5 Aggressive Chess Openings for Black

The 5 best aggressive chess openings for black are:

  • Pirc Defense
  • Scandinavian Defense
  • King’s Indian Defense
  • Benko Gambit
  • Grunfeld Defense
5 aggressive chess openings for black blogimage

There are numerous aggressive chess openings for black to choose from. Unsurprisingly, the majority of them are hypermodern chess openings.

The defenses where black uses a kingside fianchetto are known to be both sound and aggressive.

There is no need to play a speculative chess gambit to play aggressively with black.

Here are five sound defenses for black that allow you to play aggressively.

  1. Pirc Defense
  2. Scandinavian Defense
  3. King’s Indian Defense
  4. Benko Gambit
  5. Grunfeld Defense

1. Pirc Defense

A double-edged approach by black who seeks to unbalance the position right from the start.

The Pirc Defense is an aggressive chess opening for black from the hypermodern school of chess.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6

The pirc defense is an aggressive chess opening from the hypermodern school of chess.
Starting Position of the Pirc Defense

In the Pirc Defense white is invited to establish a large center. Black will counter-attack the center with pawn breaks and active piece play.

Closely related to the Modern Defense (1.e4 g6) the Pirc Defense is more structured. Black attacks the pawn center as early as the second move.

The main variations black must know how to face include:

  • Austrian Attack
  • 4.Be3
  • Classical System
  • Fianchetto
  • 4.Bg5

The Austrian Attack

One of the most aggressive approaches white can adopt is the Austrian Attack with 4.f4.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4

Black can respond with 5…O-O when the mainline after is 6.Bd3.

pirc austrian attack
Pirc Austrian Attack

Now black does best to play 6…Na6 to support the c5 pawn break.

Play can continue 7.O-O c5 8.d5 Rb8 9.Kh1 Bg4 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Rxf3 Nc7 12.a4 a6 13.a5 Nb5.

Black has achieved equality. Taking twice on b5 doesn’t win a pawn for white because the e4 pawn is left undefended.

Take a look at the following model game by black from 2018

4.Be3

This is a flexible move by white who often plays Qd2 and seeks to exchange dark-squared bishops with Bh6. White will then consider launching a kingside attack.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Be3

pirc 4.be3
The dangerous 4.Be3

In this instance, black does best to save a tempo by leaving the bishop on f8 and begin play on the queenside. Fortunately black has the very useful move 4…c6.

White usually continues with 5.Qd2 and after 5…b5 can choose between 6.f3 or 6.Bd3.

Classical System

Against the system with classical development black does well to respond with 6…Bg4.

The following position is reached after the moves 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 O-O 6.O-O Bg4.

6...Bg4 is a good way to meet the classical setup in the pirc opening for black.
Pirc Classical 6…Bg4

7.Be3 is a popular choice for white when play might go 7…Nc6 8.Qd2 e5 9.d5 Ne7 10.Rad1 Bd7.

Pirc Classical 7.Be3
Pirc classical 7.Be3

Another option for white is 7.h3 when 7…Bxf3 8.Bxf3 Nc6 9.Ne2 e5 10.c3 Nd7 11.b3 when white has a very slight advantage.

pirc classical 7.h3
Pirc Classical 7.h3

The Fianchetto Variation

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.g3 Bg7 5.Bg2 O-O is the starting position for the Fianchetto Variation.

pirc fianchetto 1
Pirc Fianchetto Variation

This is not considered a dangerous variation for black to face. White will usually develop his Ne2 instead of f3 to avoid blocking the bishop on g2.

6.Nf3 is simply met with 6…Bg4 followed by developing the pieces and striking in the center with …e5.

