The Ultimate 1.d4 Chess Opening Guide

Tl:dr: A whirlwind tour through the 1.d4 opening universe, covering common systems and responses, the concepts you need to know, helpful resources to optimize your study, and an immortal 1.d4 game to inspire you to queen’s pawn opening greatness.

Introduction: The Ultimate 1.d4 Opening Guide

There are some choices you have to make in this life that define who you are. Are you a dog person or a cat person? Do you believe in a higher power? Can pineapple really go on a pizza? Another of those questions is undoubtedly: Are you a 1.d4 player or a 1.e4 player (or both)? If you don’t know, this article is here to help you answer that question.

We covered the ultimate guide to 1.e4 already, so what’s the deal with 1.d4?

Next to 1.e4 (the king’s pawn opening), 1.d4 (the queen’s pawn opening) is the most popular opening move to a chess game. While 1.d4 is not an opening on its own, it does lead to a group of potential openings and games that are generally recognizable by the following characteristics:

  • A solid centre for White
  • A closed position
  • A slower, more positional game.

Played by such chess luminaries as Botvinnik, Capablanca, Duda, Lasker, Pillsbury, Karpov, and many more, it’s fair to say that 1.d4 has some powerful proponents in its corner. Here’s what it looks like:

A 1.d4 openingA 1.d4 opening
White moves their d pawn up two squares, to d4. This is a queen’s pawn game.

Luckily, after reading this article, you will be fully prepared to become a 1.d4 player. We’ll take a closer look at what separates 1.d4 from 1.e4, run through some of the reasons the queen’s pawn opening is so popular, and give you an introductory overview of White’s go-to openings after this illustrious opening move.

Why 1.d4 instead of 1.e4?

Now, before going any further, it is worth addressing a common misconception, which, if you have spent any time playing or reading about chess online, you may have come across. The idea I am referring to is summarized by statements like: “1.d4 is boring. 1.e4 is for gallant brawlers and 1.d4 for cowardly theoreticians…” and so on. Note that these people are also likely to say: “I don’t play 1.d4 because Bobby Fischer said not to.” It is important to realize that these people are not Bobby Fischer. Nor in all likelihood do they play like him.

The reality is, there are several reasons to choose the 1.d4 opening over 1.e4. The origin of the above concept lies in the fact that, after 1.d4, even with little to no opening theory under their belt, White can build a rock-solid centre, keep the position closed, maintain an uncompromised pawn structure, develop their pieces in relative peace, and hold on to their first-move advantage all the way into the middlegame. Sounds pretty good, right? It is these same characteristics that lead some players to roll their eyes at any 1.d4 opening: if played right, it may not be a pleasant game for Black.

It’s also a misconception that all 1.d4 games are always slower and more positional. If you compare a game in the Slav Defence (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6) to a game in the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5), the former is generally headed for much sharper territory. And, as you improve and gain more experience, you will see that it is absolutely possible (and in fact common) to develop an active approach as White after 1.d4. We’ll see just how White can enjoy open and attacking games after 1.d4 later on in the article (including a famous example of a wild 1.d4 game from the archives), but if you can’t wait to crack some heads with a queen pawn, check out Polish FM Kamil Plichta’s so-called “madman’s repertoire” after 1.d4: Go for The Throat: Play 1.d4.

Is 1.d4 a Good Opening for Beginners?

However, it is true to say that compared to games after 1.e4, where fireworks are never far away, chess games after a queen’s pawn opening do tend to be more measured affairs, with both sides building up pressure and developing long-term plans before lighting the fuse.

For this reason, those just starting out in chess are often recommended to play 1.e4 because — the reasoning goes — as a beginner, your games are likely to be unpredictable anyway, and the experience gained from the every-piece-for-himself bar fight of tactics, trades, and dubious sacrifices that result from more open games will help beginners to develop as chess players. Sort of like throwing an infant into a pool to see if they will swim.

But, while the baptism-of-fire theory does have some merit to it (and 1.e4 games are often fun and instructional), this does not mean that the 1.d4 opening should be discounted for beginners. In fact, slower games may well suit those who prefer a less do-or-die approach to learning, and who don’t want to get continually swept away by tactics. Best of all, after learning a few key ideas in a queen’s pawn opening, you can reliably achieve an objectively favourable position. For many beginners, the ability not to end up hopelessly lost after 5 moves will be reason enough to reach for that queen’s pawn.

