Play the Catalan - Complete Repertoire for White - Part 1
Dear chess friends,
The current database marks the beginning of a huge opening project - complete Catalan repertoire for White.
The theoretical importance of the Catalan is obvious to anyone who is following the recent theoretical developments. Nowadays, you will hardly find a top player who does not have the Catalan in his repertoire. Being always on the top of the wave, Modern Chess team decided to start a project concerning this fashionable opening.
GM Mihail Marin is the perfect author when it comes to a positional opening like the Catalan. Moreover, it is important to point out that Marin is playing this opening for almost 30 years.
Typical Pawn Structures
As always, before diving into the theoretical discussion, Mihail Marin covers the arising structures. Covered structures are typical for the lines which are dealt with in the theoretical section of the database.
The current database features 2 main pawn structures - Closed System and d4-d5 advance in positions where Black had already played dxc4.
Structure 1 - Closed System
This structure usually being reached in the so-called Closed System which arises after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 Nbd7 7.Qc2 c6
Please, note that the same pawn structure arises in the Bogo-Indian Catalan where Black goes for 4...Bb4 5.Bd2 Be7
Here is how the author introduces this pawn structure:
One of Black's most solid ways of meeting the Catalan is refraining from the obvious ...dxc4. Instead, he can consolidate the d5-pawn with ...c7-c6, creating a strong barrier on the Catalan bishop's way. True, this slightly delays the own bishop's development, but Black's main plan is ...b7-b6 followed by either ...Bb7 or ...Ba6. It is worth mentioning that inserting ...c7-c6 allows him to meet cxd5 with ...cxd5, when White's initiative along the c-file is usually temporary. Hurrying with ...b7-b6 would lead to a favorable for White version of the hanging pawns.
For White, it is essential to activate his Catalan bishop (while also completing his development, of course). In the normal Queen's Gambit, his bishop stands on d3, allowing White to put pressure on the kingside irrespective of how solid Black plays, while here the bishop is simply asking for the central break e2-e4. The first structure we need investigating is when Black releases the tension with ...dxe4 or ...Nxe4.
At this height of the opening (or middlegame) the fight goes around Black's plan ...c6-c5. If White is better developed he can cross this radically with c4-c5. Here is a typical example.
Structure 2 - The Thematic d4-d5 Advance
If compared to the so-called Orthodox Queen Gambit, developing the bishop on g2 surely looks appealing by its slightly exotic character, but this also has an organic drawback: the c4-pawn is left undefended. This provides Black with several ways of simply winning a pawn with ...dxc4 followed by ...b7-b5 and ...c7-c6 for instance, leading to double-edged play.
White's main achievements in such structures is that ...dxc4 clears the path not only to the mighty Catalan bishop but also to the d4-pawn. If well coordinated, this tandem can cause Black lots of troubles after a well-timed d4-d5. This break is especially dangerous when Black's king is still in the center.
Marin deals with such a situation in the very first example of his article on the d4-d5 advance.
After dealing with the most important pawn structures, Marin starts examining the theoretical subtleties of the Catalan. The current database consists of 12 theoretical chapters which cover the highly popular Bogo-Indian Catalan and the systems based on early dxc4.
Let's take a detailed look at the chapters.
Chapter 1 - 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Bd6
The starting position of the Bogo-Indian Catalan arises after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 Bb4+
Before clarifying the position of his bishop, Black wants to force White's dark-squared bishop to occupy the unfavorable d2-square. Later on, Black will decide whether to retreat the bishop on d6, e7 or to exchange it.
In Chapter 1, Marin deals with 5.Bd2 Bd6
At this point, it is important to mention that the moves 5...Bxd2, 5...a5, and 5...Qe7 transpose to the Bogo-Indian which is dealt with in Play the Catalan - Complete Repertoire for White - Part 3.
Recently, the move 5...Bd6 became very fashionable. Of course, the bishop is very active on d6. For example, a possible idea is to go for Stonewall type of positions after c7-c6 followed by Nbd7, Ne4, and f7-f5.
