Learn two of the most reliable chess openings for black:
- The Modern Defense
- The Slav Defense
When deciding what openings to play, wouldn’t it be nice to have two reliable chess openings for black that cover a lot of ground? Think of the time you would save if you didn’t need to worry about white playing something different on move 2.
You can study the Ruy Lopez with black but what if white chooses the Italian Game or the Vienna Gambit? Perhaps, you chose to meet Bc4 with ..Bc5 thinking you’ll be okay in the Italian Game and white choses to play the Evan’s Gambit.
All of this stems from 1.e4. This is before you consider other openings by white like the Reti, the double fianchetto, and the English Opening to name but a few.
The same applies to 1.d4 where there are many options for white to choose from.
The Modern Defense
A Reliable Chess Opening For Black Against 1.e4
Fortunately, the versatile Modern Defense will provide you with an exciting, hypermodern, counter-attacking defense you can use against 1.e4 1.d4, and 1.c4.
There is no reason you can’t use this reliable chess opening for black against almost any other opening chosen by white. All of this from one opening will certainly help you cut back on the time you need for your opening studies.
Ideas In The Modern Defense
The Modern Defense allows you to play either a tactical game or a strategic approach. Although it’s a good stand-alone defense you might wish to combine it with the Pirc Defense later to keep your opponent’s guessing.
Another advantage of the Modern Defense is the lack of good sidelines white can play. The only really challenging one is 2.h4, but as long as you know what you’re doing, it can be handled.
Instead of weakening g5 with 2…h5, play 2…Nf6 instead and be willing to sacrifice a pawn for active piece play. White intends to weaken black’s kingside but remember you can find safety by castling long.
Take a look at this introduction to the Modern Defense by GM Damian Lemos:
White Establishes A Broad Center
Naturally the most likely response by white is to take control of the center with pawns on e4, d4 and c4. Black must respond by claiming his share of the center with moves like ..d6, ..e5 and ..Nd7.
Keep in mind the Modern Defense is a very flexible defense. Against a broad center a very effective strategy is to transpose to the Kings Indian Defense and expand on the queenside with ..a6, ..Rb8 and ..b5.
What about the natural d5 gaining space for White? This leaves a nice square on c5 for a knight. Remember to play ..a5 to prevent b4 driving away your knight.
Whenever the center gets closed it’s good to know your pawn breaks. In this instance you want to strike back with f5. Once again we make use of King’s Indian Defense ideas.
Black has nothing to worry about if white chooses dxe5 followed by Qxd8 since your king will easily find safety and the d4 square is a big weakness in white’s camp.
..Bg4 is a very good move if white should keep the tension with 5.Nf3 because now black can meet 6.dxe5 with ..Bxf3 7.Qxf3 dxe5 when the knight will soon move forward.
White Plays c3
Because the bishop on g7 is extremely strong, a logical approach is to support the center with c3. Placing a pawn on c3 takes away a natural square for the knight.
This means if white carelessly plays 3.c3 you respond with 3…d5 and now 4.exd5 Qxd5 gives black a centralized queen that can’t be attacked.
The ..d5 strike in the center is very useful against 3.f4 too because 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.Nc3 simply loses the d-pawn and if 5.Nf3, defending the d-pawn, then ..Bg4 immediately increases the pressure on d4.
Advancing the e-pawn is white’s most challenging response. This enters a position similar to the French Defense but black’s light-squared bishop isn’t blocked by a pawn on e6.
This is a key difference because it allows ..Bg4. Another frequently played maneuver by black is ..Nh6-f5 when white advances with e5.
As in the French Defense, ..f6 is a key break. Because this is a semi-closed position, the black knights are the equal of white’s bishops.
In many variations black gains counterplay by switching to a King’s Indian Defense set-up which is effective because white’s pieces are usually not on their optimum squares.
If you are interested in learning the ins and outs of the Modern Defense chess opening, GM Damian Lemos’ 6-hour Deep Dive course is a must-watch. Get it with 50% off here.
