Playing the Semi-Slav: Overview

The post is the first in a series in which I look at building a repertoire against 1 d4, 1 c4 and 1 Nf3 based on the Semi-Slav Defence.

The basic starting position of the Semi-Slav can be reached via several move orders. The traditional order is 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 e6, and indeed this is the one used in Alexey Dreev’s two recent books on the opening. However Black has two other major routes to the position: 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c6 4 Nf3 Nf6 and 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 Nc3 c6. The position can also be reached via 1 c4 and 1 Nf3, should White be happy to transpose into the Queen’s Gambit.

Each of these orders has its advantages and disadvantages.

The first order (1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 e6) is the most common among top players, as it doesn’t offer much scope for White to deviate and still hope to gain an advantage. The reason for this is that Black keeps open the option of developing his bishop on f5 or g4, and White needs to adopt and aggressive approach, typically the one based on 3 Nf3 and 4 Nc3, to make this impossible without make some concession. The chief disadvantage of the order is that it allows White to go into the Slav Exchange variation on move 3 or 4 (3 cxd5 or 4 cxd5), a line which is regarded as being drawish.

The second order (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c6 4 Nf3 Nf6) is popular among players below the top level, who play in open tournaments and therefore need to win with Black against weaker opposition. Its chief merit is that it avoids the drawish exchange variation, and is therefore more suited to the ambitious Black player. The disadvantage is that White has some extra possibilities that are a serious alternative to the main line. First of these is the Catalan Opening (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3); second is the Marshall Gambit (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c6 4 e4), for which Black has to be well prepared.

The third order (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 Nc3 c6) sees the Semi-Slav as part of a wider repertoire. In this order, if White plays 3 Nc3 rather than 3 Nf3, Black will play 3…Bb4, with the Nimzo-Indian Defence. If White plays 3 g3, the normal response is 3…d5, with the Catalan Opening, although there are other possibilities.

I’ll start by looking at each move order in a separate post; these will also look at responses to 1 c4 and 1 Nf3 that are consistent with that particular move order. I’ll then move on to considering the basic position after Black’s fourth move.

Visit the Bibliography for recommended reading relating to playing the Semi-Slav as Black.
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