Best Reply Against the King’s Pawn Opening: 8+ Factors!

The best reply against e4 is c5, the Sicilian defense. The Sicilian defense only has an engine evaluation of 0.27 which makes it a potent reply against the king’s pawn opening.

It is a solid opening that has the best win-draw-loss ratio. The Najdorf or the Classical variation are among the best.

The king’s pawn opening is probably one of the most played first moves for white. Bobby Fischer famously said “e4 – Best by Test!”. When an opening move gets so much praise from one of the best chess players of all time then it means something.

If you have played chess for some time now then you would know that this is one of the most played. E4 is automatic in some cases. This is why learning the best reply for it is important, it is popular after all.

This analysis article will surely open your eyes for new possibilities. I have combed through the data personally to bring the most accurate answers. Without further ado, let’s get started. 

What is the King’s pawn opening?

The King’s Pawn Game is any chess opening starting with the move: 1. e4 It is the most popular opening move in chess, followed by the Queen’s Pawn Game.

For a visual illustration this is the King’s pawn game:

King's pawn opening.

Any opening that leads from here will still be defined as something that came from the king’s pawn.

Best ten reply against e4 (based on popularity)

I’ve collected several statistics that would settle this debate. E4 is such a popular move that there are many data sets that we could analyze. Looking at this would give us an idea how to properly approach the e4 move as black.

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.

First and foremost I think it is important to rank the best replies for e4 based on popularity. If a lot of people are playing it then there must be something good about that particular reply. I believe in that.

There is a reason why the term “meta” has been invented. It signifies a particular strategy at any point in time that would work best. Players around the world deemed the following the best replies since they keep on playing it.

It would give you an idea how other people approached the move e4.

The table below signify the best reply to e4 based on how many people have played the move on the chosen database.

Move      No. of GamesLast playedWinning percentage Draw Percentage Losing Percentage
c5 727,418202036.1%29.8%34.1%
e5      419,871202040.8%30.4%   28.8%
e6231,513202038.6%30.9% 30.5%
c6       127,581202037.1% 33.3% 29.6%
d6        76,785202040.7% 27.9% 31.4%
d5         62,457202041 % 27.3 % 31.7 %
g6         53,187202037.3 % 28.1 % 34.6 %
Nf6      40,999202037.9 % 29.1 % 33.1 %
Nc6     11,916202041 %25 % 34 %
b6       4,761202046.6 % 21.3 %32 %
If you are on mobile swipe left to see the whole table.

It seems that Sicilian, King’s pawn, and the French are pretty close competing with each other! The data states that they are among the best replies to the move e4.

This move (e4) is undeniably statistically according to the data, one of the best if not the best opening move for white. This would make it very imperative for you to be aware of the best possible reply when facing the said move (since you’ll face it a lot of times).

Statistics from the same database dictates the said direction, wherein e4 is the most played first move for white among all!

Among the dataset on the (human) sample taken the best five replies would be the following: Sicilian defense (c5), King’s pawn game (e5), French defense (e6), Caro-kann (c6), and Pirc defense (d6). This is ordered from the most favored to the least favored.

That is popularity, the one that people play the most. But what does the engine evaluation say about the best move?

Best ten reply against e4 (based on engine evaluation)

Personally I think it is better to look at the chess engine’s evaluation since it is likely to be accurate. The strongest chess engine in the world will not be beaten by the strongest human. When it comes to pure strength, chess computers are quite reliable.

Which is why I have also taken in touch with the chess computer data in order to answer this correctly. The e4 move is such a popular opening after all that it can be subject to human errors. The most popular might not be the best.

The table below ranks the possible move via the rating given by the engine, let’s look at it.

Move No. of games playedEngine DepthEngine Evaluation
c5 727,41838+0.27
c6 127,58138+0.31
e5            419,87140+0.33
d5 62,45737+0.49
e6 231,51339+0.53
Nf6 40,99942+0.55
d6 76,78536+0.60
g6 53,18736+0.62
Na6 27,49829+0.62
Nc6 11,91638+0.63
If you are on mobile swipe left to see the whole table.

If you are wondering what the engine evaluation means it is the numerical data that the computer has given to the position. After analyzing the position for some time this is what the chess computer has come up with.

Everything is in the perspective of the white pieces since that is the standard. Consequently positive means that white is better, the higher the positive the better the position is for the white pieces.

This means that if we are looking for the best move for black in e4 we must find the least negative. The lower the positive number the better the position is for the black pieces. 

As per engine evaluation here are the five best moves against the king’s pawn opening (e4): Sicilian defense (c5), Caro-kann (c6), King’s pawn game (e5), Scandinavian defense (d5), and French defense (e6). This is ordered from the best to worst.

What is a chess engine’s depth?

Depth in chess engines refer to how many moves they calculate in a position. It is actually much more complicated than that but the bottom line is this. The bigger the depth the better the analysis.

Depth indicates how many plies ahead in the game the chess engine was able to “see”, with a ply being a move made by one opponent (B/W). Generally speaking, we can say that the greater the depth, the more accurate the score and the prediction.

A decent opening evaluation can become significantly worse if analyzed with a bigger engine depth.

All of the depth here is quite big. I included it for all the data nerds who want to see everything about this analysis.

Why are all of the engine’s evaluations positive?

The numbers are all positive because white is naturally better in the opening. No matter how solid black white will end up better. White has the first move after all so black will have to be defensive.

Take note that these numbers are valid if white plays the best possible moves in the position. This might not be applicable to real games since the white pieces might not play the best moves. 

Nonetheless it is a good practice to look at the numbers once the ideal moves are in place. This will allow us to identify the “true” best moves in the position.

Is the chess computer’s opinion the only thing that matters?

There is a reason why I have included human popularity in this article. There is something about computer data that might not translate to real games. When we are talking about the popularity we are really talking about those that are popular to beginners.

The majority of chess players are beginners. Maybe there is something comfortable about playing certain openings even when they are not the best moves. Personally I would still stick to the moves recommended by the engine.

However I can recognize that things are not that simple. There might be better options for beginners if they are not comfortable with certain openings. This is why I include the best moves based on popularity.

Conclusion

There are many potential replies against the king’s pawn opening (e4).

The best ten replies against e4 include: c5 (Sicilian), c6 (Caro-Kann), e5 (King’s pawn), d5 (Scandinavian), e6 (French), Nf6 (Alekhine), d6 (Pirc), g6 (Modern), Na6 (Lemming), and Nc6 (Nimzowitsch) ranked from highest to lowest by evaluation provided by the engine.

I think it is great to look at the popularity since it may indicate what makes people comfortable. If we are talking about raw data though then it makes sense to look at the chess engine’s evaluation.

The numbers don’t lie. And the best numbers that we can look at right now are those of a chess engine. If you want to find the best reply for e4 then this article is for you, this analysis is sure to improve your opening.

Thank you for reading.

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