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Greetings from Thailand! For this update I've explained recent trends in the Slav, Ragozin and Catalan (especially the Ragozin) and indicated where I think the future discussions in the covered lines will take place. For instance, following everyone in the Ragozin with 5...h6 after 5.Bg5 may not be best, but you can't really go wrong with following Kramnik in the Catalan :) We also have a submitted game from a GM subscriber!

Download PGN of April '15 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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The Slow Slav with 4...Bg4 5.h3 Bh5 [D11]

For our 'entrée' I'm presenting a few fresh ideas to cause some problems for Slav players going for the main line! A quick search shows that against the Slow Slav, the most fashionable line is 4...Bg4 5.h3 Bh5, but that may change once more players cotton on to the merit of 6.g4! Bg6 7.Ne5 e6 8.Nd2!, placing the knight on a more flexible square than c3 so White can play Bg2 safely:

As I show in the notes to Riazantsev - Najer, White's plan is to take on g6, play Bg2 and advance with e4, claiming an edge because of the bishop pair and space advantage (as is customary in the Slow Slav). It's a very simple plan, but I haven't found a way for Black to fully equalise - perhaps Black can try to 'outflex' White with 7...Nbd7, but to be honest I think 4...Bf5 is the better bishop deployment.

Main Line Slav, Sokolov Variation with 9.h4! [D17]

It's not so often nowadays that one finds a good novelty early on in a heavily explored system, but in Korobov - Solak from the recent European Championship, the Ukranian GM managed to with his 9.h4! concept:

White is playing against the f5-bishop with this move (9...e6 is well met by 10.f3 threatening to trap the prelate), but there are many other ideas beneath the surface and I recommend you check out my 15.Qa7! novelty which I believe gives White an edge. So to answer a recent ChessPub Forum question, I would go with 7...Qc7 which I indicated was in good shape in an earlier update and that's still the case today.

Ragozin with 5.Bg5 h6 [D38]

After that entrée we get to the main course of this update, which is the very fashionable ...h6 system in the Ragozin. I think after 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 it is absolutely fine to play 6...h6, but after 5.Bg5 I am less keen about 5...h6 because of 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Qa4! Nc6 8.e3 as I explain in Bogner - Yu.

In the diagram position I've fast-forwarded to the tabiya of the variation, where I haven't found a way for Black to fully equalise (his fundamental problem is the c8-bishop as ...e5 is very hard to achieve), but if you feel some obligation to uphold this line as Black I would recommend using my thoughts on 11...Qe7 as a starting point. Or you could play the Vienna with 5...dxc4 (an option avoided by taking on d5 first), or revisit the 'old' 5...Nbd7.

At the same time, 7.e3 has also been a trendy continuation and I tie up all the loose ends in this strategic 6.Bxf6 variation in So - Hou from this year's Tata Steel:

This is the key position (although I've analysed earlier alternatives as well in the notes), where the key point is that White has some enduring queenside pressure in the position after 11.Nxd4 Bd7 12.Ne4 Qe7 13.Bd3!, but that allows good options for Black like 11...Qe7 and 12...Qe5, so White should start with 11.Ne4! Qe7 12.Nxd4 Bd7 13.Bd3, transposing to the position we're after. I suspect this is fashionable because Black's position is so solid, but I wouldn't offer to be subjected to such an initiative every game.

If you're a fan of the Carlsbad pawn structures and the Qa4 Ragozin systems I've covered lately, you'll like my coverage of the following system where White combines Qa4 with cxd5:

This position can also arise from a 5.cxd5 move order (as it did in Carlsen - Aronian from Tata Steel), and it's a decent choice if White is after a strategic battle, especially as the computers aren't very helpful in such fixed structures. From a practical perspective you also avoid the dynamic counterplay Ragozin players relish. But objectively I don't see any edge whatsoever for White if Black plays 14...Rfe8 instead of Aronian's 14...Rfd8 and follows up with the ...Nc8/...b5!/...Nb6 plan to lock up the queenside.

Meanwhile, in Aronian - Anand from the Grenke Chess Classic, Aronian tried the 13.a3 plan instead, but Anand reacted strongly with a thematic kingside attack and should have won (but faltered at the critical moment and even lost). So I would recommend following Carlsen over Aronian if you want to play this line, and for now 'equal but easier to play for White' seems a fair assessment.

Anti-Meran Semi-Slav with 7.b3 [D45]

After all that heavy theory we have a special contribution from GM Julio Catalino Sadorra, who analyses a recent successful attack on the king of his in Nguyen - Sadorra:

Can you find how Black forced through his attack on the king?

Open Catalan 4...Be7/6...dxc4 with 8.Qxc4 [E06]

I indicated earlier that Kramnik is a big specialist in the Catalan and in Giri - Kramnik we see him fully defuse one of White's main systems with 11...c6!?:

The idea of this move is to prevent Ba5 to fix the queenside, and in this way Black can play ...Nbd7, ...Rc8 and ...Qb6 to easily coordinate his pieces. Giri's play was extremely natural but he didn't obtain any edge and my recommendation to White players is to follow the current rage of 8.a4, which I guarantee I will cover in a later update.

However, that's all we have time for this month! Feedback, suggestions and contributions are welcome as always :) Max

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If you have any questions, then please post a message at the 1 d4 d5 Forum, or subscribers can email