Meeting 1.c4

Mar 4, 2008, 12:00 AM |
2 | Opening Theory

This post was originally part of an earlier thread in another forum. I have reposted its main body so as to make it accessible more easily according to the other "Meeting..." articles I have created.

Here we go:

First of all a word about the symmetrical English (1.c4 c5): It is especially interesting for players who like to play the Sicilian as they can answer 1.Nf3 with 1. ...c5, hoping for 2.e4, which admittedly rarely happens. More common would be 2.c4 which leaves you playing a genuine Symmetrical English. Practitioners of the Modern Benoni and the Volga-Benkö Gambit should be familiar with a few Symmetrical English lines as well, such as can happen after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nf3 or 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.Nf3. So I can summarize that players using any of the aforementioned openings (especially Benoni or Volga) would be well advised to answer 1.c4 with c5, as playing 1.e5 would mean having to learn yet another full opening complex.

Fortunately the Symmetrical is far less boring and drawish than popular prejudice has it, and I'm going to suggest a few systems which are likely to produce lively and entertaining games.

1. The hedgehog is a flexible setup where Black puts his pawns on e6, d6, b6, and a6. He has little space but various possibilities of maneuvering on only two ranks! This system requires quite good defensive qualities as well as a good tactical eye to notice when Black can play his typical freeing move d6-d5, when play can get really sharp.

2. The double fianchetto defence is a close relative of the hedgehog and has even featured in some world championship matches. As the word suggests, both sides fianchetto all their bishops. Play can get quite entertaining, but if White decides to play boring style, a lot of pieces are likely to get swapped off.

3. Those of you who don't want to sit around and wait for White to play d2-d4 can opt for an early d5 themselves. After 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 d5 4.cxd5 Nd5, White has several possibilities, the most popular are:

5.g3 Nc7, which introduces the venerable Rubinstein System

(5.g3 e6 is the Keres-Parma)

5.d4, where play can still transpose to other openings as the Grünfeld

5.e4 Nb4 6.Bc4 Nd3+ 7.Ke2 Nf4+8.Kf1 Ne6, which is very entertaining.

All these variations seem to be ok for Black from a theoretical point of view, but I should mention I found them easier to play with White than with Black. Especially the Keres-Parma is very hard to defend without really deep knowledge.

4. I would rather not advocate playing the symmetrical main line 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0-0 0-0, as after 7.d4 White seems to have more than one way to generate an unpleasant edge. The most active black try would probably be 7. ...cxd4 8.Nxd4 Qa5 with ideas of swinging the queen over to the kingside. However, I have my doubts as to the ultimate soundness of this procedure.

5. You can aim for a Botvinnik setup with pawns on e5, d6 and c5. Typically you would fianchetto the king's bishop and put the knights on e7 and c6. A variety of plans is available: play for kingside expansion with f5, queenside expansion with b5 or preparation of the central thrust d6-d5. While this seems to be a system very easy to play, I should mention there are humourless white players who will cut across this plan by playing an early d4, e.g. 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 (or d6) 3.d4, which brings us to the last system:

6. 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4, which is called the Anti-Benoni as it arises very often via the move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nf3 cxd4 4.Nxd4

In this particular move order Black has several appealing options:

4. ...e6 5.Nc3 Nc6, which is relevant to all those who might arrive at this position by 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nc6 (or some 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 move order mentioned in item 5). After the most popular 6.g3, Black can follow up with Qb6 7.Nb3 Ne5!, when White is confronted with the difficult task of defending the c-pawn.

Apart from that, black players must know what to do about 6.Ndb5, where you can mainly choose between 6. ...d5, which may get quite drawish or 6. ...Bc5, after which a more entertaining draw by repetition is unfortunately the result of one of the main lines. Apart from 5...Bb4, which is quite interesting (instead of 5...Nc6), you might want to look into one of these 4th move options:

4. ...e5 5. Nb5 d5 6.cxd5 Bc5 (6. ...Nxd5?? 7.Qxd5 and Nc7+), which is a gambit continuation which has been employed by the young Kasparov. So far as I know, it has never been refuted.

4. ...b6 would be the way to go for hedgehog afficionados.

That's all about the Symmetrical, at last.

The option 1.c4 e5 will be employed by players who like a more classical approach and/or who want to go for an outright king's attack, if possible.

The exceedingly popular system 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 d6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5. Nf3 Nf6 6.0-0 0-0 is strongly reminiscent of the King's Indian, for example, and of course very recommendable to those who play this opening anyway. They can reach it even against 1.Nf3 via d6, e.g. 2.g3 g6 3.c4 and so on... Usually Black will attack on the kingside using moves like f5 and g5, while White will march forward on the queenside with b4-b5. Which side to prefer seems to be a matter of taste,yet I should mention that contrary to the King's Indian, where the centre is usually closed by pawn chains, Black has to tread a bit more carefully, as a sudden central counter by White may well expose his king more than he likes.

Adherents of Nimzo-Indian ideas could try stuff like 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Bb4. Apart from doubling White's pawns Black often battles for central control with c7-c6, preparing d7-d5. At this place I would like to warn Nimzo players not to try transposing to a genuine Nimzo Indian by 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 unless you are happy to face the Flohr-Mikenas system after 3.e4, which is currently held to give White an edge.

More classical ideas appear in systems like 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5, where you basically get a reversed Sicilian. This is fine for Black as long as you don't try to play the ultra-sharp lines being a tempo down.

Other interesting systems involve an early f5, e.g. 1.c4 e5 2.Nc6 Nc3 3.f5

Black can either play for g6, Bg7 and Nf6 with typical King's Indian ideas once more or play d6 and Be7 instead. Naturally his play will mostly take place on the kingside either way.

Those players using a classical d5-defence against the Queen's Gambit can answer 1.c4 with either 1...c6 or 1...e6, which after a subsequent d5 is likely to transpose to either a Queen's Gambit or some of its near relatives, the Catalan or some sort of Réti position.

Move order issues of variations transposing into each other or even into another completely different opening are of vital importance in the English, but I have found no good way to deal ith them here. If you have got a coach, he's the one to ask about this. Otherwise you could also try opening a new thread in this forum if you have a specific move order you want to know about.

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