Convinced yet? Let’s look at some specific 1.d4 openings.

Top 5 1.d4 Openings to Learn Today

In a king’s pawn opening, after 1.e5 there are different variations that you have at your disposal, the most common being the Ruy Lopez, the Italian Game, and the Scotch Game, among several others. But, crucially, your opponent might not play 1.e5. Similarly, the games you will get after playing 1.d4 depend heavily on how Black responds. And there are a lot of ways the game could go. In the interest of brevity, and to cover at least the main branches after 1.d4, we’ve collated five of the top 1.d4 openings you really need to know, including a summary of Black’s possible responses, the main ideas, and some key tricks to employ or avoid, all to give you a taster of how each opening could slide into the ranks of your repertoire.

1.The Queen’s Gambit

Where else to start but with the Queen’s Gambit? Probably the most famous opening of all time (and the only opening with a hit TV show named after it?), the Queen’s Gambit is undoubtedly the opening to recommend for beginners wanting to learn the ways of 1.d4. Dating back as far as 1490, this 1.d4 opening is played by chess players of all levels, from total beginners to today’s super GMs, not to mention the strongest players throughout history (in Alekhine vs Capablanca’s 1927 World Chess Championship showdown in Buenos Aires, 32 of 34 games were Queen’s Gambits). The position is considered a Queen’s Gambit after 1.d4 d5 2.c4:

A Queen's Gambit, the most famous opening in chess.A Queen's Gambit, the most famous opening in chess.
This is the starting point for the Queen’s Gambit, the most famous opening in chess.

White allows Black to capture their c pawn, but there is no way for Black to capture without paying a price! White is distracting Black’s d pawn from defending the key central square, e4. If Black captures on c4, the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Black is temporarily up a pawn, but White can follow up with 2.e3 or 2.e4, creating a powerful centre (and opening up their bishop for an immediate recapture of the pawn on c4. If Black does not capture, but instead plays 2 …e6 (the Queen’s Gambit Declined), White usually leaves the tension between the pawns, playing 3.Nc3 and once again undermining the pawn on d5. In both games, the opening will revolve around control of the centre, and White will have an array of options to compensate for the gambited pawn, if Black ever takes.

Before going any further, it is important to note that the game could head in various directions according to how Black responds. After 2.c4, you can end up with Queen’s Gambit Accepted (1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4), Queen’s Gambit Declined (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6), the Slav Defence (1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6), the Semi Slav Defence (1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6), the King’s Indian Defence (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6), the Queen’s Indian Defence (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6), the Nimzo-Indian defence (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4), the Tarrasch Defence (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5)… and that’s not even all! As each of these lines branches out into very different games, each with their own world of tricks, traps, and pitfalls (welcome to chess), we will obviously not attempt to cover them all in this blog post. But don’t let that discourage you! Your opponent will not know everything, and by following basic chess opening principles, more often than not you end up in a favourable position, and at minimum there will still be at least some chess to play. You will definitely learn and develop as a player.

To get a headstart on how to start your own Queen’s Gambit journey, here is an excellent introduction to the 1.d4 opening, for free, courtesy of Chessable and FM Daniel Barrish: Short & Sweet: 1.d4, or IM John Bartholomew’s (also free) guide to a super-solid 1.d4 Repertoire for White.

If nothing else, it’s worth checking out these courses to discover common gambits you’ll want to know (and avoid falling into) after 1.d4, including the Albin Gambit, Elephant Gambit, Englund Gambit, and Cambridge Springs Defence!

2. The London System

(1.d4 and 2.Bf4, or 1.d4, 2.Nf3, and 3.Bf4.)

