Tactical 1.e4: When it comes to building an Opening Repertoire, it is important to consider the player’s strengths and weaknesses. Many people underperform because their openings don’t match their style. It is easy to imagine a strong positional player getting lost in tactical jungles as well as a strong tactician making no sense in a strategic battle.
Choosing openings is no trifling matter: not only do you need to understand yourself well but also to have a lot of opening knowledge. In this article, we will try to ease this task for attacking players and discuss how 1.e4 could suit them with White pieces.
Historically, 1.e4 has been considered to be the sharpest choice for White, whereas 1.d4 used to be strongly associated with positional chess. The understanding of the game has progressed since then, and things seem to have changed a little bit, but still, 1.e4 can provide White with more attacking ideas and setups.
Tactical 1.e4: What to play against 1…e5?
1…e5 is Black’s most solid reply against 1.e4. Now White’s main move is 2.Nf3, but there are sharper alternatives to it as well. The craziest option is the King’s Gambit. With 2.f4, White sacrifices a pawn for better development, center control, and initiative. Another way to accomplish that is to play the Vienna Game with 2.Nc3. White delays the development of the king’s knight, hoping to push f2-f4 under safer circumstances.
Now, let’s look at attacking options after White’s most popular move 2.Nf3. After 2…Nc6, the main opening for White is the Ruy Lopez (3.Bb5). It gives White good chances of obtaining an advantage but requires a lot of opening knowledge. Usually, it leads to complex strategic middlegames, but White also has a typical plan of attacking Black’s king connected with planting a knight on f5. Those who seek tactical firefights can look at the Italian Game. After 3.Bc4 Bc5, White has plenty of attacking options.
In this position, White can employ the Evans Gambit with 4.b4, planning to meet 4…Bxb4 with 5.c3, followed by quick d2-d4. White sacrifices a pawn to open files for their pieces and develops the initiative. If Black doesn’t know the theory here, they can find themself in trouble quickly.
Another aggressive option for White is the Deutz Gambit. It starts with 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d4. Black should be careful; the best is 5…Bxd4 6.Nxd4 Nxd4.
White can continue with 7.Bg5, followed by f2-f4, or 7.f4 immediately.
White can also opt for the sharp Giuoco Piano (4.c3 Nf6 5.d4) or the calmer Giuoco Pianissimo (4.c3 Nf6 5.d3). The latter can be good for building a slow attack without much risk.
If Black replies to 3.Bc4 with 3…Nf6 (the Two Knights Defense), White gets to choose between two aggressive options: 4.Ng5 and 4.d4.
A typical way for Black to go wrong is to enter the Fried Liver Attack: 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3 and White has great prospects for the sacrificed material. Much safer is 5…Na5 with a lot of theory to follow.
The move 4.d3 is also possible and can transpose to the Giuoco Pianissimo.
What if Black chooses the Petroff Defense (2…Nf6)? First, White can try to avoid it with the Bishop Opening (2.Bc4), hoping to transpose to the Italian or the Vienna Game later. In the Petroff itself, the most aggressive for White seems to be the Shirov Attack: 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3. After 5…Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Be3,
White plans to castle queenside and attack Black’s kingside.
The Caro-Kann Defense is another solid and reliable opening for Black. White can try the aggressive Tal Variation: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4.
Black should be careful. 4…e6 gets the bishop trapped after 5.g4, followed by h4-h5. 4…h6 allows 5.g4 Be4 6.f3 Bh7 7.e6 with initiative for White. The best is 4…h5, but White has a lot of interesting ideas after that as well.
Another interesting option is the Fantasy Variation: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3. It can come as a surprise to many players and lead to unusual positions full of tactics.
Tactical 1.e4: French Defense
Although the French Defense often leads to positions with a closed center, it gives a lot of tactical possibilities for both sides. For example, the main line in the Winawer Variation (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4) can lead to double-edged a position like this:
It is messy: White will be up a pawn soon, but Black hopes to compensate for that by the piece activity. Enter this line only if you know the theory.
The Classical Variation (3.Nc3 Nf6) can lead to tactical firefights too; sometimes, those are positions with opposite castling:
Many people play the Scandinavian Defense to avoid much theory and get a reliable position. Nevertheless, the arising positions are open and should suit tactical players well. For example, one of the main lines goes: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6 6.Bc4 Bf5. Here White can play 7.Ne5 e6 8.g4 Bg6 9.h4:
The Black bishop is in trouble. The theory goes on from here, but an attacking player should feel great as White here.
Tactical 1.e4: Sicilian Defense
The Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5) is one of the most popular and sharp openings. Here you won’t need to look for tactics – tactics will find you first.
White can opt for the Open Sicilian and get positions full of tactics and exciting possibilities. For example, in the Najdorf (after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6), you can opt for 6.Bg5, 6.Bc4 or 6.Be3. To see what kind of positions can arise from here, let’s look at the diagram below.
Vassily Ivanchuk (2751) – Sergey Karjakin (2732) [B87]
Amber Tournament (Rapid) Nice FRA (4), 18.03.2008
In this position, Vassily Ivanchuk shocked the world by playing the fantastic 14.Qxe6+! fxe6 15.Nxe6 Qe5 16.Nxg7+ Kf8 17.Ne6+ Kf7 18.Rhe1. White sacrificed the queen for just three pawns, but their pieces are so active that Black will have to give a lot of material back. You can see the whole game in the viewer below.
It often happens that White doesn’t want to study a lot of theory but still aims for tactical play. That makes popular such systems as the Gran Prix Attack, the Smith-Morra Gambit, the Wing Gambit, etc.
The Rossolimo Attack (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) seems to be more of a positional weapon, but even here, an aggressive player can find a lot to be happy about. After 3…g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Bg7 6.h3 Nf6 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be3 b6 9.Qd2, the following position arises:
White plans to weaken Black’s kingside by trading the dark-squared bishop. White’s king can choose where to hide: queenside castling will lead to sharp positions where both sides try to attack; after kingside castling, White will try to prepare the f2-f4 pawn break.
Pirc and Modern Defenses
Against the Pirc and Modern Defenses, White has two main aggressive approaches. The Austrian Attack involves an early f2-f4 pawn push, for example, 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3.
Most often, White castles kingside and tries to use their overwhelming advantage in the center for creating an attack.
Another approach is to castle queenside and attack the kingside directly. That can be reached after, for example, 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Be3.
This attack is similar to the one we could get from the Rossolimo Attack or the Dragon Sicilian.
You also might like Top 10 Chess Openings Played by Garry Kasparov.
Tactical 1.e4: Conclusion
As you could see, White has plenty of options for getting attacking chances in all the Central Openings after 1.e4. You can try to practice each of them online and add to your Repertoire those that give you the best results.