ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
This month I'll be looking at certain lines of the Queen's Gambit where Black tries to shake things up in the opening. Although the QGD may sometimes be thought of as 'dry', these games certainly demonstrate that there are ways of livening things up. The Vienna/Ragozin complex and the Cambridge Springs are both fairly mainstream ways of doing this, but the Psuedo-Moscow and 4...dxc4 (against 4.Bg5) are not so well known and may give you some ideas for a surprise weapon or two. Read on and see what you think!

Download PGN of February ’21 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

>> Previous Update >>

Vienna Variation 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 h6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Bxc4 c5 9.0-0 cxd4 10.e5 Qd8 11.Ne4 [D39]

The Iranian GM Parham Maghsoodloo has been experimenting in the Ragozin/Vienna by delaying castling. In Sarana, A - Maghsoodloo, P however his main error may have been to nevertheless commit his king too early! A strange observation you may think, but White's attack proved to be rather strong, although Black's resilience almost earned him a draw in the endgame.

Here the main continuation involves 11...0-0 to be followed by ...Be7 and other useful developing/defensive moves. In this case, 11...Nc6!? 12.Qe2 Be7 13.Rfd1 a6 14.Ng3 followed, whereupon 14...0-0?! turned out to be dubious. Castling can't be such a bad idea, it's just that the timing needs to be right. Here I suggest 14...Qb6 followed by completing queenside development before placing the king on the kingside.

Maghsoodloo has had mixed results with his efforts in these lines, and in certain cases has even castled long. Slight differences in White's set-up can dictate where it is best to go, so only by studying lots of analogous positions will anyone be able to master this 'difficult to handle variation'.

I wonder how much of Nihal, S - Sonis, F was home preparation?

Here Nihal threatened mate in one with his novelty 14.Qc2 and then Sonis duly captured on f6, but 14...gxf6 15.Qc1 led to a long forcing variation where Black had to give up his queen to save his king. Despite the fact that Black obtained ample material compensation, his king was always vulnerable in the play that followed. On a human level, the middlegame wasn't that clear, but White was always the one pressing and the stronger engines definitely prefer his chances. So if (after further silicon scrutiny) this line does indeed prove to be in White's favour throughout, it means that Black needs to meet the earlier move 12.Nxd4 with something other than 12...Qc7. So I suggest the more prudent 12...Be7.

Vienna Variation 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.Qa4+ [D39]

Although Radjabov, T - Anton Guijarro, D eventually panned out in Black's favour, all sorts of amazing resources were found and missed along the way. An entertaining fight right from the opening where Radjabov sacrificed a pawn for the centre and some vague (or perhaps not so vague?) attacking chances. The engines don't believe that much in White's play, but how would you aim to defend as Black in the following position?

What to do? The suggestions from my engines don't seem that convincing, so I'm at a loss to offer any definitive way for Black to improve on the actual game. Anton Guijarro chose 13...Ng4 14.Bf4 e5 but this was at best 'unclear'.

Overall, 6.Qa4+ is for those who don't mind taking risks.

Vienna Variation Mainline 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 c5, 10.Bb5+ Nbd7 [D39]

In comparison, the encounter Radjabov, T - Aronian, L went right down one of the main lines.

This position has occurred in several Aronian games, including three recent ones against Radjabov. The consensus conclusion has been that White has adequate compensation due to his better development and safer king. A closer look at the game and notes suggests that White may even be a shade better, but in practice the games are usually drawn. This may reflect that the majority of tournament games in which this position occurs involve strong players who know what they are doing! Even so, I couldn't find complete equality for Black following 17.Rc3 which was played in the featured game. Be careful about venturing into this line, not everyone can defend as well as Aronian (who has +0=5-0 from this position).

Queen's Gambit 4.Bg5 dxc4 [D50]

I used to think that 4...dxc4 was inferior, but on the basis of Benjamin, J - Nabaty, T and my subsequent investigations, I'm not so sure any more.

At first, it looks like Black hasn't chosen a good moment to capture the c-pawn, but what can White do that's better than 5.Nf3 thus reverting back towards mainstream theory? Well, Benjamin's 5.e4 looks like a decent candidate move, but then apart from Nabaty's 5...c5 there are other ways for Black to hit back that seem to be acceptable. There seem to be so many noteworthy alternatives for both sides in the early phase, that I'm going to conclude only that 4...dxc4 offers great opportunities to gorge on fresh pastures. The 1-0 result here was due to Black falling for a trap, not because of any opening disadvantage.