Similar to 1.d4 openings in general, this next opening is (unfairly) maligned as boring, dry, and repetitive. In fact, it is solid, reliable, and — best of all for beginners — very easy to learn and start playing. This opening is known as a system because you can basically play the same set up against any combination of responses that Black can come up with. In comparison to the vast array of tricks and tries available to booked up opponents facing the Queen’s Gambit, the London System allows White to establish a strong pawn centre, and well-developed and coordinated pieces (including a bishop outside the pawn chain on f4). After quickly castling on the kingside, White has concrete attacking ideas on this side of the board, with the other bishop on d3 eyeing h7, the knight on f3 ready to jump to e5, and the White queen itching to pile in on the fun:

A typical setup for White in the London SystemA typical setup for White in the London System
This is a typical setup for the White pieces in a London System opening. Though Black may have some tricks up their sleeve (typically including Qb6 or c5), this is a very solid and difficult-to-disrupt plan for White 1.d4 players.

A typical attacking continuation in the London is getting the knight to e5, playing f4 to further support it, then working to remove the defender of the h7 square in front of the (castled) Black king. Whether that involves a pawn storm or a trade with one of your bishops, the result is often too much for Black to handle. Besides White’s attacking ideas in this opening, another major benefit of playing the London is that, unless Black has learned specific ways to dismantle it, White’s set up is almost impregnable.

Beyond the London proper, there is also the Jobava London opening, responding to 1…d5 or 1. … Nf6 with 2.Nc3 before 3.Bf4, with a pawn push to e4 looming. According to Simon Williams, a.k.a The Ginger GM, it’s an opening that’s so easy to learn it’s “great for lazy people who maybe have lives and jobs outside of chess.” The Jobava includes added perks like, after Black plays c5, you can play Nb5, piling pressure on the c7 square. Now, after Black plays knight to a6 to prevent the fork, you can play c3, giving you all the benefits of a normal London setup but with a knight on B5 rather than back on B1!

A position reached from a Jobava London system after a 1.4 openingA position reached from a Jobava London system after a 1.4 opening
This is a position reached after a Jobava London opening. Black needs to play Na6 to avoid getting forked, and White can later play a4 to cement this knight for the foreseeable future, before expanding on the kingside.

For more detail on how to play the London System, you can start off with our free course, Short & Sweet: The London System. For more detail, consider The London System: Essential Theory, from IM John Bartholomew, again. Finally, if you want to investigate the Jobava London, GM Simon Williams has the scoop, with the excellent course: The Jobava London System.

3. The Catalan Opening

(1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3)

Next up, the Catalan Opening. For White, this opening is like a combination of the Queen’s Gambit and a Réti opening (1.Nf3), and is another queen’s pawn opening that can be reached from a variety of move orders. The main idea is that, after playing g3, White will fianchetto their bishop on g2, gaining what is known as a Catalan bishop. Facing the Catalan, Black has two main approaches. If Black takes the pawn, the opening morphs into the Open Catalan, which looks like this:

A Classical Open Catalan opening, after 1.d4A Classical Open Catalan opening, after 1.d4
A Classical Open Catalan is reached after the move order: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.Nf3 Be7.

If Black elects not to take the pawn on c4, the game will be a Closed Catalan, in which Black’s position will be a little more solid, thanks in part to the extra protection of the d pawn on the h1-a8 diagonal. However, they will be a little short on space in which to develop their pieces.

In the Open Catalan especially, the bishop on g2 plays a fearsome role in the game, staring down on b7, hampering Black’s kingside development, and always threatening to be unleashed by a timely knight jump to, say, g5. A pawn push to e4 is also a handy weapon in White’s pocket, allowing them to break open the centre and unleash a queenside attack whenever they decide to pull the trigger.

Generally, the Catalan is one of the most solid tries for White to safeguard their advantage, and often enough White will have an opportunity to force a queen trade into a favourable endgame. Popular with grandmasters including GM Vladimir Kramnik, who revived this opening at the top level, no 1.d4 repertoire should be built without investigating the Catalan opening!

If that sounds like your kind of queen’s pawn opening, look no further than GM Srinath Narayanan’s uncontested masterpiece on the Catalan: Lifetime Repertoires: The Catalan, also available in Short & Sweet style, here.

4. The Trompowsky Opening

(1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5)

If you’re here looking for an off-beat way to play a 1.d4 opening, sidestep Black’s main repertoire of responses, and get down to just playing chess, it’s time you met the Trompowsky opening!

A Trompowsky Opening, after a surprise Bg5A Trompowsky Opening, after a surprise Bg5
The Trompowsky Opening is a great way to catch your opponent off guard, replacing the thematic 2.c4 with a surprise: 2.Bg5!?

