So far in this series I have been looking at the various ways to reach the basic starting position of the Semi-Slav, which arises after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 e6. Now I’ll turn my attention to this key position, and the main lines that arise from it.
White’s two main moves here are 5 Bg5 and 5 e3, which I’ll examine in later posts. In this post I’ll be considering White’s main alternatives, which are the moves 5 Qb3, 5 g3 and 5 cxd5.
The move 5 Qb3 hopes to improve on 5 e3 by defending against Black winning a pawn by 5…dxc4 followed by 6…b5, while at the same time not blocking in his queen’s bishop. White will either follow up with Bg5 or Bf4, or aim for a Catalan-like formation with g3, without gambiting a pawn.
The classic main line against 5 Qb3 is the straightforward 5…dxc4 6 Qxc4 b5 followed by 7 Qb3 Nbd7 or 7 Qd3 Nbd7. Black aims to strike with the classic Semi-Slav break …c5, usually prepared with …a6. If White plays e4, then Black will usually counter with …b4, undermining the e-pawn.
Another possibility is 5…Be7. This intends to continue with the same plan against Bg5 or Bf4 (6 Bg5 dxc4 7 Qxc4 b5 or 6 Bf4 dxc4 7 Qxc4 b5), but to neutralise 6 g3 with the clever 6…b6 7 Bg2 Ba6, an idea of Mikhail Gurevich. The point of 6 g3 b6 7 Bg2 Ba6 is that White has to exchange with 8 cxd5 cxd5, when his options have been restricted to breaking with e4. After 9.Ne5 O-O 10.O-O Bb7 11.Bf4 Nfd7 12.Nxd7 Qxd7, Black is comfortable, and can continue with …Nb8-c6-a5-c4.
The move 5 g3 is bolder than 5 Qb3 followed by g3, in that White is prepared to gambit a pawn. White is hoping to reach classic Closed Catalan positions where Black is a little passive, and White as a result enjoys a slight advantage. Black’s most interesting response is to take up the challenger by accepting the gambit with 5…dxc4. White can then pull out of full-blooded gambit play with 6 a4, but then 6…Nbd7 7.Bg2 Be7 8.O-O O-O 9.e4 e5! gives Black good counterplay:
- 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.dxe5 Ng4 12.Qxd8 Rxd8 13.Bf4 g5 leaves Black on top.
- 10.d5 cxd5 11.exd5 Bb4 is equal.
- 10.dxe5 Ng4 11.Bf4 Qa5 12.e6! (not 12.Qd4 Rd8 13.Qxc4 Ndxe5) 12…fxe6 and White doesn’t seem to have anything better than 13.e5 Ndxe5
14.Nxe5 Nxe5 15.Qh5 Bd6! 16.Ne4 Rf5 17.Qe8+ Rf8 18.Qh5 Rf5
19.Qe8+ with a draw in Topalov – Kasparov, Sarajevo 2000.
Instead 6 Bg2 is more aggressive. The natural response is 6…b5, aiming to hold onto the pawn. White then has a choice of plans:
- He can advance in the centre with e4-e5, looking to set up an attack on the kingside.
- He can attack on the queenside with a4, most likely keeping the long diagonal open to create tactical difficulties for Black.
After 6…b5, White has tried both 7 Ne5 and 7 0-0. The move 7 Ne5 is met by 7…Nd5, while 7 0-0 is met by 7…Nbd7. The resulting positions are difficult to assess and are out of the scope of this overview.
A quieter alternative to 5 Qb3 and 5 g3 is the transposition to the Exchange Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined with 5 cxd5 exd5. This is regarded as innocuous, as Black can develop his queen’s bishop without difficulty, because White has played Nf3 too early. This is obvious in the line 6 Bg5 Be7 7 Qc2 g6 8 e3 Bf5 9 Bd3 Bxd3 10 Qxd3 Nbd7 11 0-0 0-0, where Black has developed comfortably and equalised.