediates
1. e4 c6
The Caro-Kann Defense is one of the best responses against e4 that has increased on popularity in recent years.
The main line is 2. d4 d5 3. Nc6 dxe4 4. Nxe4. Black’s most common responses is either 4… Bf5 or 4… Nd7. Black plays 1… c6 and 2… d5 to control some space in the center while allowing White to put another pawn front and center with 2. d4. which is also the most common second move for White. Black responds with 2… d5.
Why The Caro-Kann is One of The Best
Black successfully develops pieces without creating weaknesses.
Black is able to maximize piece activity without blocking any other pieces.
Black’s structure and coordination make make it difficult for White to infiltrate.
6. French Defense: Best Opening For Black For Beginners
1. e4 e6
The French Defense is one of the best responses to 1. e4. As Black, you respond with 1… e6. The most commonly played second move by white is 2. d4 putting more material in the center trying to control it.
Black then responds with 2…d5, also pushing a second pawn further in the center confronting White’s pawns asking what do you want to do here. White can capture with the e-pawn, Black could then simply recapture, takes takes, and the game continues.
The overall strategy of the French is to defend first while developing in a cramped structure and then counterattack.
The main line commonly continues with 2. d4 d5. Black puts a pawn in the center defended by the e6 pawn and also beginning the confrontation in the center of the board. Black then should develop Queen side Knight and Bishop to prepare to castle.
Why The French Defense One of The Best
You can play the French from a beginner rating all the way to Grandmaster level.
Black develops a solid position making it difficult for White to attack.
If you’re not sold on why the French is one of the best openings for Black, know that the Super Grandmaster, the one and only Hikaru Nakamura said that he played the French from the time he was a beginner all the way to achieving the GM title.
5. Sicilian Defense: Best Opening Against e4
1. e4 c5
The Sicilian Defense is one of the most complex and theory heavy openings in the entire game of Chess. There are over a hundred pages of theory on the Sicilian in many of the best Chess books. However, some of the variations of the Sicilian aren’t as complicated as others, making some of the variations playable by beginners if you are one.
The Sicilian Defense is Black’s best response to e4, Black plays 1… f4 which challenges White with an unsymmetrical position.
Why It’s One of The Best
Many different variations to learn making the Sicilian one of the most adaptive responses in order to defend against every move White plays.
The Sicilian instantly creates an unsymmetrical position on the board while developing pieces that are active and positionally advantageous.
Tried and true, has proved to be an effective defense to play with Black with hundreds of years of theory based analyzed relentlessly.
For more information, see the complete guide on how to play the Sicilian Defense.
4. King’s Indian Defense: Best Opening For Black To Play Against Anything
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6
The King’s Indian Defense is a solid defense against white. Black’s King will be safe and secure. You’ll avoid the majority of any shenanigans that could erupt in the opening, such as any two to four move checkmate patterns, like the Fool’s mate and Scholar’s Mate.
You’ll avoid any early Queen attacks and many gambits that white could play. You can also play the King’s Indian against anything white plays, you’ll always be able to use it.
The main line commonly follows with 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. d3 and then castling to remove the King from the center of the board to safety.
Why It’s One of The Best
The King’s Indian Defense is one of the best openings for the Black pieces because it’s a straightforward opening that black can play without much trouble from White. Black can play this line against most of what White would play.
You avoid early Queen attacks.
You avoid mate patterns like the Scholar’s Mate.
Your King is completely safe.
You control some space in the center.
You’ll come out of the opening with a secure piece structure. The middlegame is more difficult with the King’s Indian.
You can play the King’s Indian Defense against anything White plays.
3. Scandinavian Defense
1. e4 d5
The main line commonly continues with 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3. If White attacks your Queen with 3. Nc3, you can either retreat and play 3…Q or simply go back with 3… Qd8.
If you move your Queen back, your next few moves are very easy to remember. Develop both Knights. Activate your Bishop by moving to either f5 or g4.
Move your light squared Bishop first so you can then play e6 and activate your dark squared Bishop. If you play e6 first, you’ll just block your light squared Bishop will become a bad Bishop and it will be useless.
Why It’s One of The Best
It’s simple to learn and play.
You can castle short or long.
Development is straightforward and doesn’t require memorization.
2. Dutch Defense: Best Opening For Black Against d4
1. d4 f4
The Dutch Defense looks like a reversed opening, the Sicilian Defense, and is a strong defense for the Black pieces that can be played against nearly anything White plays with the exception of the King’s Pawn, 1. e4.
The Leningrad Variation, 1. d4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 g6 is by far the most popular line to play.
Black fianchettos the dark squared Bishop making it active, as well as adding protection to the King.
Why It’s One of The Best
Can be played against anything White plays with the exception of the King’s pawn, 1. e4.
Safety of the King is strong.
Makes for an exciting game full of attacks due to the imbalance brought by the pawn structure.
The position is secure and flexible after avoiding any King threats from pushing the f-pawn and getting the King safety.
1. Pirc Defense
1. e4 d6
The Pirc Defense has proved to be a strong opening for Black in recent times in the hypermodern school of thought in Chess. It’s similar to the King’s Indian Defense except it’s more simple to play.
The theory behind the Pirc Defense is to control the center as opposed to occupying the center.
The main line commonly continues with 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6.
The legendary Bobby Fischer played the Pirc Defense, two of which are important games in Chess history are used as examples below.