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Ok, I'm a half decent player. Somewhere between 1600 and 1800 I believe.
I play both e4 and d4, and with black, I specialized in several sicilian defenses, with a lot of success, and the King's Indian, with very mixed results. In fact, every time I play the KID against a better opponent, I get crushed.I am under the impression that, being extremely sharp, the KID is a bit over the top for me. I do like complicated middle games with a lot of pieces on the board and asymetrical play, but I don't like being bashed to death because my positional understanding is not top notch and my knight is badly placed (or whatever might happen as black in the KID). I read a couple of books, that helped for a while, but contrarily to the sicilians, I just don't feel comfortable although I find it very attractive.
I have been thinking of learning the semi slav, because it looks both sound and exciting, but unfortunately, I read somewhere that it's exceptionally hard to master.
What are your thoughts about it? Is it an opening one can play without being a top notch player, or will the same thing happen than with the KID? I have a very good memory, so I am fine with learning some theory; however, when it's about knowing every single line because you have no idea what's going on and get crushed at the first misstep, I get bored very quickly and have the distinct feeling of learning nothing at all.
Do you have any semislav defense books to recommend?
It's very solid and I think more principled than the KID, so you're unlike to suffer the same really bad losses you might get on the black side of the KID, unless you play the Botvinnik system which can get very messy. Personally I think the Moscow system is much easier to play against the Bg5 lines.
Playing the black side of the Meran is great fun, you have a position which appears cramped at first but has amazing dynamic potential, especially in lines where you can make the thematic c5 break without preparing it via a6.
Also the semi-slav is not quite as life-and-death as the KID, you're less likely to get into positions where if your attack fails you're getting mated within a few moves.
Here's the type of line I like, this is a good way for black to get dynamic counterplay in the Meran imo...
The KID is I think one of the hardest to play, maybe after the Benoni. White's attack always seem to come first. This is just to tell you that no, with the semislav you won't have the problems of making a slight positional inaccuracy and losing because of that. You just need to know the key themes.
However, I believe the semislav is just too boring. I played it about 1 year and I really couldn't stand it anymore. Cramped in space, rubbish piece on c8. Why should I work to solve these 2 things while there are other openings that don't have these problems in the first place?
Even after you break with c5 I feel you're nothing but equal. And it's still boring because there's no imbalance. You're just the mirror image with some tempo down. This might be good for top GMs whose only goal with black is to draw, but if you play to have fun I believe there's better openings.
I play the Nimzo and Bogo Indian and I love them.
I also suggest you to look into the Grunfeld, because it seems really fun and cool to play. I can't really comment on it though because I've never studied it and apparently there's a lot of theory.
The SemiSlav is as solid as you can get. This book will cover 5 e3:
Chess Explained: Meran SemiSlav by Reinaldo Vera
This is about as false a statement as you can make. The Semi-Slav is not as solid as you can get. The Slav is FAR more solid than the Semi-Slav, and the Orthodox QGD falls in that category also.
The Semi-Slav can get extremely erratic, especially if White plays the Anti-Meran (5.Bg5). I think the Semi-Slav requires about as much knowledge of theory as the Najdorf Sicilian, and I wouldn't recommend it to someone that isn't an ace at the defense.
If you are going to be insistent on the Semi-Slav, get Vigorito's book on the Semi-Slav from 2007. I own it, and the one by Vera. The one by Vera is not good at all, and even the reviews it gets aren't very good.
However, if you want something where most pieces stay on the board with a complicated game, but solid enough that it won't roll you off the board, I have a different suggestion. While my personal preference is the White side of this opening, I would suggest that somebody of your style of play would be a good fit for the Nimzo-Indian Defense as Black. It's known for being an extremely respectable defense, and there aren't any of those narrow paths where if you don't know 25 moves of book theory, you are dead like is the case for the Semi-Slav, King's Indian, and Grunfeld. Understanding basic strategy based on the various possible pawn structures is more important.
For example, in lines where White takes doubled pawns on c3 and c4, often times, Black goes for the c4 pawn. Going for the c3 pawn can actually be a mistake, because once you take it, it just marks the start of opening up the position, and the Dark-Squared Bishop is typically White's bad bishop. Why take on c3 and open it up for White?
