Chess Strategy for Beginners: How to Play the Queen’s Gambit Declined

Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined

The Queen’s Gambit Declined, or QGD, is a chess opening occurring after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 and is one of the most common openings in chess.

Chess openings occur in every chess game. You can’t avoid or sidestep them.

It’s important to have a clear plan of what to do during the first few moves of the game, especially if you’re a novice chess player.

The opening phase builds the foundation for the rest of the game. In the next video, GM Damian Lemos will introduce you to the moves and ideas of this classic opening.

Knowing the openings you play not only helps you to avoid falling for cheap opening traps but also helps you to get a good position in the middlegame. That is the purpose of the opening – not to win in 5 moves with a crazy attack but to reach a good position entering the middlegame that you can work from.

Previously, we analyzed in depth on how to learn and study chess openings and investigated the 3 best chess openings for beginners.

Today, we want to take a closer look at one of these chess openings – the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Most chess openings for beginners, such as the Italian Game, the Ruy Lopez, the Four Knights Game and the Two Knights Defense, all start with 1.e4.

Important Variations in the Queen’s Gambit Exchange Variation

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5

The Trap: 5…Nbd7 – don’t be fooled into thinking Black has blundered a pawn.

The More Orthodox: 5…Be7

Slav Set-Up: 5…c6

Queen's Gambit Declined Infographic
Queens Gambit Declined Infographic

When It Comes to Good Opening Moves – You Have Choices

However, as you probably already know, 1.e4 is not the only good first move in chess. Another great opening move you should familiarise yourself with is 1.d4. Even though you may feel like there is not much difference between the two, they lead to very different opening systems with totally different strategies and ideas.

With both moves, 1.e4 and 1.d4, White occupies the center with a pawn right from the word go. However, there is a major difference between 1.e4 and 1.d4. The move 1.e4 liberates White’s light-squared bishop and queen.

Although it is a very positional opening there are Queen’s Gambit Declined traps you must be aware of if you play 1.d4. You can learn about the most common Queen’s Gambit Declined traps in this video by IM Matt Kolosowski.

The move 1.d4, in contrast, liberates the dark-squared bishop and – to some extent – the queen. Moreover, after 1.e4, the king’s pawn isn’t protected, while after 1.d4, the queen’s pawn remains defended by the queen.

These nuances change the opening strategy quite a bit. Each of these moves also forces Black to react differently. Most chess games between beginners start with the moves 1.e4 e5.

However, after 1.d4, Black can’t simply play the move 1…e5. White could simply take the pawn with 2.dxe5 and Black would be a pawn down.

Players have argued, and continue to debate, whether 1.e4 or 1.d4 is the best opening move, however it really boils down to the style of the player. Both have their pros and cons, and both have been seen right up at the top of chess, played repeatedly by the very best players and World Chess Champions throughout history.

Queen’s Gambit Declined

The Queen’s Gambit Declined is one of the most classical responses to 1. d4, and has been played by almost all of the great players in history from both sides of the board. It is definitely one of the best chess openings for beginners. Let’s investigate this opening step by step in our starting position. The Queen’s Gambit begins with the following moves:

1.d4 d5 2. c4 

Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined

With the move 2.c4, White threatens to exchange the c-pawn (a flank pawn) for Black’s d-pawn (a center pawn). At the same time, by moving his pawn to c4, White also offers a pawn sacrifice as the c-pawn is unprotected.

This is why the first opening moves are called the Queen’s Gambit. Black can simply capture the pawn with 2…dxc4. However, this is not a true gambit since Black cannot hang on to the pawn.

White easily wins it back with 2…dxc4 3.Qa4+, recapturing the pawn one move later) or plays 3.e3, threatening to capture on c4 with the bishop on the next move. Black has to be careful to not desperately hold on to the pawn:

Declining the Queen’s Gambit

Instead of accepting the pawn sacrifice with 2…dxc4 (the Queen’s Gambit Accepted), Black plays another logical move:


Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined
The Queens gambit declined (QGD) starts with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6

This is what’s called the mainline of Queen’s Gambit Declined. Black declines the “pawn sacrifice” and builds up a solid position.

The Queen’s Gambit Declined lines secure Black strong central control with the pawns on d5 and e6.

Almost all of Black’s pieces can be developed to natural squares. Moreover, the move 2…e6 frees the dark-squared bishop on f8 so it can be developed to e7, bringing Black one step closer to castling.

This makes the Queen’s Gambit Declined lines a good choice if you prioritize king safety.

