Queen's Gambit Declined for Black - Part 1
Fight the Systems with Bg5
Preview by the author
The introductory moves of the Tartakower-Makogonov-Bondarevsky variation, one of the World Champions' Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov favourite weapons, are 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 0-0 7.e3 b6
About a century ago, Rudolf Spielmann explained the essence of Black's opening problems after 1.d4: He can develop one of his bishops easily but will face bigger problems to do the same with his colleague. In the Queen's Gambit Declined, 2...e6 opens the diagonal for the king's bishop but obstructs the h3-c8 diagonal. The classical solution used to be preparing ...dxc4 followed by a queenside expansion after which the queen's bishop could finally develop to b7. But this approach implies staying underdeveloped for several moves, with the respective risk that Black would not manage to develop properly at all. The last move offers a quicker solution to the problem, as Black will play ...Bb7 next. This is a double-edged decision as Black now gets some weaknesses on the light squares. But many decades of practice have proved that the hanging pawns created by a later ...c7-c5, followed by exchanges on d5 and c5, have enough dynamic potential to compensate for their relative static weakness.
As a historical overview, the last move was played for the first time by Shovalter in 1915, but then Tartakower played it regularly starting with 1922 until the late '30s. Later, it became part of Makogonov's and, more notably, Bondarevsky's repertoire. The latter then passed it to Boris Spassky, who was his pupil during the ascension to the World crown. The way I see the theory of this system, it is essential to know a series of typical structures and choose between them according to the concrete circumstances. Below I have picked up a few quiet lines illustrating the most important structures and the way they can be reached.
Typical Pawn Structures
Before diving into the theoretical subtleties, the reader must be familiar with 6 typical pawn structures.
This is one of the most favourable structures that Black can get in this line. Black usually enjoys a comfortable play since his bishop is not stuck on b7. In this position, Black's play is quite natural. If White makes slow moves, Black will play ...c7-c5 followed by ...Nc6, ...Rfd8, and ...Rac8. After c7-c5, White can always go for hanging pawns by playing dxc5 (Structure B). If White refrains from dxc5, Black has two different plans.
1) Put pressure on d4
After playing c7-c5, the possibility to put pressure on d4 is quite attractive. Black can achieve it with simple moves such as ...Bg4, ...Qf6, and ...Nc6.
2) Go for a pawn expansion on the queenside
Very often, Black starts rolling his queenside pawns. The queenside play is quite natural - ...c5-c4 followed by b6-b5-b4. Before going for such an expansion, Black should make sure that he has a good development and strong control of the centre. Otherwise, White can strike in the centre with e3-e4 or undermine the queenside structure with b2-b3.
The hanging pawns (with a bishop pair for Black) are quite characteristic for this system. Generally speaking, this structure is considered to be comfortable for Black, unless White manages to put the central pawns under strong pressure. Since the f6-knight is already exchanged, Black should pay special attention to the d5-pawn. Let's take a look at the plans of both sides.
Plans for White
1) Put the hanging pawns under pressure
This is the most typical way to fight against hanging pawns. White usually puts his rooks on d1 and c1 while there are different options for the queen. In general, the queen is well placed on a3. From there, it attacks c5 without being exposed to oppositions with black rooks.
2) Weaken the opponent's structure with the pawn contacts e3-e4 and b2-b4
These pawn contacts are quite typical for positions with hanging pawns. By playing e3-e4, White is aiming at exchanging the central pawns (creating a weakness on c5) or provoking the advance d5-d4. In the latter case, White can attack the backward c5-pawn and make use of the weak c4-square. Respectively, the advance b2-b4 is designed to weaken the d4-square and the d5-pawn.
Nevertheless, in positions in which Black enjoys a pair of bishops, these pawn contacts are very risky. As we know, opening the position up increases the power of the bishop pair.
Plans for Black
1) Open the position with d5-d4
The biggest advantage of the hanging pawns is their dynamic power - you can always push one of them (even at the price of a pawn sacrifice) and activate all the pieces. Such a strategy is even more effective when we have a bishop pair. Usually, Black is trying to open the position by means of ...d5-d4. Besides activating the pieces and preparing a kingside assault, this advance often allows creating a potentially strong passer on d4.