For the Nimzo-Indian, I would suggest "The Nimzo-Indian: Move by Move" followed by Edward Dearing's book on the Nimzo-Indian. As more books come out, make sure you get them. You should have a wide variety of lines available within the defense rather than a narrow repertoire.
What to do against 3.Nf3? I would suggest the Queen's Indian, but you can also play the Queen's Gambit, Bogo-Indian, or some even play the Benoni ONLY after 3.Nf3 (to avoid lines like the Flick Knight or 4 Pawns attack), and play the Nimzo after 3.Nc3. Just make sure you get a basic understanding of the Catalan as you'll face it occasionally as well.
Solid? If Black opts for the Botvinnik gambit, then the resulting positions are close to irrational, full of nasty tactics for both sides.
The best book on the subject I know is Scerbakov's, but he deals with a slightly different system (Noteboom variation/ Marshall gambit). Positions are very complex there as well, usually one slight slip is fatal.
Both require a crapload of theory, so they aren't really suitable for newbies... rather the opposite.
Classical stuff (Lasker, Cambridge Springs, later Tartakower) are far more solid, and surely easier to master.
Thanks for all your answers!
I have seen that the Botvinnick gambit was extremely complex, but I think you can avoid it altogether with Bg5 - h6 which leads to the Moscow variation? It seems complex but not nearly as crazy as the Botvinnick?
I will give a shot at it and also think of the Nimzo-Indian. As for Cambridge Spring, I played it for a while when I started, but that's really not the kind of chess that I like.
If White plays the straight Moscow (6.Bxf6), then yes, it's a tad quieter, but 6.Bh4, the Anti-Moscow, is becoming extremely popular, and the main lines run right into an offshoot of the Botvinnik, and just as tactical, erratic, and non-sensical a position as you can get. Just like pfren said, NOT recommended for lower players.
In addition to that, another erratic position that is extremely dangerous for Black is the line I play as White, which is a form of the Anti-Meran: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.g4!, against which Black can accept the gambit, or else play 7...h6, 7...Bb4, 7...dxc4, just to name a few options.
If you like to play the Meran, but want to avoid the more irrational side of the semi-slav it's usually possible to transpose into QGD lines after Bg5.
The problem is solved rather easily: Play the Lasker. Extremely easy to master, extremely solid (the aggressive g4/h4 lines that appeared recently have been effectively defused), and not very ambitious, but...
Anand has made a fortune by employing it against Topalov- overall he has scored two wins and an easy draw with it- not bad at all, or not?
When your positional mastery has improved, you can switch to the Tartakower, which is one of the most solid, yet ambitious Black responces to 1.d4. At least my former trainer, Grandmaster Efim Geller believed so, and who am I to dispute his authority?
One thing to keep in mind if you decide to play the Lasker, or the Tartakower, or the Orthodox, or any other line of the Queen's Gambit Declined, is that you will definitely need to know what to do against the Exchange Variation (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5). The strategy is different as Black is now missing the e-pawn rather than the d-pawn. With no d-pawn, Black has 2 breaks, c5 and e5. With exd5, it's very different. You only have c5 as a pawn break, and it's VERY HARD to get in because once you do, d5 becomes super-weak. Yes, there are times that IQPs can be made strong, but in the exchange QGD, it's very hard for Black to do.
Therefore, make sure you study a lot of games with the Carlsbad Pawn Structure (a2, b2, d4, e3, f2, g2, h2 for White, a7, b7, c6, d5, f7, g7, h7 for Black). This structure can arise from the Exchange QGD, Nimzo-Indian, or even the Exchange Caro-Kann with colors reversed (i.e. Black has the e-pawn, White the c-pawn).
One thing to remember about that pawn structure. 99% of the time, the following rule applies: QRRN vs QRRN or QRRNN vs QRRNN favors Black. QRRN vs QRRB(Light Squared) or QRRNN vs QRRNB(Light Squared) favors White.
