Options for Black vs. 1.d4

Options for Black vs. 1.d4

| 30 | Opening Theory

ChessPaladin2009 asks:

The subject of my question to you is: when White opens with the Queen Pawn, what are black’s best defensive opening option(s)? Some people say that Queen Pawn Openings always lead to positional chess games that often lack any kind of sharp tactical play (closed rather than open positions). Is this true?

Dear Mr. Paladin,

Though it’s true that 1.d4 usually leads to more positional games than 1.e4 (since 1.d4 leads to more closed positions than 1.e4), that doesn’t mean the play isn’t sharp and filled with fascinating tactical possibilities.

Regarding openings for Black versus 1.d4, this depends on what you’re after. If you are looking for chances for a kingside attack and an abundance of rich tactical themes, then the King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6) might well be for you. Hypermodern central counterattacks (i.e., let White build up a big pawn center and then try to rip it apart) are what the Grunfeld (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5) is all about. Both the KID and the Grunfeld are theoretical monsters, so that’s another consideration when deciding to pick or avoid any particular opening.

However, you mentioned “defensive opening options,” so let’s look in that direction. I recommended the Queen’s Gambit Declined (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 0-0 6.Nf3 h6 7.Bh4 b6) in an earlier Q & A. This is an extremely solid, sound, and easy to learn choice. Fans of this system for Black are/were Short, Boris Spassky, Kasparov, Hubner, Portisch, Geller, Tartakower (in fact, this line is named the Tartakower Variation!), Fischer, Petrosian and the list goes on and on. 



Nevertheless, here I’ll give a huge plug to the eternally great Nimzo/Queen’s Indian complex:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 (the Nimzo-Indian) is a deeply respected opening that grants Black space (he can follow up with …c5 and/or …d5), a good pawn structure (he will often ruin white’s with …Bxc3+), and easy development. White can meet 3…Bb4 with a host of moves: 4.e3, 4.Qc2, 4.Bg5, 4.f3, 4.a3, 4.Qb3, 4.Nf3, and 4.g3. A bit much perhaps, but white’s best choices are clearly 4.e3 and 4.Qc2.

In the case of 4.e3, Black has a large choice of setups (that’s one of the delights of the Nimzo-Indian – Black can often choose among many attractive piece and pawn configurations). My childhood favorite was 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 O-O 7.O-O Nc6 8.a3 Bxc3 9.bxc3 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Qc7 11.Bd3 e5. Spassky was this system’s biggest advocate and I fell in love with black’s free piece play and space. However, things aren’t so simple: in return for that space, White has two Bishops and a central pawn majority that he will try to set in motion. In other words, both sides have chances! Here’s one sample of this line.

J.Dive - B.Spassky, NZL 1988

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 O-O 7.O-O Nc6 8.a3 Bxc3 9.bxc3 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Qc7 11.Bd3 e5 12.Qc2 Re8 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 Qxe5 15.f3 Be6 16.Rf2 c4 17.Bf1 b5 18.Bd2 Nd7 19.e4 f5 20.Be3 fxe4 21.Bd4 Qc7 22.Qxe4 Nc5 23.Qe5 Qxe5 24.Bxe5 Rad8 25.f4 g6 26.h3 a6 27.Kh2 h5 28.Kg1 Kf7 29.Kh2 Rd7 30.Re1 Bf5 31.Ra1 Bd3 32.Re1 h4 33.Ra2 Bxf1 34.Rxf1 Rd3 35.Bd4 Ne4 36.Rc2 Ke6 37.Be5 Red8 38.Bd4 Kf5 39.Kg1 R8xd4 40.cxd4 c3 41.Rf3 Rd1+ 42.Kh2 Ng3 43.Rxg3 hxg3+ 44.Kxg3 Rd3+ 45.Kf2 a5 46.Re2 b4 47.axb4 axb4 48.Re5+ Kf6 49.Rc5 b3 50.Ke2 Rg3 51.Kf2 b2, 0-1.



