After 1. e4 e5, the Petrov’s Defense perfectly follows Petrosian’s advice that it is easier to play for the win from an equal position than from a bad position.
This defense may have many different names – Petroff Defense, Russian Defense, and Petrov’s Defense – but no matter which name you choose it will prove an extremely reliable defense for you against 1.e4.
2…Nf6 throws down the gauntlet at White’s feet and asks if he will take up the challenge of playing for a win or settle for a draw?
When you play Petrov’s Defense, you create an impregnable fortress, not even our silicone friends can breach. In fact, the more time your opponent spends with his chess engine trying to figure out an advantage, the better.
These hours of fruitless searching are sure to dishearten him and make 2…Nf6 the last thing he wants to see on the chessboard.
GM Damian Lemos knows the potential of Petrov’s Defense and shows us how we can meet one of the mainline choices by White.
The first thing to remember is the drawish reputation Petrov’s Defense doesn’t mean you can’t play for a win.
Given that Fabiano Caruana used Petrov’s Defense to keep Magnus Carlsen at bay in their world championship match, there is every reason for you to be optimistic about Petrov’s Defense.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Petrov’s Defense: Cochrane Gambit
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7
No matter how strange it looks, Magnus Carlsen has played the Cochrane Gambit. In light of this, the gambit deserves our attention, and we must be prepared to play against it.
This move is designed to unsettle Black and muddy the waters of the opening phase because, objectively, this gambit isn’t sound.
You won’t find too many games where Magnus Carlsen resigns with White after only 25 moves.
Although the Black king is exposed, Black is ahead in development and has a good position, free of weaknesses.
Apart from muddying the waters, White hopes the two central pawns for the piece and exposed Black king will compensate for the sacrifice. Against the unprepared Black player, it often proves enough compensation.
4…Kxf7 5.d4 c5 6.Nc3 cxd4 7.Bc4+ Ke8 8.Qxd4 Nc6 9.Qe3 Qb6 10.Qg3 Nd4
This line of Petrov’s Defense shows that no matter how it appears on the surface, if your opponent can’t reach your king, the king is safe.
If Magnus Carlsen couldn’t find a winning attack, then you can safely assume your opponents will struggle to checkmate you.
In fact, 15 moves later, Magnus resigned.
Carlsen, M. (2882) – Yu Yangyi (2752), 2020.01.31, 0-1
Petrov’s Defense: the Popular 6.dxc3
You are likely to face this line often because White’s strategy is simple and direct – castle long and launch a kingside attack. Of course, this is a double-edged strategy and gives Black plenty of winning chances too!
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3
Fabiano Caruana has held this position for a draw in two games against Magnus Carlsen, one game against Mamedyarov, and one game against Maxime Vachier Lagrave. All three of these players were rated over 2800!
6…Be7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Bc4
Now Black can play either 8…0-0 or 8…Be6
8…0-0 9.Qd2 Ne5 10.Nxe5 dxe5
IM Alina Kashlinskaya was able to neutralize any thoughts of an attack by White by quickly exchanging queens. She then quickly gained the upper hand on the kingside thanks to a pair of connected past pawns.
All it took was 25 moves before her 2528 Elo rated opponent resigned!
Here is how she managed to achieve her impressive victory.
Gunina, V. – Kashlinskaya, A., 0-1, 68th ch-RUS w 2018
In a battle between two 2700 rated players, Duda defeated Grischuk in 33 moves. Duda chose to play 8…Be6 and avoided opposite-side castling by castling queenside too!
Grischuk, A. – Duda, J., 0-1, chess.com Speed 3m+1spm 2018
Petrov’s Defense: 3 Knights
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Bb4
3.Nc3 is a typical response by players who haven’t spent much time preparing to face the Petrov’s Defense. Black plays …Bb4 to remove the defender of the e4-pawn.
In symmetrical positions gaining the bishop pair is not a significant advantage for White.
4.Nxe5 0-0 5.Nd3 Bxc3 6.dxc3 Nxe4 7.Be2 d6 8.0-0 Nd7 9.f3 Nec5 10.Be3 Re8
The next game is an excellent example of how the pawn structure helps Black counter White’s bishop pair advantage. Despite having the bishop pair in an open position, White had to settle for a draw.
Zhang, Zhong – Wang, Yue, 1/2-1/2, Asia Chess Cup, 2012
Trying to force an advantage in the opening with Black is a risky strategy. However, choosing a sound defense that contains the potential to punish an over-ambitious opponent is an excellent approach.
No matter if you spell it Petroff, Petrof, or Petrov it remains a reliable defense for Black against 1.e4.
The Petroff Defense provides Black with a solid defense against 1.e4 with minimal theory.
You can use it with confidence, knowing that, at worst, you will gain easy equality in an open position while often taking your opponent into unfamiliar territory.
From an equal position, you will find it easier to punish any mistakes by your opponent if he strives for too much.
Caruana felt confident enough in the Petroff Defense to use it against the world’s best player. You can feel confident playing it against your opponents.
Despite its undeserved reputation for being drawish and being used by players only seeking a draw, the Petroff Defense is a fighting defense.
The first step to winning is to avoid defeat! The Deep Dive Petroff Defense by GM Damian Lemos will provide you with a rock-solid defense even chess engines can’t break down.