2) Gain space on the queenside with c5-c4
This advance ...c5-c4 is very useful in positions in which Black wants to put pressure along the b-file. By playing ...c5-c4 he fixes the b2-pawn. Also, when the light-squared bishops are exchanged, Black can often install a powerful knight on d3. This could be achieved by means of the manoeuvre Nb8-d7(a6)-c5-d3. On the flipside, the advance ...c5-c4 is positionally very risky since the hanging pawns lose their dynamic potential. Moreover, by doing so, Black weakens the d4-square and the d5-pawn.
This is not a typical isolani. It may seem that Black is in a worse situation than in the standard Isolani structure because his bishop is apparently passive on b7. But the fact is that the constant pressure exerted by the other bishop and the activity of the knight face White with problems enjoying the blockade on d4. At the first given possibility, the pawn could advance to d4, activating both bishops.
This is another common structure. The handling of this position depends on whether White will play dxc5 or not. After dxc5, we reach a classical position with hanging pawns. This time, Black does not enjoy a bishop pair. On the other hand, all the pieces are on the board which increases the dynamic potential of the pawns. The plans are very similar to structure B. With all pieces on the board, the advance d5-d4 is getting even more attractive. Black will place his rooks on c8 and d8 while the queen is heading for b6. Later on, Black has two way of preparing d5-d4 - ...Nd7-f8-e6 followed by ...d5-d4 or ...Qe6 followed by ...Nb6 and d5-d4.
As usual, if White refrains from dxc5, Black is advised to go for a queenside pawn expansion by playing c5-c4 followed by b6-b5-b4. On the other hand, White will be trying to create counter-chances on the kingside. A typical plan would be Ne5 followed by f2-f4.
The structure is symmetrical and all Black's pieces are optimally placed. White could claim an advantage only if he could install and consolidate the knight on e5, but this is rarely possible. Therefore, I prefer this type of positions with Black.
This is my favourite structure in the Tartakower Universe. The knight on e6 is a perfect blocker, ensuring the kingside's safety and allowing Black to generate counterplay in the centre with ...c6-c5. Black could also open new horizons for his dark-squared bishop with ...Bf8, ...g7-g6 and ...h6-h5. I will now illustrate the main ideas of each structure mentioned above.
These structures are covered in 8 annotated examples.
Before dealing with the theoretical lines, I want to explain some subtleties concerning the move order. The first important moment comes after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7!?
This started being the most usual move order in the seventies. Black's main idea is to prevent White from reaching a proper Exchange Variation. As we will see in the next database, after 4.cxd5, Black usually manages to develop his c8-bishop actively. This is not the case after 3...Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 (5...c6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Qf3 spoils Black's structure. True, this line is relatively popular, but I am not really enthusiastic about it.) 6.e3 c6 7.Bd3.
The first database deals with White's systems based on Bg5. All the systems with Bf4, with or without cxd5, will be covered in Part 2. Hence, the first critical position arises after 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bg5 h6
That's another fashionable move order in the 70s. First of all, I would mention that ... h7-h6 is a useful extra tempo after Bh4 as Black avoids not only back rank problems but also an attack with a gain of time along the b1-h7 diagonal. Secondly, it is safest to play this before castling in order to avoid certain attacking ideas.
We should also be aware of the fact that Black has to play ...h7-h6 before ...b7-b6 as after 5...0-0 6.e3 b6 7.Rc1 h6?! 8.Bxf6, White gains a tempo over some lines that are examined in the database.
After 5...h6, White's main move is 6.Bh4 (6.Bxf6 Bxf6 usually allows Black to obtain counterplay based on ... c7-c5 or ...e6-e5.). 6.Bf4 is a paradoxical move which is examined at the end of the database.
6...0-0 7.e3 b6
This is the starting point of the Tartakower Variation. Black prepares to develop his bishop and keeps the control in the centre (unlike in the systems based on an early ...dxc4).
Chapters 1 - 2 - 8.cxd5
The critical position of this chapter arises after the moves 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 exd5
It is important to point out that this position is not reached by force. In this chapter, I deal with all the alternatives White has on moves 9 and 10.
The position on the diagram is an important crossroads. White has five moves - 11.Be2, 11.Bd3, 11.Qb3, 11.Qa4, and 11.Rc1. I analyze all these moves but the main line goes 11.Rc1 Be6 12.Qa4 c5 13.Qa3 Rc8.
This is the second important crossroads in the variation. Black defends his central pawns well. After developing the knight he needs to defend the queen in order to threaten ...c5-c4, thus more or less forcing dxc5. White has a choice between two continuations - the principled 14.Bb5 and the solid 14.Be2. 14.Bb5 is dealt with in Chapter 1 while 14.Be2 is covered in Chapter 2. In my analysis, I prove that Black can easily solve his problems in both cases.