Another highly popular setup for Black occurs in the Hubner Variation: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6. Black intends to follow up with …e5, creating a closed position that will turn white’s Bishops into a liability and black’s Knights into heroes. This plan proved so effective that Black seemed to be winning almost every game!

Spassky - Fischer, Reykjavik World Ch. Match 1972

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 c5 5.e3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.e4 e5 9.d5 Ne7 10.Nh4 h6 11.f4

Donner – Portisch, Skopje Olympiad 1972 was another devastating black victory: 11.f3 Qa5 12.Qc2 g5 13.Nf5 Nxf5 14.exf5 Bd7 15.h4 g4 16.fxg4 Nxg4 17.Be2 Rg8 18.Bxg4 Rxg4 19.Bxh6 Bxf5 20.Qxf5 Qxc3+ 21.Kf2 Qb2+ 22.Ke3 Rxg2, 0-1.

11…Ng6 12.Nxg6 fxg6 13.fxe5 dxe5 (Computers get quite excited about white’s chances here, but the fact is that white’s pawn structure has lost all its dynamic potential and thus white’s whole position is a bit stagnant. One annotator went as far as to say that White is now positionally lost!) 14.Be3 b6 15.O-O O-O 16.a4 a5 17.Rb1 Bd7 18.Rb2 Rb8 19.Rbf2 Qe7 20.Bc2 g5 21.Bd2 Qe8 22.Be1 Qg6 23.Qd3 Nh5 24.Rxf8+ Rxf8 25.Rxf8+ Kxf8 26.Bd1 Nf4 27.Qc2 Bxa4, 0-1.



After countless Black wins, White finally decided that enough was enough and he began to explore alternatives on move 6. Thus instead of 6.Nf3, both 6.Nge2 (intending 7.a3) and 6.Bd3 (intending 7.Nge2) came into vogue. These moves led to very different kinds of positions (usually they entered the realm of the isolated d-pawn where White has attacking chances and Black has the superior long term prospect based on his better structure), the slaughter finally stopped, but Black held his own here too.

Milov – Gelfand, Biel 1997

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nge2 cxd4 7.exd4 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.a3 Bd6 10.Ne4 Be7 11.Bc2 O-O 12.Qd3 13.O-O Rd8 14.Ng5 g6 15.Bb3 Bf8

Kamsky – Karpov, Elista Match 1996

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nge2 cxd4 7.exd4 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.O-O Bd6 10.Ne4 Be7 11.a3 O-O 12.Bc2 Qc7 13.Qd3 Rd8 14.Ng5 g6 15.Bb3 Nf6 16.Rd1 Bf8 17.Bf4 Qe7 18.Qe3 Nd5 19.Bxd5 exd5 20.Nf3 Qxe3 21.fxe3 f6 22.Rac1 Bf5 23.h3 h5 24. Nc3 g5 25.Bh2 h4 26.Nd2 Kf7 27.Nb3 Rac8 28.Nb5 a6 29.Nc3 b5 30.Ne2 b4 31.a4 Re8 32.Kf2 Kg6 33.Ng1 Na7 34.Nc5 Rc6 35.Nf3 Rec8 36.b3 a5 37.Ke2 Be4 38.Kd2 Bxc5 39.dxc5 Rxc5 40.Rxc5 Rxc5 41.Rc1 Rxc1 42.Kxc1 Nc6 43.Bc7 f5 44.Kd2 d4 45.exd4 f4 46.Ke2 Bd5 47.Kf2 Bxb3 48.Ne5+ Nxe5 49.dxe5 Bxa4 50.Bxa5 b3 51.Bc3 Kf5 52.Bb2 Bc6 53.Kf1 Bd5 54.Kf2 Ke4 55.Ke2 Bc4+ 56.Kd2 f3 57.gxf3+ Kxf3 58.e6 Bxe6 59.Bf6 g4 60.hxg4 h3 61.Be5 Bxg4, 0-1.

