Modern Repertoire against the Catalan
In the current database, IM Robert Ris examines a topical weapon against the Catalan. The starting position of the database arises after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 a6
In the introduction, the author explains his opening choice in the following way:
Welcome to the starting position of this repertoire, one of the most ambitious possible setups against the solid Catalan. With his last move Black aims to create a pawn chain, securing the extra pawn on c4. Considering the huge amount of games played at a top-level the last couple of months this variation might be a serious contender replacing the Old Main Line. It does, in my opinion, indeed lead to much more adventurous position than current Main Line of the Catalan, reached after 4...Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4. One little warning, or rather see it as an encouraging message, particularly the Main Lines after 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 a6, covered in the last chapters contain an incredibly deep, computer-assisted analysis. I imagine this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but there are some big advantages compared to the solid variations dealing with the Catalan.
1) We aren't playing this system to equalize, but rather try to put White under pressure by sticking to our extra pawn. We are looking for our own chances! Most of the Chapters offer imbalanced pawn structures or material distribution, offering good practical chances to play for a win, once we leave the theoretical territory. Unfortunately, like in most other openings, there are some dull lines or even forcing sequences leading to a draw, but don't get discouraged by that. Most of the time while analyzing, I was thrilled by the fascinating lines I came across.
2) The real good news is that you don't have to make these analyses yourself. I have done it for you, and yes, it took me a lot of time. I'm not complaining, to the contrary, I'm feeling proud of this work and ready to accept the challenge facing any Catalans in the near future! I hope you like it as much as I do.
The database includes 11 theoretical chapters and 15 interactive test positions.
Chapter 1 - Minor Options on Move 6
In this position, 6.0-0 and 6.Ne5 are by far White's main continuations. Nevertheless, we shall consider several alternatives - 6.Nc3, 6.Nbd2, 6.Qc2, 6.Qa4?!, and 6.a4. The move 6.a4 actually transposes to a position which is examined later in the database. The other moves are not particularly challenging. If Black knows what he is doing, he would obtain a favourable position in all the lines.
Chapter 2 - 6.Ne5
The most straightforward try for White, as he is about recapturing the pawn on c4 and doesn't give Black a chance to protect it with ...b7-b5.
At this point, Ris suggests 6...Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nd5
This is the first critical position of the variation. Besides putting pressure on c3, Black is also preparing ...Nb6 with the idea of protecting the c4-pawn. White is at crossroads. Playing in gambit style with 8.0-0 is the most ambitious approach. The alternative is the more solid 8.Bd2.
According to the analysis of Ris, Black is doing well in both cases.
Chapter 3 - 6.0-0 Nc6 - Minor Options on Move 7
Since Black seems to be doing fine in the main lines of this repertoire, White has been experimenting with various moves in this position. In this and in the next chapters (7.Na3 & 7. Nbd2, 7.a4) IM Ris elaborates on the most important deviations.
The current chapter examines the following moves: 7.b3, 7.Ne5?!, 7.Be3, 7.Qa4, 7.Bf4, and 7.Qc2. Even though these options are not theoretically challenging, Black should now how to meet them precisely. In this chapter, the author provides the best antidote to each one of these options.
Chapter 4 - 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Nbd2
White goes for a positional approach. The idea is to meet 7...b5 with 8.b3. If Black exchanges on b3, we reach a typical Catalan position in which the pressure along the c-file provides more than enough compensation for the missing pawn. Therefore, Ris suggests 8...c3 9.Nb1 b4 10.a3 Rb8.
Black cannot keep the c3-pawn forever. In order to win it back, however, White needs to invest time. Hence, Black will bu just in time to strike in the centre by means of ...e6-e5. Further analysis shows that the arising positions are fairly balanced.
Chapter 5 - 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Na3
This line has been tried in various games but isn't promising White anything from a theoretical point of view. Nevertheless, the ensuing positions are very tricky and White retains reasonable practical chances if Black isn't alert. Now Black should respond with 7...Bxa3 8.bxa3 Rb8! when Black is planning to follow with ...b7-b5, ...Ne7, and ...Bb7, keeping the pawn and harmoniously completing the development. According to the author, White does not have sufficient compensation for the pawn.