This attack is a great way to cut down on the theory and restrict Black’s responses, thanks to the surprise 2.Bg5!? in place of the thematic 2.c4 move you should recognize from the Queen’s Gambit. This move rules out several of Black’s favoured lines after 1.d4, including the Grünfeld Defence, the Nimzo-Indian Defence, the Benoni Defence, the Benko Gambit, the King’s-Indian Defence, and more… So don’t be surprised if your opponent’s smile disappears after move 2 (always a good sign).

Although after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5, White has less of a clear advantage than if they had followed up with c4 (according to the engine), since you are playing a human and not a computer, this is unlikely to be a problem. What you will have instead are a confused opponent and several attacking options, including taking on f6 and inflicting doubled pawns and, after 2. …Ne4, playing 3.h4 (the Raptor variation!) in which White will likely sacrifice a pawn or two in return for a strong attack.

Head to Short & Sweet: The Trompowsky to check out the opening, and if you want to go all in, I can heartily recommend FM Kamil Plichta once again, with his full course: Break the Rules, play the Trompowsky (including “the coolest variation in chess”, the Raptor, the Vaganian gambit, and more).

5. The Blackmar–Diemer Gambit

(1. d4 d5 2. e4 dxe4 3. Nc3)

And finally, no guide to a 1.d4 opening would be complete without including at least one genuine gambit (the Queen’s Gambit is not actually considered a true gambit as there are such a variety of ways for White to easily gain back their pawn or to receive more than enough compensation for said pawn). Although the Blackmar-Diemer is considered to be refuted at a high level, it is definitely playable at club level and below, and it’s a lot of fun! It starts after 1. d4 d5 2. e4 dxe4 3. Nc3, with White gambiting their e pawn instead of their c pawn:

The starting position of the Blackmar-Diemer GambitThe starting position of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit
The Blackmar-Diemer gambit is one of the most aggressive continuations for White after a 1.d4 opening. It also tends to score among the highest win rates for White after 1.d4 in a majority of databases!

Black will usually play Nf6, defending their pawn and developing, while White’s idea is to push the f pawn to f3. If Black goes ahead and takes the second pawn, White can either recapture with the queen (the Rider gambit) or, more commonly, with the knight on f3. White is down in material, but with an aggressive continuation involving castling queenside, expanding on the kingside and using the semi-open d file and their hyper-active pieces to keep the Black king exposed and in the centre of the board.

If giving up a little material in exchange for a devastating attack after 1.d4 sounds like the opening for you, check out the quick and effective course: Blackmar-Diemer for Blitz.

Top 5 Responses to 1.d4 for Black

So far, so good. But what about 1.d4 openings for Black? What are the most common responses you can expect as a new 1.d4 player? As mentioned above, the amount of theory to discuss to cover every possible Black response to 1.d4 would be immense and impractical. So, instead, we’ve chosen five of the most common openings you’ll see Black reach for in response to a queen’s pawn opening, covering main move orders, classical lines, and warning you of a trap or two along the way.

1. The Queen’s Gambit Declined

(1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6)

As covered above, if Black wants to go along and play a Queen’s Gambit, he has one or two options: Accepted or Declined. The Queen’s Gambit Declined is one of the most common beginnings to a chess game, and it looks like this:

The Queen's Gambit DeclinedThe Queen's Gambit Declined
This is the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Black has neglected to take the pawn offered on c4.

Compared to the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, this opening is a more passive, but very solid and classical response to the Queen’s Gambit. It’s also the favoured response to the Queen’s Gambit at the super-GM level, so you know it’s got something going for it. The key move is the pawn push to e6, defending the apex of Black’s centre: d5. This builds a strong base in the centre for Black and, though they have a problem to solve — namely how to develop the bishop on c8 — the benefits to this response include easy development of the knight to f6, and the bishop to e7. This gives Black a quick path to castle kingside, before entertaining possible ideas of disrupting White’s centre with a pawn push to c5, or even c6 followed by b5.