So the question arises: if this variation has a future what should we call it?

Pseudo-Moscow Variation 5...Nbd7 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 g5 [D51]

It's not me that coined the term Pseudo-Moscow, but the name seems appropriate, and it looks like this hybrid system is here to stay. However, although Black won in Ruck, R - Banusz, T he was definitely lucky that his opponent lost his way.

Here the Hungarian GM castled kingside but I think that he should have gone the other way. In a number of these lines this choice presents itself, but I generally feel more comfortable with ...0-0-0 in those cases where Black has combined ...g5 and ...exd5 leaving a gaping hole on f5.

Cambridge Springs 7.cxd5 exd5 [D52]

I was interested to see a high level game involving 7...exd5, as was played in Kobalia, M - Alekseev, E:

The usual idea is to recapture on d5 with the knight in order to press immediately against c3. In this case, by preferring the more cautious 7...exd5 Black gives himself more solidity in the centre. It's a sort of Exchange Variation where the queen is odd on a5. In order for Black to prove that his queen isn't misplaced he needs the threat of ...Ne4 to keep White on his toes. After 8.Bd3 Ne4 9.0-0 then Black had to choose between grabbing a pawn on c3 or eliminating the active bishop on g5. Alekseev stuck to the normal recipe of 9...Nxg5 and then after getting his king safe he found a good moment to dampen White's attacking ambitions with a timely ...c5. These lines have been tried on and off over the years, but it's refreshing to see a modern touch.

Cambridge Springs 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Rc1 [D52]

This line is one of the most promising against the Cambridge Springs and has already been discussed in ChessPublishing before. The theory has since crystallized and ways have been found for Black to avoid coming under an immediate attack. In Moiseenko, A - Mchedlishvili, M the game led to the following position:

Here Black has achieved most of his early aims, but White now has the choice as to push his d-pawn or not. Moiseenko duly played the ambitious 17.d5 and then after 17...exd5 18.cxd5 b5 a double-edged structure arose. My feeling is that the central pawn majority packs more punch than Black's queenside, so I'd take White. I wonder if Black should prefer a developing move such as 16...Rfd8 (rather than 16...c5) with the intention of hitting back with either ...c5 or even ...e5 a move or two later.

Cambridge Springs 7.Nd2 dxc4 8.Bxf6 Nxf6 9.Nxc4 Qc7 10.Rc1 [D52]

It was noteworthy that the World Champion employed the immediate release of tension in Giri, A - Carlsen, M. I have personally played 7...dxc4 for the last forty years(!) or more, but had an accident against Gozzoli which has since put me off this line. Naturally, Carlsen knew what he was doing and has shown (up to a point) me (and of course the rest of the World) how to handle Black's game in the following position:

With White about to take further control of the centre, it's necessary for Black to avoid remaining too passive, so my 14...Rac8?! is not good enough. The game continuation 14...b5! 15.Ne3 Qb6! has been played in a few high-level games recently with decent results for Black. I don't think that one can claim full equality, but it's sufficiently close to make the resulting middlegame acceptable for him. He has his bishops and chances to break out with ...c5 or ...b4 to more or less balance out White's grip on the centre. In the middlegame, Carlsen actually went astray and Giri was close to winning, but the opening phase went fine and could have been even better with a better use of the queen's rook i.e. 18...Rac8! or later with 24...Ra5!

Cambridge Springs 7.Nd2 Bb4 8.Qc2 0-0 9.Be2 e5 10.0-0 exd4 11.Nb3 Qb6 [D52]

One of the main lines was given a good test in Nihal, S - Goryachkina, A:

I'm not exactly sure which is White's best continuation in the diagram position, but Nihal's choice of 14.a3 is certainly a candidate. Then 14...Bd6 15.Ne4 is critical, especially if Black continues with 15...Nxe4 16.Qxe4 Qc7 17.Bd3 with sharp play that ultimately leads to equality, that is if both players can remember their theory! Instead, Goryachkina's novel 15...Be7 proved to be solid, but White had good activity and was a shade better.

Overall, in this variation, if Black exchanges queens early he ends up only a shade worse but usually lacks counterplay, whereas if he opts for ...Qh5, as here, then the queen is in danger of being misplaced.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

>> Previous Update >>

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