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Openings - Introduction to 1.d4
White usually plays an early c4 followed by Nc3. What can Black do?

In one of the first great chess manuals in the English language, written in the mid-19th century, Howard Staunton devoted almost 300 pages to discussions of 1.e4, but only 13 pages to 1.d4. Despite the huge imbalance in material, he introduced the opening favorably:

The Queen's Gambit is a very sound and instructive method of opening the game; less brilliant, because less hazardous, than the gambits on the King's side, but especially improving to the student, from the nicety and correctness of play on both sides which it demands. - The Chess-Player's Handbook

In this article we'll look at the most popular responses to 1.d4, known as the Queen's Pawn Opening. Many of the moves we'll discuss link directly to our repertoire recommendations. By following the link, you can see the board as it looks after the move has been played, discover some good continuations, and learn the names that have been given to the various openings.

Like many early writers and players, Staunton considered that the most natural response to 1.d4 was 1...d5. This was in the same era that considered any response to 1.e4 other than 1...e5 to be an Irregular Opening.

One of the first world class players to question 19th century opening theory was Richard Réti. His name is attached to the only sound opening which does not involve a Pawn move : 1.Nf3. Here's what he had to say about 1.d4:

At first it might appear that the Queen's Pawn Opening (1.d4 d5) is nothing but the reflected likeness of the King's Pawn Opening (1.e4 e5). On second thought however, it is really seen that that the Queen's Pawn Opening creates essentially different conditions in regard to the opening fight in the center. - Masters of the Chess Board (1933)

What did Réti mean by 'different conditions'? The initial position of a chess game is nearly symmetric. The White and Black armies mirror each other across an imaginary line drawn between the 4th and 5th ranks. In each army, the position of the Rooks, Knights, and Bishops mirror each other across another imaginary line between the d- and e-files.

Only the position of the King and Queen break the symmetry, and this makes all the difference between 1.d4 and 1.e4. As discussed in the parallel article Introduction to 1.e4 (see the link box at the bottom of this article), the battle after 1.e4 revolves around White's desire to play an early d4. Because the d-Pawn is automatically protected from behind by the Queen, Black can't prevent White from playing an early d4.

After 1.d4, Black has several moves, like 1...d5, which stop White from playing e4 during the early moves of the game. The only way White can force e4 is by granting a concession elsewhere. For example, 2.f3 prepares 3.e4, but weakens the squares around the King and takes away the best square from the White King's Knight.

Since an early e4 is not likely, the battle for control of the center shifts from e4 to c4. In most games opened with 1.d4, White plays an early c4 followed by Nc3. Black also keeps an eye on the possibility to play ...c5 followed by ...Nc6, but has a harder time carrying out the plan.

Closed game

After 1.d4 d5, most games continue 2.c4, for the reasons just discussed. Now Black has the choice of several good moves. Let's look at each one.


First, why not just capture the c-Pawn with 2...dxc4? This appears to win a Pawn, but Black can't keep it. One straightforward continuation is

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 b5 4.a4 c6 5.axb5 cxb5 6.Qf3
where Black pays a heavy price for greed. In all similar lines White undermines the Black pawn structure with a4 and, if necessary, b3.

Black should not play to keep the extra Pawn, but to let White recapture it with the Bishop. Then Black can harass the Bishop on c4 with Pawns. The following diagram shows a typical continuation.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.O-O a6

White leads in development. Black will play ...b5 and develop the Queen's Bishop on the a8-h1 diagonal.


Instead of capturing the c-Pawn immediately, Black can wait with 2...e6. Black will play ...dxc4 only after White develops the King's Bishop by Be2 or Bd3. Now when White recaptures with Bxc4, the Bishop will have taken two moves to reach c4. Compared with the previous diagram, where White played Bxc4 on the Bishop's first move, this sequence loses a move.

White delays developing the King's Bishop for as long as possible. The following diagram shows a typical variation.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7

The waiting game has had another consequence. White has developed the Queen's Bishop on c1 before playing e3, while Black has played ...e6 before developing the Queen's Bishop on c8. After e3, White's Bishop will be outside the White Pawn structure, while Black's Bishop is already inside its own Pawn structure. This gives White greater freedom of movement in the coming struggle.


