Background: Mode of death in chronic heart failure (CHF) may be of relevance to choice of therapy for this condition. Sudden death is particularly common in patients with early and/or mild/moderate CHF. β-Blockade may provide better protection against sudden death than ACE inhibition (ACEI) in this setting. Methods: We randomized 1010 patients with mild or moderate, stable CHF and left ventricular ejection fraction ≤35%, without ACEI, β-blocker or angiotensin-receptor-blocker therapy, to either bisoprolol (n = 505) or enalapril (n = 505) for 6 months, followed by their combination for 6–24 months. The two strategies were blindly compared regarding adjudicated mode of death, including sudden death and progressive pump failure death. Results: During the monotherapy phase, 8 of 23 deaths in the bisoprolol-first group were sudden, compared to 16 of 32 in the enalapril-first group: hazard ratio (HR) for sudden death 0.50; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.21–1.16; P= 0.107. At 1 year, 16 of 42 versus 29 of 60 deaths were sudden: HR 0.54; 95% CI 0.29–1.00; P= 0.049. At study end, 29 of 65 versus 34 of 73 deaths were sudden: HR 0.84; 95% CI 0.51–1.38; P= 0.487. Comparable figures for pump failure death were: monotherapy, 7 of 23 deaths versus 2 of 32: HR 3.43; 95% CI 0.71–16.53; P= 0.124, at 1 year, 13 of 42 versus 5 of 60: HR 2.57; 95% CI 0.92–7.20; P= 0.073, at study end, 17 of 65 versus 7 of 73: HR 2.39; 95% CI 0.99–5.75; P= 0.053. There were no significant between-group differences in any other fatal events. Conclusion: Initiating therapy with bisoprolol compared to enalapril decreased the risk of sudden death during the first year in this mild systolic CHF cohort. This was somewhat offset by an increase in pump failure deaths in the bisoprolol-first cohort.