The Queen’s Pawn Opening, beginning with 1. d4, is one of white’s most popular and sound options to begin a chess game.
White immediately takes control of the center and opens lines of development for his pieces. It’s clear that the Queen’s Pawn Opening adheres to the Chess Opening Principles. Many modern Grandmasters prefer to begin their chess games by advancing the d-pawn to the center of the board.
In contrast with the King’s Pawn Opening, the Queen’s Pawn is already defended (by the queen) upon its arrival in the center of the board, so any threat to this pawn doesn’t necessarily have to be immediately addressed.
This tends to afford each player a higher degree of flexibility than can be seen in a King’s Pawn opening. Many opening systems under the umbrella of Queen’s Pawn Openings are defined more by their ideas than by specific move orders – though that’s not to say that sharp, precise variations don’t exist!
Many distinct opening systems can arise from the Queen’s Pawn Opening. I’m going to break them down into two broad categories:
- Black places their own Queen’s Pawn in the center with 1…d5, equalizing control of the center.
- Black does not play the move 1…d5 and seeks to contest the center by other means.
The Symmetrical Queen’s Pawn Opening: 1. d4 d5
If white’s first move is good, it’s easy to see that black’s first move must also be good for the same reasons! Both sides have laid a claim to the center.
White’s two main choices are to play the Queen’s Gambit with 2. c4 – fighting for more space and pressuring black’s central pawn – or to play a so-called “System Opening,” where white develops calmly without generating pawn tension.
The Queen’s Gambit: 1. d5 d5 2. c4
The Queen’s Gambit remains white’s most popular response to the symmetrical Queen’s Pawn Opening by a large margin. It’s difficult to get the e-pawn involved in the fight for the center early on, so the c-pawn becomes important in the struggle for a space advantage.
But at first glance, this move appears to be unsafe – isn’t the c4 pawn undefended?
It is, but let’s consider the consequences of 2…dxc4:
- Black’s pawn has lost its control over the center. Now or later, white will likely be able e4 if he so desires.
- Black’s c4 pawn is weak. After white moves the e-pawn, white’s light-squared bishop will be attacking this pawn, and it’s not very easy to defend. White will often end up getting their pawn back.
These two factors combine to make the Queen’s Gambit the most popular pawn sacrifice in all of chess opening theory. Black often declines the sacrifice, and the white c-pawn is allowed to remain standing strong in the center of the board.
White Plays a “System” Opening
If white doesn’t want to create early central pawn tension by playing the aforementioned Queen’s Gambit, there are a variety of setups to choose from.
The Queen’s Pawn Opening is somewhat unique in that White can play some of these systems almost without regard to what black does in the meantime, thanks to the heavily defended queen’s pawn in the center.
For example, let’s consider the London System – perhaps the most popular of these “System” openings. White develops their dark-squared bishop to f4 before putting playing e3, c3, and finishing development:
- d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. e3 e6 6. Nbd2 Be7 7. Bd3 0-0 8. 0-0
White can play these same eight moves against almost anything black throws at them!
Many of these System openings aren’t the most ambitious try for a big advantage with white, to say the least. And despite the tempting option to forego opening memorization altogether and play a System Opening with white, I don’t recommend these openings for beginners, for two main reasons:
- Playing the same several moves to begin every game isn’t a good way to broaden your chess horizons and learn to play multiple types of positions
- These openings are almost completely devoid of any early tactics, threats, or pawn tension. It’s crucial to learn how to handle and calculate tactics!
That said, System openings remain popular at all levels of chess.
Some other System Openings are:
The Colle System – Similar to the London System, but without playing Bf4
The Colle-Zukertort System – Similar to the London System, but the dark bishop goes to b2 instead
The Torre Attack – Similar to the London System, but the dark bishop goes to g5.
The Veresov Attack – With 2. Nc3. It’s not popular to block in one’s c-pawn in a Queen’s Pawn Opening, but white might intend by playing the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit!
The Alternative: Black does not play 1…d5
If black doesn’t want the stable center of a Symmetrical Queen’s Pawn Opening, black can refrain from advancing the d-pawn on move one. Many of the openings in this section are considered more ambitious from black’s perspective, but that doesn’t come without risk!
Most of black’s most popular set-ups begin by playing 1…Nf6. This move is very logical – it makes sense to take the e4-square under control to prevent white from playing an immediate 2. e4 and seizing the whole center.
Some examples of popular 1…Nf6 openings are:
d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 – The Nimzo-Indian Defense
In the Benoni Defense, black challenges the center with the c-pawn. As is often the case in Queen’s Pawn openings, black is not afraid of the enemy d-pawn capturing his c-pawn (see the Queen’s Gambit above). White often advances with 3. d5, gaining space.
Black also has some offbeat options involving the first move 1…Nf6. For example, 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5!? is the Budapest Gambit.
It’s also worth noting that white is under no obligation to play the standard move 2. c4. For instance, 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 is the Trompowsky Attack.
What are some of black’s options besides 1…Nf6?
1.d4 f5 is the Dutch Defense.
Black seizes central space and takes the e4 square under control with the f-pawn! There are always downsides associated with moving the f-pawn in the opening (it exposes the “King’s Weak Diagonal”), but this can be an ambitious attempt by black to imbalance the game and fight for space.
A myriad of other first moves by black are reasonable (even 1…e5?!, the disreputable Englund Gambit, has been tried), but many of them require some knowledge of transpositions! For example, consider 1. d4 e6:
These moves by themselves don’t really constitute any particular opening system, but the situation will clarify over the coming moves. Some common outcomes are:
1. d4 e6 2. e4 and we have transposed to the French Defense, a King’s Pawn Opening.
1. d4 e6 2. c4 d5 leads to a variation of the Queen’s Gambit – just as if the game had begun 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6!
1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Bb4 and we’re back to a Nimzo-Indian Defense
1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 and once again we have a line from the Queen’s Gambit, characterized by both d-pawns in the center and white’s pawn on c4.
Needless to say, it can be challenging to play such a move unless you’re comfortable with all of the other opening systems it can lead to.
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