Again, there are various ways for the game to continue after (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6), including the Exchange variation (in which White captures on d5 and Black recaptures). One advantage to playing the Exchange variation as White is that you gain a pawn advantage in the centre, as you are trading a wing pawn for one of Black’s central pawns. As White, the main ideas to remember are: it’s usually a good idea to develop your knight to c3, attacking d5 and blocking Bb4+ and, if you can, develop your dark-squared bishop to g5 (playing this before blocking the piece in with, say, e3). Castling kingside may be a safer option in several variations, as Black has more potential to open up files on the queenside. All told, after 5 moves, you could expect to end up with a position like this:

A typical position in the QGD.A typical position in the QGD.
This is a fairly typical position in the QGD.

Both sides are coordinating well, and there is some remaining tension to be resolved in the centre. Black is slightly behind in development but solid, and White will be eyeing a timely e4 move to break open the position once all their pieces are ready and developed.

For more detailed analysis and exploration of how to play a QGD, we can heartily recommend GM Alex Colovic’s course: Lifetime Repertoires: Queen’s Gambit Declined, as well as the Short & Sweet version, here.

2. The Slav Defence

(1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6)

Perhaps the next most common response to a Queen’s Gambit, meet the Slav family of openings. The Slav Defence begins from the position reached here:

The opening position for the Slav Defence, reached after a 1.d4 openingThe opening position for the Slav Defence, reached after a 1.d4 opening
In the Slav Defence, Black elects to defend their d5 pawn with a wing pawn move, c6.

Just like the QGD, the Slav has different variations, including the “pure” variation, which we will look at below, the Semi Slav (reached after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6), in which Black plays c6 and then e6, once again blunting their c8 bishop, and the Chebanenko Slav (1 d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6), characterized by the very interesting and multi-faceted move: 4. …a6.

In the Slav proper, the classical continuation is 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4, reaching this position:

A mainline in the Slav DefenceA mainline in the Slav Defence
This is a mainline continuation in the Slav Defence.

Black gets the chance to develop their bishop freely to g5 or f4. Also they avoid losing a central pawn for a wing pawn (as they would if White decided to go into the Exchange variation of the QGD as explained above). However, although White now has to find time to recapture this weak pawn on c4, this move also helps White by taking away the move c7-c5 from Black, often a valuable attacking tool against a Queen’s Gambit. Black could now play c6-c5, of course, but it would have cost them two moves to achieve, not one.

As White, probably the main thing to know about playing the Slav is …there is a lot to know! For beginners and people who don’t have time to read a few books, playing the Exchange Slav variation (1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 cxd5) allows you to avoid the majority of Black’s key tries for an imbalance and reach a fairly symmetrical position with a slight space advantage and some nice queenside attacking ideas.

For more detail about the Slav and how to meet it, check out our free course: Short & Sweet: The Slav or review FM Daniel Barrish’s recommendations for White in the Short and Sweet: 1.d4 course.

3. The Tarrasch Defence

(1. d4 d5: 2. c4 e6: 3. Nc3 c5)

Next up, the Tarrasch Defence! This is a variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined but, as you will see, it is well worth its own section. The Tarrasch is reached from this position:

The starting position of the Tarrasch DefenceThe starting position of the Tarrasch Defence
This is the starting position of the Tarrasch Defence, with Black playing the aggressive 3. …c5.

The Tarrasch Defence is characterized by a solid defensive move by Black, 2. …e6, followed by a very aggressive one: 3. …c5, immediately challenging White’s centre. Typically, White will take on d5, Black will recapture with their e-pawn, and Black will usually end up playing the game with what is known as an Isolated Queen’s Pawn (IQP):

In the Tarrasch Defence, Black can end up with an Isolated Queen's PawnIn the Tarrasch Defence, Black can end up with an Isolated Queen's Pawn
If White plays dxc5, Black will have an Isolated Queen’s Pawn.

An IQP can a long-term weakness that is often a pivotal factor in queen’s pawn games. Though Black gains great mobility for their minor pieces through these trades (with free rein for both bishops) Black may spend much of the game hampered by the need to defend this weak pawn.

All in all, the Tarrasch Defence is a direct counter to a Queen’s Gambit, allowing Black to actively wrest some central control away from White and gain open lines for their pieces. However, it leaves White with a clear target: Black’s centre! White has several ways of attacking and adding pressure to this centre, including fianchettoing their bishop on g2, and usually has the chance to develop the other bishop to g5 or f4.