6.Ne2 e5 7.h3 Nc6 8.Be3 exd4 9.Nxd4 Bd7 10.O-O Re8 leaves black well-placed with very little to fear from white.

pirc fianchetto 7h3
Pirc Fianchetto 7.h3

Learn more on the Fianchetto Variation of the Pirc Defense with this free lesson by GM Damian Lemos:

The Deceptively Dangerous 4.Bg5

Once again white intends to play with the queen supporting the dark-squared bishop. Here the bishop is developed to g5 with f4 and e5 to follow.

pirc 4bg5 starting position
Pirc 4.bg5 Starting Position

Black has nothing to fear but some of the lines can get very sharp. Of course, if you have chosen to play the Pirc Defense, sharp lines aren’t going to scare you.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Bg5 Bg7 5.Qd2 h6 6.Bh4 Nbd7 7.O-O-O g5 8.Bg3 Nh5 9.Nge2 c5 10.f3 Nxg3 11.hxg3

pirc 4bg5 2
Pirc 4.Bg5

Black will seek to obtain counterplay by playing on the dark squares. Yet again, black is doing fine.

2. Scandinavian Defense 3…Qd6

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6

The Scandinavian Defense is a little-known aggressive opening for black
The surprising Scandinavian Defense with 3…Qd6 promises dynamic play.

Regardless of what opening you play with either color, do you know more about the Caro-Kann opening or the Scandinavian Defense 3…Qd6?

Most chess players know more about the Caro-Kann. If you ask them about the Scandinavian Defense they are likely to know much more about 3…Qa5 and 3…Nf6.

Are you a Caro-Kann Defense player looking for a way to spice up your opening repertoire? The move 3…Qd6 is often followed by …c6.

scandi
The Scandinavian Opening is an unbalancing opening very suitable for attacking players

The advantage of reaching a Caro-Kann position by playing the Scandinavian Defense is you take your opponent out of their pet lines against the Caro-Kann.

1.e4 players are unlikely to invest a lot of time studying the latest cutting-edge theory against 3…Qd6. They are likely to have one pet line that’s easy to play and leads to a solid position.

This makes a lot of sense because why would you invest a lot of your opening study time preparing for an obscure opening line?

Far better to spend the time learning how to meet 1…e5, the Sicilian Defense, French, Caro-Kann, and Pirc Defenses.

Think of the surprise factor this aggressive chess opening for black will give you.

The Qd6 is a dynamic move for  black to play in the Scandinavian chess opening for black.
Scandinavian 3…Qd6

After the opening moves 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 black has created an unbalanced position. Imbalance is a fundamental quality of any position if you are playing it aggressively.

Now the most dangerous approach by white is to play 6.Ne5.

How to respond to this move is must-know opening theory for black if you adopt the …Qd6 Scandinavian.

The Dangerous 6.Ne5

The decidedly dangerous 6.Ne5 is best met with 6…Nbd7.

The game starts:

Even against the dangerous 6.Ne5 in the Scandinavian chess opening black is holding his own.
Scandinavian 6.Ne5

Now white has three main moves

  • 7.Nc4,
  • 7.Bf4,
  • and 7.f4

7.Nc4 Qc7 8.Qf3 preparing Bf4 and queenside castling…

scandinavian 8.qf3
Scandinavian 8.Qf3 when white threatens to win the queen with Bf4

…so black creates space for the queen with 8…Nb6 9.Bf4 Qd7 10.O-O-O Qg4.

scandinavian 10 qg4
Black offers a queen trade with 10..Qg4 to reduce white’s attack

Against 7.Bf4 continue with 7…Nd5 8.Nxd5 Qxd5 9.Nf3 Nb6 10.Be2 Bf5.

scandinavian 7bf4
Scandinavian 7.Bf4

7.f4 is the favored move of Shirov and arguably the most dangerous for black. White overprotects the e5 square and plans to launch an all-out assault with g4-g5 and Ne4.

Black’s best response is 7…Nb6 8.g4 g6 9.g5 Nfd5 10.Ne4 Qd8 11.c4 Nc7 12.Qe2 Bg7 13.c5 Ne6 – you wanted to play aggressively and nothing shows aggressive intent like a piece sacrifice.

The best way to familiarize yourself with a sharp line is to study top-level games. Here Shirov himself is held to a draw.

Facing Quieter Options by White

Let’s take a look at how black can play if white doesn’t play the most dangerous move.

