Best Reply Against the English Opening: 8+ Factors!

The english opening is probably the third most popular opening after e4 and d4. It is always the English opening or the Reti after that, but most people tilt more to the English side. This means that the English opening is incredibly popular.

Since so many people play it I think it is important to discuss how to accurately play it. Here is what I know so far:

The reverse sicilian (e5) is the best reply against c4. It sets up a good formation in the center for black since white didn’t take it early. Eventually black can support a future d5 push and secure the central squares. This is the most common approach against the English opening.

This might be completely wrong depending on the data. But this is why I created this article, to completely solve this. After pouring in hours of work I have completed everything. I think you are going to enjoy this, keep on reading to learn more.

What is the English opening?

The english opening is an opening variation that begins with 1.c4, it is pretty common. You can see what this opening looks like by seeing the picture below:

(Insert picture here)

It is one of the most common openings for white which is why I talk about it. If you play a game of chess this is the one that you are likely to encounter. This article will help you play the black pieces better against the english.

Best reply against c4 (based on popularity)

This is sort of an analysis article from the data I’ve compiled looking at 365chess.com’s statistics. I have poured hours in order to get the data in order.

All data are taken from their website, wherein different databases might provide different results.

In this article we will be talking about c4, a very quiet lonely option for an introverted person. If antisocial is a move this is what it would look like.

Just kidding, the english opening is the third most popular move for white and a very quiet one at that. Quiet means there’s not a lot of gambits, tactics, and interesting positions that can come under play.

Super Grandmasters that are known for playing drawn games love the English opening. The positions from the English are predictable so they can prepare beforehand and there aren’t many traps. If you want a draw you will naturally look for the most silent position possible which the English provides.

This is why I think it is important to look at what is the best reply for this opening. Many people play it yet the replies to it are not well understood. I am going to tackle this exact topic using statistics. First we will look at popularity.

Basically how most people treat playing against the English and some key statistics that will substantiate it.

The best reply against the english opening (based on popularity)

Looking at how other people deal with this opening will give us a good preview. If others play a particular reply there must be something to it. I want to find that something, so I research it.

Let’s look at the popularity table.

Move No. of GamesLast playedWinning percentage Draw Percentage Losing Percentage
Nf6 76,431202039.1%33.6%27.3%
e5 55,527202038.5%31%30.5%
e6 31,762202036.5% 37.7%25.8%
c5 29,117202037%37.8%25.2%
g6 19,828202033.2%34.6%32.2%
c6 16,892202036.5 % 38.6 % 24.9 %
f5 8,672202039.2 %30 % 30.8 %
b6 3,567202035.2 % 30.4 % 34.4 %
d6 2,400202041.7 % 27 % 31.3 %
Nc6 1,023201946.7 % 24.6 % 28.6 %
Swipe left if you are on mobile to view the whole table.

Everything here is very solid, Nf6, e5, and e6 seems to be the best possible reply and even see c5!. They are all pretty passive ways of playing this opening. I think that this is a common approach since there are only a few ways to exploit the English anyway.

Any crazy moves are only likely to work for the white pieces. Therefore people must have put value in playing the English silently as can be seen on the most popular replies. Almost all of it are pretty passive moves that don’t lead to significant aggressiveness.

This might seem weird since the white pieces are likely going for a quiet game by playing the english opening. It doesn’t make sense to play passively since that is what white is trying to do. However this is one of those things where you can’t do anything about it.

That is the thing with the English opening, it is just that solid. If you try to force something you are likely to end in a disadvantage. You can still play aggressively but not too much that it will cause a concession. 

The statistics tell a story. And that story is that the most common ways to play against the english is by playing it solidly.

To summarize, among the dataset on the (human) sample taken, the best five replies would be the following: Anglo Indian (Nf6), Zukertort opening 2nd variation (e5), Sicilian invitation (e6), Kingside fianchetto (c5), and Dutch variation (g6). This is ordered from the most favored to the least favored.

If you are not satisfied with this move order then you might be glad that there is another section. I will also be compiling the best replies against the English opening as it is recommended by the engine. I think this is a more objective approach.

Let’s look at the engine evaluation data and see if something changed.

Best reply against c4 (based on engine evaluation)

What does the engine say about this move? Is there a way to neutralize this really quiet line? Maybe we can identify something here that is not discussed in the popularity section.

Best ten reply against c4 (based on engine evaluation)

Move No. of games playedEngine DepthEngine Evaluation
e5 55,52731+0.02
Nf6 76,43135+0.11
c6 16,89235+0.21
e6 31,76227+0.25
g6 19,82830+0.26
d6 2,40035+0.28
Nc6 1,02330+0.28
a6 31,10928+0.28
f5 8,67236+0.37
c5 29,117038+0.41
Swipe left if you are on mobile to view the whole table.

This is a pretty odd table. I was surprised about the finding of this one myself, I mean c5 got top 10? It is like one of the most accepted replies to c4 from my experience.

From what I remember it’s like one of the top two moves out there, and even pros play that often in higher levels! I guess top ten is still good but c5 to c4 should have been much higher.

But the data is the data, I’m just here to present it, there might be another statistic that could debunk this though. All other moves I think are right on track, or it could be that c5 is actually just a less superior move than what I’ve initially thought.

I would say though that e5 is a pretty expected option against c4. In my own experience I’d say that e5 is one of the most common replies against the english. Nf6 and e6 are fine, it is just different from what I expected.

To summarize, as per engine evaluation, here are the five best moves against the english opening: Queen’s gambit declined invitation (e6), Zukertort opening (Nf6), Sicilian invitation (c5), Slav invitation (c6), and Zukertort opening 2nd variation (d5). This is ordered from the best to worst.

What does positive mean in engine evaluation?

After looking at the statistics, you will see a positive sign (+) of the engine evaluation (I gotta explain this). The positive sign indicates a sort of an advantage for white from the very centipawn.

Centipawn is a type of measurement used by Chess engines to indicate advantages from 1/100th of a single pawn.

Positive means how much the position is better for white. The higher the positive the better white is in the position. This is why the one with the least positive is the one treated the best, it means that the position is near equal in the opening.

Most openings will host a positive engine evaluation score in the opening. This is because white is the one to move first. Since white moves first it is naturally slightly better in the opening.

Why is all this data important?

It is imperative to play the best moves whether wielding the White or Black pieces, as it can be the difference in having a fun comfortable game from a hard rocky one. The opening is critical to this.

It set s the tone of the impending middlegame. The better you are able to handle the opening the easier it will be to play the middlegame. While I do think that it is the least important from all of the three phases it is still important.

This data will allow you to judge the best reply for the English opening, one of the most played openings out there. I think it is pretty important.

Conclusion

All necessary information should be sufficient to provide a general picture in helping to bring the best out of you from playing Black. Making use of this data is pretty difficult I agree, but at least there is something to work with.

For me the best ten replies against c4 include: e5 (King’s English), Nf6 (Anglo-Indian), c6 (Caro-Kann), e6 (Agincourt), g6 (Great Snake), d6 (unnamed), Nc6 (Anglo-Lithuanian), a6 (unnamed), f5 (Anglo-Dutch), and c5 (Symmetrical) ranked from highest to lowest by evaluation provided by the engine.

I value the engine’s evaluation more than what most people play against the english. Given that the chess engines are among the strongest entities to play chess I am assured. You may come to a different conclusion than I do which is fine. 

But the data is here so that you can interpret it in your own way. That is all, thank you for reading.

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