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How To Play Against The Berlin Defense – Chess Openings – GMs Paco Vallejo and Gustafsson

How To Play Against The Berlin Defense

If you play 1. e4 as White, or respond with 1…e5 as Black, you must get familiar with the Berlin Defense. It was popular in the nineteenth century, but passed out of favor in the early twentieth. Back then, the Berlin Defense was described as fundamentally too passive.

Berlin Defense used at 2000 World Chess Championship

The Berlin Defense played a crucial role in Kramnik’s defeat of Kasparov in the 2000 World Chess Championships

However, the Berlin Defense went from relative obscurity to being the most discussed opening in chess when Vladimir Kramnik used it to successfully frustrate Garry Kasparov in 2000, ultimately winning the World Chess Championship. Since then, Magnus Carlsen has employed it in many top games, notably his matches against Vishy Anand in 2013 and 2014.  This chess opening has long had a reputation for solidity and leading to draws, yet it has risen in popularity, even used by players with a dynamic style such as Alexei Shirov, Veselin Topalov, and the legendary Garry Kasparov.

In fact, Kasparov later said, “The sharp character of these games [from the 2000 World Chess Championship match] shows the Berlin is indeed a rich and subtle middlegame, and not an endgame. And if White pushes too hard, the absence of queens from the board does not offer him any safety.” Despite the opening having a reputation for being drawish, it often creates imbalances that allow either side to play for an advantage.

In this video, GMs Paco Vallejo and Jan Gustafsson join forces to reveal the main ideas for White. As Kasparov said, the early exchange of queens does not mean the game will be simple and so it is crucial that players understand all the opportunities and difficulties, plus their solutions, if they want good results. This video discusses all the ideas White needs to know in order to confidently navigate the murky waters of the Berlin Defense and come out on top.

The opening usually begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6.

Berlin Defense – Ideas for White

Playing against the Berlin Defense as WhiteGMs Paco Vallejo and Jan Gustafsson begin their discussion of White’s plans in the Berlin after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. 0-0 Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8, all pretty standard moves up until this point. You can see the resulting position on the left.

So, what should White do next? There are a few plans. The most obvious plan is to play h3 ad g4, followed later by f4 and f5, creating space and trying to create something on the kingside. All White’s plans should focus on the kingside, there isn’t much play on the queenside.

Another typical plan is to play e6. This can be prepared with Re1 and Ng5 – or even Nd4 if Black’s knight no longer defends that square. White must choose where to place all the pieces, keeping in mind the kingside plans.

Another plan, although much rarer seen because it is rather difficult to accomplish, would be for White to exchange all the pieces. After all, Black has doubled pawns on the c-file. In theory, the less pieces there are on the board, the greater White’s chances for victory. A pure pawn endgame from here would be winning for White.

To get more details on these plans, and to find out piece-by-piece what White should be trying to accomplish, you’ll need to watch the video!

Conclusion

This video covered just come of the ideas for White in the Berlin Defense. There are plenty of other ideas to be aware of, especially if you’re a 1. e4 player. In the full course, you’ll also learn the chess opening from Black’s side of the board, as well as variations involving Kc8 and Ke8. Get instant access to chess24’s The Berlin Wall with a 35% discount here.

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