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Friday, May 14, 2010

Slav and Semi-Slav : Lesson 4 - Black's 5th Move Alternatives - Bronstein (Steiner) & Smyslov Variations

Black's Fifth Move Alternatives


With 5...Bg4 or 5...Na6 Black seeks to create slightly different problems for White than those encountered in the 5...Bf5 lines. Although these fifth move alternatives have again dropped out of favour, they do give Black an interesting game. Nevertheless, against best play they probably fail to equalize.

Bronstein (Steiner) Variation: 5...Bg4


Black hopes to disrupt his opponent with ...d5xc4 and the annoying pin, but must stay flexible to react accordingly to White's choice of plan. White must quickly decide how to nullify Black's light-squared bishop in order to obtain a grip on the centre.


There are a few sharp lines that need good theoretical knowledge, but these are fairly well established. As there haven't been many recent developments, once knows the basic theory there isn't much need to update it very often.


In 1341 games Black has managed 43% which is on a par with 5...Bf5 or 5...Na6. After a period of popularity in the 80's and 90's the line has dropped out of fashion. White's most successful line has been 6. Ne5 Bh5 7. h3 which scores as high as 62%.

Illustrative Games:
  • V.Kramnik-B.Damljanovic, Moscow Olympiad 1994
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/Kramnik-Damljanovic.pgn
  • A.Shirov-P.Nikolic, Manila Interzonal 1990
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/Shirov-Nikolic.pgn
  • J.Levitt-G.Flear, British Championship, Plymouth 1989
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/Levitt-Flear.pgn

Smyslov Variation: 5...Na6

Smyslov's 5...Na6 is not particularly ambitious. Black avoids any immediate conflict and heads for the b4-outpost. He just develops his pieces sensibly, although this does allow his opponent to construct a useful-looking pawn front with central pawns on d4 and e4. Black then hopes to chip away at the centre with ...Bg4 and ...c6-c5.


Black may wish to double White's pawns and use the b4-square, but these are not enough. At some point he'll need to hit back with ...c6-c5 or ...e6-e5 to stop White taking control.

White will look for ways to find chinks in Black's armour, for instance by advancing pawns to get open diagonals for his bishops.


Not really; it's possible to play this way without any major problems to get developed. However, White can also develop fairly naturally without knowing reams of theory and still keep a pull due to his space and central edge. Bear in mind, however, that in practice it's not easy to turn the central space edge into anything more concrete.


Black made 42%, which is slightly less than average. Relatively speaking, 5...Na6 was at its most popular in the 1960's and has declined ever since.

Illustrative Games:
  • L.Van Wely-D.De Vreugt, Dutch Championship, Rotterdam 2000
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/VanWely-DeVreugt.pgn
  • Z.Varga-L.Portisch, Hungarian Championship, Heviz 2003
  • Slav-and-Semi-Slav/Varga-Portisch.pgn


Black's alternatives to 5...Bf5 have surprise value but are not good enough to equalize.

Bronstein's 5...Bg4 creates tension, about which White needs to make a difficult decision. The unprepared can easily go astray but, unfortunately for Black, the main line after 7 . f3 has been worked out to an ending virtually by force where White keeps a small but persistent edge.

Smyslov's 5...Na6 is perhaps more solid but allows White an easy time in constructing his centre. Black is well dug in and White may have difficulty using his space advantage if Black seeks timely counterplay with ...c6-c5 or ...e6-e5.

That's it for now. In the next lesson we will discuss some Gambit Lines in The Slav. Stay tuned and Enjoy!

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