Theoretical Thursday: The Semi-Slav Part 2 - Botvinnik Sidelines and 16. Rb1

Theoretical Thursday: The Semi-Slav Part 2 - Botvinnik Sidelines and 16. Rb1

Mar 15, 2018, 9:14 PM |

Theoretical Thursday: The Semi-Slav Part 2

The Complicated Botvinnik System - The Modern 16. Rb1!?

The Botvinnik is probably the one of the most theoretical lines in all of chess along with the Najdorf and Winawer Poisoned Pawns systems. Theory indicates that most of these lines end in a draw but both sides have opportunities to make serious mistakes early on in the game. If you would prefer to avoid this sharp combative system, I suggest you take a look at my introduction to the Semi-Slav and look into either the Moscow/Anti-Moscow complex or the Cambridge Springs QGD. 


For those interested in the Botvinnik, your work begins here. A Botvinnik player is likely not to leave prep before move 25 or so. This has advantages and disadvantages if you want to play this line as black. 

  • You will need to be precise with your moves. Tactical mistakes and wrong move orders can be quickly punished.
  • It takes time to study. DO NOT play this system if you don't have time to study it. This is hard to learn. I play the Moscow/Anti-Moscow for the most part and am only starting to learrn the Botvinnik.
  • You need to know how to punish mistakes from the white player and how to deal with deviations.
  • The Botvinnik should lead to a draw with best play from both sides. But I would argue this is true of chess in general and as black we shouldn't mind a draw after a full-blooded game.
  • It's fun! Honestly, this is a driving factor that made me want to learn this system. 

Now let's hop in and start looking at the deviations available to white and what we are going to look at today. 

As you can see white has a lot of options to deviate from the mainline before even reaching the move 16. Rb1. Below is a game that deals with the most common deviation that you are likely to deal with OTB - 9. Bg3. This has the advantage of being able to be reached by either the Botvinnik or Anti-Moscow move order and is thus a good practical choice for white players looking for a tool against both 5...h6 and 5...dxc4. 
Even the tactically gifted Naka can fall prey to the Botvinnik! Next let's look at some of the theory behind the Rb1 variation. 

Although Rb1 looks pretty spectacular we can tell that it fizzles out pretty quickly. However, both sides can still make mistakes. Let's look at a few positions where mistakes can be made so you can avoid them in your games. 

And now to finish off we will look at a game that followed our recommended mainline.
The Botvinnik deviations should not give black any problems. The most common one to be aware of is 9. Bg3 - a move explored by Naka and Radjabov amongst others. Although dangerous if you are not prepared, avoiding the mainline Botvinnik lines tends to lead to more headaches for white than black in my personal experience.
Although the Rb1 move may seem scary at first, by avoiding a few traps black can reach a dynamically equal, although exceptionally complex endgame where both sides can go wrong but draws by perpetual are common. 19. Qd5 is the way for white to force a draw while 19. Kxf1 indicates that white wants to fight for an edge in the mainline. Here both Schandorff's recommended 21...Rxg5 and Sevian's choice 21...c3+ seem to be holding in the mainline but deserve some serious study. 
As always, here are a few resources I recommend you look at if you want to play these lines. Next week we will be looking into the 16...Na4 complex. 
  • Schandorff's Semi-Slav (GM Repertoire Series)
  • Kornev's Practical Black Repertoire - Slav (newest book on the list)
  • Sadler's Semi-Slav - Great explanations of the positions if a bit dated in terms of theoretical ideas. I consider Sadler one of the most underappreciated chess writers of our time.
  • St. Louis Chess Club YouTube Series on the Semi-Slav - excellent overall coverage of the ideas in the various Semi-Slav variations.