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Queen's Gambit Accepted

  • Last updated on 2/7/10, 7:30 PM.

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The Queen's Gambit Accepted, commonly abbreviated to QGA, is characterized by the opening moves:

1. d4 d5
2. c4 dxc4

The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings classifies the Queen's Gambit Accepted under codes D20 to D29.

The Queen's Gambit is not considered a true gambit, in contradistinction to the King's Gambit, because the pawn is either regained, or can only be held unprofitably by Black. Black will allow the pawn to be recaptured, and use the time expended to play against White's centre.

As Black's 2. ... dxc4 surrenders the centre, White will try to seize space in the centre and use it to launch an attack on the black position. Black's game is not devoid of counterchances, however. If the white centre can be held at bay, Black will try to weaken White's centre pawns, using that to gain an advantage in the ensuing endgame by playing ... c5 and ... cxd4 at some stage, and if White responds with exd4, White will have anisolated pawn, leading to a keen middlegame battle. If White recaptures with a piece at d4, the centre will be liquidated and a fairly even game will usually ensue.

The Queen's Gambit Accepted is the third most popular option at Black's second move, after 2. ...e6 (the Queen's Gambit Declined) and 2. ... c6 (the Slav Defense). In both of these variations, slow and subtle manoeuvres are often necessary to complete development. White will try to exploit an advantage in space and development, while Black will defend the position and aim for queenside counterplay.

History

While the Queen's Gambit Accepted was mentioned in the literature as long ago as the fifteenth century, it was the World Chess Championship 1886 between Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort which introduced the first modern ideas in this opening. Black's play had, until then, centered on holding on to the c4-pawn. Steinitz's plan was to return the pawn, but inflict White with an isolated pawn on d4, then play to exploit the weakness.

Even with the modern treatment, the opening suffered from a slightly dubious reputation in the early twentieth century, even as Alexander Alekhine introduced further ideas for Black and it was played at the highest levels, beginning in the 1930s, though becoming less popular afterWorld War II, as the Indian Defenses were heavily played. At the end of the 1990s, a number of players among the world elite included the Queen's Gambit Accepted in their repertoires, and the line is presently considered sound.

Main variations

After 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4, the most popular move is 3.Nf3. However, there are other moves which have been played by strong grandmasters. The main variations are included in order of popularity.

3.Nf3

The main lines of the QGA begin with this move. White delays measures to regain the pawn for the moment, and prevents Black from striking at the centre with ... e5. The recovery of the pawn will usually be by means of 4.e3 and 5.Bxc4. Black's most common rejoinder is 3....Nf6, though the variation 3....a6 was introduced by Alexander Alekhine and bears his name.

The main line of the Queen's Gambit Accepted continues with:

  • 3...Nf6
  • 4.e3
    • 4.Qa4+ leads to the Mannheim Variation, so named after its adoption in one of the cities where the World Chess Championship 1934 was played, even though the move was previously known. Black usually gains easy equality after 4...Nc6, so the line is fairly rare. Grandmasters Michal Krasenkow and Ulf Andersson have played the line several times.
    • 4.Nc3 leads to the Two Knights Variation, which is a true gambit line since White can no longer expect to regain the c4-pawn after 4...a6 5.e4 b5. White's compensation in the form of a strong center leads to immensely complicated play. Black does not need to enter this line, and 4...Nc6, 4...e6, and 4...c6 tend to transpose to the Chigorin Defense,QGD Vienna Variation, and Slav Defense respectively.
  • 4...e6
    • An alternative is 4...Bg4 5.Bxc4 e6, usually leading to a solid position, though the game can become sharp if White immediately attempts to exploit the weakness of Black's queenside in the line 6.Qb3 Bxf3 7.gxf3 Nd7, as Black gains great piece activity and spoils White's kingside pawns in return for sacrificing a pawn.
  • 5.Bxc4 c5
  • 6.0-0
    • A major alternative to castling is 6.Qe2, called the Furman Variation after Semion Furman. The idea behind 6.Qe2 is to support the advance of the e-pawn.
  • 6...a6.
    • 6...cxd4 brings about an isolated queen's pawn structure, and has been called the Steinitz Variation, after Wilhelm Steinitz. This line became well-known after his match with Zukertort in 1886, but theory has generally held White's activity in high regard, as the early clarification of the central tension gives White too free a hand, and the line is rarely seen in modern practice.

Black has played to challenge the d4-pawn, and prepare ...b5 which wins time by harassing the bishop on c4. In the meantime, White has safeguarded the king and regained the pawn. At this point, there are several options available for White, who needs to consider whether or not to deal with the positional threat of ...b5. The old main line, 7.Qe2 allows ...b5, and theory holds that Black can equalize against it. The main modern preference is the retreat 7.Bb3, so that 7...b5 can be met with 8.a4, while 7.a4, stopping ...b5 at the cost of weakening the b4-square is also popular, and was played by Mikhail Botvinnik in his 1963 match with Tigran Petrosian. 7.dxc5 leads to an early queen exchange, and often to an early draw. Rarer lines which have been played are 7.Nbd2, 7.Nc3, 7.a3, 7.b3, 7.e4, and 7.Bd3.

3.e4

3. e4 is a newer line — actually a resurrected classical line — aggressively establishing a pawn center and making a bid for central control which Black will try to undermine. It is called the Central Variation by Rizzitano, who notes its increase in popularity and strategic and tactical complexity.  Raetsky and Chetverik consider the line straightforward and critical, and remark that anyone playing the Queen's Gambit Accepted with Black must be prepared to meet it.

Trying to protect the pawn with the greedy 3...b5 is fairly risky and rarely seen. The main reply against the Central Variation is opposing the pawn center with 3...e5, which is a highly theoretical system. Other replies aimed at challenging the center are 3...Nc6 with ideas akin to theChigorin Defense, 3...Nf6, provoking 4.e5, and 3...c5 undermining the center at d4.

3.e3

The apparently modest 3.e3 prepares immediate recovery of the pawn and has often been employed by strong players, including Anatoly Karpov. The line long had a harmless reputation due to the early discovery of 3....e5 which strikes back at the center. A typical continuation is then 4.Bxc4 exd4 5. exd4, leading to an isolated queen's pawn position. However, the open positions which ensue have, in practice, not proved easy for Black to handle, and many players simply play 3...e6 to transpose back to the main lines. Nonetheless, 3...e5 was Rizzitano's recommendation in his repertoire against 3.e3.

An opening trap where Black tries clinging onto the c4-pawn was pointed out by Alessandro Salvio in 1604. If Black defends the pawn with 3...b5? 4.a4 c6 5.axb5 cxb5??, the diagonal a8-h1 diagonal has been fatally weakened and 6.Qf3 wins a minor piece. Trying to defend the pawn by 3...Be6 may hold on to the pawn, but White has good compensation after 4.Ne2.

3.Nc3

3. Nc3 was labelled "misguided" by Raetsky and Chetverik, because the development does not control d4 and e5, and the knight is vulnerable to a b-pawn advance from Black. 3...e5, 3...Nf6, and 3...a6 are all reasonable replies. 3.Nc3 was recommended by Keene and Jacobs in their opening repertoire for White players. 

3.Qa4+

The queen check by 3.Qa4+ Nc6 4.Nf3 will quickly regain the pawn with Qxc4, but the early development of the queen allows Black to win time by harassing it and this line is rarely played.

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