- Owen’s Defense is a rare opening resulting after the move order 1.e4 b6. Black prepares a queenside fianchetto of their bishop to b2.
- The opening is considered slightly unsound, though not refuted, as if White can maintain their central pawn presence, they are better off.
- Black’s plans involve pressuring the e4 pawn. If White gives up their central pawn presence, then Black can have nice central squares for their pieces.
Owen’s Defense is a rare chess opening arising after the moves 1.e4 b6.
In this opening, Black takes a hypermodern approach to development and prepares to fianchetto their light-squared bishop to b7.
The reason this opening is so rare is because it lets White develop very easily and have two pawns in the center on e4 and d4. This central control can be hard for Black to undermine.
There is not a lot of established theory on Owen’s Defense, which may lead to its attraction for some players. It can be a good weapon against lower-rated players, as they must begin to think on move two.
Owen’s Defense is named after 19th century English amateur chess player and vicar John Owen, who used it successfully against Paul Morphy in one game.
The second moves here for both sides are really the only main options. White would give away their starting advantage if they did not immediately grab the ideal pawn center, while of course, Black was planning to fianchetto the bishop.
3.Nc3 is the second most common move for White, the other being 3.Bd3, which we will look at further on.
3…e6 Black’s plan here is to play Bb4, so as to pin the knight and apply pressure to the e4 pawn. It is like a Nimzo-Indian Defense but with 1.e4.
4.Nf3 Bb4 5.Bd3 Nf6
Black is now applying direct pressure to e4 twice. White here wants to keep the pawn on e4. The d4 and e4 pawns are controlling a lot of prime central real estate. If 6.e5, this would cede some of this territory to Black.
6.Qe2 d5 White brings another defender to e4 and Black strikes at the center.
7.e5 would be a mistake here, 7…Ne4 and if 8.Bxe4 dxe4 9.Ng5 Qxd4, Black is up a pawn and is also pressuring the knight on c3 and the pawn on e5.
Instead, 7.exd5 is the main move, and Black can take back with the knight (most common), queen or bishop. 7…Nxd5 also attacks the knight on c3.
8.Bd2 Nxc3 9.bxc3 and Black has managed to damage White’s pawn structure.
Notice here how White has many pieces pointing at Black’s kingside. While there is no immediate threat on the table, this needs to be taken into account when Black considers castling.
White’s most popular response to the Owen’s Defense is 3.Bd3, directly defending the e4 pawn. In this sort of setup, White will usually play c3 rather than Nc3, providing further support to the e4 pawn.
Black has a couple of responses. 3…e6 is the main move, preparing kingside development, but this is not to prepare Bb4 like in the last line, as 4.c3 wins a tempo on the bishop.
Black may also play 3…Nf6 to add further pressure to e4 as well as 3…Nc6, when 4.Nf3 Nb4, removing White’s light-squared bishop (which is a key attacker in Owen’s Defense) and ensuring the bishop pair for Black.
Black directly strikes at the pawn center with a flank pawn.
If 5.0-0 cxd5 6.Nxd5 we have a position resembling an Open Sicilian. A completely viable setup, and players comfortable with these positions may enjoy playing this configuration. However, the most common way to proceed for White is 5.c3.
5…Nf6 6.Qe2, further protecting the e-pawn.
6…Nc6 is a blunder by Black, as after 7.d5 if Black captures, they walk into discovery and Black wins the knight with 8.exd5+.
6…Be7 7.0-0 Nc6
Here Black has a positional threat. If White plays something seemingly innocuous like 8.h3 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4 and Black can remove one of White’s most opponent attackers, the light-squared bishop.
To prevent this, White should play 8.a3. Play continues 8…Na5, to get to b3 9.Nbd2 c4.
Here if 10.Nxc4 Nxc4, things get complicated as after 11.Bxc4, the e4 pawn falls.
Thus, 10.Bc2 is the main move followed by …Qc7.
Here Black leaves a bit of mystery regarding which way they will castle. If White plays 11.d5, Black can respond with e5 and close things down.
This is the main starting position of Owen’s Defense. White is better off here, though the position is still playable. White has a very strong center, which out of the opening Black has a very hard time cracking into.
Owen’s Defense is certainly a playable opening, perhaps even at long-time controls. That said, there are openings that give Black much better prospects going into the middlegame.
This opening is probably best reserved for lower-rated players, as they are not likely to know the theory. As it is a niche opening, White must begin to think from move two.
If Black can manage to break White’s central control, then they have good chances, however, this can be a real struggle for Black.
Owen’s Defense is typically used by lower-level players, as it has a dubious reputation at the top level. That said, English Grandmaster, Jonathan Speelman has used it on occasion.
Owen’s Defense is not a bad choice for a beginner, but it is probably not the best choice. It can be good for beginners playing other beginners as opponents are not likely to know automatically what to do in response to it.
The win/loss ratio for Owen’s Defense skews in White’s favor. After 1.e4 b6, White wins approximately 60% of games.
Owen’s Defense is a hypermodern opening. This means that one side attempts to control the center with pieces rather than pawns.