Knights chess openings for White and Black

Knights chess openings for White and Black Chess openings

Knights chess openings – The most popular chess openings among beginners start with two distinctive moves. They are 1. e4 e5. This combination can develop into many efficient variations. In this article, we’re going to introduce a few strong chess openings involving the knight.

Despite having quite different continuations, they’re all rooted in the same basic combination.

King’s Knight Opening that contains the following sequence: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3
King’s Knight Opening: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3

It’s the King’s Knight Opening that contains the following sequence:

  1. e4 e5
  2. Nf3

The initial e4 move has numerous strong points. Many players admit it to be the best opening chess move for many reasons. It stakes a claim in the central area right away.

Meanwhile, two pieces become freed for action, namely, the queen and the king’s bishop. The best first move in chess leads logically to a set of great combos. And if it’s followed by other smart actions, chances to dominate the game increase. Here the knights move in chess comes into play bringing a lot of opportunities.

How can the chess horse move in the beginning influence the entire game? Let’s consider some popular examples.

Two Knights Defense

Two Knights Defense
Two Knights Defense

After the fundamental moves described earlier, the game continues:

2. …Nc6

3. Bc4 Nf6

This is a highly common defense, and it’s frequently played at a beginner level.

In fact, the opening is not protective or passive at all. So it’d be better to call it a counter-attack, than a defense. And you actually could hear some players using the term “Chigorin counter attack” regarding this opening. The best chess plays include the combination which was adopted by professional players and champions.

It was first mentioned and recorded by Italian chess theoretician G. Polerio. It occurred in the 16th century. A few centuries later, the opening was notably developed. Compared to the Giuoco Piano (the third move by Black is Bc5), it’s more invasive.

It was first mentioned and recorded by Italian chess theoretician G. Polerio
Italian chess theoretician G. Polerio – 16th century

Both sides struggle for the central positions and advance a couple of minor pieces. Black develops both chess knights which explains the name of the given combination.

Whenever one encounters the Italian Game, this response is, probably, the best opening for Black. It’s a sharp reply, suitable for those who prefer an active style of play.

The main line

The main continuation of the two Knights chess openings
The main continuation of the two Knights chess openings

The most common variation is 4. Ng5. The concept of this knight move in chess is quite obvious. A Soviet theoretician Panov even saw it as primitive. Nevertheless, creating a dangerous situation for the vulnerable f7-pawn works just great. White effectively wins a pawn.

Now, Black has a few options for the reply. It can be 4…d5, 4…Bc5, or 4…Nxe4. Playing out the first option seems the most secure and reasonable. The second option suggests that a player pays no attention to the threat. Eventually, it causes a fierce game. The third option is a pretty bad choice, and it’s better to avoid it. Actually, we recommend that you explore these variants in your personal practice. Meanwhile, we proceed with the most reliable option.

It can be  4…d5, 4…Bc5, or 4…Nxe4
It can be 4…d5, 4…Bc5, or 4…Nxe4

4…d5 5. exd5. After Black’s fourth move the rival’s pawn on e4 and bishop experience an attack. So a player has no choice other than to capture the freshly developed d5 pawn. He simply isn’t willing to lose his bishop, so it’s clearly a forced step.

It’s a rational decision to preserve both bishops and avoid exposing them in the beginning. Unless it is a part of some strategy, of course. A couple of bishops are a more powerful tool than one bishop and one knight. Try to keep it in the game for as long as possible.

By developing your knight, you can force your opponent to take swift action
By developing your knight, you can force your opponent to take swift action

5…Na5 6.Bb5+. The knight moves in chess can quickly develop and urge the opponent to take action. Here, we see Black’s horse threatening the bishop. So on the next move, it changes the position to appear with a check. White needs to remember about the hanging d5-pawn. If the player tries to save it with 6. d3, it’ll allow initiative for Black. This potential move wouldn’t work out well, so we would avoid it.

After the bishop’s jump to attack Black’s queen, there are two possible responses. They are 6…Bd7 and 6…c6. Both of them deserve to be played and can be applied successfully.

The most effective solution is to block the check by moving a pawn to c6
The most effective solution is to block the check by moving a pawn to c6

6…c6 7.dxc6 bxc6. The most solid response is to block the check with a pawn moving to c6. The Bd7 alternative would be a worse option. It causes the bishops exchange. And then, White would be in a better situation due to the additional pawn.

8.Be2. White’s bishop simply returns to e2.

White simply returns the bishop to e2
White simply returns the bishop to e2

Now, the position on the board is completely equal. Black’s pawn configuration is fairly weakened on the queenside. But it has a small advantage in general development and partially controls the central area.

White manages an additional pawn. However, the knight on g5 can easily become a target. So Black has a chance to develop at a faster pace and prepare for an attack.

To play or not to play Knights chess openings?

Some players consider this combo the best black opening to apply against White’s Italian development. However, if you choose to play it, you should be both positionally and tactically minded. Besides, as you may notice, it’s a very straightforward combination to start with. The moves are all logical and clearly understandable. For this reason, it’s easy to learn and practice.

Is it the best opening for White?

The combination is suitable for players of both colors. But It cannot be called the best chess opening for White. Normally, Black starts with the goal of balancing out the game.

Meanwhile, good chess openings for White don’t just make the chances for victory equal. They serve to keep the advantage given to the player from the start.

Three Knights Game

This one is not as explored as the previous opening. However, you can see it played now and then. In any case, the combo helps understand better the role of the knight in chess. Here we present the most common variation.

Three Knights Game
Three Knights Game

The first moves in chess from our introduction are followed by

2. …Nc6

3. Nc3

Black doesn’t develop the second knight in this chess move. The player refuses to maintain the symmetry on the chess board avoiding a drawish position.

