Meeting 1.d4

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

As I obviously don't play all of the systems I'm going to mention, please comment on that list, correct me where you believe me to be wrong and give your own opinions about systems you are familiar with!

1.d4 tends to lead to less forcing positions than 1.e4, but has two main features which make meeting it a bit uncomfortable:

- Quite often play gets slow and positional. In this case the second player has to be very patient until full equality is reached.

- Because play isn't so forcing, various transpositions to other openings like the English can occur. Obviously the player employing a certain black defence needs to know what kind of openings his system can transpose into, and he has to feel comfortable with the resulting positions. This is true the other way around as well: Your answers to the English or the Réti can transpose back to a queen's pawn opening once your opponent plays d2-d4. Better make sure that in this case you are not caught in a defence you wouldn't normally employ against 1.d4!

Last but not least it makes sense to use similar defences against all those closed openings, as often you will find the correct plans more easily.

So here we go:

1.d4 e5

Englund Gambit.

While there certainly is a surprise value to it, theory doesn't testify Black equality against best play by White.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 (3...Ne4)

Budapest Gambit

This is an interesting option. It's not supported as fully equal by most theoreticians, but interesting new playing ideas are continuously found by its adherents. The main downside to it is that White can avoid it very easily by playing 2.Nf3, while not depriving himself of too many options.

1.d4 c5


This aims for a closed centre after 2.d5 e5. However, Black tends to be a bit passive here. Additionally he has to deal with variations like 2.dxc5 e6 (2...Na6 may be an improvement) 3.Nc3 Bxc5 4.Ne4 d5 5.Nxc5 Qa5+, forcing him to give up the bishop pair, which in this case I hold to be more important than Black's central pawn majority.

1...c5 can be used to reach positions of the Modern Benoni or the Volga (see below) as well. Yet after 2.d5 Nf6, hoping for that transposition, White can play 3.Nc3, ruling out the Volga, whereas playing Modern Benoni style with 3.e6 can be hard toil towards nothing more than equality for Black.

1.d4 g6 (Modern defence) or 1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 (Pirc Defence)

are quite related to each other. They can be applied against both 1.e4 and 1.d4 (or 1.c4, for that matter). Usually the second player is happy to accept a space disadvantage, only to strike back at the White centre later, mostly by means of c7-c5 or e7-e5. Again, White has a variety of plans at his disposal:

-He can build a solid position with e4, d4 Nf3, Nc3, Be3, Be2, 0-0 and possibly h3 to prevent any annoying piece from landing on g4. Active measures will be taken only after calmly completing development. Although this may seem a bit naive, combatting this concept can be tiresome as Black.

-Or White starts a vicious attack, either by f3 in conjunction with Be3, Qd2, a subsequent Bh6 and kingside pawnstorm or by an early f2-f4, which is the most popular procedure.

While not quite as ambitious as many Sicilian lines, the Pirc and Modern Defenses are a suitable means to go for tactical play and consequently the full point without having to know an awful load of theory.

1...b6 can be played against both 1.d4 and 1.e4 as well, but seems to be less satisfying than the Pirc or the Modern Defence.

1.d4 f5

The Dutch

is the first openings complex against 1.d4 fully approved of by "official" theory I am dealing with here. Once more my experience with it is very limited, so I would like to ask others to elaborate on this topic.

The Dutch player has to be ready to meet the Staunton Gambit 1.d4 f5 2.e4, where play gets very sharp, and White has compensation against the weakened black king. If your repertoire includes the French defence against 1.e4, you can avoid this by using the move order 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5.

At club level, the most popular setup is the Stonewall Dutch, where Black clamps down on the e4 square by playing f5, d5, e6 and c6. Later on he can try to start a kingside attack as well as a queenside one. In either case the Bc8 is as bad as it can get, and you need to be pretty resourceful to change that. However, modern theory seems to indicate that Black can achieve equality. I would only refrain from using the Stonewall against 1.c4 or 1.Nf3, although this is repeatedly suggested in some repertoire books. The point is that White can aim for d3 and e4 instead, blowing the black clamp apart.