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6 6.h3 to prevent …Bg4 is a move you are likely to face. Especially at club level.

The quiet 6.h3 doesn't pose a challenge for black in the Scandinavian chess opening for black.
Scandinavian 6.h3

6…Bf5 is the best square for the bishop now that …Bg4 is not available. White can try for an advantage with 7.g4 or play the solid 7.Bd3.

7.Bd3 allows 7..Bxd3 8.Qxd3 Nbd7 9.Bg5 e6 10. O-O-O Be7 11.Kb1 O-O-O.

Scandinavian 7.Bd3 allows black to obtain easy equality in this aggressive chess opening and still play for a win.
Scandinavian 7.Bd3

Continuing with 7.g4 is a more forcing approach by white.

Play can continue 7…Bg6 8.Ne5 Nbd7 9.f4 e6 10.Bg2 Qc7 11.Qe2 Nxe5 12.dxe5 Nd7 putting pressure on e5 to make the f5 advance less appealing.

In the following video, chess openings expert GM Marian Petrov presents the Scandinavian Defense with 3.d4 and then Nf3 from white:

GM Marian Petrov teaches the Scandinavian Defense

3. King’s Indian Defense

A swashbuckling attacking chess defense by black best suited for players who aren’t prepared to sit back and be attacked.

The King’s Indian Defense is for players who want to take the initiative, draw white into over-extending, and launch a deadly counter-attack.

Why wouldn’t you want to play an aggressive chess opening for black played by such greats as Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov?

This exciting opening begins with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6.

The King's Indian Defense is an aggressive chess opening by black offering good attacking chances on the kingside.
The King’s Indian Defense is an aggressive chess opening by black offering good attacking chances on the kingside.

Black’s fortunes in the game depend a lot on the bishop on g7. If this bishop is blocked out of play, by a pawn on e5 for example, then black will suffer throughout the game.

However, if the bishop is given unrestricted access to the a1-h8 diagonal black is doing very well indeed. Often it’s worthwhile for black to sacrifice the e-pawn and open the long diagonal.

The 8020 Tactics Multiplier course will teach you all the tactics you must know to play the King's Indian Defense. This is both a solid and aggressive chess opening for black.
80/20 King’s Indian Defense GM Bryan Smith
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The dynamic qualities of this defense have forced white to try many different set-ups in an attempt to gain an advantage. The main variations being:

  • the Classical Variation,
  • Samisch Variation,
  • Fianchetto Variation,
  • Four Pawns Attack, and
  • the Averbakh Variation

The King’s Indian Defense Classical Variation

As the name suggests, white develops his pieces in classical fashion. By focusing on development white intends to minimize the targets black has to attack.

White is content to play with more central control and a space advantage. Black will often target the d4 pawn.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5

King's Indian Defense
The Classical King’s Indian Defense Variation

Striking back in the center forces white to make a decision about the nature of the position. Will he choose a more open position with 7.dxe5 or keep the position closed with 7.d5?

White has a third option to delay this decision with 7.Be3 continuing to develop and put the question to black?

The most popular response by black after 7.Be3 is 7…Ng4. Here is Anand defeating Kasparov in a game from 1996.

The Samisch Variation of the King’s Indian

This variation is named after the German grandmaster Fritz Samisch, who also has a variation in the Nimzo-Indian Defense named after him.

After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 we reach the starting position.

The Samisch variation is one where white intends attacking on the kingside
The Samisch Variation is one where white intends attacking on the kingside

White bolsters the center with the f-pawn and intends to use it to launch a kingside attack. The plan is a straight-forward one with the moves Be3, Qd2, g4, and h3 to follow.

The Fianchetto Variation

By developing his bishop to g2 white takes the sting out of any kingside attack by black. Keeping the center fluid further aids to keep black from launching a flank attack.

Starting position of the King's Indian Defense Fianchetto Variation
Starting position of the King’s Indian Defense Fianchetto Variation

White is hoping to stifle black’s counterplay and make use of his space advantage to win the game.