Once again, there are many different variations and lines the Tarrasch could follow, including the delayed Semi-Tarrasch (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 c5), the Schara-Hennig Gambit (4…cxd4), and more… which you may want to investigate further! For more detail on how to tackle the Tarrasch for White, head for the course: The Solid 1. d4, by GM Adrien Demuth.

4. The Nimzo-Indian Defence

(1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4)

Now for the Nimzo-Indian Defence. The Nimzo-Indian is part of yet another family of openings known as the “Indian Defences” or “Indian Games”, characterized by the first moves, 1.d4 Nf6. These include the King’s Indian Defence, the Queen’s Indian Defence, and the Bogo-Indian Defence, which will be covered in another blog post. Reachable from various move orders, the Nimzo-Indian opening is a very solid position for Black, reached after Black plays Nf6, e6, and pins the White knight on c3 with Bb4:

A Nimzo-Indian DefenceA Nimzo-Indian Defence
This is a Nimzo-Indian Defence, played in response to a 1.d4 opening.

Known as a hypermodern opening, the Nimzo-Indian sees Black contesting the centre from a distance, with pieces, rather than occupying it with pawns. This doesn’t mean Black is giving up the centre, but rather that they are delaying their assault for later. Common plans for Black in a Nimzo-Indian include fianchettoing the c8 bishop on b7, trying to control the e4 square, and building up a strong defence in front of a castled king, before later striking in the centre with d5 and c5.

With the bishop on b4, Black is open to trading off their bishop pair in return for White having doubled c-pawns. With the pinned knight, Black also deters White from playing e4 and further expanding in the centre. Most commonly, White will respond by moving their pawn to e3 (the Rubinstein variation), developing their knight to f3, castling kingside, and slowly building on their centre. The Nimzo-Indian is famously difficult to break down, so patience is a virtue for White in this opening!

To learn more about how to play the Nimzo-Indian (and for ideas on how to face it, too), WFM Maaike Keetman’s seminal and newly-updated course: The Fierce Nimzo-Indian has got you covered.

5. The Benko Gambit

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

Finally, we’ll wrap up the top 5 responses to 1.d4 for Black with a classic: the Benko Gambit. Also known as the Volga Gambit, this is an opening characterized by the move 3. …b5 in another opening, the Benoni Defence. This is a Benko Gambit:

The beginning of the Benko Gambit, one of the most aggressive responses to the Queen's GambitThe beginning of the Benko Gambit, one of the most aggressive responses to the Queen's Gambit
A Benko Gambit. Instead of playing 3. …e6 in the Benoni, Black gambits their b-pawn.

The Benko Gambit is one of the strongest responses to a 1.d4 opening that White can face. If Black knows how to play, White must be very precise to deal with the threats it presents, so be warned! Though Black sacrifices their b-pawn early on, the compensation gained after White accepts the material can be more than sufficient for an advantage, including open a- and b-files if White accepts the second sacrificed pawn that Black offers up on a6:

If White accepts Black's sacrifices in the Benko Gambit, they will be up in material.If White accepts Black's sacrifices in the Benko Gambit, they will be up in material.
Black plays a pawn down if White accepts this line in the Benko Gambit.

This allows Black to create a serious (and seriously coordinated) attack on the queenside, usually recapturing on a6 with their bishop (restricting White’s light-square bishop) and then fianchettoing their other bishop on g7, castling kingside and, eventually, bringing their kingside rook over to the open b file to join in on Black’s mounting queenside attack. The fun thing about a Benko Gambit game is how imbalanced the game becomes. That’s why a good response for White is to respond in kind, and develop their own attack on the kingside!

For more ideas about how to play the Benko Gambit, there is a lot of material available, including the excellent course: Lifetime Repertoires: Benko Gambit from GM Swapnil Dhopade, also available as a free course: Short & Sweet: Benko Gambit. For ideas from the White side of the game, once again FM Daniel Barrish has some practical ways for White to gain initiative and punish Black’s material sacrifice in his Short and Sweet: 1.d4 course.

Top 3 Advantages of Playing a Queen’s Pawn Opening

So, now you know some 1.d4 openings, let’s recap some of the main benefits of playing them! Of course, your games will vary based on how each one develops, but these are general benefits that hold true about playing chess after 1.d4.

