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Queen's Gambit Declined

  • Last updated on 2/8/10, 3:41 PM.

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D30: Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) is a chess opening when after White plays the Queen's Gambit:

1. d4 d5
2. c4

Black declines the pawn offered by White and plays:

2. ... e6

By declining the temporary pawn sacrifice, Black erects a solid position; the pawns on d5 and e6 give Black a foothold in the center. The Queen's Gambit Declined has the reputation as being one of Black's most reliable defenses to 1.d4. Playing 2...e6 releases Black's dark-squared bishop, while obstructing the light-squared bishop. White will try to exploit the passivity of this bishop, and Black will try to release it, trade it, or prove that, while passive, the bishop has a useful defensive role.

The Queen's Gambit Declined is often reached by a number of other move orders, such as 1.d4 e6 2.c4 d5; 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5; 1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4; or 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.d4.

An eventual ...dxc4 from Black will surrender the center to White, and Black will usually not do this unless he can extract a concession, which is usually in the form of waiting for White to play Bd3, only then capturing on c4. In the Orthodox line, the 'fight for the tempo' revolves around White's efforts to play all other useful developing moves before Bd3

In its broadest sense, the Queen's Gambit Declined is any variation of the Queen's Gambit in which Black does not capture the pawn on c4. Other variations where Black does not capture on c4 have their own names and are usually treated separately.  Of these, the most important is the Slav Defense.

Of the 34 games played of the 1927 world championship between Alexander Alekhine and José Raúl Capablanca, all except the first and third began with the Queen's Gambit Declined.

Black avoids 3...Nf6

After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 (other third moves are also possible: 3.cxd5 may be played to lead to the Exchange line, 3.Nf3 keeps options open, and 3.g3 will transpose to the Catalan), Black's main move is 3...Nf6 however he has other options as well:

  • If Black now plays 3...c6, the Semi-Slav Defense may be reached via 4.Nf3 Nf6, though 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 (6.Nc3 c5 gives little) Qxd4 7.Bxb4 Qxe4+ 8.Be2 leads to a sharp struggle, and 4.Nf3 dxc4 is the Noteboom Variation, also sometimes known as the Abrahams Variation, after the English master, Gerald Abrahams.
  • 3...Be7 usually transposes to positions arising from 3...Nf6, and has the advantage, from Black's standpoint, of avoiding the insidious pressure of the main lines in the Exchange Variation. After 3...Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 White has the annoying pin 5.Bg5, but 3...Be7 circumvents this. White will now usually play 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bf4 Nf6 6.e3, when 6....Bf5 7.g4 became a topical line after its adoption by Mikhail Botvinnikin his 1963 title match with Tigran Petrosian.
  • 3...Bb4?! is a mixture of a QGD and the Nimzo-Indian, and at this point an inaccuracy. White has at least two good continuations, 4.Qa4+ Nc6 where Black is forced to block the c-pawn with the knight, and 4.a3 Bxc3 5.bxc3, when White obtains the bishop pair, and is ready to get rid of the doubled pawns with cxd5 on the next move. 

Main Variations of QGD (3...Nf6)

Lines beginning with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 are covered by ECO codes D35-D69. These are old lines that can transpose into many other queen pawn openings. White has several ways of dealing with Black's setup:

4. Bg5 Systems

  • The Tartakower-Makaganov-Bondarevsky System: 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 0-0 6.Nf3 h6 7.Bh4 b6, is one of the most solid continuations for Black.
  • The Lasker Defense: 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 h6 6.Bh4 Ne4, is also a solid line, often leading to the exchange of two sets of minor pieces.
  • The Cambridge Springs Defense: 4.Bg5 Nbd7 (setting the Elephant Trap) 5.Nf3 c6 6.e3 Qa5, was introduced more than a century ago, and is still played. Black intends ...Bb4 and possibly ...Ne4, with pressure along the a5-e1 diagonal. It is popular among amateurs because there are several traps White can fall into, for example 7.Nd2 (one of the main lines, countering Black's pressure along the diagonal) 7...Bb4 8.Qc2 0-0 9.Bd3?? dxc4! (threatening ...Qxg5) 10.Bxf6 cxd3! (a zwischenzug) 11.Qxd3 Nxf6 and Black has won a piece.
  • The Orthodox Defense: 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Nf3 c6 6.e3 0-0 7.Rc1 Nbd7 8.Bd3 dxc4 9.Bxc4, though the moves are not always played in that order. Black has surrendered the center and stands somewhat cramped, but has succeeded in making White lose a tempo by playing Bd3 before Bxc4. White will try to use his advantage in space to attack, whereas Black will try to keep White at bay while striking back at the center. Capablanca's main idea here was the freeing maneuver 9...Nd5 10.Bxe7 Qxe7 11.0-0 Nxc3 12.Rxc3 e5 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 Qxe5 15.f4 Qe7, which has led to a number of exchanges in the center, though Black must exercise care even in the wake of this simplification. This line was once so frequently played that it has a separate code (D69) in ECO, though the lack of active counterplay for Black has made the main line of the Orthodox a backwater in modern practice.

The Exchange Variation (4. cxd5 exd5)

White has a pawn majority in the center, Black has a pawn majority on the queenside. This pawn structure gives White the opportunity to either advance his pawns in the center by means of Nge2, f2-f3, followed by e2-e4, or play for a minority attack by means of the plan Rb1, followed by b2-b4-b5, then bxc6 in order to create a weak pawn at c6. It should be noted that, while Black can play ...cxb5, or recapture on c6 with a piece, each of these possibilities are even less desirable than the backward pawn in the open file. For Black, the exchange at d5 has released his light-squared bishop and opened the e-file, giving him the use of e4 as a springboard for central and kingside play. While chances are balanced, Black is usually more or less forced to use his superior activity to launch a piece attack on White's king, as the long-term chances in the QGD Exchange structure favour White. The following games are as model games for White:

  • Central Pawn Advance: Carlsen vs Jakovenko, Nanjing 2009
  • Minority attack: Evans vs Opsahl, Dubrovnik 1950

The Ragozin Variations

The Ragozin Variation (ECO code D37-D39) occurs after 4.Nf3 Bb4. An important line in this variation is the Vienna variation where the game continues: 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4. White pawns or pieces to occupy the central squares in exchange for long-term pawn structure weaknesses. An instance of Vienna variation played at the highest level was Fine vs Euwe, AVRO 1938.

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