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This month I have thematised the move ...dxc4, especially in the Catalan but also in Semi-Slav territory and the QGA. I wanted to explore pure sacrifices on c4 where Black was generally able to hold onto the pawn on c4, while White would claim some form of dynamic compensation. Every game was a sharp fight, so I hope it provides for some entertainment and perhaps some inspiration to my readers.

Download PGN of January ’22 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Queen’s Gambit Accepted: 3.e4 b5!? 4.a4 c6 5.axb5 cxb5 [D20]

An almost forgotten line was revisited in the game Duda, J - Karjakin, S: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 b5!? 4.a4 c6 5.axb5 cxb5 6.Nc3:

6...Qb6! We have discussed 6...a6 in the past. Notably, Vachier Lagrave annotated a game for our pages and gave 6...a6 an exclamation mark. However, Karjakin’s move is approved by the super engines and leads to very unbalanced but equal positions. There are plenty of variations in opening theory like this one that were once assumed to be dubious, but turn out to be viable with the help of very strong engines! The game remained immensely complicated after 7.Be2 e6 8.Nh3.

Open Catalan with ...c6: 5...b5 6.0-0 Bb7 7.Ne5 e6 [E04]

In Carlsen, M - Dreev, A, the World Champion employed the move order he chose against Nepomniatchtchi: 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3. The game transposed into a Slav, and then an Open Catalan, after 3...c6 4.c4 dxc4 5.Bg2 b5 6.0-0 Bb7 7.Ne5 e6. Here Carlsen played the standard Catalan move 8.b3 cxb3 9.axb3 Nbd7:

This is a risky approach from Dreev. It's likely that he based his decision on intuition rather than concrete knowledge, as he reacted badly to Carlsen's pawn sacrifice a couple of moves later. 10.Nxc6 Qb6 11.d5! A very strong positional pawn sacrifice to transform the advantage. 11...Nxd5? This is the real mistake. Black should have avoided touching the pawn on d5 with 11...Bc5. 12.Na5!? The Catalan bishop was really enjoying itself at this point, with 12...Rd8 13.Nxb7 Qxb7 14.Nc3 to follow.

Open Catalan with ...c6: 6.Bg2 b5 7.Ne5 a6 [E04]

There are many ways to reach a similar position but with the knight committed to c3. I always considered that to be Semi-Slav 5.g3 territory, but it can also be reached via the Catalan with ...dxc4 and ...c6. The game Dubov, D - Mamedyarov, S featured the move order 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.g3 dxc4 6.Bg2 b5 7.Ne5 a6 8.0-0 Bb7 We have discussed this previously, and the assessment stays the same: unclear! My opinion is that Black is holding up very well, even if the positions are strange. The pawns on b4 and c3 are quite threatening after 9.b3 b4 10.Na4 c3:

The game continued 11.Nc4 a5 12.a3 Ba6! The bishop reached b5 where it is very well-secured and Black quickly took over the advantage after 13.Bf4?! Bb5! but the game was later drawn.

Open Catalan with ...c6: 6.Ne5 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Be7 [E04]

Another relevant position for the 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 c6 variation of the Catalan is 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 c6 6.Ne5 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Be7 8.e3 b5 as in Gelfand, B - Santos Latasa, J. White can win an exchange here with 9.Nxc6 Nxc6 10.Bxc6+ Bd7 11.Bxa8 Qxa8 but it gives Black good compensation as Flear once indicated. Instead, Gelfand continued with 9.a4 b4 10.0-0 0-0 11.Qc2:

Black has a couple of reasonable options here: I like both 11...a5 and 11...Bb7. Santos Latasa chose 11...Ba6 12.Rd1 but he erred with 12...Nd5? 13.e4! b3 14.Qc1 Nb4 15.Bxb4 Bxb4 16.Nxc4 which gave White an advantage.

Open Catalan: 5...Bb4+ 6.Bd2 a5 [E04]

Another topical variation within the Open Catalan is 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 a5 as was seen in the next two games.

In the first of these games, Matlakov, M - Asadli, V White chose 7.0-0 0-0 8.e3!?:

Asadli replied 8...b5?! which was clearly wrong, but it was a blitz game. 8...Ra6! was the correct move order. White didn’t capitalise with 9.a4! but instead played 9.Ne5?! Ra6 10.a4 He was given yet another chance at this point when his opponent played 10...Bxd2?? which would have run into 11.axb5! Rb6 12.Qxd2 Rxb5 13.Rxa5+-. Amusingly, Matlakov declined the gift with 11.Qxd2?? but eventually won the game.

Harikrishna, P - Lupulescu, C continued instead with 7.a3!? Bxd2+ 8.Nbxd2 b5 9.b3 cxb3 10.Qxb3 c6 11.0-0 0-0 12.Qb2:

We have an unclear position where White has full compensation for the sacrificed pawn. These positions are not so easy for Black, as there is no clear plan of action to reduce the pressure.

Open Catalan: 5...Nbd7 [E04]

A much rarer line was seen in Gelfand, B - Erigaisi, A: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.d4 dxc4 5.Bg2 Nbd7 Unfortunately, it doesn't quite equalise, but it is a reasonable try - especially in rapidplay. 6.0-0 c6 7.a4 a5 8.Qc2 b5 9.Ne5 Nxe5 10.dxe5 Nd5 11.axb5 cxb5 12.Nc3 Qb6 13.Nxd5 exd5 14.Bxd5 Ra7:

Black relies on his queenside majority to create counterplay. However, if White plays it right, these pawns can be exposed as mere weaknesses. He should have played 15.Qe4! Bc5 16.Bc6+ Bd7 17.Bxd7 Rxd7 18.Qa8+, picking up the a5-pawn and putting pressure on b5. Instead, Gelfand made a serious mistake 15.b3? Bc5! 16.bxc4 b4!-+ Black's queenside connected passed pawns were worth far more than the average pawns here!

Catalan Main Line: 7.Na3!? [E05]

Last but not least, Carlsen, M - Giri, A featured 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Na3!? We have never discussed this sideline on our site. White is happy to live with the doubled a-pawns if it means he can obtain the two bishops. 7...Bxa3 8.bxa3 Bd7 Clearly the most solid logical setup. 9.a4 Bc6 10.Ba3 Re8 11.Qc2 Nbd7 12.Rac1 a6 13.Qxc4 Nb6 14.Qc3 Nxa4 15.Qb3 Qd5:

16.Rxc6! This actually leads to an equal position, but it is a fairly challenging move to face. 16...Qxc6 17.Ne5 Qb5 18.Qc2 Nd5?? The critical error. We would have seen a different result had we seen 18...Nb6! 19.Bxb7 Nc4! Giri’s move was met by 19.Rb1 Qa5 20.Bxd5 (20.Be4! was even stronger) 20...exd5 21.Rxb7 and White converted the winning position.

Till next time, Justin

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