As discussed in previous posts, White’s choice of move after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 is driven by whether his repertoire is based on the Queen’s Gambit or Catalan. If it is based on the Queen’s Gambit, then he should continue with 3 Nc3, when 3…d5 4 d4 leads to the starting point for a number of Queen’s Gambit lines. If it is the Catalan, then he should continue with 3 g3, when 3…d5 4 d4 leads to the basic position of that opening.
Of course, Black isn’t obliged to play 3…d5 on move 3, and White has to be ready for these moves too.
After 3 Nc3, Black’s main alternatives to 3…d5 are:
(a) 3…Bb4, hoping for 4 d4, tranposing to the Nimzo-Indian. White should instead take advantage of his move order to play one of lines of the Anti-Nimzo-Indian System. These are discussed in the section “The Anti-Nimzo-Indian System” below.
(b) 3…b6 is most naturally met with 4 g3, intending to transpose into the lines after 2…b6 3 g3. The sharp 4 e4 may be to some people’s taste. After 4 g3 there is one independent line of note: 4…Bb7 5 Bg2 Bb4. This should be met by 6 0-0 0-0 7 d3, preparing e4. Then Black has two basic strategies:
- The first involves …d5, to prevent e4: 7…d5 8 cxd5 exd5 9 Bf4 Re8 10 Nb5 Na6 11 Rc1 c6 12 Nbd4 Bc5 13 a3 Nh5 14 Bd2 Qd7 15 e3 Nf6 16 Bc3. White’s pieces become active and he now plans b4.
- The second sees Black aiming for a blockade: 7…Bxc3 8 bxc3 d6 9 e4 c5 10 Nh4 Ne8 11 a4 Nc6 12 f4 f5 13 exf5 exf5 14 Bd5+ Kh8 15 Qh5 Qf6 16 Qf3 Rc8 17 Bd2 and again White is actively placed.
(c) 3…c5 should be met by 4 g3, when play will most likely lead into the Symmetrical English. This position, which can be reached via several different move orders, will be considered in a later post.
After 3 g3, Black’s main alternatives to 3…d5 are:
(a) 3…a6, a move devised by Romanishin, which is covered in the section “The Romanishin System” below.
(b) 3…b6 4 Bg2 and play transposes into the lines after 2…b6 3 g3.
(c) 3…c5 4 Bg2 and play will most likely lead into the Symmetrical English. This position, which can be reached via several different move orders, will be considered in a later post.
The Anti-Nimzo-Indian System
After 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4, White has a number of alternatives to 4 d4, which transposes to the Nimzo-Indian. These go under the general banner of “Anti-Nimzo Indian Systems”.
The move that I have some experience of (4 Qc2) is usually regarded as the main line. This has some similarity to the variation of the Nimzo-Indian popularised by Kasparov for White: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2. The advantage of our move order is that White has not committed himself to d4, which gives him greater flexibility and leaves him less vulnerable to counter-attacks from Black’s pieces. The main disadvantage is that White is committed to Nf3; after Kasparov’s 4 Qc2, White has the useful option playing f3 in some lines, increasing his control over e4, and developing the knight via e2 or even h3.
In response to 4 Qc2, Black’s main move is 4…0-0, but there are a couple of other moves worth considering:
(a) 4…d5. White should meet this with 5 a3 Bxc3 6 Qxc3 0-0 7 e3 b6 8 b4 c5 9 Bb2 Ba6 10 d3 Nbd7 11 Be2 Rc8 12 b5 (to cut out the indirect pressure down the c-file) 12…Bb7 13 a4 or 13 0-0. White has a slight advantage, though Black’s position is solid.
(b) 4…c5. This takes advantage of White not having played d4. 5 a3 Ba5. This is another point of …c5; Black doesn’t have to give up the bishop, or retreat it to a less active position. 6 g3 Nc6 7 Bg2 0-0 8 0-0. White has a flexible position and can proceed either in the centre or the queenside, but Black is very solid. Here are two examples of play from this position, showing how White can adopt different plans according to circumstances:
- 8…Qe7 9 d3 d6 10 Rb1 h6 11 Na2 d5 12 b4 Bb6 13 e3 dxc4 14 dxc4 e5 15 Nd2. White first gains space on the queenside; now he plans Bb2-c3 (to cover b4) and Nb3 (to put pressure on c5).
- 8…d6 9 d3 h6 (planning …e5; 9…e5 is met by 10 Bg5) 10 e3 e5 11 Nd2 Bxc3 (otherwise White will be able to play Nd5) 12 Qxc3 a5 13 b3 Be6 14 Bb2 Qd7 15 f4 exf4 16 gxf4. White has a promising position, because he can exert pressure on g7 both down the long diagonal, and also down the g-file.
After 4…0-0 White should continue with the natural 5 a3 Bxc3 6 Qxc3, when Black has a choice between playing for …e5, or fianchettoing his queen’s bishop:
(a) 6…d6 plans …e5 and …Bg4. 7 e3 e5 8 b4. White will develop his pieces with Bb2, Be2 and 0-0.
(b) 6…b6 is met by the natural 7 e3 Bb7 8 Be2. White’s subsequent moves will be influenced by Black’s response. Some examples:
- 8…Ne4 9 Qc2 followed by b3 and Bb2, possibly in combination with queenside castling, if Black plays …Ng5xf3, and White recaptures with gxf3.
- 8…c5 9 b4 d6 10 Bb2 e5 11 0-0 Re8 12 Rae1 Nbd7 13 d4.
The system with 4 Qc2 is covered in the 1st edition of volume 2 of Khalifman’s “Kramnik” series of books.
The Romanishin System
Unlike 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4, 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 a6 is not an especially popular system. Indeed, while I have played a number of games in the former, the latter has yet to occur in my practice. I shall therefore give a brief overview of the theory, without any claim to having some practical insight into the positions.
White’s most natural continuation against 3…a6 is 4 Bg2. Then he meets 4…b5 with 5 b3. Black’s main move is now 5…c5. The alternative 5…Bb7 can be met by 6 Nc3 and now:
- 6…bxc4 7 bxc4 c5 8 Rb1 Bc6 9 0-0 Be7 10 Qc2 0-0 11 e4 Ra7 12 d4. White has good attacking chances.
- 6…b4 7 Na4 d6 8 a3 a5 9 0-0 Nbd7 10 d4 c5 11 axb4 axb4 12 Bb2. Black’s position is more solid than in the previous line, but still passive.
After 5…c5, White also continues with 6 Nc3. Black then usually places his queen on either a5 or b6, rather than going for the passive b4, as in the line given above. White can meet both moves with 7 e4, intending a quick e5, with an active position. For example:
- 6…Qa5 7 e4 Bb7 8 e5 Ng4 9 Qe2 Nc6 10 0-0 bxc4 11 bxc4 Be7 12 h3 Nh6 13 g4 0-0 14 Ne4, with the initiative.
- 6…Qb6 7 e4 Bb7 8 e5 Ng4 9 0-0 Nc6 10 Re1 Be7 11 h3 Nh6 12 g4 0-0 13 Ne4, again with the initiative.
Note how in both cases …Ng4 is met by h3 and g4, restricting the knight to h6.
The Romanishin System is covered in the 2nd edition of volume 2 of Khalifman’s “Kramnik” series of books.