Black in turn strikes back in the center and opens the position with 7…e5 and 8…exd4.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.g3 O-O 5.Bg2 d6 6.Nf3 Nbd7 7.O-O e5 8.e4 exd4 9.Nxd4 Re8 10.h3 a6.

Black will play for queenside expansion where he has a pawn majority
Black will play for queenside expansion where he has a pawn majority

Black will move his rook to b8 getting it away from the bishop on g2 and supporting his queenside pawn storm.

The Four Pawns Attack

Undoubtedly the most dangerous variation for black to face. White constructs a massive pawn center with the sole intention of sweeping black off the board.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f4 O-O 6.Nf3.

The dangerous Four Pawns Attack by White
The dangerous Four Pawns Attack by White

In the face of such a center black can’t afford to lose any time in striking back. The pawn break …e5 isn’t as effective here because white has two pawns attacking e5.

This means black needs to switch and play 6…c5. The mainline continues 7.d5 e6 8.Be2 exd5 9.cxd5. Here the most solid choice for black is 9…Bg4.

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The Averbakh Variation

Named after the great Russian grandmaster Yuri Averbakh white makes it difficult for black to play the e5 pawn break.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 O-O 6.Bg5.

kid averbakh
King’s Indian Defense Averbakh Variation

Now 6…e5 loses material to 7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Nd5 with a double attack on f6 and c7.

The knight on d5 attacks both f6 and c7
The knight on d5 attacks both f6 and c7

Black can prepare the e5 pawn break with 6…Na6 defending c7 and after 7.Qd2 play 7…e5.

4. The Benko Gambit

Originally named the Volga Gambit, a lot of its popularity today is due to the Hungarian-American GM Pal Benko. Benko was responsible for showing black could rely on long-term positional compensation.

Unlike in most gambits this aggressive chess opening for black provides long-lasting benefits even after exchanges.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5.

benko gambit starting position after 3...b5
The Benko Gambit

The idea behind the gambit is to obtain the initiative on the queenside. By sacrificing the a-pawn black gets two semi-open files for his rooks and queen.

Developing the bishop to g7 adds pressure on the long diagonal. Black’s knights have several good squares on the queenside – a4, c4, b5 and d4.

Any advance of the e-pawn by white weakens the d3 square giving the knights another good square.

Benko Gambit Accepted

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6.

The Benko gambit accepted is a chess opening where black sacrifices a pawn for open files on the queenside.
Benko Gambit accepted

White bravely accepts the challenge thrown down by black.

Black must respond precisely with 5…g6 because 5…Bxa6 allows 6.g3 g6 7.Bg2 d6 8.b3.

The opening move order is important in the Benko Gambit Accepted
The opening move order is important in the Benko Gambit Accepted

Now white will get a bishop on b2 to oppose the black bishop on g7. There’s no rush to capture the pawn on a6 unless white plays Nc3.

The move Nc3 prepares e4 allowing the bishop on f1 into the game. Black wants to have a bishop ready to capture on f1 and deny white castling rights.

After 6.Nc3 Bxa6 white usually adopts one of two approaches

  • giving up castling rights with e4 and Kxf1
  • or developing the bishop to g2.

Against the immediate 7.e4 play might go 7…Bxf1 8.Kxf1 d6 9.Nge2 Bg7 10.g3 O-O 11.Kg2 Qb6 12.Rb1 Na6.

Now black will open the h1-a8 diagonal with ...Nc7 and ...e6
Now black will open the h1-a8 diagonal with …Nc7 and …e6

with the idea of opening the long diagonal h1-a8 by playing …Nc7 followed by …e6.

And against 7.Nf3 play 7…Qa5! This is essential because in the old King’s walk lines 12.a4 establishing a knight on b5 gave white an advantage.

The move 7.Qa5 is an important move in the Benko Gambit Accepted
The move 7.Qa5 is an important move in the Benko Gambit Accepted

Now if 8.Bd2 Bg7 9.e4 d6 10. Be2 O-O is fine for black. This is familiar Benko territory.

