Chess Openings for Black: Dealing with Catalan Sidelines
The Catalan Opening is an extremely popular chess opening, especially since both Garry Kasparov and Viktor Korchnoi played it five times in eleven games during their Candidates Semifinal match in London in 1983. Since then, it has been revived and improved.
Nowadays, it is being played by most of the top grandmasters in the world, including Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand and current World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen. It is important, therefore, to know how to deal with the Catalan Opening as Black, regardless of the plan White goes with, as it is very likely you’ll come across this opening during your chess career!
This chess opening begins with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 although there are some other move orders that can transpose into The Catalan. You can think of it as a sort of combination of two other openings: the Queen’s Gambit and the Reti Opening.
In this exclusive video preview, one of chess24’s most popular presenters, GM Jan Gustafsson, takes a look at how to play the Catalan from Black’s perspective, and more specifically how to play against the sidelines such as 6. Qc2. It’s quite possible to face off against this opening and get a good game as Black, so long as you know the main plans for both sides. GM Gustafsson will show you all the tricks and traps White may try to employ and the cunning move orders you need to know.
Black has two main approaches to choose between. Either the Open Catalan where Black plays …dxc4. Black can either try to hold on to the pawn or simply give it back in exchange for some extra time to free his own game. Alternatively, In the Closed Catalan, Black does not play …dxc4 – this can feel a bit cramped and awkward for some moves, but in general the arising positions are quite solid and tough for White to crack.
Catalan Sidelines Starting with 6. Qc2
GM Gustafsson starts with a look after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. g3 Be7 5. Bg2 0-0 6. Qc2. See the position on the left. How can Black continue? Black may want to try 6…dxc4 but Jan doesn’t recommend this – after 7. Qxc4 a6, looking to transpose into other lines, White has better moves available such as 8. Bf4 or 8. Ne5, which would prevent …b5. That’s why Jan prefers the move 6…c5. At first glance, this move may look like it isn’t typically a good idea, but in this situation it works. Why? Because White has yet to castle! Let’s take a look at some continuations:
If 7. dxc5, Black plays 7…Qa5+! White may reply with 8. Nc3 in which case Black has 8…dxc4, and Black will win a pawn because White’s pawn on the c-file is near impossible to defend. The position is very equal at this point. For example, 9. 0-0 Qxc5 10. Be3 Qh5, or alternatively 9…Nc6, waiting a move before capturing the exposed pawn. 10. Bg5 Qxc5. See the position on the right.
White could also repond with 8. Qc3. Black continues with 8…Qxc5 9. cxd5 Qxd5 10. 0-0 Nc6 11. Bf4 Qb5 where Black has a good position. And what about 8. Nbd2? This is also nothing to worry about. Black simply plays 8…Qxc5 with …b5 and …Nc6 coming next.
In the video, GM Gustafsson covers yet more variations and some rare sidelines that it is a good idea for players to be familiar with in order not to get caught out. As we can see from these variations, Black has good chances to keep the game equal and get a good position themselves.
Enjoy this preview and remember to check out the full course!