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Petroff Defence

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Title: Petroff Defence  
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Subject: Ruy López de Segura, FIDE World Chess Championship 2004, James Mason (chess player), Boris Gelfand, Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander, Artur Yusupov, Stuart Milner-Barry, Wang Yue, Győző Forintos
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Petroff Defence

For other uses, see Petrov (disambiguation).
Petrov's Defence
Moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6
ECO C42–C43
Named after Alexander Petrov
Parent Open Game
Synonym(s) Petroff's Defence
Russian Game

Petrov's Defence (also called Petroff's Defence or the Russian Game) is a chess opening characterised by the following moves:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6

Though this symmetrical response has a long history, it was first popularised by Alexander Petrov, a Russian chess player of the mid-19th century. In recognition of the early investigations by the Russian masters Petrov and Carl Jaenisch, this opening is called the Russian Game in some countries.

The Petrov has a reputation of being dull and uninspired. However, it offers attacking opportunities for both sides, and a few lines are quite sharp. Often a trade occurs, and Black after gaining a tempo gains a well placed knight. Pillsbury's game in 1895[1] against Emanuel Lasker testifies to this. The Black counterattack in the centre also avoids the Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano (and other lines of the Italian Game), and the Scotch Game. Grandmasters Karpov, Yusupov, Smyslov, Marshall, Kramnik, and Pillsbury have frequently played the Petrov as Black.

The ECO codes for Petrov's Defence are C43 (for 3.d4 exd4 4.e5 Ne4 5.Qxd4) and C42 for all other lines.

White's third move

White has four main choices for his third move:

White usually prefers 3.Nxe5, 3.Nc3, or 3.d4.


3.Nc3 is the Three Knights Game of Petrov's Defense. It is also reached by 2...Nf6 3.Nf3 from the Vienna Game. Commonly, with move 3...Nc6, it transposes to the Four Knights Game. With move 3...Bb4 (or some others), Black can enter the Petrov's Three Knights Game proper.


3.Bc4 is the Italian Variation of Petrov's Defense. With move 3...Nc6, it transposes to the Two Knights Defence.

Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit

Another possibility is 3.Bc4 Nxe4 4.Nc3, the Boden–Kieseritzky Gambit. It is not considered wholly sound, since Black has several viable options. He can accept the gambit with 4...Nxc3 5.dxc3 f6, although he must play carefully after 6.0-0 (for example 6...Bc5?? 7.Nxe5! is disastrous; 6...d6 and 6...Nc6 are good). Another, more aggressive try is 6.Nh4, where White goes for a quick assault on Black's king, but Black can maintain a small advantage if he plays cautiously via 6...g6 7.f4 Qe7 8.f5 Qg7 9.Qg4 Kd8. Another possibility is returning the gambit pawn with 4...Nxc3 5.dxc3 c6 6.Nxe5 d5, which equalises. A third possibility is transposing to the Italian Four Knights Game with 4...Nc6, and if 5.Nxe4, d5. If 5.Bxf7+?, Kxf7 6.Nxe4 d5 gives Black the bishop pair and control of the center. If 5.0-0, Black plays 5...Nxc3 6.dxc3 and now Black can play 6...Qe7!, after which Fischer wrote that "White has no compensation for the Pawn",[2] or 6...f6 transposing to the main line of the Boden–Kieseritzky. Black also has lines beginning 6...Be7 and 6...h6.


After 3.Nxe5, Black should not continue to copy White's moves and try to restore the material balance immediately with 3...Nxe4? because after 4.Qe2 White will either win material (4...Nf6?? 5.Nc6+ wins Black's queen, and after 4...d5 5.d3 Qe7 6.dxe4 Qxe5 7.exd5 Black loses a pawn), or obtain a superior position (4...Qe7 5.Qxe4 d6 6.d4 f6 7.Nc3 dxe5 8.Nd5 Qd6 9.Bf4 Nd7 10.0-0-0 and White has a big advantage). Black usually plays 3...d6. White now must retreat the knight, or sacrifice it.

  • 4.Nf3, the Main Line
  • 4.Nc4, Paulsen's Variation
  • 4.Nd3, Karklin's Attack
  • 4.Nxf7, Cochrane Gambit

More often, White follows the main line 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3, where he will try to drive Black's advanced knight from e4 with moves like c4 and Re1. White can instead force simplification with Lasker's 5.Qe2 Qe7 6.d3. This is generally only good enough for a draw, which Black should be satisfied with. Another possibility, explored by Keres, is 5.c4, known as the Kauffmann Attack.

A completely different approach is to meet 4...Nxe4 with 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3, with rapid development and queenside castling. For instance, White can plan a quick Be3, Qd2, and 0-0-0, and play for a kingside attack, trusting that his doubled c-pawns will help protect his king, and that his initiative and attacking potential will offset the long term disadvantage of having doubled pawns. In the 5.Nc3 line, Black must avoid 5...Bf5?? 6.Qe2! which wins a piece due to the pin (if 6...Qe7 7.Nd5). Viswanathan Anand resigned after only six moves after falling for this against Alonso Zapata at Biel in 1988.[3]

The Cochrane Gambit, 4.Nxf7, is labeled "speculative but entertaining" by Nick de Firmian. In Modern Chess Openings–14 he evaluates the position in Veselin Topalov vs. Viswanathan Anand, Linares 1999, as offering chances for both sides after 4...Kxf7 5.Nc3 c5!? 6.Bc4+ Be6 7.Bxe6+ Kxe6 8.d4 Kf7 9.dxc5 Nc6.[4]


Wilhelm Steinitz favoured 3.d4. Black can capture either white pawn. After 3...exd4 4.e5 (4.Bc4 transposes into the Bishop's Opening) Ne4 5.Qxd4 d5 6.exd6 Nxd6 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.Qf4 the game is approximately equal. After the other capture, 3...Nxe4, 4.Bd3 d5 (amazingly, 4...Nc6!? 5.Bxe4 d5, intending 6.Bd3 e4, is also possible) 5.Nxe5, either 5...Nd7 or 5...Bd6 gives roughly equal chances.

See also



  • ICC free vids with the Petroff, Najditsch–Kramnik (Dortmund 2008) here Kramnik was defeated with a novelty in a 5.Nc3 line
  • ICC free vids with the Petroff, Karjakin–Jakovenko (Aerosvit 2008)
  • ICC free vids with the Petroff, Anand–Kramnik (Corus 2008)
  • ICC free vids with the Petroff, Ivanchuk–Kramnik (Tal Memorial 2007)
  • ICC free vids with the Petroff, Anand–Kramnik (Mexico 2007)

Further reading

External links

  • Petrov's Defence Video and explanation
  • Petrov's defence (C42) – ECO Games
  • The Cochrane Gambit – C42
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