1. Stay in control

Control, initiative, and tempo are key concepts to master in chess. In 1.e4 games, Black has almost equal opportunities to lead the game into wild, aggressive territory. In contrast, after 1.d4, (and especially so in a London System, Catalan, or Trompowsky game) White is more often in charge of dictating the type of game that will ensue, with positional manoeuvres and timely trades at their disposal, while Black is typically forced to react. For example, in tournament play, 1.d4 is often a way for White players to avoid forcing theoretical lines from Black after 1.e4, such as draw-machines like the Berlin Wall. So, whether you want to play like a madman or in more calm and collected fashion, 1.d4 puts you in the driver’s seat.

2. Surprise (or squeeze) your opponent!

Chess is a psychological game. This is one of the characteristics that separates the game from pure science. It is not entirely empirical; there is another human being on the other side of the board. And a lot of those human beings may well prefer to play 1.e4 games. Though this is of course not true across the chess spectrum, many beginner/intermediate players are more used to facing 1.e4 openings (or perhaps the London System). By playing a classical 1.d4 2.c4, or one of the more off-beat queen’s pawn games detailed above, you may be taking your opponent out of their comfort zone. If so, guess who’s got the advantage? And even if this is not the case, playing 1.d4 is a safe path to playing calm, well-planned chess, and simply settling down to play some chess. Even better, it will allow you to slowly build a suffocating positional squeeze on Black’s pieces until finally the pressure is too much. And then, only when the game is all but won, unleash your attack.

For the most comprehensive material on building a 1.d4 repertoire that will truly last a lifetime, start out with Short & Sweet: Sam Shankland’s 1. d4, before graduating to the US grandmaster’s lifetime repertoire version (in three parts!).

3. Expand your chess horizons

Perhaps the most convincing argument to learn to play 1.d4 is that it will improve your chess. As former World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov said: “I have found after 1.d4 there are more opportunities for richer play.” If you have only ever played 1.e4, you are depriving yourself of a wealth of different positions on the board. For this reason, it is highly recommendable for beginners and intermediates to try out both 1.e4 and 1.d4! While you may find out you in fact prefer 1.e4, it is only by playing different positions and experiencing how different games develop that you can widen your chess horizons and make an informed decision on what you actually prefer!

A 1.d4 Game for the Ages

Now that we’ve covered the basics of 1.d4 openings, it’s time to sit back and bask in some genius. There are a lot of games we could have picked, but this classic 1904 contest between Henry Nelson Pillsbury and Emanuel Lasker is about as good as they come: a masterclass in initiative, with Pillsbury coming up with threat after threat in a rolling assault that just keeps gaining pace until The World Champion can no longer hold on. Get out a board (or load up the analysis tool on Chessable) and play along!

The game begins, of course, with Pillsbury (with the White pieces) playing his queen’s pawn to d4 and, after 1. …d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c5 5.Bg5 cxd4, we have a Queen’s Gambit Declined, Semi-Tarrasch Defence:

A semi-tarrasch position from Pillsbury-Lasker, 1906A semi-tarrasch position from Pillsbury-Lasker, 1906
After 5 moves, the game heads into a Semi-Tarrasch set up.

After 5 moves, the game heads into a Semi-Tarrasch set up.

White continued by recapturing with the queen, with 6. Qxd4, and, after 6. …Nc6, inserting the intermediary move 7. Bxf6, with Lasker opting to take with the g-pawn 7. …gxf6, before Pillsbury moved his queen to safety, 8.Qh4:

A position in Pillsbury-Lasker, 1906A position in Pillsbury-Lasker, 1906
After this initial clash, Pillsbury has given up the bishop pair, but damaged Black’s pawn structure on the kingside (we’ll see how this trade favours White as the game continues).