Chapter 6 - 6.0-0 Nc6 7.a4
In many cases, this move is not an independent option. For example, after 7...Rb8, White can play 8.e3, thus transposing to the lines with 7.e3. The move 8.Nc3 leads to the type of structures, usually arising from 7.Nc3. In these cases, White rather refrains from playing the move a2-a4.
The only independent option seems to be 8.a5, trying to gain space on the queenside and to isolate the c4-pawn. Black, however, can simply play 8...b5 9.axb6 cxb6 when White does not have enough compensation for the pawn.
Chapter 7 - 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Bg5
White is trying to get a more active version of the main lines with 7.e3, by developing his dark-squared bishop outside the pawn chain. On the negative side, White is losing a tempo. The main position of the chapter arises after 7...Be7 8.e3 0-0
Black is ready to strike in the centre with ...e6-e5. At this point, White has three choices - 9.Nbd2, 9.Nfd2, and 9.Qe2.
While the advance ...e6-e5 works very well against the knight moves, in a case of 9.Qe2, Black should first take the bishop pair by means of ...h7-h6. Later on, he can play ...e6-e5 under favourable circumstances.
Chapter 8 - 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Nc3
This is the second-most popular move, as White proceeds in gambit style, ignoring the pawn on c4. Interesting for those who are looking for a sharp play, but Black players don't have to be worried when they know their stuff!
At this point, Black should start with 7...Rb8! since 7...Be7?! is well met by 8.Qa4. The central position of the chapter arises after 8.e4 Be7 9.Qe2 b5 10.Rd1 0-0
In this position, White has two main approaches - 11.Bf4 and 11.d5. In his analysis, IM Ris Black's most precise reactions to these moves. In both cases, the position remains balanced.
Chapter 9 - 6.0-0 Nc6 7.e3 Rb8 8.Qe2
White attacks the e4-pawn and makes the d1-square available for the rook. The first critical position is reached after 8...b5.
White has to main approaches to handle this position:
1) carry out a positional pawn sacrifice by means of b2-b3
2) start playing in the centre with e3-e4
Of course, these ideas could be realized via different move orders. IM Ris deals with the following moves: 9.Rd1, 9.Bd2, 9.a4, 9.Nc3, 9.e4, and 9.b3.
Armed with fresh ideas and in-depth analysis of Ris, you will be able to face this line with confidence.
Chapter 10 - 6.0-0 Nc6 7.e3 Rb8 8.Nfd2
With his last move, not only attacks the c4-pawn but also prevents ...b7-b5. The drawback of this approach is the loss of central control. Therefore, Black should immediately strike in the centre with 8...e5.
Besides the main move 9.Bxc6+, Ris also deals with 9.dxe5? and 9.Nxc4.
The main line goes 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.dxe5 Ng4 11.Nxc4 Be6
Black's inferior pawn structure is well compensated by the active minor pieces and the weak light squares around White's king.
Among the several options for White the author deals with, the most precise is 12.Nbd2!
In this chapter, Ris illustrates White's main ideas and shows why the move 12...h5 is risky.
Chapter 11 deals with Black's most principled approach - 12...Bb4
We have reached the main tabiya of the Open Catalan with 5...a6. The position is incredibly tense and one bad move is likely to be decisive. Black's last move is a very important developing move. The key idea is that White isn't able to kick away the knight on g4 with one his pawns, as it runs into ...Bxd2! Hence, White is recommended to overprotect the knight on c4 with the queen or b-pawn in order to complete development and consolidate his structural advantage. Of course, if Black doesn't act immediately his position is likely to collapse quickly. What follows is an incredible fight, where from a theoretical point of view the author believes Black's doing alright!
At the end of the database, the author provides 15 interactive test positions which challenge your understanding and knowledge of the theory.