Petrov Defense is a King’s Pawn Opening that starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6. Instead of defending his e5 pawn, black counter-attacks white’s e4 pawn. This opening is less popular at top levels, but very much playable. White can accept the challenge and go 3.Nxe5, or 3.d4 or keep calm and play positionally with 3.Nc3
White plays 3.Nxe5
After 3.Nxe5, black cannot play 3…Nxe4. This move immediately loses material. After 4.Qe2! black can’t move his knight away with 4…Nf6 because of 5.Nc6+ and black loses the queen. After 3…d5, white simply plays 4.d3 Qe7 5.dxe4 Qxe5 6.exd5 and wins a healthy pawn.
Therefore black needs to play 3…d6 first, kicking away white knight and only after 4.Nf3, black takes 4…Nxe4
Here white can continue with 5.d4. After 5…d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 we reach the position below.
White can play 8.c3 to restrict black’s Nb4 move and then develop simply with Bf4-Nbd2, challenging the black’s knight at e4 square. White can also play the sharp 8.c4. After 8…Nb4 9.Be2 0-0 10.Nc3 Bf5 11.a3 Nxc3 12.bxc3 Nc6 13.Re1 Re8 14.cxd5 Qxd5 The position is equal with double isolated pawn structure for white.
On move 5, white can also play 5.Nc3, immediately challenging the black knight. After 5…Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Bf4 Nc6 8.Qd2 Be6 9.0-0-0 Qd7 10 Kb1 Bf6 11.h4 we have an interesting position.
White has castled on the queenside and showing intentions for pawn-storm on the kingside with ideas like Rg1-g4-g5…etc. On the other hand, black keeps his options open for castling either on kingside or queenside. Both sides have completed development. White seems to have a very slight advantage due to better-developed pieces.
White plays 3.d4
This variation is also called Modern variation of Petrov defense. 3.d4 Nxe4 4.Bd3 and here the main move is 4…d5. But funnily enough, 4…Nc6 is also playable!
It seems like black loses a piece after 4…Nc6 with 5.Bxe4, but black regains after 5…d5 6.Bd3 e4. Also after 5.d5 Nc5 6.dxc6 e4 black regains his piece. But still, 4…d5 is better than 4…Nc6
After 5.dxe5 Nc5 6.Be2 the game continues with natural development for both sides.
White plays 3.Nc3
White says, “No, I don’t want to get into your preparation, I will simply defend my pawn with 3.Nc3”. Here black can play 3…Nc6 which leads to the four knights game or 3…d6 which is the philidor defense.
Game Played with Petrov Defense
Here is classic game played between Vachier Lagrave, Maxime (2789) vs Caruana, Fabiano (2822)
Is the Petrov Defense good?
Petrov Defense is an excellent choice for the black side with counter-attacks towards the centre. Many top players choose this opening in their games. Usually, the game goes in a drawish line.
Former World chess champion Viswanathan Anand used to play Petrov defense. To check the game visit chessgames.com
Nowadays, Petrov Defense is highly popular in blitz games.
The Petrov defense is a simple off-beat opening but not in any way dangerous for white. Black has to watch out for some traps like 3…Nxe4?. But if black knows correct lines, then it is playable. However, I wouldn’t recommend Petrov defense against higher-rated opponents because they get a very comfortable game without any danger with white pieces. It can be played against players of equal or lower strength than you.