Nevertheless, Black is not so well prepared to meet White's energetic play in the center. That is why Mihail suggests the creative 6.Nc3!?. Here is how he justifies his choice:
I find this move order best. Depending on Black's move order White could play Qc2 and e2-e4. The bishop needs staying for a while on f1 in order to retrieve the pawn on c4 if needed.
In his annotations, he proves that White retains his slight edge in all the lines.
Chapter 2 - 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 - 10...Ne4
After 5.Bd2, Black's traditional move is 5...Be7.
In many lines, White's "extra tempo" will actually spoil his coordination slightly, as the bishop stands in the way of his knights and rooks. That is why White should arrange his pieces very carefully.
Despite the fact that many move orders are possible, usually, one basic position is being reached. This position can arise after the moves 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6 (8...Ne4 is also dealt with) 9.Rd1 b6 (Mihail also looks at 9...Ne4 and 9...b5) 10.b3
This position is the main crossroad of the entire variation. At this point, Black has the following continuations at his disposal: 10...Ne4, 10...Bb7, 10...Ba6, and 10...a5.
The current chapter features 10...Ne4. Usually, with this knight jump, Black tries to obtain a Stonewall type of structure. Here, however, this approach is less logical since Black had already weakened his queenside by playing c7-c6 and b7-b6.
At this point, Marin suggests the tricky 11.Ne1! immediately attacking the center. It is important to mention that the natural 11...f5 can be answered with 12.cxd5 cxd5 13.Qc6 winning a pawn.
As it becomes clear from Marin's annotations to this chapter, Black's other moves also fail to equalize.
Chapter 3 - 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 - 10...Bb7
Despite being very solid, this move turns out to be a little bit passive. The main drawback of 10...Bb7 is that White's knight can now occupy the active c3-square. After 11.Nc3, White has a good control over the center and can prepare the thematic e2-e4 advance which is very well explained in the structure article. Since White has a space advantage and more active pieces, the tension in the center is in his favor. In his analysis, Marin demonstrates that Black fails to prove an equality in this line.
Chapter 4 - 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 - 10...Ba6
Of course, the move 10...Ba6 is more active and more challenging than 10...Bb7. Now, White cannot develop his knight to c3 since the c4-pawn will be hanging. In order to establish a better coordination in his camp, White should relocate his d2-bishop. Instead of opting for the usual 11.Bf4, Marin advocates a fresh approach to the position. He suggests the subtle 11.Bc1
Here is what the author has to say about this move:
One of the most paradoxical Catalan moves I have ever seen. It is a recent try bringing some new life into this line. White actually loses a tempo to regroup with the bishop to b2, relying on the fact that the a6-bishop is vulnerable in many lines. Obviously, ...Ba6-b7 would transpose to the usual closed lines below.
In this chapter, Marin shows that the move 11.Bc1 is more dangerous than it looks at first sight. There many places where Black can go wrong. Even if Black plays correctly, White can still create practical problems.
Chapter 5 - 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 - 10...a5
Quite an ambitious move. We are familiar with the fact that in certain lines the a7-pawn is vulnerable, so Black over-defends it keeping a choice with respect to the bishop's development. The obvious drawback is that this does not contribute to the development.
Now White has enough time to arrange his pieces in a harmonious way. In this position, Marin suggests the natural 11.Bc3 followed by Nbd2 and e2-e4 in an appropriate moment. Marin's verdict is that with a correct play, White retains a slight advantage.
Chapter 6 - Closed System - 9...Bb7
Despite the fact that the so-called Closed System is being reached via different move order, from a structural point of view, this variation is very close to the positions arising after 4...Bb4+. That is the reason why Marin examines these systems in one database.
The main position arises after the moves: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 Nbd7 7.Qc2 c6 8.Rd1 b6 9.b3
One can easily notice that on the board we have almost the position which arises in the 4...Bb4+ line. This time, however, instead of being on d2, White's bishop is on its initial square. Of course, this difference is clearly in White's favor. Now he can easily establish a coordination in his camp.
Once again, Black should decide whether to develop his bishop on b7 or on a6. As it was the case in the other system, the move 9...Bb7 is very well met with 10.Nc3 followed by e2-e4. Since the bishop is not on d2, the Q-R opposition along the d-file is quite annoying for Black. This factor makes the arising structures even more favorable for White. It is not a surprise that White keeps better chances in all the lines.