Black has another possibility to avoid shutting in the Queen's Bishop : 2...c6. A typical variation is shown in the following diagram.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4

White must be careful after ...dxc4, since Black has already prepared one move (...c6) required to snatch and keep the Pawn on c4. The drawbacks of 2...c6 are that it doesn't develop Black's game and that it blocks an important square for the Knight on b8.

Indian defense

Black can also play 1...Nf6 to prevent 2.e4. This leads to a large family of variations known collectively as Indian defenses. Here again is Réti, the opening theoretician:

The essential difference between the Indian Defense and 1...d5; lies in the elasticity of Black's Pawn position. If, for example, White immediately exerts every effort to build up new strong points on his white squares and to enforce e4, then Black is not forced to persist stubbornly in his plan, but may feel free to adapt himself to the new situation and now in his turn concentrate on the black squares, and so, to make possible after all the moves ...d6 and ...e5. - Masters of the Chess Board

The key word here is elasticity. After the usual 2.c4, White plans to follow up with 3.Nc3, preparing 4.e4. Black has a variety of good moves, all leading to positions requiring radically different plans for both sides. We'll look at the two most popular moves -- 2...e6 and 2...g6 -- but there are other good moves for Black.


With 2...e6 Black plans to prevent e4 by pinning the Queen's Knight. After 3.Nc3, Black plays 3...Bb4, and will follow through with ...Bxc3 if White continues to prepare e4. White has several good continuations, but the following diagram shows one of the most popular.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3

White abandons the plan for an early e4 and switches to rapid development of the Kingside pieces. White can abandon the struggle for e4 a move earlier by playing 3.Nf3.

After 3.Nf3, Black often continues 3...b6, preparing to develop the Queen's Bishop on b7, and bringing another piece to bear on e4. White has several good continuations, and the following diagram shows one of the most popular.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3

White counters the development of Black's Bishop on the long diagonal by doing the same.


While 2...e6 is played to prevent White's e4, the move 2...g6 allows it. Black hopes that the Bishop on the a1-h8 diagonal will offer good counterplay against White's strong center.

After 3.Nc3, Black has two good systems. The first is 3...Bg7, allowing White to continue unimpeded central development. The following diagram shows a typical position.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3

Black played ...d6 to prevent White from advancing e5, which would chase the Knight on f6 away from the center. Both players will castle Kingside and then address the development of the Queenside.

Instead of ...d6, Black can challenge White's central buildup with an immediate 3...d5. If White continues to pursue e4, the following position can occur.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7

White has a strong center, but is weak on the long a1-h8 diagonal. Black will challenge the center and exploit the pressure on the diagonal by playing ...c5.


Another point which sets the 1.d4 openings apart from 1.e4, is that continuations from one system frequently switch into lines from another system. One line under the heading 'Closed game' started with

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6

Another line under 'Indian defense' started with

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3
Here Black continued 3...Bb4. If Black plays instead 3...d5, the opening has changed into the closed game!

Transpositions are frequently used by expert players to steer the game from openings they dislike to openings they prefer. Expert or not, all players need to recognize when transpositions occur.

Other responses

Black has other options after 1.d4. The only good move which has independent significance is 1...f5. This leads to positions completely unlike anything above. One popular continuation is shown in the following diagram.

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.O-O d5 7.Nc3 c6

The Black Pawns on d5 and f5 stop White from playing e4 without first playing f3. The price is that the Bishop on c8 is hemmed in by its own Pawns and has an uncertain future.

Other acceptable responses to 1.d4 can transpose into openings usually treated under 1.e4. For example,


In the era of Staunton, 1.d4 was a curiosity. Today it's mainstream. There are many good players who play nothing else on the first move. The attacks and brilliancies arising from 1.e4 may not come as early after 1.d4, but they do appear and they can be just as brilliant.

 Related Resources
• Part 1 - Avoid losing in the opening
• Part 2 - Select one move per position
• Part 3 - Practical considerations
• Part 4 - Unusual First Moves
• Part 5 - Introduction to 1.e4
• Part 6 - Introduction to 1.d4
• Traps! - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3