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A recent trend amongst high level players has been to play 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3, an anti-theoretical move which can lead to rich middle games. I asked editor-in-chief, Tony Kosten, whether this was under my remit as I thought it might be some kind of Colle. I soon learned that most of it was, but 4...b6 would be a Queen's Indian and 4...Bb4+ is a Bogo. Meanwhile the moves 4...dxc4 (a Queen's Gambit Accepted) 4...c6 (a Semi-Slav), 4...c5, 4...a6 and 4...Be7 are in my territory, but the latter two moves might also lead to a Queens's Indian if Black plays a later ...b6. Transpositions into other openings can be an intricate business!
I decided to devote a couple of updates to it - there's been relatively little coverage so far on, and 4.e3 could be a great weapon for busy players. I will look at 4...c5, 4...a6 and 4...Be7 this time and the very important 4...c6 in a future one. This 4...c6 line would normally be reached via a Slav move order (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 c6), besides the main line 5.Nc3 White has a very interesting and poisonous option with 5.Nbd2 or 5.Bd3 followed by 6.Nbd2. With the knight on d2 White meet the standard ...dxc4 with Nxc4, meanwhile he's still planning to take space in the centre with e3-e4.

Download PGN of April ’24 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Queen’s Gambit Declined 4.e3 c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4! [D30]

Max Illingworth covered 4...c5 5.a3 within the game Koneru - Abhiban played in 2015. White played 5.a3!? in that one, but this is far less popular than 5.Nc3 and 5.cxd5. This 5.cxd5 move interests me the most because it's relatively fresh, far from easy for Black to meet and has not previously been covered here.

The first major point is that 5...Nxd5 6.e4! scores very well for White, unlike the positions with White's knight on c3 Black does not have the option to exchange. He has mainly played 6...Nf6 (Aronian, L - Mamedyarov, S):

, sometimes 6...Nb6 (Gelashvili, T - Drazic, S) and very occasionally 6...Nc7. I've included this in the notes to the Gelashvili - Drazic encounter.

QGD 4.e3 c5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bb5+ [D30]

Black can also recapture on d5 with a pawn, but after 6.Bb5+ White also scores well. Black can block the check in different ways, with 6...Bd7 (Carlsen, M - Caruana, F) leading to IQP positions:

and 6...Nc6 with a greater variety of structures (Sanal, V - Davtyan, A).

6...Nbd7 has been the least popular of Black's choices but it's far from silly because it avoids immediate exchanges:

Even so White's position should be slightly more pleasant, as shown in Georgiev, K - Peralta, F.

QGD 4.e3 Be7 5.Nc3 0-0 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 c5 8.0-0 Nc6 9.a3 [D40]

After 4...Be7 White has tried a wide range of options of which the most important ones appear to be 5.Nc3, 5.Bd3, 5.b3 and 5.Nbd2. The most popular option amongst elite players is just 5.Nc3, so for now I'll trust them and treat this as the main line. Black usually responds with the natural 5...0-0 after which White, once again, has a huge choice with 6.Bd3 being the most popular. At first sight Black can get into a favourable Queen's Gambit Accepted line with 6...dxc4, White's Bf1-d3xc4 losing a tempo. Yet this analogy breaks down when you try to find a comparable Queen's Gambit Accepted, for example after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.0-0 Black would play 6...a6 followed by ...b7-b5, not a pedestrian development with ...Be7.

Examining the position after 4...Be7 5.Nc3 0-0 6.Bd3 dxc4, there are a number of games with 7.Bxc4 c5 8.0-0 Nc6 and now 9.a3:

This move makes perfect sense because it is useful in an isolated d-pawn position (after 9...cxd4 10.exd4) and at the same time can be used for a queenside expansion with a later dxc5 and b2-b4.

Sanal, V - Aditya, M featured 9...a6 10.dxc5, which tries to squeeze blood out of a stone:

Bruzon Batista, L - Ruiz Castillo, J transposed into the position that would be reached after 9...cxd4 10.exd4:

and it was interesting to see how White whipped up a ferocious attack against a very decent player.

Instead of 6...dxc4, Black can also play 6...b6, but this is where we head into Queen's Indian territory.

QGD 4.e3 a6 [D30]

After 4...a6 it would be a mistake to play 5.Nc3 because of 5...dxc4 6.Bxc4 b5 followed by 7...c5, entering a Queen's Gambit Accepted in which White's knight has gone to c3 prematurely. As the main goal of 4...a6 is to capture on c4 and play ...b7-b5, it makes sense for White to cut across this idea with 5.b3:

Efimenko, Z - Papp, G became a kind of Queen's Indian when Black also played ...b7-b6, but with a major difference that he played this without White first having put his knight on c3, arguably losing a tempo if White can find a plan where ...a7-a6 is superfluous. Efimenko did this with his 10.Ne5, but there is also 10.Ba3 which is mentioned in the notes.

Despite its quiet appearance, 4.e3 contains a lot of venom and can lead to tremendously exciting middle games. For those who bemoan the amount of theory, the lines are little explored and both sides have multiple options. It looks like a great line to add to your opening repertoire.

See you next month! Nigel

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