Chapter 3 - 8.Rc1
This natural move has independent value only from the point of view of the main line below. Otherwise, it would transpose to other lines, in which the rook is not always optimally placed on c1.
After 8...Bb7, White should probably play 9.cxd5. After 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5, White should play 11.Bd3 transposing to Chapter 7. In case of 11.Be2, we enter a position in which the rook is not well placed on c1 - the rooks should be on e1 and d1.
The main position of the current chapter arises after 9...Nxd5 10.Bxe7 Qxe7 11.Nxd5 Bxd5
This position is the main subject of my analysis. In order to achieve equal (and sometimes even more pleasant) play, Black needs to carry out ...c7-c5, preferably without getting a weak pawn on c5.
Chapters 4-5 - 8.Be2
This apparently modest developing move leaves the d-file open and is thus aimed to inhibit ...c7-c5. This continuation is the subject of the next 2 chapters. After 8...Bb7, White faces a choice between two moves - 9.Bxf6 and 9.0-0.
Chapter 4 is dedicated to 9.Bxf6. The main idea can be seen after the moves 9...Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.b4
This is one of White's main ideas. He takes measures against ...c7-c5, which is best done with the bishop on e2. Against other moves, Black is best adviced to react in the same way as in the main line starting with 11...c6. Even though the position looks simple, we will soon see that Black has to display certain accuracy when choosing his move order.
Chapter 5 deals with 9.0-0 which allows Black to complete the development. The line goes 9...Nbd7 10.Rc1 c5
Now and on the next move, Black could open the centre with 10...dxc4 and 11... Nxd5, respectively. But I prefer the complex positions with hanging pawns. In my annotations, I demonstrate that in the arising complicated positions, Black has good chances to even overtake the initiative.
Chapter 6 - 8.Qb3
This is the most direct way of putting pressure on d5. On the other hand, this also involves an early commitment. The critical position is being reached after 8...Bb7 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.Rd1
It is important to point out White's play is by no means forced since he has alternatives on every move. These alternative options are, of course, covered in the chapter.
By playing 11.Rd1, White is trying to prevent Black's ...c7-c5. At this point, Black's most flexible continuation is 11...Re8! . Depending on White's reaction, Black can play ...c7-c5 in one move or prepare it by means of ...c7-c6, followed by Nb8-d7-f8-e6.
Chapters 7-8 - 8.Bd3
This looks like a more active way of developing the bishop. But in the lines examined below, Black's hanging pawns are safer due to the lack of pressure along the d-file. After 8...Bb7, White has two options - 9.Bxf6 and 9.0-0.
After 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5, we reach a conceptually important position.
With the white bishop being on d3, Black is ready to answer ...c7-c5 on the next move, regardless White's reaction. An important point is that even after 11.b4, Black will follow with 11...c5 when after 12.bxc5 bxc5 13.Rb1, Black can play 13...cxd4! This is the difference. White cannot keep control of d4 with his pieces. This position is covered in Chapter 7.
The alternative 9.0-0 allows Black to complete the development with 9...Nbd7 and follow with ...c7-c5 against pretty much everything. Arising positions are complicated and allow Black to fight for the initiative. This line is covered in Chapter 8.
Chapters 9-10 - 8.Qc2
White prepares to castle long and launch a massive kingside pawn attack in the hope of using the relative weakness induced by ...h7-h6. But as we will see, the white king will also be exposed. The main line continues 8…Bb7 9.Bxf6 the only consequent continuation. If allowed to play ...Nbd7 and ...c7-c5 the white queen would be exposed on c2, 9…Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.0-0-0 c5.
This is the most important position for the line with 8.Qc2. White has two approaches - going for a direct attack with 12.g4 and 12.h4 or playing against the centre with 12.dxc5.
In Chapter 9, deal with White's attempt to attack on the kingside by means of 12.g4 and 12.h4. White’s attack doesn’t seem very dangerous and Black is just in time to organize his counterplay in the centre and on the queenside.
Chapter 10 features the more dangerous 12.dxc5. This is a very serious attempt for White since the “natural” 12…bxc5 lose due to 13.Nxd5!
Black should continue 12…Nd7 – common pawn sacrifice for this structure.
My analysis shows that Black has enough counterplay regardless if White accepts the sacrifice or not.
