ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
I've been thinking about a mixture of openings this time, but the main subject of my investigations has been the Ragozin System which remains highly popular amongst the elite. Carlsen in particular has been playing these positions with both colours and has added his own touch, as you'll see in the featured games this time. I've also included a couple of QGA's with 3.e4 plus a Catalan/Semi-Slav hybrid where Black grabs the c-pawn and often angles to hold onto it. These lines involving lots of new ideas. Until now, the consensus view of the Symmetrical Tarrasch is that it's something of a theoretical backwater, but a high-level encounter involving the eventual winner of the Wijk aan Zee tournament might modify this somewhat.

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

>> Previous Update >>

QGA 3.e4 e5 4.Nf3 exd4 5.Bxc4 Nc6 6.0-0 Be6 7.Nbd2 [D20]

I was curious to see the 6...Be6 variation tested at a high level in Giri, A - Harikrishna, P.

After facing this myself a few times, I've dabbled with a few different approaches as White (with mixed results), but haven't thought very much about 7.Nbd2 before. This move keeps things flexible at present, but doesn't necessary give up altogether on switching back to the more mainstream ideas of Bxe6 or Bb5. After this, there were many choices for Black over the next few moves, for example 7...Bd6 is just one of ten already played options! For a number of years now I have been surprised that more players haven't taken up this underestimated line in the QGA, but if the 2700s have caught on then we'll be seeing more of 6...Be6 at all levels soon.

The opening phase was 'unclear' with a number of tantalizing tactical ideas in perspective (for example, check out 12...Ng6 13.Bb2 Bh3!! in the notes), but Anish Giri did obtain the better chances in the middlegame, although it was always quite complex and difficult to keep control.

QGA 3.e4 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.Bxc4 Nc6 [D20]

In Fedoseev, V - Predke, A the first moment of note was the choice of 5...Nc6:

Although 5...Nb6 is the better known alternative, both of 5...Nc6 and 5...Bf5 have been gaining interest of late. All sorts of transpositions are possible, so good preparation can help one navigate the move order labyrinth and set one well on one's way. If meeting the text move with the principled 6.Nc3 Nb6 7.Bb5 isn't that troublesome, then there probably isn't anything wrong with Black's choice on move five. In the game, the sequence 6.Ne2 Bf5 7.0-0 e6 8.Nbc3 Nb6 9.Bb3 leads us to a key moment (which can arise from each of the alternatives mentioned above!) where Black has to decide what to do with his king. When writing an article on this type of position (for New in Chess) a few weeks ago, my gut feeling told me that 9...Qd7 with 10...0-0-0 was the best approach, but Predke's 9...Be7 followed by 10...Nb4 looks perfectly OK to me. So the game plan (with ...0-0 coming shortly) suggests that Black has more than one way to achieve a satisfactory game.

The Symmetrical Tarrasch Defence 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nf3 a6 [D42]

I like the idea of Black breaking the symmetry early with 5...a6, which is a useful and multi-purpose alternative to the routine 5...Nc6. In Caruana, F - Van Foreest, J after 6.cxd5 exd5 7.g3 the young Dutchman played the no-nonsense 7...c4:

Gone is the pressure on the centre and the possibility of a typical IQP scenario, and in its place we have conflicting majorities. Black is ready to support the ambitious advance with ...b5 (which often comes in, but not in this particular encounter) and White can hope for play along the long diagonal and in the centre, especially with an early Ne5. Van Foreest equalized almost effortlessly, with 10...Bf5 (heading for d3) being particularly noteworthy. Indeed, I don't see any theoretical problems for Black with this approach, but Van Foreest did get outplayed later and was perhaps fortunate to save the rook endgame.

Ragozin System 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 [D38]

Alexander Ipatov is something of a provocative player as witnessed by his choice of 6.Bh4!? (rather than the standard 6.Bxf6) in Ipatov, A - Dragun, K. After the principled reply 6...dxc4, the surprising 7.a3 forces Black's hand at the expense of the potential loss of tempo. The exchange on c3 (i.e. 7...Bxc3+ 8.bxc3) yields the following position:

Three moves then come to mind 8...b5, 8...Nbd7 and 8...c5, the latter having been chosen in the game. All three options actually seem reasonable enough, and have each been played by strong GMs. I'm not sure which of them I would recommend, but in each case the resulting positions come down to a question of taste: White gets some play, but Black has the time to hold onto his booty. One may have personal opinions about such positions, but it was Black who took the advantage in this particular case. So, I have to ask the question: Is all this just too slow for White?