Take a look at how Bareev handles the position in this enlightening game.

If white ever plays Bxa6, respond with …Nxa6 and continue in typical Benko style by bringing your rooks to the queenside.

Benko Gambit Declined

Considering all these advantages for black it makes sense for white to decline the gambit. Two ways to decline it are with 4.Nd2 and 4.Nf3.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.Nd2.

The Benko gambit declined 4.nd2 is an attempt by white to nullify this aggressive chess opening for black.
Benko Gambit Declined 4.Nd2

When the game can continue 4…bxc4 5.e4 Bb7 6.Ngf3 e6! 7.dxe6 dxe6.

benko gambit declined 7dxe6
Black has easy development and active piece play.

Black might have more pawn islands but he has a lead in development and the c5 pawn gives him control of d4. A good, simple plan for black is to play …Qc7 and bring a rook to the d-file.

4.Nf3 – This is the more popular way to decline the gambit. A good way for black to respond is with 4…Bb7.

4.Nf3 is a popular way for White to decline the Benko Gambit in the hope of taming this  aggressive chess opening for black.
4.Nf3 is a popular way for White to decline the Benko Gambit

Play might continue with 5.a4 Qa5+ 6.Bd2 b4 7.Qc2 d6 8.e4 Nbd7 9.Bd3 g6 10.O-O Bg7 11.h3 O-O 12.Be3.

A very dynamic position with chances for both sides after 12.Be3
A very dynamic position with chances for both sides

5. The Grunfeld Defense

In the spirit of the King’s Indian Defense, the Grunfeld is a counter-attacking hypermodern chess opening for black. A wonderful opening for the attacking player.

This aggressive chess opening for black begins 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5.

The Grunfeld Defense is an aggressive chess opening for black from the hypermodern chess school
Grunfeld Defense

In the Grunfeld Defense having the initiative outweighs any theoretical judgment of the position.

This opening is named after the Austrian grandmaster Ernst Grunfeld. He introduced it back in the 1920’s and 30’s. Later the Soviet Union rise to power in chess helped it gain respectability.

World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik began using it in his games and even in his World Championship match with Vasily Smyslov.

In the Grunfeld Defense black wastes no time in striking back in the center. This happens as early as move three after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5.

The Exchange Variation

This is the most logical approach by white. Since black has allowed white the opportunity to seize control of the center, why not take it?

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4.

grunfeld exchange
White takes the opportunity to play e4 in Grunfeld Exchange

After 5…Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5, the move 8.Rb1 is the most challenging for black to face.

White moves his rook away from any attack by the bishop on g7 and plans to meet any central pawn break by black with d5.

Leaving the c-pawn open to capture does not concern white. Vladimir Kramnik often played this variation.

There’s no denying if you take up the Grunfeld Defense you will need to know the theory of this variation. Black does best to adopt a positional approach with 9…b6.

Here are two of the strongest players in the world showing us how the game might unfold.

The Russian System

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 O-O 7.e4.

grunfeld russian system
The dangerous Grunfeld Russian system

Another extremely dangerous system for white and one where black must know his theory. However, 7…Nc6 helps reduce the theoretical workload.

Vasily Smyslov employed this system and it remains a good system today. Both Vachier Lagrave and Mamedyarov have played it with black.

Want to know more about the Grunfeld? US Champion Samuel Shankland helps you out:

Final Thoughts on these Aggressive Chess Openings for Black

There’s no reason to restrain yourself if you are playing black. Nor do you need to choose an opening of questionable character.

How can you unleash an attack if you are thinking about the shakiness of the ground beneath your feet?

This is no way to play chess in an attacking frame of mind or any other mindset.

Here you have five great attacking options you can play with confidence in an attacking style.

Act Now! Get 50% Off the ever-popular 80/20 Tactics Multiplier King’s Indian Defense for Only $29.95! The 80/20 Tactics Multiplier Series gives you tactics targeted towards your specific opening choice. Join the ranks of past and present chess greats and play this aggressive chess opening for black with confidence.

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