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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Slav and Semi-Slav : Lesson 2 - Main Line Slav Part 1 - Dutch Variation

The Main Line Slav: 5 a4 Bf5

In the Slav Black aims to develop his queen’s bishop early and in most lines he will do so as soon as possible. However, there are limits since if he were to play the immediate 4...Bf5?!, then 5 cxd5 cxd5 6 Qb3 would put pressure on the light squares, such as b7 and d5. The alternative recapture 5...Nxd5 leads to other problems, as 6 Nd2!? followed by e2-e4 gives White a fine center. So if Black really would like to develop his bishop, he has to find better circumstances.

The standard method is to do so in an indirect way. First of all he captures the c4-pawn that is en prise for the time being. If White takes the necessary steps to recapture this pawn, then Black obtains enough time to get his bishop out and about. The position in the first diagram below is the subject of Main Line Slav and, statistically speaking, the most significant line in these lessons.

White has two principal ways of reacting:

1. 6. e3 with Bxc4 to follow, which is sometimes called the Dutch Variation;

2. 6. Ne5 with two ideas in mind Nxc4 and f2-f3 followed by e2-e4, known as the Central Variation.

The Dutch Variation 


At some point White will have to decide how and when to advance in the centre. In the main line White follows up his e3-e4 advance with e4-e5 obtaining a wedge which lends itself to pressing on the kingside. Black's plan depends on how White resolves the central tension, but he'll need to keep White occupied in the centre before the first player gets an attack.


Even though it's been played umpteen times, most of the variations can be handled with general principles. A few of the sharper lines will require delving a little deeper into theory, especially the gambit line in Ivanchuk-Lautier(See in the Illustrated Games below).


This is the most popular line in these lessons, and so referring to it as ‘The Main Line Slav’ seems appropriate. Top players such as Anand, Bareev, Shirov, Kramnik, Morozevich and, in his time, Smyslov tend to score about 50%. However, overall Black only manages a disappointing 42%.

Of White's options, 6. e3 scores an average 56%.

Illustrative Games
  • V.Ivanchuk-J.Lautier, Linares 1994
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/Ivanchuk-Lautier.pgn
  • C.Gabriel-V.Akopian, Germany vs. Armenia match, Baden Baden 1996
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/Gabriel-Akopian.pgn
  • R.Hübner-D.Mastrovasilis, Germany vs. Greece match, Corfu 1999
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/Huebner-Mastrovasilis.pgn

White plays his knight to h4

Instead of primarily advancing with e3-e4 White decides to harass the light-squared bishop. He is still interested in expanding in the centre, but he may take the bishop along the way. While White is temporarily distracted, Black's strategy is to find a satisfactory way of ceding the bishop pair, to dig in and then be good and ready for any line opening by White.


At all times the move Nf3-h4 has the same attitude in mind: hit the bishop and punish him for daring to poke his nose out so early! In any case Black can leave the bishop in place and isn't too concerned about ceding the bishop pair. By completing development and using his pawn on f5 and knight on f6 to keep an eye on the e4-square, he keeps White's desired expansion in check.

Apart from ...c6-c5 Black also conducts a provocative/restraining approach almost daring White to open up the game for his bishops. Open positions may favor bishops in general, but White can't expand in the center without careful reflection as Black's pieces are well placed to pounce on weaknesses.


General principles are still the most important despite the popularity of the Nh4 idea.


The position after ten moves for both sides scores a respectable 47% for Black. Against 6. Nh4 (against which Black has achieved only 36%) Black should aim for transposition with 6...e6 followed by ...Bb4, as experimental play has cost him dear in the past.

Illustrative Game
  • J.Lautier-E.Bareev, Enghien les Bains 2003
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/Lautier-Bareev.pgn

That's it for today. In the next lesson we will discuss the Central Variation in the Main Line Slav. Stay tuned and Enjoy!

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