The most sophisticated means to fight for control of e4 after 1.d4 f5 seems to include e7-e6 and Bb4 in conjunction with b7-b6 and Bb7, which is the most respected way to treat the Dutch at the moment.

There is an interesting Dutch/King's Indian hybrid called the Leningrad variation which after the initial 1...f5 includes a kingside fianchetto with g6-g7, Bg7 and Nf6. Like in the King's Indian (see there) Black can try for attacking possibilities against the White king. This system can be applied in answer to 1.c4 or 1.Nf3 as well.

1.d4 d5 2.c4

opens a vast body of theory, including [b]the Queen's Gambit Accept[/b]ed (2...dxc4), [b]the Slav [/b](2...c6) or [b]the Orthodox Defence[/b] (2...e6)

1...d5 has been recommended as the most natural way of meeting 1.d4, and playing it an inevitable step to mastery. If you elect to heed that, you should be aware that independent of which variation you choose, it will include learning a considerable amount of theory, which - even more inconveniently - keeps changing, as these defences are employed quite a lot by the modern masters.

Some less popular but still very playable options are the Tartakover Variation (QGD including a later b7-b6 and Bb7) and the Tarrasch Defence (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5, where Black has to play with an IQP in many cases).

Playing any of these 1...d5 systems has the advantage of being able to employ them against 1.c4, in that case starting with 1...e6 or 1...c6. If White refuses to play d2-d4 in that case, you still need to be familiar with the theory of some Réti lines („officially“ arising via 1.Nf3 d5). On the other hand you need to know a bit about the Queen's Gambit if you want to answer 1.Nf3 by 1...d5, as this is what you get if White follows up with a later d2-d4.

A downside of playing 1.d4 d5 is that against White's other 2nd move options like the Colle (Pawns on d4-e3-c3, Knights f3 and d2) or the London System (Similar setup, including Bf4) you will have a very hard time playing for more than a draw.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6

The Modern Benoni (MB) is founded upon an ambitious positional concept: Black wants to blockade and attack the white centre while creating an own queenside pawn majority. As should be obvious, White has numerous ways of questioning ambitious play by the second player, forcing him to sacrifice material in order to stay active. It is amazing how many of these sacrificial resources there are for Black, ensuring lively play in the course of which White's king can get into severe danger as well!

There are a few lines which are very challenging and/or make it a bit difficult to play for a win for Black, though :( Since all of these are based on omitting an early Nf3 by White, they can be avoided by using the move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5. In the case of 3.Nc3 I would suggest entering the Nimzo-Indian by 3.Bb4. Since you can skip quite an amount of MB theory by doing so, having to learn a few Nimzo-Indian lines is not too much of a bother.

As you are probably aware, White is by no means forced to answer c7-c5 with d4-d5, so you need to be familiar with some English lines which can arise via 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 or 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.d4. They are called Anti-Benoni lines, and I will deal with them in a post about the English opening.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5

In the Volga-Benkö Gambit Black sacrifices a pawn in order to obtain tangible pressure on White's queenside. I should stress that although Black sacrifices a pawn early on, this is in fact a positional opening! Typical compensation will rather involve blows against White's queenside and center than a king hunt. Several Volga games are won by Black entering a favourable ending although being a pawn down.

This Gambit made its first large appearance at Skopje olympiad 1972 where the black side scored 10 wins and 6 draws out of a total of 16 games!!! Impressive as this certainly is, modern chess players seem to have found numerous successful ways of battling the Volga, some of which include a vicious attack on the black king.

Evidently the Volga-Benkö player will have to have something ready against the English Anti-Benoni 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nf3 as well.