The Slav Defense
A Reliable Chess Opening For Black Against 1.d4
Although the Modern Defense is certainly playable against 1.d4 it’s good to have a second weapon up your sleeve. When choosing a reliable chess opening for black against 1.d4, you also need to take into account openings like the London System, the Colle System, and the Trompowsky.
As with the Modern Defense you want an opening which serves you well against multiple openings.
The Slav Defense is a very sound chess opening for black offering a solid position and dynamic piece play.
Your d5 pawn claims a fair share of the center while being supported by the c6 pawn. This is particularly useful against a white bishop on g2 and keeps a white knight from occupying d6 or c7 by preventing Nb5.
Ideas In The Slav Defense
This is an opening chosen by many World Champions including Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, and Vladimir Kramnik. If these chess titans played it you know that it’s a good choice.
Like the French Defense, black places his pawns on light squares in the Slav Defense. However, unlike the French Defense here the light-squared bishop can get developed beyond the pawn chain.
Another important point to keep in mind is by playing 1…d5 black stakes a claim in the center right away. He will sometimes give up this central influence to win the white c-pawn and hold onto it with the move b5.
In return for all these advantages black must be willing to develop his knight to d7 instead of c6. Also, the typical pawn break of ..c5 will cost black an extra tempo because he has already played 2…c6.
Slav Defense Fianchetto Variation
Even with the pawn on c6, white players who play the Catalan might still fianchetto the bishop on g2. The position is reached after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3.
Now black can put pressure on white with 4…dxc4 when white needs to decide how he will win back his pawn. Black threatens ..b5, defending the pawn.
In a number of lines black can support the c4 pawn with ..Nbd7-b6 and ..Be6. Black will fianchetto his bishop on g7 with a very nice position.
Slave Defense 4.Qc2
When white chooses the dual-purpose 4.Qc2, protecting the c4 pawn and preventing ..Bf5, black can play ..g6. This allows the dark-squared bishop to get developed on g7 and the g6 pawn supports ..Bf5.
A common theme is to meet Qb3 with ..Qb6. If white captures on b6 it opens the a-file for black’s rook. This develops a piece that hasn’t moved.
Before continuing with the article, you might be interested in watching this introduction to the Slav Defense by GM Damian Lemos:
If you want to get the full 8-hour Deep Dive course on the Slav Defense, you can grab it here at half price.
Slav Defense Exchange Variation
The Exchange Variation of the Slav Defense poses the same danger to the black player as the Exchange French. You could feel frustrated and upset about your opponent choosing such a simple line.
Instead, enjoy achieving equality this easily before you set about reminding white he shouldn’t rush to give away his advantage so easily!
After the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3, play 4…Nf6.
Developing the knight to f6 prevents e4 and allows you to meet Bg5 with ..Ne4. That’s why white plays 5.Bf4. Now after 5…Nc6, 6.Nb5 isn’t a threat because of 6…Qa5+ forcing the knight back to c3.
Play usually continues 6.e3 Bg4 with the idea of developing the bishop before playing ..e6. 7.Be2 Bxe2 helps black. No matter how white recaptures, black follows the same plan of ..O-O, ..a6, and ..b5.
White players seeking a positional game will likely play 4.e3 which defends the c-pawn. In light of this, ..dxc4 doesn’t threaten to win a pawn. Black is better off employing the ..g6 plan.
Against the popular two knights variation, 4…Qb6 is an interesting way to avoid learning lots of theory because the black player can employ the same ..Bg4 plan and exchange the bishop.
Follow this by solidifying your center with ..e6, ..Be7, and ..Nbd7. Bring your queen to b6 to keep the pressure on b2 and wait to see how white continues.
Final Words About These Two Reliable Chess Openings For Black
Apart from being easy to learn and offering chances to play for a win with black, these two openings will teach you a lot about your chess style.
Obviously, if you get good results with the Modern Defense you could consider studying the King’s Indian Defense. Because even if you choose not to use it against 1.d4 it’s easy to use the strategies from this opening in the Modern Defense too.
Players who enjoy the Slav Defense, which is a semi-closed defense, might also consider playing the French Defense against 1.e4.
Like the Slav Defense the attacking potential in the French Defense is very underrated. In light of this, there’s a good reason many players choose to play the Exchange Variation against both openings.