Openings

Catalan Opening

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3

The Catalan Opening is a 1.d4 opening where White seeks to combine the kingside fianchetto with pawns on d4/c4. Instead of a direct kingside attack, White will aim for long-term positional pressure in the center and on Black's queenside. These positions can lead to small and nagging edges with very technical endgames.


Starting Position

The Catalan usually begins 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 but other move orders are possible, for example 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3. The main idea is White fianchettoing on the kingside after playing the standard queen pawn opening moves d4 and c4, while Black plays ...e6. If Black instead also fianchettoes the kingside bishop, it's a King's Indian Defense.

Pros

  • Positionally subtle
  • Can lead to long-term pressure

Cons

  • The c4 pawn can be vulnerable
  • Requires advanced technical abilities to win with small advantages

Variations

There are three main ways for Black to meet the Catalan: playing ...dxc4 (Open Catalan), reinforcing the d5-pawn with ...c6 (Closed Catalan), or avoiding it altogether by delaying or avoiding ...d5, usually with an early ...c5 instead.

Open Catalan

Black opens the diagonal for White's g2-bishop. In some cases, White can regain the pawn by playing Qa4+ and Qxc4 before Black castles, but sometimes not. White must be prepared to treat the opening as a positional gambit (like the Benko for Black), trying to put pressure down the h1-a8 diagonal, as in this uncommon line that nonetheless appeared in the 2021 World Championship:

If the pawn is not kept, Black must find a way to fight on the diagonal, as in this line:

Closed Catalan

When Black does not play ...dxc4, and instead secures the d-pawn with ...c6, it is the Closed Catalan. The traditional line, which is still the most common, goes:

Black simply blunts the a8-h1 diagonal that White has hoped to gain an advantage by controlling. Like most games with a closed center, the opening often turns into a slow, maneuvering middlegame.

Anti-Catalans

Using the 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 move order as the baseline, the nomenclature of what is considered the Catalan is such that Black can avoid the opening with any number of moves early on. For example, 3...c5 will usually transpose into either the Benoni or a variation of the English Opening. Black's other alternative, 3...Bb4+, comes closer to a Bogo-Indian than a Catalan, especially given the typical development of White's g1-knight to f3 in either opening. Black is also under no obligation to play 2...e6, avoiding the Catalan before it even gets started; most notably, 2...g6 3.g3 would produce a variation of the King's Indian.

Catalan Opening
Black has options on move three.

As advantageous as the Catalan can be for White, White must be prepared to face all of these alternatives. Otherwise, the game can steer into a direction more favorable for Black.

History

According to Modern Chess Openings, the Catalan Opening gets its name from the 1929 Barcelona tournament where GM Savielly Tartakower is supposed to have invented it. However, there are instances of it appearing as far back as 1909. The opening first appeared in a World Championship in 1937 and was played extensively in the 2006 and 2010 World Championships. After a decade-long hiatus, it reappeared in the 2021 FIDE World Championship.

Lesson
The Closed Catalan

The Closed Catalan

Grandmaster Georg Meier is back with another installment in his world-class coverage of the Catalan. See how he built up a dominating position and had a surprisingly easy win in the popular closed variation.
12 min
5 Challenges
Notable Game

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