1 Nf3 repertoire: The Maroczy Bind

The basic position of the Maroczy Bind arises after 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 g6 3 e4 Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4, although there are other move orders that reach both this and later positions within the system. In most opening books it is classified as a line of the Sicilian Defence, arising after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 5 c4, although it is perhaps just as likely to arise after 1 c4 or 1 Nf3.

White’s basic strategy is to constrict the Black position, gradually depriving Black of active possibilities. He will look for a favourable opportunity to play his knight to d5. If Black responds with …e6, this leaves the d6 pawn weak. If Black responds with …Nxd5, White has to have a strong recapture prepared. Quite often he will play exd5, opening the e-file so as to put pressure on e7. If Black has weakened c6 with either …b6 or …b5, then either exd5 or cxd5 will support the move of a piece to that square.

As a general rule of thumb, White tends to play Be3 in response to …Bg7, either because there is a direct threat to the knight on d4, or an indirect one, based on the tactic …Nxe4. If White has the choice, then he tends to look to place the bishop elsewhere.

Black’s methods of counterplay vary. I shall discuss them by looking at each of the major Black defensive systems below.

System 1: 5…Nf6 6 Nc3 Bg7 7 Be3 Ng4

Here Black uses tactics to exchange a pair of knights. After 8 Qxg4 Black will usually play 8…Nxd4, as after 8…Bxd4 9 Bxd4 Nxd4 10 0-0-0, the Black position looks dubious:

  • 10 …Nc6 11 Qg3 Qa5 12 h4 h5 13 f4 d6 14 Rd5 Qb6 15 f5 gxf5 16 exf5 Bd7 17 f6 (Gallagher – Gelashvili, Batumi 1999) sees White easily rip open the Black position.
  • 10 …e5 11 Qg3 d6 12 f4 f6 13 f5 gives White a strong attack.

After 8…Nxd4 9 Qd1 Black’s classic scheme starts with 9…Ne6. The move 9…Nc6 is passive after 10 Qd2 followed by sensible development, while 9…e5 can be met by 10 Nb5.

After 9…Ne6 White should play either 10 Rc1 or 10 Qd2 to prevent …Bxc3, doubling his pawns and giving Black a target for counterplay.

White’s basic strategy is to expand on the queenside with b4, and look for a chance to play Nd5.

Black with usually develop his queenside with …b6 and …Bb7, and look to place a rook on the open c-file.

For instance, 10…b6 11 Bd3 (this is often preferable to Be2, if it is possible to play it) 0-0 12 0-0 Bb7 13 b4 Rc8 14 Qd2 Ba6 15 Nd5 Nc7 16 c5 Bxd3 17 Qxd3 bxc5 18 Bxc5 Nxd5 19 Qxd5 Bh6 20 Rcd1 Rc7 21 e5 and White was better due to his space advantage and superior pawn structure (Nunn – Larsen, Hastings 1987).

System 2: 5…Nf6 6 Nc3 Bg7 7 Be3 0-0 8 Be2 b6

This scheme of counterplay is not very effective. After 9 Qd2 Bd7 10 f3 White has blunted the attack against e4. Black can then attempt to play …e6 and …d5, but this can be stopped. For instance play might go 10…Rc8 11 0-0 d6 12 Rac1 Qd7 13 Rfd1 Rfd8 14 Ndb5 (directed against …e6) Ne8 15 Qe1 e6 16 Bg5 (exploiting …e6 to force a weakness) f6 17 Be3 Qe7 18 Qg3 Rd7 19 Rd2 Rcd8 20 Rcd1 and White has a solid plus, as in Polugaevsky – Bellon Lopez, Las Palmas 1974.

System 3: 5…Nf6 6 Nc3 d6 7 Be2 Nxd4 8 Qxd4 Bg7

Here we have an instance of White having the opportunity to develop his dark-squared bishop on a more active square with 9 Bg5. Now 9…h6 is met by 10 Be3 followed by 11 Qd2, so play normally goes 9…0-0 10 Qd2, when Black’s main options are 10…Be6 and 10…a6. These can both reach the same position, but there are independent lines as well.

The main line can be thought of as the position that arises after both 10…Be6 11 Rc1 Qa5 12 f3 Rfc8 13 b3 a6 14 Na4 and 10…a6 11 Rc1 Be6 12 b3 Qa5 13 f3 Rfc8 14 Na4.

Note that in both move orders, …Qa5 is met by f3 in order to strengthen e4, so that Na4 is then possible.

