Alekhine Defense is King’s Pawn opening that starts with 1. e4 Nf6 is the Alekhine defense. This opening is named after former world champion Alekhine Alexander.
It is not seen very much at a top level, but at a club level it can work as a good surprise for your opponent. Black immediately attacks the e4 pawn with the knight, provoking it to advance. One major advantage of this opening is that it avoids main popular lines like Italian game or ruy lopez and forces white to play a sideline.
White mostly plays 2.e5 here. Any other move like 2.Nc3 or 2.d3 is passive. Black can simply continue with 2…e5. Black goes 2…Nd5 3.d4 d6. Here white has two options. 4. Nf3 is the main line or Modern variation of the Alekhine defense. Other option is 4.c4 Nb6, which is also widely played.
Four pawns attack with 5.f4
White takes advantage of the big pawn center and goes all-in for attack with 5.f4. This leads to very sharp and tactical lines.
Here black has two options. 5…g5, sacrificing a pawn to shatter white’s pawn structure. After 6.fxg5 dxe5 7.dxe5 Qxd1 8.Kxd1 white is a pawn up but he can’t castle and his initial connected pawn force has become fragmented. The e5 pawn now becomes a target of attack with Bg7 and Nc6. Black has enough compensation for the pawn.
Black can also go for the main line with 5…dxe5 6. fxe5 Nc6 7.Be3 Bf5 8.Nc3 e6 9.Nf3 Be7
Now white can calmly play 10.Be2 then 0-0 and complete the development of play 10. d5, which leads to very sharp game after 10…exd5 11.cxd5 Nb4 12.Nd4 Bd7 13.e6 fxe6 14. dxe6 Bc6. White has a deadly pawn at e6 but on the other hand all of black’s pieces have become active.
Exchange variation with 5.exd6
Instead of 5.f4 White can choose to play little less aggressively with 5.exd6. Here black can capture 5…exd6 with the intention of playing Be7-Be6 and 0-0 with a positional game. Black can choose 5…cxd6 with the idea of playing g6-Bg7 with a fianchetto bishop. The line goes 6.Nc3 g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.Rc10-0 9.b3
This is the main set-up of Alekhine defense exchange variation. Here Black can play 9…e5 10.dxe5 dxe5 11. Qxd8 Rxd8or something like 9…Nc6 10.d5 Ne5 11.Be2 with a playable game.
Modern variation with 4.Nf3
Instead of going 4.c4 immediately, white is happy with more space in center and starts developing naturally with 4.Nf3. This is the main variation of the Alekhine defense. White aims to complete his development quickly and maintain his central space advantage for long term. Here black can play 4…g6 or the main move 4…Bg4
After 5.Be2 e6 6.0-0 white can play c4 kicking the knight or h3 harassing the bishop. In this line black also chooses to capture 5…Bxf3 instead of 5…e6. It is generally not advisable to exchange the bishop for knight in the opening. But in this opening, white’s f3 knight is very dangerous since it controls the key squares e5 and d4. Therefore black can consider 5…Bxf3.
Here is the blog that helps to understand bishops and knights better.
After the main line 6.0-0 6…Be7 7.h3 Bh5 8.c4 Nb6 9.Nc3 0-0 10.Be3 we have position as below.
Both sides have castled but black is yet to complete his queenside development. White has a better control over center and completed development. But black still has a playable game because white doesn’t have an immediate clear-cut plan of making the most of his advantage.
It seems counter-intuitive to expose the knight to pawn’s attack with 1.e4 Nf6 right on the first move. White does gain some extra tempo and a better space in the center. May be that is the reason why this opening is not too popular at the top level. But it is still played very often as a surprise. White has to play accurately to demonstrate his spatial advantage.
The four pawns attack seems dangerous for black but still offers black a good play. In my opinion, the modern variation is very tricky because white quickly completes his development and challenges black to come up with the best plan. So it is important to know various ways of playing with black once the standard opening setup is reached.