The Petrov Defense: How to Play It

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The earliest documented games with the moves were made by the famous player Greco, only subsequently gaining notoriety in the 1800s by the Russian master Alexander Petrov for whom the name derides. Thanks to the player and important contributions of other Russian chess players to the development of this opening, it was renamed as “Russian Game”.

The main idea of ​​the opening is active defense through counter-attack. Black prefers not to defend the e5-pawn, but to attack the e4-pawn. Such an approach in several cases leads to a lively and interesting fight. 

Petrov Defense Moves

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5

The Idea and Strategy of the Petrov Defense

The strategic idea of ​​this opening for black is to immediately counterattack the e4-pawn, striving to immediately seize the initiative.

With precise play, White usually manages to retain his initial advantage, since he is entitled to advance in the resulting symmetrical positions.

However, recently many interesting ideas have been found for Black, which makes it possible to complicate the game and obtain counterattack opportunities.

The Russian part is included in the opening repertoire of many prominent grandmasters, including A. Karpov, V. Kramnik.

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The Russian Game starts with 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5

The natural move 3…Nxe4 is a bad move, containing a deadly trap and variations that put White into a superior position.

An easy example of what can happen if black captures on e4 follows: (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nxe4 4. Qe2 Qe7 5. Qxe4 d6 6. d4 dxe5 7. dxe5) and black is down a pawn with no compensation and this is knows as Petrov’s Defense: Classical, Damiano Variation, Kholmov Gambit.

You can see clearly that white has the advantage in terms of development and down a pawn.


The Russian game tends to lift off in a drawish manner very similar to the Berlin Defense because the line is pretty much forcing (unless any player decides to trade minor pieces and give away a small advantage)

The Main Line goes as follows: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Nc6 7. O-O (7. Bxe4 dxe4 and after Ne5 black as a strong lead) 7… Be7 8. c4 Nb4 (gains a tempo on the bishop) 9. Be2 O-O 10. Nc3 Bf5 and after the last move almost 80% of games end in a draw.

Alternative lines in the Petrov

The Classical Attack, Staunton Variation is another attempt with almost equal chances of draws. The main line position can be reached after (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. c4 c6 9. Re1 Bf5 10. Qb3 Na6 11. cxd5 cxd5 12. Nc3 Be6)

In essence the spirit of the opening resembles the Slav defense by pushing the pawn to c6 releasing his bishop instead of a Nc6 move.

Why does the Petrov Defense matter? 

The Petrov is well respected among the elite players because it is arguably the most drawing defense in chess. It has even higher drawing chances than The Berlin defense. The opening repeatedly appears in the world championship match each time with a slight tightening.

Benefits of playing Petrov

  • The defense creates many drawing opportunities
  • Is the preferred defense by the elite players
  • Only a handful of lines are considered “Sharp”

Disadvantages of the Petrov

  • Is arguably one of the openings with more theory
  • At a club level, players tend to play for fun, so they don’t want drawish and/or boring positions.
  • The most critical lines go as far as 25 moves into the theory

Is the Petrov Good for Beginners? 

The main problem with this opening at the lowest levels is that White very often doesn’t know the opening even out to the third move (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d3?! surprisingly often) meaning that black with no effort equalized the game.

You can teach a beginner long lines but in practice, he won’t be able to use them

Is the Benoni Aggressive?

The most solid players with black usually practice this defense, trying to reach symmetrical positions and why not admit it, a bit boring.

Not all hope is lost; the lovers of tactical mess and action will know that there’s a catch within the opening.

There’s a piece sacrifice, the “Cochrane Gambit ”.

In return, two pawns, the enemy king loses castling rights, gets exposed, and white gets a strong center.

How do you play against the Petrov Defense?

There is only one way out! to avoid the blandness and drawish tendencies of the Petrov and the way to go is to sacrifice a knight for two pawns right away in the fourth move, “Petrov Defense: Cochrane Gambit” (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nxf7)

White chose to exchange a knight against two pawns and an exposed king. While this gambit is considered dubious, it can lead to a quick victory if black doesn’t know how to play it. Only a few of these games end in a draw.

(4. … Kxf7 5. d4 c5 6. dxc5 Nc6 7. Bc4+ Be6 8. Bxe6+ Kxe6 9. O-O)

Which is a continuation of the main line, and black king is in the center. Surprisingly enough there is a game featuring Alexei Shirov and Nigel Short in the 2002 grand prix where Short lost.

Petrov Defense Summary

As described the opening can be drawish but that is never a bad thing when playing black, although with a number of traps that white can play black needs to be aware and know the moves of this opening.

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