After 10…a6 11 Rc1 Be6 12 b3, Black could try instead 12…Rc8 13 0-0 b5, but after 14 cxb5 axb5 15 Bxb5 Qa5 16 Nd5 Qxb5 17 Nxe7 Kh8 18 Bxf6 Bxf6 19 Nxc8 Rxc8 20 Rxc8 Bxc8 21 Qxd6 Kg8 22 Qd2 White has a rook and three pawns against two bishops, which should favour him, especially as he has connected passed pawns on the queenside (analysis by Csom). Instead 16…Qxd2 17 Nxf6 Bxf6 18 Bxd2 worked out well for White in Kotronias – Banikas, Kavala 1997.

Turning back to 10…Be6 11 Rc1 Qa5 12 f3 Rfc8 13 b3 a6 14 Na4, as 14…Qd8 is met effectively by 15 c5, Black usually goes into the endgame after 14…Qxd2+ 15 Kxd2.

The classic example of play from this position remains the following game by Karpov.

System 4: 5…Nf6 6 Nc3 d6 7 Be2 Bg7 8 Be3 0-0 9 0-0 Bd7

After 10 Qd2, play will usually follow a well trodden path:

10…Nxd4 11 Bxd4 Bc6 12 f3 a5 13 b3 Nd7 14 Be3

The exchange of bishops would favour Black, as White has weakened his dark squares.


We now see the essence of Black’s strategy: to establish a blockade on the queenside. White needs to break the blockade; if he can achieve this, he normally will have an advantage.

15 Rab1 Qb6 16 Rfc1 Rfc8

If 16…Qb4 then 17 Rc2, intending Qc1, a3 and b4, winning a piece.

17 Rc2 Qd8

Instead 17…Qb4 18 Qc1 (threatening a3 and b4, winning a piece) Qb6 19 Bf1 Qd8 20 Qd2 transposes back into the main line of play.

18 Bf1 Be5 19 a3 e6 20 b4 axb4 21 axb4 Na4 22 Ne2

White avoids exchanges.

22…Qh4 23 g3 Qe7 24 Nd4 Be8 24 Rbc1

Black is gradually being pushed back (Gelfand – Anand, Manila 1990).

System 5: 5…Nf6 6 Nc3 d6 7 Be2 Bg7 8 Be3 0-0 9 0-0 Nxd4 10 Bxd4 Be6

Black’s plan here is based on attacking the c-pawn. White continues by playing 11 Qd2 connecting his rooks.

Black’s most ambitious continuation is now 11…Qa5, intending …Rfc8 followed by …a6 and …b5. However, Khalifman feels that this is too ambitious after 12 Rad1 Rfc8 13 b3 a6 14 f4 b5 15 f5 Bd7 16 Bxf6 (introducing a standard trick) Bxf6 17 Nd5 Qxd2 18 Nxf6+ exf6 (the tricky response 18…Kg7 intending to avoid doubled pawns after 19 Rxd2 Kxf6 did not work out well after 20 fxg6+ Kxg6 21 e5! in Salmensuu – Verkasalo, Jarvanpaa 1998) 19 Rxd2 and White’s superior pawn structure gives him a big advantage.

However, quieter play just leaves White with a solid advantage, as he can consolidate his position with sensible development.

System 6: 5…Bg7 6 Be3 d6 7 Nc3 Nh6

This is an offbeat attempt by Black, who is looking to undermine the White centre with …f5. However, after 8 f3 f5 9 Qd2 Nf7 (9…f4 10 Bf2 0-0 11 c5) 10 exf5 gxf5 11 c5 White is doing well, e.g. 11…dxc5 12 Nxc6 Qxd2+ 13 Kxd2 bxc6 14 Bxc5 and White’s pawn structure is better.

System 7: 5…Bh6

This offbeat idea of Dragon-specialist Tiviakov can be met by 6 Bxh6 Nxh6 7 Nc3 0-0 8 Be2 d6 9 0-0 with a solid advantage for White. The disruptive 9…Qb6 does not achieve much after 10 Nb3 e.g. 10…Be6 11 Qd2 Ng4 12 Nd5 Bxd5 13 exd5 Nce5 14 Bxg4 Nxg4 15 Nd4 Ne5 16 b3 Rae8 17 Rae1 and White has his standard pressure down the e-file (Ginzburg – Hoffman, Villa Ballester 2001). Note that White holds back Qd2 in this line as long as possible, to prevent Black playing …Ng4 until it is not particularly threatening.

Visit the Bibliography for recommended reading relating to the 1 Nf3 Repertoire.
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