The first decision in constructing the repertoire is what system to play in the position that arises after the moves 1 Nf3 d5 2 d4 Nf6 3 c4 e6.
The first system I used to employ was the Queen’s Gambit Declined. This is introduced by the move 4 Nc3.
More recently, I have also played the Catalan; in that case, White should play 4 g3.
Note that this position can arise from a number of different move orders.
The most obvious orders see Black playing …d5 at once, reaching the key position directly: 1 Nf3 d5 2 d4 Nf6 3 c4 e6 or 1 Nf3 d5 2 d4 e6 3 c4 Nf6.
Black can also start with …Nf6. Then, after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6, White’s move depends on his choice of system. If he plays the Queen’s Gambit Declined, he should continue with 3 Nc3 d5 4 d4; if he plays the Catalan, he should continue with 3 g3 d5 4 d4.
Another approach is to play …e6 on move 1. Then 1 Nf3 e6 2 c4 d5 3 d4 Nf6 leads to the key position, while 1 Nf3 e6 2 c4 Nf6 reaches the same position as 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6.
The Queen’s Gambit Declined
In the position 1 Nf3 d5 2 d4 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3, Black has a number of different moves.
After 4 …Be7 we have the basic position of the opening. White’s usual move is now 5 Bg5, while 5 Bf4 is also worth considering. After 5 Bg5, White needs to be prepared for the full range of defences available to Black, in particular the Tartakower Variation, Orthodox Variation and Lasker Defence. These are all well covered in chess books.
The move 4 …Nbd7 should also be met by 5 Bg5. If Black then plays his bishop to e7, we have the same lines as after 4 …Be7. The main alternative is the Cambridge Springs Defence, which arises after 5 …c6; against this the main line of play is 6 e3 Qa5 7 cxd5, with complications.
If Black plays 4 …c5, we have the Semi-Tarrasch Defence. This opening has been neglected in chess literature, not because it hasn’t been played by strong players or has a bad reputation, but because it is a system that forms a secondary part of a player’s repertoire. For instance, if the game starts 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Nf6, Black will only be able to play the Semi-Tarrasch after 4 Nf3 c5 or 4 cxd5 Nxd5; if White chooses 4 Bg5, Black will have to adopt another system.
The main line of the Semi-Tarrasch runs (after 4 …c5) 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 e4 Nxc3 7 bxc3 cxd4 8 cxd4 Bb4+ 9 Bd2 Bxd2+ 10 Qxd2 0-0 11 Bc4. John Cox remarks in his book “Starting out: 1 d4!”, “basically all White needs to do is memorize a single game which took place thirty-five years ago”, referring to the encounter Polugaevsky – Tal, USSR Championship, Moscow 1969. You can play through this game below.
Note the order of moves in the opening; the position after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 Nf3 is one we would reach via 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 or 1 Nf3 e6 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3.
The next defence to consider is 4 …dxc4 5 e4 Bb4 6 Bg5 c5, which is known as the Vienna Variation. This is a sharp defence against which White needs to be well prepared. The main line of play goes 7 Bxc4 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bxc3+ 9 bxc3 Qa5 10 Bb5+ Bd7 11 Bxf6 gxf6 12 Qb3.
If Black chooses instead to play his bishop to b4 without capturing on c4 first, then White should proceed as follows: 4 …Bb4 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5.
As well as these independent options, Black also has the option to go into the Semi-Slav Defence with 4 …c6. White’s main options now are 5 Bg5 and 5 e3. I shall look at this opening in more detail in a later post, as part of the Slav complex.
The above openings have all been analysed heavily, although it is not easy to find all the relevant information in one place. An excellent starting point is the first edition Khalifman’s “Opening for White according to Kramnik” series; most of these openings are in Book 5, except for the Semi-Slav and Cambridge Springs, which are in Book 4.
Note that these books were published in 2002, so you will need to bring the theory up to date, but the basic material is all there.
The Catalan Opening
In response to the Catalan, Black has the following broad approaches:
- Take the pawn on c4 and try to hold it.
- Take the pawn on c4, not attempting to hold it, but forcing White to waste time regaining it.
- Support the pawn on d5.
It is beyond the scope of this post to look at any of these lines in detail. Instead, I shall draw your attention to a couple of useful recent works on the opening:
- Boris Avrukh. Grandmaster Repertoire 1: 1.d4 Volume One. Quality Chess 2008.
- Jonathan Hilton and Dean Ippolito. Wojo’s Weapons: Winning With White Volume 1. Mongoose Press 2010.
Avrukh’s book is focused on critical lines; Hilton and Ippolito present a more “practical” repertoire.