Ragozin System 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.a3 Be7 [D38]

The rare retreat with 6...Be7 was tested in Cuenca Jimenez, J - Sosa, T a somewhat solid, albeit passive, approach. Following 7.e3 0-0 8.b4 the diagram position arises:

I get the impression that the queenside advance involving 8.b4 was a good choice, as it enhances White's space advantage. The type of middlegame that arises doesn't feel that comfortable for Black, which brings us back to the choice of 6...Be7. Maybe the reason that it doesn't score that well is that it gives White too wide a choice. Nevertheless, although it was easier to handle for the first player in the middlegame, the neat advance 28...e5 (instead of 28...Qb5?!) would have kept the balance.

Ragozin System 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.a3 Bxc3+ [D38]

The World Champion was in an enterprising mood in Carlsen, M - So, W as evidenced by his choice of 11.g4:

Such aggression! After the reply 11...g5 the weaknesses on the kingside led to problems for Black, so it may well be that the murky 11...Nxc4 would have been better. Earlier than this, there were several possible deviations for Black, the most significant being 7...Ne4, avoiding the annoying pin that resulted from 7...0-0 8.Bg5. Personally, I think that the knight leap looks like the most pragmatic option.

Ragozin System 5.Qb3 c5 6.dxc5 Nc6 [D38]

There has been some discussion by other analysts about the position arising after 12.g3 in Carlsen, M - Radjabov, T:

Radjabov avoided the most popular reaction 12...e5 preferring 12...Bxc3+. The game only then varied from previous experience on move seventeen, but Carlsen's novelty shouldn't have been enough to give any advantage. So the direct capture on move twelve worked well enough for the Azeri GM. It was only an error in his calculations ten moves later (on move 22) that tipped the balance in White's favour.

As for the alternative 12...e5, it seems that the challenging 13.Qh6 can be met in several ways: with the calm 13...Be6!, the tricky 13...Nd4!?, and even the questionable 13...Bxc3 all being worth pursuing in any further research.

Ragozin System 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 [D38]

Things went wrong for Aronian in Carlsen, M - Aronian, L but he managed to wriggle out in the end, despite a serious blunder towards the end that wasn't punished.

This is the sort of 'comfortable for White' position which Carlsen would certainly enjoy if Black were to stay rather docile. So Aronian decided that he needed to be more pro-active and reacted with 12...c5 hoping to complicate the struggle, but White's position still remained slightly preferable. So the precise move order chosen by Carlsen to meet the trendy 7...Bf5 with the 'Slow Slav style' 8.Qb3 Qb6 9.Nh4 does indeed create a few problems for the second player.

Ragozin System 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 0-0 8.e3 Bf5 [D38]

Magnus Carlsen (this time with Black) took on Alexander Grischuk in one of the Russian GM's pet lines in the featured game Grischuk, A - Carlsen, M from the end of 2020.

After the normal reply (i.e. the capture on c3), we have a Carlsbad structure where White has the bishop pair, but Black has smooth development.

A key moment arises after the sequence 10...Bxc3+ 11.Qxc3 c6 12.Nd2 Ne4 leading to simplification. Neither 13.Bxd8 here, nor 13.Nxe4 from a previous Carlsen game, seem to offer anything concrete for White, but the tense positions that can occur are quite subtle and can easily go wrong for either player if they aren't vigilant.

Semi-Slav 5.g3 [D43/E04]

In Chandran, K - Baryshpolets, A Black was able to nullify any early white activity and later won the endgame.

With 7...Qb6, the queen defends a number of key squares, and (as White doesn't seem to have any concrete ways to punish Black's daring play) it's not so surprising that the move is relatively popular. A couple of possible improvements spring to mind, 8.a4, for example or, later on, perhaps 10.Be3, but even these lead to middlegames where the second player can aspire to full equality. If in future, players with White continue to insist on a 'Catalan' rather than entering a Semi-Slav then 5.g3 will remain a regular feature of tournament play where the struggle often comes down to a clash of styles (gambiteer versus pawn-grabber!) rather than any objective advantage.

Overall, it actually achieves a better percentage than the three more common alternatives 5.Bg5, 5.e3, and 5.cxd5, but not at the higher levels where defensive skills are better honed!

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