What is the sense of 1. … Nc6 against 1. e4? Entirely in the spirit of the so-called hypermodern chess school (which is still called so even about 100 years after its creation), Black refrains from directly occupying or threatening one of the central central squares with a pawn. Instead, the central squares e5 and d4 are taken under attack by a piece, from the dark knight on c6. In the case of square d4, this is only a weak bombardment, since the white queen’s cover would allow the white d-pawn to advance two squares unchecked. The black knight’s crossing of d4 is, however, quite serious; in quite a few games where there is a “Scandinavian pawn exchange” between the white e- and black d-pawn, the knight receives heavy pawn support on the half-open d-line, and the pressure against d4 suddenly becomes very concrete. The square e5, on the other hand, is already blocked, and the white e-pawn cannot advance without further support.
Most games over the board start as follows: White makes his first move, Black answers promptly, White answers, Black moves – only a few seconds pass between each move. Depending on the chosen opening, this goes on for five, ten or more moves – until one of the players starts thinking (or even digging around in his memory for a while). This is because independent thinking typically begins first when one of the two players has reached the end of his opening memory chain and, at best, still remembers whether the position he has reached is beneficial to him or not. This is where the game actually begins for him.
What happens now after 1. e4 Nc6? The TDKS player leans back in a relaxed position, or stands up and gets a coffee – because already now, after the first move, White starts to think.
Let’s flip the board and put ourselves in the situation of White. The move with the king pawn was of course associated with expectations and a certain opening repertoire. Due to the statistical distribution, White can calculate with a probability of more than 75 percent with 1. … c5 (Sicilian), 1. … e5 (Open games), 1. … e6 (French) or 1. … c6 (Caro-Kann) as the answer move. The expected value (based on the Megabase 2017 database) for 1. … Nc6 is 0.7 percent.
Of course there are reasons why the first mentioned black moves occur more than a hundred times more often (i.e. are more popular) than the move of the dark knight. The obvious reason from White’s point of view: 1. … Nc6 must be “lazy”. Now White considers: Should I play on refutation, i.e. the obvious 2. d4? My opponent will certainly be prepared for this, he wants to lure me into astray or even into traps. Should I go for it? Objectively, 2. d4 must be the best, but should I do him this favour?
Only one of three choose 2. d4. Two thirds, on the other hand, say to themselves: “So what? My opponent has prepared himself for something exotic, but I won’t do him that favour. I just continue to play normally and by another move order I get into my prepared opening.”
This results in White’s second move either with 2. Nf3 or (more rarely) 2. Nc3 or a move of the white bishop (after c4 or b5). For if White had originally intended a Ruy Lopez game, he now plays 2. Nf3 (or somewhat crazier 2. Bb5); if he aimed at Italian, he also plays 2. Nf3 (or somewhat crazier 2. Bc4); if his intention was the Vienna game, he draws 2. Nc3. Always in the expectation that Black could not play much more sensible than 2… e5, and already it was all just a funny move to a “normal” position, no more.
Let’s flip the board again and sit down behind the black pieces (equipped with a fresh coffee). If White has chosen the “refutation option” 2. d4, Black has the choice between 2. … d5 and 2. … e5. This is the classic Nimzowitsch Defence with all its exciting plays. So to speak the foundation of the TDKS (if this foundation would not bear, the whole system would be obsolete against 1. e4).
But how do you counter the “move order threat”? First of all, this is not a real threat, because of course there is nothing to prevent playing e5 against 2. Nf3. Because at least black can exclude King’s and Middle Gambit from his preparation by this move order. But the real TDKS player naturally has other intentions and wants to avoid classical opening paths. And there are plenty of opportunities for this. For example he can answer 2. Nf3 with 2. … d5 (or 2. … d6) or even with 2. … f5! At the latest now, at the “Carnival Gambit”, Whitewill consider whether it was really a good idea to resist the refutation attempt 2. d4. Speaking of refutation: Besides theory, practice is of course also of particular interest here. Hence a brief look at statistics.
In the megabase 2017 (over 7 million master games with an average ELO rating of 2,135 points) Black scores 46.4% of the possible points. In only about 26.000 games in this database the initial moves were 1. e4 Nc6 – but in these games Black scored 47,3 % of the possible points. The statistics in amateur online chess are even more positive: about 37 million(!) games played on the Lichess server from July to September 2017 report a success rate for Blackof 48.4 %, both overall and after 1. e4 Nc6. Yes, the advantage of White is there and measurable – but The Dark Knight System against 1. e4 is as promising a weapon as Sicilian, French or all the other established opening systems.