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Preparations of an amateur VI: Finding replies to 1. c4

Dec 20, 2015, 6:00 AM 13

What to play against 1. c4? I tend to play the same openings in order not to make a mess of the opening, but I struggle to find something against 1. c4 that I am comfortable with.

This blog is for my preparation purpose only. Chess.com is a good place to store files that are easy to read later on. If other players find these thoughts interesting, then that is a bonus. If any future opponent really thinks I will remember this next time we meet, I am honoured and he will be in for a surprise!

a) Should I play 1...c5 and go for something symmetrical? My first thought: This seems boring, and I don't really play chess in order to be bored. So, this option seems to me to be the least attractive, with a pawn struture I am not too familiar with. 

Looking at it a bit more, this seems like a reasonable main line, where White has some advantage in development and Black has his knights on the queen side. Topalov vs Caruana (Sinquefeld 2014) is one game with this opening. Fairly natural moves by White. 

One possibility for Black is to invite White to double Black's pawns with Bxc6 at some point, with Black gaining the bishop pair in return. van Wely vs Salov (1997) is one game where this happened.

This position actually has quite good statistics for Black. However, from White's perspective I would think that the three weak pawns on the queenside seems to be very natural targets. In the shown game, Salov seems to judge well when to give his bishop pair back, and gets a dangerous initiative on the 7th rank (from Black's perspective).

However, should White capture on c6 a bit later, with Black taking back with his bishop, statistics are very good for White. And it seems to be a very complicated affair from Black's point of view.

b) Should I play 1...e5/2...Nf6 aiming for a fairly solid setup, but something that doesn't seem too exciting (I like to play for a win at my level, it makes it more fun). The good thing here is that this seems quite solid, and it should give black fair chances out of the opening, particulary with 3...d5, which Jon Ludvig Hammer talks about in the early part of this video about his game ws Grichuk in Norway Chess 2015.

That game went astray with Nh3!? g4?! and then Ng1!, which brought the game into the unknown for Hammer and certainly for most other players.

However, it is seems possible for Black to have a playable position after the early ...d5/cxd5 Nxd5 - though I am not used to putting my knights away on the queenside that early on.

c) Should I go for what might be called a reverse Grand Prix-attack with 2...f5 or 3...f5? Look for instance at this video about that opening on YouTube. (The video is mostly interesting for replies when White play e3 instead of d3 early on, as a preparation of d4). I have tried the 2...f5 with some interesting positions, but have not been able to handle it well.

I also took some lessons with a great coach last year, who urged me to play e5/f5 against c4. One problem I have found in practical play, though, is that players quickly play d4. And to quote my good chess friend Bob (with the apt nick c4wins here at Chess.com): The pawn on f5 then just looks silly).


I played 1. c4 myself for a while, until i shifted back to 1. d4. My main aim is to avoid being passive as Black, when White will have a very nice game.

So, my conclusion? Not sure, to be honest. I will try one variation throughout 2016 and see how it goes. Maybe I'll even update this blog by the end of next year with a scorecard to see if there was any improvement at all.

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