Four Knights Game: Opening Guide for White & Black


Table of Contents

The Four Knights Game dates back to the middle of the 19th Century and was a favored chess opening of Capablanca, Tarrasch, and other top players between the 1850s and 1930s.

  • The Four Knights Opening comprises natural developing moves, making it an excellent chess opening for beginners.
  • This is a sound chess opening because it is based on classical chess opening principles – develop your pieces towards the center, knights before bishops, etc.
  • You do not need to know a lot of theory to play this chess opening.
  • GM John Nunn is credited with the opening’s revival in modern chess and wrote a book on it that got published in 1993.

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Four Horsemen: The Sicilian 4 Knights Defense

Ideas and Strategies in the Four Knights Defense

The Four Knights Game begins with the moves

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6

Starting position of the Four Knights Game after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6

As mentioned, in the past, Capablanca enjoyed playing the Four Knights Game, and today a number of top chess grandmasters include the Four Knights in their opening repertoires. Among them are Shirov, Ivanchuk, and Glek (who has a variation named after him).

The Four Knights often take players out of their theoretical preparation and lull them into underestimating the dangers in this chess opening. When playing a symmetrical position having the advantage of a tempo can make life difficult for your opponent.

For example, you can play a similar position to the Ruy Lopez chess opening in the Four Knights Game, but it is not the same. All the time your opponent spent learning the theory of the Breyer variation does not help him in the Four Knights.

Because of the opening’s popularity in the early 20th century, Capablanca was instrumental in finding a way to defend against the opening. Black does well to enter the Four Knights Spanish, Symmetrical variation and play the second-most-popular choice 10…Bg4.

Four Knights Game: Symmetrical Variation

A good way for Black to play against the Four Knights Game is to enter the Symmetrical Variation. In the Symmetrical Variation, Black needs to meet h3 with …Bh5 unless he can inflict a structural weakness on White’s position.

Once again, here is how we reach the starting position of the Four Knights Game.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6

Play continues with natural developing moves that are easy to understand and remember.

4.Bb5 Bb4 5.0-0 0-0 6.d3 d6 7.Bg5 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Qe7 9.Re1 Nd8 10.d4 Bg4

There is enough play in the position for both players to play for the win. Black will bring the knight on d8 to e6 to attack the bishop on g5. When this happens, White must remember to undevelop the bishop with Bc1, where it is safe from harm.

In fact, it isn’t unusual for white to return both bishops to their starting squares!

A bishop still controls the diagonal from its starting square, which is why we get taught to develop knights before bishops. Knights lack the reach of the bishops.

Enjoy this game where Svetozar Gligoric skillfully repaired his pawn structure after being saddled with isolated triple pawns! In fact, it was White’s weakened pawn structure that cost him the game.

The Four Knights Game: Scotch Game

When you choose to transpose to the Scotch Game from the Four Knights Game, you cut down the options available to black. Apart from reducing the amount of theory you must learn, the Scotch Four Knights is an effective and dangerous opening for white.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4

5…Bb4 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d5 8.exd5 cxd5 9.0-0 0-0 10.Bg5 c6 11.Na4

11.Na4 is the second-most-popular move after 11.Qf3, but it has a higher winning percentage.

White avoids the weakening of the pawn structure with …Bxc3, prepares c3 to drive away the bishop, and begins playing against the hanging pawns on c6 and d5.

Remember to be awake to the possibility of winning the d5 pawn after 10.Bg5.If Black meets Nxd5 with …Qd5, you have Bxf6 (removing the defender of the queen) followed by Bxh7 with a discovered attack on the hanging queen.

That’s why Black plays 10…c6 to defend the pawn.

The Glek Variation of the Four Knights Game

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g3 d6

In the Glek Variation, white intends to fianchetto the bishop with 4.g3 and the most solid response by black is 4…d6.

The other advantage of 4…d6 is that it is not played nearly as often as 4…Bc5, 4…d5, or 4…Bb4. If white is trying to draw you into unfamiliar territory, responding in kind is a good approach.

Black can develop the bishop to e7 or g7, depending on your style of play. Developing the bishop to e7 allows black to meet d4 with a little center strategy, while on g7, the bishop becomes extremely powerful after …exd4.

5.Bg2 Be7 6.h3 0-0 7.0-0 Be6 8.d4 Bd7 9.Re1 Re8 10.b3

Black has played sensible developing moves and has reached a good position. These moves are easy to remember, and you enter the middlegame with no weaknesses.

In Conclusion

The Four Knights Game might hark back to the Romantic Era of chess, but it can still hold its own today. Both sides are likely to reach a playable middlegame with chances to press forward for the win.

Although the Four Knights Game is a safe opening to play, that does not mean it isn’t dangerous. You can draw your opponent into unfamiliar territory where they have to stand on their own early in the game.

Four Knights Game: Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Four Knights Game good?

Yes, the Four Knights Opening is good and offers you a way of transposing into openings in such a way that you cut down Black’s options.

How do you play against the Four Knights Game?

The Four Knights Game is best met by entering the Symmetrical Variation and following in the footsteps of Capablanca with 11…Bg4.

What is the Four Knights Game in Chess?

The Four Knights Game involves the development of two knights from both sides before the bishops come into play. Hence, the name Four Knights Game. The opening moves of the Four Knights Game are 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6

What is the advantage of a Four Knights Game?

The main advantage of the Four Knights Game is that the moves are easy to remember and understand. There is not a lot of theory to learn in the Four Knights Game. The time you save working on your opening repertoire can get invested in improving your middlegame and endgame technique.

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Four Horsemen: The Sicilian 4 Knights Defense

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