This week’s opening is a variation in the classical Slav defense, dubbed the Sokolov defense by James Vigus in his book, Play the Slav. I was inspired to play this variation when I first read that book. Ivan Sokolov is the strongest player who regularly plays this variation, and I will use his games in the examples section. I will concentrate more on examples this week, so I will have more examples and less detailed theory. We get to the Sokolov defense with the following moves:
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6!? [7...Qc7 is the main line] Black challenges the c4 knight with this little known move, white is often caught off-guard. 8.Ne5 a5
Okay, so white has four choices at his disposal, 9. g3, 9. f3, 9. e3, and 9. Bg5. I will divide the 4 choices into 2 games:
So, black gets very dynamic and flexible positions which tend to balance out white’s center to give black an equal game. Also note black’s main plan of getting in the …e5 break.
Now for some examples, all from Ivan Sokolov:
In the above game black slowly but surely pressed white and his very minimal advantage turned into a win, although white defended poorly to allow it.
In the previous example, if black had solidified his position with …f6, his position would have been fine. Instead he allowed the ruination of his queenside pawn structure, which led to his downfall.
I found the above game remarkable, as it seems black had the inferior pawn structure; it was in fact white who had weak pawns, and was lucky to escape with a draw.
So, once again after white’s center collapsed, his remaining pawns were quite weak, and one by one they dropped off the board.
Conclusion: Well, I hoped you enjoyed this week’s article on the Sokolov defense. This move, 7…Nb6 wasn’t really seen in top chess games until around the turn of the millennium. Ivan Sokolov (and other Grandmasters, for example Morozevich) has proven in practice that this is a completely viable approach to the Slav (and in my humble opinion, I think it is better than the main line 7…Qc7). White has many different tries against this, but in all lines black’s plans were very similar: Break with a pawn in the center (usually …e5) attack white’s center with your pieces, and once white’s center is gone and weak pawns remain, go pawn grabbing! You may have noticed that this line leads to a lot of queenless middlegames, with slow, positional maneuvering. Personally, I enjoy such positions. For those that don’t like this, take up the King’s Indian, because a lot of Slav games are like that.