Theoretical Thursday: The Semi-Slav Part 1

Theoretical Thursday: The Semi-Slav Part 1

Mar 8, 2018, 6:53 AM |

Theoretical Thursday: The Semi-Slav Part 1

An Introduction to a Fascinating Opening

I've decided to start blogging somewhat regularly (trying for weekly at the moment) and as the most popular of my blogs have regarded openings (mostly the Spanish), I have decided to start by exploring openings I consider interesting in a recurring segment I am tentatively calling Theoretical Thursday. The first opening I have chosen to explore is the venerable Semi-Slav, a favorite of mine and a flexible choice for anyone who wants to meet 1. d4 in a classical and exciting manner. Favored by Anand, Aronian, Kramnik and many others, the Semi-Slav is a fascinating choice as your main weapon against 1. d4. I have personally played the Semi-Slav as my main weapon ever since I began taking the opening seriously and have racked up wins against master and expert opposition in OTB games.


Why Play the Semi-Slav?

When I am looking at any opening that I want to pick up for serious OTB play, I tend to look at a couple of factors. First, the opening must be solid and well-respected. Second, I look for an opening that is relatively resistant to move orders. This is particularly important for 1. d4 openings as 1. c4 and 1. Nf3 can often transpose. Third, I prefer to have some flexibility within the opening. What I mean by this, is that I can learn multiple different ways to approach the opening if I need a win or merely a draw. The Semi-Slav satisfies all the factors described above. It is solid and used at the top level by several notable players including Anand, Aronian and Kramnik. Both the Slav and QGD move orders are relatively resistant to move orders (more on this later) although the Slav has a slight problem of needing to know some Caro-Kann theory against 1. c4. Lastly, it is highly flexible allowing you to enter the sharp Botvinnik, solid Moscow and multiple versions of the Meran as needed. 


Move Order

This is one of the first factors to consider when discussing the Semi-Slav. There are three distinct move orders to consider. The first is the Slav move order. This requires knowledge of the rather dry Exchange Slav, numerous popular Slav deviations (including the trendy 4. e3) and some Caro-Kann variations after 1. c4. As a result, I personally avoid the Slav move order but if you are a Slav/Caro player already this move order is for you.

 The second move order uses a traditional QGD move order. The major problem with this move order choice is an invitation for white to play into a mainline QGD or the popular QGD Exchange Variation. Although recent practice at the top level seems to indicate black is doing fine here, these positions are not for everyone. I would recommend this move order to anyone who wants to play the Cambridge Springs Variation of the QGD for reasons shown in the following diagram. 


And lastly, we come to the move order I personally play and recommend. This is a sort of QGD focusing around the Triangle System setup. The main benefit of this setup is the active play black can achieve right away out of the opening. The major downside of this approach is that theoretical knowledge is important in order for both sides to survive in such sharp positions. 


Semi-Slav Flexibility

As mentioned above, the Semi-Slav is extremely flexible and many players have different ways to play the same position. Some are highly theoretical such as the Botvinnik Variation, 8...a6 Meran. Other lines such as the Moscow or 5...a6 Accelerated Meran offer black the chance to avoid some of the more theoretical and tactical systems in favor of solid positions where understanding typical plans is of more importance. In the following diagrams, I'll discuss a few of the critical setups you can choose between and what I personally recommend. 



The Semi-Slav For Two Types of Players:

Theory Nerds

Rejoice theory nerds for your day has come. If you want sharp and crazy lines where both sides can mess up with a single move, I present to you your repertoire in the Semi-Slav.

Botvinnik Variation against 5. Bg5 - Completely crazy, tactical and highly theoretical. 

Meran and Anti-Meran Mainlines against 5. e3 - Feel free to choose between 8...Bb7 and 8...a6 in the Meran as these lines are the sharpest. 8...Bd6 is a solid backup choice in the Meran. The mainline Anti-Merans are quite solid here. 

The "I Just Want A Game" People

Rejoice for the Semi-Slav is bountiful in its flexibility. You too can play this opening. In terms of move order you may want to opt for the pure QGD setup as opposed to the Triangle System move order I recommend. 

Moscow and Anti-Moscow against 5. Bg5 - This is the traditional solid way to play the Semi-Slav. Of course you can opt for the Cambridge Springs if you want - particularly if you want to play via a QGD move order. 

Accelerated Meran against 5. e3 - This early 5...a6 has the benefit of being fairly simple to play and just getting you a game of chess. Highly recommended as a solid alternative to the Meran/Anti-Meran complexes.  


A Few Example Games and Plans 

Now we can look at a few examples of games and plans in the Semi-Slav. I am not going to analyze the full game but instead just the opening phase of the game. 



Conclusion and Followups

Over the next few Thursdays I am going to probe the Semi-Slav in a bit more depth including some coverage of the Marshall Gambit. I'll also cover some of the plans in more detail. At least one week will be devoted to each of the following:

- Marshall Gambit (3...c6 4. e4) 

- Botvinnik  (5...dxc4)

- Moscow (5...h6 6. Bxf6) 

- Anti-Moscow (5...h6 6. Bh4)

- Meran (6. Bd3)

- Anti-Meran (6. Qc2)   


As always, I like to provide players and or publications to look at if you are interested in the Semi-Slav. 

Notable Players: 

Aronian, Anand, Kramnik, Dreev 

Notable Publications:

Dreev's Series (Focusing Around the Moscow/Anti-Moscow and Meran/Anti-Meran Complexes) 

Schandorff's GM Prep (Coverage of the Botvinnik, Moscow/Anti-Moscow and Meran/Anti-Meran)

Kornev's Practical Black Repertoire (Focuses on Accelerated Meran, Botvinnik and the Slav Move Order)


As always, I appreciate feedback and any questions or thoughts you may have regarding the Semi-Slav. Hope to see you next week for the next installment.