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This month I'm looking at the usual wide variety of lines, although with a particular emphasis on the fashionable Nc3 lines against the Closed Catalan.
I'm afraid this will be my last update for a while, good luck to all the subscribers!

Download PGN of April ’20 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Mainline Slav 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 e6 7.f3 Bb4 8.Nxc4 [D17]

3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 e6 7.f3 Bb4 8.Nxc4 0-0 9.Kf2 e5!?N:

A novelty in a principled position. At first the engine scoffs at this move, but when the depth is increased things become very unclear. This line is very dangerous for Black, but he will have a window of opportunity (albeit a small one) to create a powerful initiative. See the game Ding, L - Caruana, F, FIDE Candidates 2020.

Queen’s Gambit Accepted: 3.e4 Nf6 [D20]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 Nf6 4.Nc3?!:

This move has been briefly mentioned in the archive as being good for Black, but not much analysis to back it up. In this game I will attempt to illustrate why White should stay away from it. Don't be fooled by the result of this game or the strength of the player conducting the white pieces. This move allows Black instant equality and hopes for more. See the game Brunello, S - Baenziger, F, Accentus Young Masters 2020.

QGA/Anti-Slav: 4.Qc2 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bg4 [D11/D23]

4.Qc2 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bg4 6.Nbd2 e6 7.g3 Nbd7 8.Bg2 Be7 9.0-0 0-0 10.b3 a5 11.a3 Rc8 12.Bb2 h6!N:

This move is a serious improvement, no so much because of the move itself but rather because of the principle behind it. By delaying the ...c6-c5 break, Black intends to keep his queenside more compact and less vulnerable to a3-a4. See the game Parvanyan, A - Ernst, S, Hamburg 2020.

QGD Cambridge Springs: 7.Nd2 dxc4 [D52]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5 7.Nd2 dxc4 8.Bxf6 Nxf6 9.Nxc4 Qc7 10.Be2 Be7 11.0-0 0-0 12.Rc1 Rd8 13.Qb3 Bd7 14.Bf3 Be8 15.Rfd1 Rac8:

The diagram position is by no means forced. However, it’s a good illustration of the type of position Black is aiming for in this line. His positions looks misleadingly cramped, but in fact it is packed with energy. Black is getting ready to expand on the queenside by means of ...b5 and/or ...c5. It seems Black is doing well in all lines. See the game Dorrington, C - Lupulescu, C, Daventry 2020.

Open Catalan: 4...dxc4 & 5...a6 [E04]

4...dxc4 5.Bg2 a6 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Bg5 Be7 8.e3 0-0 9.Nbd2 e5!:

This is Black’s only reasonable attempt at equality, but it seems sufficient. Should White take on e5, the tactics work out quite nicely for Black. Therefore, White must take on c4 and embrace an IQP on d4. In this game White did so by keeping the queens on the board. Though this worked out quite nicely for him, it should not be particularly testing for Black. Nevertheless, thanks to the exchange sacrifice ideas, this could prove to be an interesting practical choice. See the game Gormally, D - Sowray, P, Daventry 2020.

Closed Catalan: 6.Nc3 c6 [E07]

4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.Nc3 c6 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.b3 b6 9.Bb2 Ba6 10.Nd2 b5 11.cxb5 cxb5 12.a3:

This is the critical position of the variation. White will proceed with b3-b4 and maneuver the d2-knight to the c5-square. The question will be whose outpost will be stronger. White's on c5 or Black's on c4? As a general rule, if the white knight gets to c5 White will indeed be better. However, with accurate play Black should be able to prevent this and achieve an equal game. See the game Banusz, T - Kovacevic, B, Hungary 2020.

Closed Catalan: 6.Nc3 dxc4 7.Ne5 [E06]

6.Nc3 dxc4 7.Ne5 Nc6 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.Nxc6 Qe8 10.Nxe7 Qxe7 11.Qa4 c5 12.dxc5 Qxc5 13.Be3 Qc7 14.0-0-0!?:

This has become the topical choice, after which we arrive at the critical position of the variation. White's main idea is to aim for an opposite-color bishop endgame where his better pawn structure and control over the open d-file will allow him to play risk-free. It’s actually not so easy to play as Black here. My impression is that he should place the knight on d5 and wait for the opportunity to recapture on d5 with the e-pawn, thus neutralizing White’s pressure along the d-file. See the game Kozubov, Y - Van der Werf, M, Leiden 2020.

Closed Catalan: 7.Nc3 & 8.Qd3 [E07]

4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 c6 7.Nc3 Nbd7 8.Qd3 b6 9.e4 Ba6 10.b3:

The main drawback of playing the knight to c3 in the Catalan is that White must constantly be on to lookout for the possibility that Black will put pressure and eventually take on c4. White has done everything in his power to mitigate this, and thus we arrive at the critical position of the 8.Qd3 line. This is definitely an ambitious line for White, but I believe it is somewhat suspect especially after 10...dxc4 11.bxc4 e5! See the game Holm, K - Urkedal, F, Norway 2020.

Best wishes, Robert

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