16.Rd1 Bg7 17.Nf3 b6 18.Bg5 f6 19.Bh4 Nce7 20.Bg3 Qd7 21.Re1 Bb7 22.Nc3 Nf5 23.Re2 Re8 (Black has a very comfortable position) 24.Ne4 Bc6 25.Bc4 a6 26.Rc1 Bb5 27.Rec2 Bxc4 28.Rxc4 Rec8 29.h3 Rxc4 30.Qxc4 Qb5 31.Qc6 Qxc6 32.Rxc6 Kf7 33.Bh2 Ke7 34.g4 Kd7 35.Rc2 Nfe7 36.Nd6 g5 37.h4 gxh4 38.Nxh4 Nc6 39.Nf3 Rg8 40.Kf1 Bf8 41.Nc4 Rxg4 42.Ne3 Re4 43.Nxd5 exd5 44.Rc3 Be7 45.Rd3 h5 46.Bg3 Bd8 47.a4 b5 48.axb5 axb5 49.Rd1 Bb6 50.Kg2 Nxd4, 0-1.



In recent years, 4.Qc2 has become white’s main weapon to the Nimzo-Indian. Black has many ways to meet this, with 4…0-0 being the most common and 4…c5 also being popular. However, 4…d5 has come back into vogue in recent years and it’s very dangerous if White isn’t acquainted with it. Here’s a little-known masterpiece by IM Anthony Saidy where he wipes a strong grandmaster out with the black pieces.

Baburin – Saidy, Los Angeles 1997

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 d5 5.a3 (Very popular is 5.cxd5 Qxd5 6.Nf3 Qf5! 7.Qxf5 exf5, but this endgame doesn’t really pose Black any serious problems.) 5…Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 Ne4 7.Qc2 Nc6 8.Nf3 e5 9.dxe5 Bf5 10.Qb3 Na5 11.Qa4+ c6 12.cxd5 Qxd5 13.Be3 (13.e3 O-O-O) 13...Nc4 14.Bd4 (14.Rd1 Nxb2 15.Rxd5 Nxa4 16.Ra5 Nec3 17.Rxa7 Rxa7 18.Bxa7 c5 19.Bb8 Kd7 20.Bd6 Ne4) 14...b5 15.Qb3 c5 16.Bc3 O-O-O!! 17.Qxb5 Nxc3 18.bxc3 Nxe5 19.Qb2 Rhe8 20.Nxe5 Rxe5 21.e3 c4 22.Qa2 Be6 23.Rg1 Qa5 24.Rc1 Qc5 25.Be2 Rxe3 26.Qb2 Bg4 27.Rc2 Re7 28.Rf1 Bf5 29.Rd2 Rxd2 30.Kxd2 Rxe2+ 31.Kxe2 Bd3+ 32.Kf3 Bxf1, 0-1.



As you can see, the Nimzo-Indian offers chances for both positional and dynamic attacking play. And this is why many players simply choose to avoid it by 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 (or 3.g3 – the Catalan). This leads us into a whole new world where Black can embrace the Queen’s Indian by 3…b6 (intending …Bb7, fighting for control of the e4-square – though after 3…b6 4.g3 Black has the option of both 4…Bb7 and 4…Ba6), or he can give the Bogo-Indian a try with 3…Bb4+ when 4.Bd2 can be met by 4…a5, and even 4…c5 (a capture on b4 brings a black pawn to that square and deprives the white Knight of its most natural post on c3). Both give Black a perfectly reasonable position, but most popular is 4…Qe7 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 Bxd2+ 7.Nbxd2 (7.Qxd2 Ne4 8.Qc2 Qb4+ is something White needs to avoid) 7…d6 followed by …0-0 and …e5 with about equal chances.

I hope this gave you food for thought. Simply put, you can’t go wrong with the Queen’s Gambit Declined or the Nimzo-Indian. The QGD is easier to learn and is very solid, while the Nimzo-Indian leads to positions that are rich in structural anomalies but are a bit harder to handle than those in the QGD.

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