The exchange variation is no big deal. Black may opt for a draw (the Short variation- 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cd5 ed5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Bf5), or play 3...Be7 first, which kills most of the active patterns white has in the exchange. True, it also has some risks, but IMO Black has nothing to fear.
Never claimed that Black has a lot to fear, but if you don't know the ideas at least, you can get lost not knowing the differences between the exchange and the main lines. I used to play the exchange as White and gave it up for a reason.
By the way, in your suggestion, you'd also need an answer for 6.Qc2 in addition to 6.e3, but I'm guessing it's that line with the early ...Nh5 as it seems like you are getting all your lines from the 2011 book "Declining the Queen's Gambit".
It's just like how the London System is absolutely nothing, zilch, NADA, for White, but if you don't know the ideas of how to fight it, you might as well have just played 1...f6 and 2...g5.
I'm not sure what black player would think his idea in the exchange is to play the c5 break. I don't play 1.d4 and I usually play the slav, but just looking at the pawn structure white will be the one playing on the queenside (minority atk) or possibly the center (e4 break). Black wont go for any pawn break and try to make use of his open e file for center / kingside piece play.
At least that's what the pawn structure suggests to me. No opening theory needed.
@pfren: Can you recommend any good sources on the Lasker? The online stuff out there is murky.
Oh, that one... Sigh.
I played it recently in a correspondence game, as white. I want to forget about it as soon as possible... I got absolutely nothing out of the opening.
I don't really care/know what the books say, but 6.Qc2 is a mistake, basically giving Black easy equality- I will not play it again.
Man, I hate the Lasker variation.
It's a fantastic way to play for equality as Black, which is why I hate it as White. But it's also difficult to play for the win against a strong opponent, which is why I don't like it as Black. I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a repertoire weapon except perhaps as a relatively fire-proof drawing choice.
One of the first QGD lines I learned as Black was the Orthodox variation. Move order is important, but it's quite easy to learn and has some sharp middle games. The main problem is that against a really strong opponent White has all the fun until the endgame. But that's true of most "solid" lines.
If you want more fun, but also more danger of losing, you have to play sharper stuff. Perhaps you could look into Topalov's repertoire which includes the Modern Benoni. It's sharp, has clear tactical themes, will score plenty of points, and is relatively easy to learn.
Actually, ...c5 is played more than you think.
For example, If White tries for the Minority Attack, if he does it properly, he should be able to force a backwards c-pawn for Black.
However, if White doesn't do it right, and plays b5 too hastily, there are many instances where Black can answer b4-b5 with c6-c5 with a huge advantage. Of course, Black must have both d5 and c5 well covered to be able to execute it, but just little nuances like that are littered all over the place in the Exchange QGD. So yes, while the "majority" of Black's play is down the e-file and on the Kingside, that doesn't mean that you can just trust that White knows what he's doing and just abandon or ignore the queenside completely!
Also, Black's reaction to the Minority Attack shouldn't be identical to Black's reaction tot he Central Attack, so understanding the differences in the attacks and various pawn structures is vital.
For example, in the Central attack (f3 and e4), once white gets in e4, there are 4 possible pawn structures (A and D are the same pawn structure, piece layout is different):
A) Black takes on e4, and White recaptures with a piece - IQP position for White
B) Black takes on e4, and White recaptures with the f-pawn - Central Pawn majority
C) Black ignores e4, and White trades on d5, recaptured with the c6-pawn - Opposing isolated pawns
D) Black ignores e4, and White trades on d5, recaptured with a piece - IQP position for White
E) Black ignores e4, and White advances e5 - The Advanced pawn center
There is no thorough book on the Lasker, but the old one by Mathew Sadler (IMO one of the best opening books ever written) and the more recent one by John Cox (Declining the Queen's gambit) are quite good, although a bit outdated.
The stuff at Goeller's site (Kenilworthian) is not kenil-worth a penny (which isn't that surprising). You can still read it, but don't believe a word- for your own good, that is.
Declining the Queen's Gambit (an Everyman Publication from 2011) covers both the Lasker and Tartakower from Black's perspective.
Also gives lines against the Exchange Variation, Bf4 lines, and the Catalan
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