The traditional main line of the Catalan Opening arose in two of the games of the recent Horsham 1 – Eastbourne 1 match in the Mid-Sussex League. On board two, I was White against Oliver Froom, and the game started 1 Nf3 d5 2 d4 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 g3 Be7 5 Bg2 O-O 6 O-O, reaching the basic position. My teammate Dix Roberts reached the same position via a different move order on board four, in his game against Andrew Fleming.
The two games then diverged. My opponent chose the solid 6…Nbd7, against which I continued 7 Qc2; this game was analysed in a previous post. Dix was faced with 6…dxc4; in response he decided to play 7 Qa4 rather than the usual 7 Qc2. His opponent then reacted with 7…Bd7. After the game, a couple of questions arose regarding the opening:
- What difference is there between playing 7 Qa4 and the more conventional 7 Qc2 against 6…dxc4?
- Given that there appears to be no difference between 7 Qc2 and 7 Qa4 after 7…Bd7, because in both cases White will play 8 Qxc4, what is the best way to play in this position?
Here are my thoughts on these questions.
Clearly, after 7 Qc2 a6 8 Qxc4 and 7 Qa4 a6 8 Qxc4, we have reached the same position (and the absolute main line), but what other alternatives does Black have, and does is matter that the queen is on c2 or c4?
After both moves Black can also chose to play 7…Bd7 or 7…c5.
7 Qc2 gives Black the additional option of 7…b5?! but this is dubious because of 8 a4. Then Black loses after 8…c6 9 axb5 cxb5 10 Ng5!
Black in fact decided to meet 7 Qa4 with 7…Bd7, and White chose 8 Qxc4. This leads to the same position as after 7 Qc2 Bd7 8 Qxc4. Now Avrukh gives the following variation: 8…Bc6 9 Nc3 a6 10 Bg5 b5 11 Qd3 Nbd7 12 a3! He notes that this shows an advantage over the similar line after 7 Qc2 a6 8 a4 Bd7.
Let us turn finally to 7…c5. After 7 Qc2 c5, Avrukh recommends 8 dxc5 Bxc5 9 Nbd2! intending to take on c4 with the knight, rather than going for 9 Qxc4 Qe7 10 Nc3 a6! followed by …b5 and …Bb7. Can this also be played after 7 Qa4? Possibly not, as after 7 Qa4 c5 8 dxc5 Bxc5 9 Nbd2, Black can play 9…c3, in order to weaken White’s pawn structure; this would not be an option with the queen on c2. White would have to play 9 Qxc4 instead, allowing the line given above after 9…Qe7.
My conclusion is therefore that 7 Qc2 is better than 7 Qa4 because it offers this extra option against 7…c5, while Black’s extra move 7…b5 is nothing to be worried about.