Chapter 11 - 7.Rc1
This move order used to enjoy some popularity a few decades ago. White's main idea is to switch to the fianchetto after the usual exchanges on d5.
Black has two possible plans:
1. To play 7…dxc4 followed by c7-c5, thus entering IQP position where White’s rook on c1 is slightly misplaced.
2. To continue in the spirit of our repertoire: 7…b6 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.g3 Re8
If White could get castled properly, he would keep some chances to put the hanging pawns under pressure by using his fianchetto bishop. But the pressure on e2 and his slight delay in kingside development prevent him from achieving that.
Chapter 12 - Rare Options on Move 8
This chapter deals with some rarely played alternatives on move 8, namely 8.g4, 8.Bxf6, and 8.Rb1. The first two moves are not so dangerous and I consider them briefly. The move 8.Rb1, however, deserves special attention.
A few decades ago, Kevin Spraggett displayed his enthusiasm towards this move, apparently an invention of the Portuguese players. The main idea is that unlike in the 8.Be2 line, Black cannot meet the later b2-b4 with ...c7-c5. But since we do not play that against 8.Be2 anyway, the early rook move is more of a commitment.
Chapters 13 - 16 - 6.Bxf6
This is another important group of variations. White immediately exchanges his bishop, aiming at speeding up his development and keeping the control in the centre. Black cannot seriously think of playing ...b7-b6 anymore as this would practically waste a tempo with respect to the normal Tartakower lines. But against most white setups the bishop proves very strong after ...c7-c5 which frequently implies a pawn sacrifice.
In Chapter 13, I analyze all alternatives to the main line (7.e3).
White can try to avoid the main lines by playing: 7.Qb3, 7.e4, 7.cxd5 followed by 8.g3 or 7.Qd2 0-0 8.e4.
All these setups deserve attention and I point out the correct way to play for Black.
In this chapter, the reader will also find the position which arises after the moves 7.e3 0-0 8.Qd2
This is a solid move, but the queen is not especially active here. Besides, after the opening of the d-file, the queen exchange would annihilate one of White's developing tempi.
At this point, I suggest the energetic 8…c5 after which I provide some interesting unexplored ideas and novelties.
Chapter 14 features the move 8.Qc2
This is more active than Qd2 and it prepares to put the centre under latent pressure with Rd1. The drawback of this move is that the queen is exposed in view of 8…Na6!
Rare move with two ideas - the knight is supporting c7-c5 and can jump to b4 in some cases. I analyze this position in depth and prove that Black has nothing to worry about in this line.
In Chapter 15, I deal with 8.Qb3.
This move puts even more pressure on the centre but the queen is also within the knight's range. The other drawback is that White is not developing the kingside and Black can try to use his lead in development.
At this point, I suggest to ignore all White’s threats and to continue in the spirit of Grunfeld by playing 8…c5 with an initiative in all the lines.
In Chapter 16, I analyze 8.Rc1
This is the most solid move and the main line at the same time. White over-defends c3 in order to inhibit ...c7-c5. At the same time, he invites his opponent to display his cards without exposing the queen in any way.
Here I come with up with a very rare concept – the move 8…Nc6
Black’s idea is to continue with ...dxc4 followed by ...e6-e5, thus trying to establish a safe blockade on d6-square.
The arising positions are fresh and unexplored. My analysis shows that Black has nothing to worry about.
Chapters 17 - 18 - 6.Bf4
Apparently a loss of time, this move intends to prove that ...h7-h6 is a weakening move if compared to the 6.Bf4 lines (examined in the second database). Black's task is to find precisely a system in which .. h7-h6 is useful! This variation becomes quite popular lately, mainly because of the efforts of the young Russian grandmasters Dubov and Esipenko.
My suggestion is 6…0-0 7.e3 c5! (7…b6 8.g4! with an attack) 8.dxc5 Bxc5
We have a position which is typical for the lines with Bf4. In my analysis, I prove that the inclusion of ...h7-h6 favours Black.
On the diagram position, White has three main continuations - 9.Rc1, 9.a3, and 9.cxd5.
The moves 9.Rc1 and 9.a3 are dealt with in Chapter 17 while the main line 9.cxd5 is covered in Chapter 18. My conclusion is that Black keeps his chances in all the lines.
In this section, you can find 30 interactive test positions which allow you to improve your understanding of the variation. Below, you can try to solve 5 of them.