There’s a question that’s been bugging me since starting to learn chess, does White really has the monopoly in terms of seeking advantages using the colors?
Of course there are many factors to win a chess game, colors however indicate the nature strategy a player is going to take, and is therefore something to think about.
I think there is a case to be made in choosing black, here I’m going to present those reasons that might help you better understand the value of chess colors.
Technically, a perfect play between the white and black should give white more chances to deliver a victory, we see this all the time during clashes of powerful chess engines that although might not be perfect (engines sometimes give different conclusions), give us an idea of what to expect from both sides even in a higher class of play.
Nothing is insured though in a game of strategy, Black will always have unique features that can be utilized to gain something useful, an advantage that requires viewing the entire picture away from what is considered obvious. This edge allows certain group of players to feel more comfortable playing Black than that of White.
Why choose the white pieces?
There is of course some advantage in choosing White since it is the color that gets to play first.
Here are the reasons why White may be preferred over Black along with the bulk of arguments that people made to justify wanting this color.
White gives the perk being able to dictate the nature of the position as open and closed spaces are usually result of decisions made by White,not black.
This is a huge benefit for playersmore comfortable playing one structure over the other, as they would normally be able to achieve those with the white pieces.
Playing the first move means the player will be way ahead in accomplishing basic Chess principles (specifically grabbing more space), and essentially be able to control what kind of pawn structure the game will see in the Middle game.
Open Pawn Structure
Closed Pawn Structure
One player may thrive better in one pawn structure over the other, making the privilege to play White a big thing due to the likelihood of creating a pawn position corresponding with the player’s choice.
This also make players that are uncomfortable in certain spaces prefer White, as they can also take charge in preventing their disliked position from unfolding.
Some do not have any of these preferences and would be okay in playing either of the colors seeing they work just fine.
First moves often gives a lot of room for what to expect, English opening is much safer than King’s pawn for example, and although Black has more options to give an unexpected response, it shouldn’t give a huge margin to convert into something significant.
This does not apply to masters though as they can definitely crush you:)
In the opening, there are various tasks both players try to achieve in order to make the rest of the game much simpler, such includes controlling the center, developing pieces, castling, etc. which is being raced by both sides in hopes of having a proper setup.
You can notice this in games between professionals where they almost mirror each other’s move, not because they can’t think of something better, but because they have the same goals.
This essentially means that Black will naturally fall one step behind all the time as it is the side that goes last.
This comes with some advantages on its own but ultimately, White will be better in this aspect, as it will just take black more tempos (speed) in order gain the same momentum the other color naturally have at the start of the game.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but most traps and gambits are much available to the one with white than that of black, probably because the up in tempo (first turn), enables more opportunity for positional sacrifices that can be implemented once grasping the general idea of the trap.
If you’re an experienced player that have lots of games on his belt then this shouldn’t be much of a concern to dwell about, safe key moves will just lead to a slightly worse but manageable position for black.
This is a nightmare for beginners though, I personally have fallen for a lot of traps before learning my lesson to play it safe in the opening.
This can be great at street chess where there aren’t much focus on early moves, that gives opportunity for more punishment and beautiful games! It feels so good when the trap you laid get snapped:)
d.) Aggressive plays
Similarly if you are a player built for attacks and tricky tactics, White offers more attacking chances due to benefit of the tempo, riskier plays with Black often leads to White being at the top as the tempo gives faster responses and better options.
Playing safe with white is possible and is actually recommended, but convoluted plays can happen more often for the one with white.
There are those like the fried liver attack and King’s Gambit which gives way to very distorted positions that have lots of tactical shots in place.
Why choose the Black pieces?
Now that we’ve explored what things White can bring its time to learn the counterpart! and kinda the point of the article, that is can Black be actually better in specific situations? are there players that is actually more comfortable in playing Black? What does Black that White doesn’t?
a.) Less predictability
Due to tantamount of options the black side can branch into, it is just that much harder to identify a line to prepare at start of game.
There are only limited amount of moves that can be played by White on the first turn, this means in a way, Black has more chances to bring a surprise on the table than that of the one with the first move, and therefore is less predictable.
It is much easier to play your prepared line/lines when playing black as you have control of the responses along with the tone of the game for your chosen structure that can be easily achieved from a corresponding first move from white.
The other way around is not possible though, as one move from black completely changes how the rest is played.
On the other hand, White can also dictate the flow of the game by playing the first move but is just more predictable.
Choosing lines at the beginning of the game is a trademark for most advanced players since little advantages could be converted heavily at that level.
This is to override the previous point, it’s not only easier to avoid prepared lines, but more achievable to enter a line of your own.
This can be key when players of the same strength clashed, urging both sides the necessity to find every advantage possible to convert a win.
Having the black pieces means the easiness to avoid a well-known and prepared line by the opponent, e4 for example is usually met with e5 or c5, but can be avoided with a reasonable but less popular move of e6 (French) or c6 (Caro-kann), this gives power to turn the tone of the game to the player’s favor.
Upon studying openings you might have noticed that there are more moves that have a name on the side playing black, this reflects the numerous options that black has in store to take control of the game by itself.
One move for example on e4 can be responded with Kf6 (Alekhine’s defense), c5 (Sicilian defense), e6 (french defense), or d5 (Scandinavian defense).
So many openings to diverge in just one move! Insane, and I can at least name five more which are less popular but can be viable if played in bullet or blitz (a fast time control ranging from 1-5 minutes per player).
There is much more to learn when playing openings with black than white, as descriptive studies on key principles are more available in this color than the other.
This is due to the number of responses, and although white has its own key ideas, black offers more profound and detailed analyzed lines that can give powerful insights when developing chess vision.
d.) Less pressure
I think this qualifies the bulk of the reason why beginners is much more at ease when playing black over white.
Playing black doesn’t force the player to prove an advantage tat the other player seek, which means you can opt for safe plays without feeling bad about it— funny right? But is especially true.
Most of us when starting doesn’t actually go for victory rather we just don’t want to lose, and therefore make moves that looks much simpler but doesn’t bring any apparent advantage.
This can also be seen in professional games, where some of the players are more comfortable with a drawish-like position since it doesn’t involve much risk.
Anyone who wields the white pieces and obviously plays for a draw will be shamed and exposed by the community as a chicken, even if the draw actually helps with the player’s individual ranking.
A professional of course shouldn’t mind things like this, but is just a good reflection of how the color sometimes pressure a player to play something he/she normally wouldn’t play.
Armageddon is a common tie-breaker format intended to determine a winner in tournaments where it is necessary (titles that cannot be shared for example).
The thing is basically configurated with White having 5-6 minute while Black has only 4-5, the catch being White needs to win or Black wins with even just a draw.
I’ve actually written an article about that with surprising information for someone curious enough to know about this weird format.
I’ll leave a link here (will open in a new tab) if you like and you shall be taken there!
But to give a quick heads up, Black is actually better in Armageddon since you actually only need to play for a draw to win, therefore less likely to succumb punishment for making risky plays.
To summarize there are several specs to consider when opting for a particular side.
Most tournaments ensure that players have a fair share of each, and while choosing a color might not be an option, would help a player to prepare and expect certain aspects of the game when having the proper knowledge for it.
This should make you an effective and flexible game that can bring results!
Apply these principles on your own games and ponder for some time, good luck.