The game continued with 8. … dxc4 9.Rd1, White taking control of the open d-file, and Black shielding the queen with 9. …Bd7. Then, with 10.e3, White develops and attacks the c4 pawn, Black defends and attacks Pillsbury’s knight with 10. …Ne5, Pillsbury trades knights with 11.Nxe5 fxe5, before refusing a queen trade and regaining a pawn with 12.Qxc4:

Pillsbury refuses a trade of queens in Pillsbury-Lasker, 1906Pillsbury refuses a trade of queens in Pillsbury-Lasker, 1906
The queen trade is clearly not a favourable continuation for Pillsbury: Lasker’s pawn structure is weak, now with doubled e-pawns, and Black’s king is looking more and more vulnerable, so White definitely wants to keep his most powerful attacker on the board.

But the game isn’t over yet! Lasker attacks the undefended pawn on b2 with 12. …Qb6, a threat which Pillsbury entirely ignores, playing for development with 13. Be2 Qxb2 14. O-O. After these moves, 14… Rc8 looks like a skewer, but White’s knight is not lost as 15.Qd3 forces Lasker to move his rook to the seventh rank to guard against mate on d7:

Pillsbury finds defence in attack, threatening mate on c7Pillsbury finds defence in attack, threatening mate on c7
Although he’d like to take on c3, Black’s next move is forced: Rc7 or checkmate is coming!

The game continued 16. Ne4 Be7 17.Nd6+ Kf8, then 18.Nc4, gaining a tempo on the Black queen, which Lasker moves to b5, 18. …Qb5, looking to pin the knight and protect the hit e5 pawn:

White is for choice, but Black is holding on. The next two moves will decide the game.White is for choice, but Black is holding on. The next two moves will decide the game.
White is for choice, but Black is holding on. The next two moves will decide the game.

The next couple of moves are critical! Pillsbury plays the logical 19.f4, looking to open up the f-file for his rook and add pressure to the severely weakened Black king and Lasker makes the questionable decision to comply, taking the pawn with 19. …exf4. Instead of recapturing immediately with the rook, Pillsbury shows the power of patient play with 20.Qd4, hitting the rook on h8 and adding a third attacker to the doomed f-pawn. If Black moves the rook away, Qxf4 creates a double threat of checkmate on f7 and taking the rook on c7. So, after Lasker played 20. …f6, 21. Qxf4 is only threatening to take on c7:

The f file is now semi open and the pawn on f6 is pinned. The f file is now semi open and the pawn on f6 is pinned.
The f file is now semi open and the pawn on f6 is pinned.

Still, the pressure is mounting. Lasker plays 21. …Qc5 to defend c7, Pillsbury plays 22. Ne5, taking advantage of the pin on f6, and prompting 22. …Be8. Then 23. Ng4 f5 24. Qh6+ Kf7, followed by the devastating 25. Bc4:

With 25. Bc4, the Black king is starting to sweat.With 25. Bc4, the Black king is starting to sweat.
With 25. Bc4, the Black king is starting to sweat.

Hitting e6 twice. The bishop can’t be taken by the queen due to the game-ending royal knight fork on e4 and, crucially, pinning the pawn on e6 to the king. So, after Lasker plays 25. …Rc6 to defend on e6, Pillsbury’s next move, 26. Rxf5+, puts Black in a world of hurt.

Black’s queen is forced into a pin, and the game is all but lost.Black’s queen is forced into a pin, and the game is all but lost.
Black’s queen is forced into a pin, and the game is all but lost.

The point here is, after Black’s 26. …Qxf5, Pillsbury’s 27. Rf1 pins and wins the queen, after the essentially forced 27. …Qxf1+ 28.Kxf1. After this, White exploits the pin on e6 even further with 28. …Bd7 29. Qh5+ Kg8 30.Ne5, and Black resigns in the face of the attack, with checkmate inevitable even if mate on f7 is avoided. The final position, then was as follows:

The final position in Lasker-Pillsbury, 1906The final position in Lasker-Pillsbury, 1906
From this position, Lasker resigned, facing a forced checkmate sequence.

What a game! If anyone tells you there is no such thing as an exciting game after a queen’s pawn opening, you’ll know what to show them. You can check out the full game at your leisure here.

And with that, we will conclude this ultimate guide to playing the 1.d4 opening. We hope you enjoy playing queen’s pawn opening games, and learning about the different positions that arise. If you need tips about how to best learn a chess opening, or what opening to learn as a beginner, we’ve got you covered. And once you’ve settled on which 1.d4 opening best suits you, soon enough, you’ll be playing like Pillsbury.

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