From these transpositional features it should be evident that for adherents of the Volga-Benkö or the Modern Benoni it is recommendable to answer 1.c4 with 1...c5.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5

The Grünfeld Defence, where Black's pieces battle against a strong white centre. Play can be very entertaining and tactical, yet there are a few long theory lines to learn, some of which have a reputation of leading to a forced draw, which might be a problem is you want to go for the whole point.

It's not recommendable to use the Grünfeld against the English Opening, as after 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.Nf3 (or3.g3) d5, there is not yet a target in form of a white centre. These lines seem to be still playable, but they are very different in character, and White's score is quite healthy.

If you want to delay d7-d5 by using the move order 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7, hoping for a transposition to a Grünfeld proper by 4.d4 d5, you should be ready to play the King's Indian as well, since White can virtually force it by 4.e4.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 (4.g3) d6

is the King's Indian. Quite often White responds to a black e7-e5 by closing the centre with d4-d5. As a result play will take place on the wings, traditionally White will attack on the queenside whereas Black goes for the white king by means of f5-f4 and g5-g4. However note these are by no means the only plans available to both sides. Sometimes White refuses to play e2-e4, opting for g3 and Bg2 instead, sometimes he doesn't play d4-d5 and sometimes he will find a way to attack on the kingside with or without closing the centre.

Apart from attacking White's king Black can try to compete the centre, mainly by the move c7-c6, and/or he can erect a blockade on the queenside by a7-a5 and posting a knight on c5

The King's Indian includes a considerable body of theory but can be tremendous fun to play and has featured in the repertoires of many strong grandmasters like ex-worldchampion Garry Kasparov, Rustam Kazimdjanov or Teimur Radjabov.

Another plus of the King's Indian is that similar setups can be used against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 as well.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

The Nimzo-Indian. Black threatens to damage White's pawn structure and battles for the e4 square. White's currently most popular choice, 4.Qc2, addresses both problems but still gives Black possibilities of dynamic play since he tends to get a slight lead in development in quite some lines.. 4...d5 has a good reputation, but the most frequent move seems to be 4...c5.

Other variations, like the recently fashionable 4.f3 or older lines including 4.e3 and 4.a3 revolve around the doubled pawns vs. bishop pair struggle. It is possible to interpret the Nimzo-Indian in an active way as well as calmly and positionally. Either way, there is quite some theory to learn, but that can be very rewarding, as the Nimzo-Indian is one of the most successful defences against 1.d4. That said, it is obvious that white players may try to avoid it, mainly by playing 3.Nf3:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3

-3...Bb4+ is the Bogo-Indian, offering a direct transposition to the Nimzo via 4.Nc3. The Bogo-Indian is calm, solid and hard to beat, a true positional player's choice.

-3...b6, the Queen's Indian, fights for the e4 square as well. I should mention that in several lines with a white g3 and Bg2, Black's queen's bishop goes to a6 rather than b7, thus avoiding an early exchange while at the same time targeting the c4 pawn. The Queen's Indian is used by positional players at the highest level.

-3...c5 would be the active player's choice. It leads to the Modern Benoni after 4.d5 or to the English Opening after 4.Nc3 or 4.g3.

Naturally this is only a brief sketch of your options after 1.d4, but it may help you to get an idea in which direction to look further.

One word about so-called creative openings: In order to avoid the theory of the main lines, you can always look for unusual openings, some of which I have lightly touched upon (1...e5, 1...c5, 1...b6, 1...Nc6 would be some examples). However, they usually have a major drawback somewhere, even if recommended in some so-called repertoire books. Concerning my own repertoire I have decided not to play any systems where I have to be afraid of my opponent finding the best line because it will lead to an inferior position for me. Of course, being a chess amateur, I don't care to spend more time than necessary on learning all that theory, so I try to avoid the most fashionable main lines of the various Queen's Gambits or some of the Indian defences as well.

With a bit of resourcefulness you can find lines which are outside the focus of attention yet still very well playable with a reasonable amount of learning.

I hope this little overview is of some help to you,


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