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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Slav and Semi-Slav : Lesson 1 - Introduction


This series of lessons lays the groundwork for those interested in trying out the Slav or Semi-Slav in some form or other. So those positions arising after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 are examined with the inexperienced in mind. By inexperienced I mean either those fairly new to chess who are looking for an opening against 1. d4, or for stronger players tempted to try out the Slav (or Semi-Slav).

Defending the d-pawn
At first, more modest players should not try to learn too much theory until they have understood the basic ideas. Indeed, even stronger players who are thinking of switching openings should give a priority to first sorting out their aims for development and early middlegame plans.

Throughout these lessons the games are mainly illustrative and give only a brief look at theory. The lessons discuss all the principal systems and their strategies, but cannot go too deeply into specific variations. Think of the lessons as the first step in the exciting world of Slav/Semi-Slav adventures. If you become an aficionado then more advanced material will be necessary down the line.

What are the Slav and Semi-Slav?

The Slav Defence and the Semi-Slav Defence are often considered to be two distinct openings. They have their own unique personalities but have much in common, almost like two brothers.

In both cases we are really looking at developments from the following two diagrams:

Developing the c8-bishop

The bishop stays at home
By playing 2...c6 (rather than 2...e6) Black retains the option of developing his queen’s bishop along the c8-h3 diagonal.

The Slav can be thought of as those variations where Black delays playing ...e7-e6, usually because he will try and bring his bishop out early, even if it means delaying kingside development or at some point having to relinquish some central control with ...d5xc4.

In the Semi-Slav Black plays an early ...e7-e6 before bringing out the light-squared bishop. He has other priorities. The problem piece (as Black’s queen’s bishop is often called in queen’s pawn openings) will be dealt with later, possibly coming to b7 after the b-pawn has moved out of the way.

Who plays the Slav and Semi-Slav?

Just about all the top players in the world play these openings, many with both colours. Some prefer the Slav, others stick to the Semi-Slav, but it’s hard to name anyone who hasn’t tried at least one of them out at some time in their career!

Although there are earlier references these openings started to be played with some frequency in the 1920’s and 30’s, in order to obtain a more dynamic game than the main d-pawn opening of the epoch, the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Their popularity has grown ever since and the recent exponential growth in the Slav with ...a7-a6 suggests that these openings will continue to fascinate the chess world.

There are other defenses to choose from after 1. d4, but many top players keep the Slav/Semi-Slav complex firmly in their repertoires. Why is this?

Why play the Slav and Semi-Slav?

The fact that 1...d5 and 2...c6 together build a solid foundation, appeals to many a classically-minded player who prefers to have a sturdy foothold in the central arena from the word go. The thinking goes that as Black, if you have a fair share of the centre, not only will you be able to develop, but you can look forward to the middlegame with confidence.

It’s not just solidity that Black is seeking, as the threat of playing ...d5xc4 (sometimes grabbing a pawn) or modifying the central pawn structure in other ways keeps White on his toes.

Experienced players know that the Slav and Semi-Slav give the potential to seek active piece play without making early concessions.

Statistics, Damn Lies and Statistics

After 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3, the three principal moves are:

1) 4...dxc4, the Main Line Slav;

2) 4...a6, the Chameleon Slav;

3) 4...e6, the Semi-Slav.

Choose your system for Black

As a bit of fun I have compared some statistics:

In the main lines of the Slav (4...dxc4 5 a4 Bf5) Black scores 42%.

Black scores 44% with 4...a6.

After 4...e6, the two principal variations are the Botvinnik and the Meran; in both of these Black scores 46%.

So the stats give a slight preference to the Semi-Slav.

The statistics at the end of each significant variation are only pointers, so don’t make the mistake of taking them too seriously, but they do help in building an overall picture.

So now it’s time to go through the lessons and decide which one you prefer!

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