Chapter 7 - Closed System - 9...Ba6
Again, the move 9...Ba6 is the more active option. The idea is always the same - prevent White from playing 10.Nc3. In this position, however, White has an extra tempo compared to the variation with 4...Bb4+. The best way to make use of this tempo is to go for 10.Nbd2 preparing e2-e4. Despite the fact that the arising positions are highly dynamic and complicated, with a precise play, White keeps a slight initiative.
Chapter 8 - 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 c5
From this chapter, Marin starts investigating the lines in which Black takes the c4-pawn on the first given occasion, aiming to either keep it or start counterplay in the center. Play frequently takes a forced course.
Chapter 8 features an extremely popular variation which is quite fashionable nowadays.
This line arises after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 c5
By completely clearing the center, Black hopes to equalize gradually in what remains basically a pleasant position for White.
In this line, the author opts for the following risk-free approach: 6.0-0 Nc6 7.dxc5!?
The arising queenless middlegame is not simple at all. In order to handle it properly, one should know a variety of subtle ideas. Nevertheless, it is Black who can easily go wrong in this position. Of course, if Black plays precisely, he can obtain an almost equal position. That being said, White has many ways to create practical problems for his opponent.
Chapter 9 - 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 a6
With the move 5...a6, Black is planning to keep his extra pawn on the queenside. His next move can be 6...b7-b5. Of course, this plan is quite risky because White's better development will allow him to seize the initiative. The most principled reaction seems to be 6.0-0 b5 (the move 6...Nc6 is dealt with in Chapter 11) 7.Ne5
With his last move, White prevents Black's light-squared bishop from occupying the long-diagonal. In order to parry White's direct threats, Black should lose some more tempos. With a correct and energetic play, White usually develops a very strong initiative in the center. In this variation, he often goes for the thematic break d4-d5 which was dealt with in one of the structure articles.
Chapter 10 - 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 Bd7
As Marin points out, the move 5...Bd7 has been fashionable in several historical moments, each time for different reasons. Black's idea is obvious - he wants to challenge the superiority of the Catalan bishop by occupying the c6-square. Of course, this plan has some serious drawbacks. Now, White can gain the bishop pair by means of 6.Ne5. The critical position arises after the moves 6...Bc6 7.Nxc6 Nxc6 8.e3 Qd7 9.0-0
If White manages to win the c4-pawn without allowing Black to create counterplay, his bishop pair will secure a stable advantage. Black tried a variety of ideas in this position. None of them, however, gives an equality.
Chapter 11 - 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.0-0 a6
This variation is one of Black's reliable choices against the Catalan. Black keeps the possibility to defend the c4-pawn by playing Bd7 followed by Rb8 and b7-b5. At the same time, the c6-knight puts pressure on White's center. The main drawback of this variation is that the knight blocks the c-pawn. In some of the lines, after winning the c4-pawn, White can create an annoying pressure along the c-file.
The main position arises after the moves 7.e3 Bd7 (7...Rb8 is also covered) 8.Qe2
At this point, Black has a choice between two different approaches - protecting the pawn by means of 8...b5 or preparing the central e6-e5 advance by playing 8...Bd6. In his analysis, Marin shows that both moves fail to equalize.
Chapter 12 - 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.0-0 Rb8
This is quite an ambitious system. Black simply intends keeping the extra pawn with ...Rb8 (or ...a7-a6) and ...b7-b5. According to Marin, White should go for the following thematic pawn sacrifice: 6.0-0 Rb8 7.e3 b5 8.b3 cxb3 9.axb3
White has the a- and b-files for his rooks and a wonderful square on c5. Black's knight stands in the way of his colleagues on c6 and finding a better place is not easy as it becomes clear from the subsequent analysis.
His main plan is Bd2, Qe2, Rc1, Be1, Nbd2, Ne1-d3.
As always, at the end of the database, the reader can find a test section with 20 test positions which allows him to test his opening knowledge and understanding.
Below, you can find 5 of the positions.