Otherwise, it would become the 4 Knights Game that we break down further. Instead, he plays 3…Be7 or 3…d6. After that, White may put the opponent into a confined position with 4.d4.

However, in case Black chooses to move 3…Bc5, the rival may capture the outpost at e5. It’ll start a series of attacks: 4.Nxe5 Nxe5. After a couple of moves 5.d4 Bd6, captures continue: 6.dxe5 Bxe5. The line’s been played in tournaments and proved to favor the player with white pieces. Therefore, Black prefers to go with 3…g6, or 3…Bb4. It typically continues with 4.d4 exd4 5.Nd5 or 4.Nd5 respectively.

These are the best opening chess moves to analyze and explore. They aren’t very well known and leave lots of space for creativity and fresh ideas. You can also use the knights in chess in this opening to surprise your rival. Chances are they won’t be ready for that as it’s not very popular.

Four Knights Game

Four Knights Game
Four Knights Game

What is this method of starting the game about? Each opening chess move in this combination aims to advance all the knights first. That is before bishops are involved. The sequence continues


3. Nc3 Nf6

The principal advantage is that there’s not a lot of theoretical material about it. So these are the best chess moves to learn and remember due to their simplicity. They develop naturally, so beginners will quickly fix them in mind. You can spend the time saved on studying openings to improve at other game aspects.

This combo has been played for a couple of centuries. Some very well-known masters including Tarrasch applied it at the best open chess events. At the same time, the opening is built on classical chess principles. That is, advance your pieces toward the central zone, develop knights first, and so on. So players at all levels really like to use it.

The dangers in the Four Knights are often underestimated. However, this symmetrical position can bring lots of difficulties to Black. It’s because White has an extra advantage of a tempo from the beginning.

Symmetrical variation

One of the most common continuations you can see is 4.Bb5 Bb4

One of the most common continuations you can see is 4.Bb5 Bb4. White actively takes to the bishop and advances it. The opponent does the same. The idea of eliminating the defender in order to win Black’s e-pawn isn’t playable here. Therefore, players develop quickly: 5. 0-0 0-0 6. d3 d6. Then the bishop moves 7. Bg5.

Black feels a threat from the rival’s knight. White promises to make use of the messed-up pawn structure and play Nd5. So the player decides to destroy the symmetry through 7…Bxc3. It’s a better option than 7…Bg4, that could become dangerous in a couple of moves. When the position is tactical, White’s additional tempo is sure to be of great help! If Black acts too carelessly, the opponent can easily win.

Further moves are 8. bxc3 Qe7. We can see how White’s pawns located in the center partially block the c6 knight. So Black may prefer to relocate it to e6.

Symmetrical version of the four knights opening

From this position, it would be a threat to the rival’s bishop. However, we follow the main line. The game develops: 9. Re1 Ne8. And then, these moves come: 10. d4 Ne6. A highly ambitious move is done by White: 11. Bc1. Unexpectedly, the bishop’s most advantageous position is the initial square!

From there, it can control the other diagonal by moving Ba3, if necessary.

The Scotch variation 4. d4 of Knights’ chess openings

The Scotch variation 4. d4 of Knights' chess openings
The Scotch variation 4. d4 of Knights’ chess openings

White uses a tempo to thrust toward the center. A frequent follow-up is 4…exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4. There are other less popular lines like 5…Bc5 6. Be3. Here White advances and creates a threat. Meanwhile, Black shouldn’t let the opponent capture the unit with Nxc6.

The more common line evolves. The next moves are 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5. And a few attacks come with 8. exd5 cxd5. Then, double castling occurs: 9. 0-0 0-0. The e-file is open, so both sides are in a hurry to evacuate their kings. In fact, Black could even castle a couple of moves earlier. But in any way, the resulting position would be the same, just in a different order.

After that, White’s usual choice is 10. Bg5, the black knight is pinned. The 10…c6 follows. White aims to balance out the rival’s central pawn and plays 11. Qf3. As a result, the pressure grows.

Black is off the hook by 11...Be7
Black is off the hook by 11…Be7

Black can choose to break the pin and move 11…Be7. Now we have an intriguing position on the board. The player with black pieces has a number of hanging units in his pawn configuration. Also, the player has a temporary advantage in space. Meanwhile, White’s pawns have a bit more tight structure. The pieces have good potential for development.

You can hardly find a single serious weakness. In general, the positions seem to be equal.

When should a beginner learn openings?

You need to have a firm knowledge of the basics – “What is the horse called in chess? How can a knight move in chess?”. If such dilemmas still arise in your mind, it’s too early for openings. Learn the game step by step and don’t skip the stages that seem unimportant.

Once you’re done with the foundational aspects, proceed to higher levels. Are you free from doubts like “How does the horse move in chess?”? If so, it’s time to study the world of openings.

Practicing from day until night in chess isn’t necessary. Consistency is a more valuable skill. Invest a certain amount of time into applying your newly learned combos on a regular basis.

Read more:

Chess openings books

11 best chess openings for White and Black

Chess Openings For Beginners

6 Best Chess Opening Traps in the Four Knights Game


As a final recommendation, we’d like to emphasize the importance of openings for both sides.

For example, you may find yourself playing popular black moves, in the beginning, more often. However, white openings in chess aren’t less important.

You should know the best first chess moves for both colors. Besides, sometimes a white opening can be reversed in colors and played for Black.

So it’s helpful to increase your versatility in the game.

FAQ about Knights chess openings

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William Berrington
William Berrington is an experienced chess player and a candidate master of sports. He took part in many regional USA championships. Also, he contributes to chess popularization by giving workshops for beginners and interviews for newspapers.
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