Why Does Anybody Play 1. e4?

by admin on December 24, 2015

Of course this is a rhetorical question, but really. Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts called Grading the Openings looked at the winning percentages of each of the ECO opening classifications in master play. There’s a small but undeniable difference between the winning percentages of 1. e4 and 1. d4. In king pawn openings, White typically scores from 53 percent to 55 percent (less in Sicilians, more in offbeat openings). But in queen pawn openings, White typically scores 56 to 58 percent, with the main exception being the Nimzo-Indian Defense, where White has a winning percentage of 52 to 53 percent.

Today, for the first time in several years, I updated my own personal opening log, and noticed that the queen pawn versus king pawn disparity is even stronger in my games. Since 1984 I have a winning percentage of 55.9 percent as White with 1. e4, compared to 62.8 percent as White with 1. d4. That’s a difference of almost seven percent, or 50 rating points. As Black, the difference is even more dramatic. I score 61.6 percent as Black when my opponent plays 1. e4, and 52.0 percent when my opponent plays 1. d4. Nearly a ten percent difference, or 70 rating points!

The reason that I still play king pawn openings is simple: it’s more fun. But it’s also fun to win. So I think that in 2016 I’m going to play 1. d4 quite a bit more often. I would also like to ask all of my future opponents to play 1. e4 against me. With those two changes, I’m looking forward to gaining 50 rating points with no effort. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

Also, if any of you have suggestions on how I can improve my winning percentage with White in king-pawn openings, or with Black in queen-pawn openings, I’m all ears.

Merry Christmas!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman Parparov December 25, 2015 at 10:35 am

I always felt more comfortable playing against 1. d4.

The combination of Nf3, c4, Nc3, g3 with delayed d2-d4 has been the most annoying for me.


Panu Helke December 28, 2015 at 4:27 pm

I guess there’s not much sense in comparing the winning percentages only – one should take into account the losing percentages (and thus, the drawing percentages), too.


admin December 28, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Yes, I didn’t make this clear but that is the way that I arrived at the percentages (counting wins as 1 point and draws as 1/2).


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