However, the downside of 2…e6 is that it blocks Black’s light-squared bishop for the moment. In many Queen’s Gambit Declined lines Black’s light-squared bishop gets developed on b7 or exchanged on a6.


Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined

Once White establishes a solid pawn center, it is time to develop the minor pieces. 3.Nc3 is a logical choice since it completes multiple objectives at once: it takes control of the e4 and d5 squares while preventing Bb4+.

At some point in the Queen’s Gambit Declined lines, White wants to play e2-e4 gaining an even greater share of the center. The knight on c3 is there to support this plan.

3…Nf6 4. Bg5

Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined

Many beginners would try resolving the pressure in the center immediately by exchanging the pawns. This is not a good idea for either side. Black doesn’t want to take on c4 because White can play e4, creating a ‘perfect pawn center’.

White definitely doesn’t want to take on d5 because after …exd5 Black ends up with both bishops open and ready for action. Maintaining the central tension is very important for both sides in the Queen’s Gambit Declined lines.

Black brings out his king’s knight preventing White’s plan to advance the e-pawn to e4. White responds by pinning that knight to the queen, temporarily immobilizing the knight. White is ready to play e4 on the next move, so Black needs to come up with something new to prevent that.


Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined

Black unpins his f6 knight, developing the bishop and getting ready to castle. Technically, White could exchange his g5 bishop for the knight and play e4, but that will only give Black an edge in terms of quicker development and a bishop pair.

  • Oh snap! We just realized you might actually be interested in some other 1.d4 options besides the Queen’s Gambit. Maybe you should take a look at the London System, an excellent opening weapon for White. Learn more here!

It is important to mention that apart from 4…Be7, Black has another tricky move at his disposal – 4…Nbd7. This sets up a Queen’s Gambit Declined trap that White needs to know.

At first glance, this move looks bad. Can’t White simply win a pawn with 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Nxd5? Take a look at the PGN below to see why cxd5 isn’t a good idea!

Let’s go back to our look at the main line. Next, White plays 5.Nf3, and we reach the position in the diagram below:

Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined

White simply develops another minor piece. From this point on, there are various ways for both sides to proceed. Let’s take a look at a logical sample variation:

5…h6 6.Bxf6 Bxf6 7.e3

Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined

Black forces White to commit with his bishop on g5. There are variations where White simply chooses to retreat to h4, but those are more complex and that’s why we don’t recommend it as one of the best openings for beginners. Instead, White simply captures on f6.

How to Play the Queen’s Gambit Declined: Plans for White

After the bishop exchange, White plays e3. This is a very good move which sets up a strong c4-d4-e3 pawn chain, allowing a battery of light-squared bishop and queen on the b1-h7 diagonal.

White is getting ready to castle. His plans would include relocating the rook to c1 and playing e4 at the right moment, generating a strong central presence. This is a very good position for White to play because he has a space advantage and can get some activity going in the center with the e4 advance.

How to Play the Queen’s Gambit Declined: Plans for Black

Black is slightly behind in development. However, he has the advantage of the bishop pair and can castle straight away.

On the other hand, Black has a problematic bishop on c8, blocked in by its own e6-pawn. Black needs to figure out how to free it. One idea to play for with Black is with a well-timed c5-strike.

The Queen’s Gambit Exchange Variation With Nge2 and f3

Focusing on your opening strategy makes playing the opening easier than trying to memorizing variations. The system with f3, Nge2 with a later e4 advance is easy to play and remember.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5

Queens Gambit Declined Exchange Variation 5.Bg5
Queens Gambit Declined Exchange Variation 5.Bg5

Black usually plays either 5…Be7, breaking the pin on the d5-pawn defender, or 5…c6 to add support to the pawn.

Garry Kasparov was willing to play this variation in his World Championship Match against Nigel Short, who chose 5…Be7.

Kasparov, Garry – Short, Nigel D, 1-0, PCA-World Championship, 1993

In the next game, Grischuk played an amazing game against former world champion Vladimir Kramnik. Even though he castled queenside Grischuk still continued with his opening strategy against 5…c6.

Grischuk, A. – Kramnik, Vladimir, 1-0, 2nd Norway Blitz 2014

World Champions Play the Exchange Variation

There is no doubt the sixth World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik did a lot to make the Queen’s Gambit Exchange variation with f3 and e4 a dangerous weapon. It didn’t take long before other world champions started playing the variation in their games.

Here are three games to show you this strategy works in practice.

Mikhail Botvinnik – Paul Keres, 1952.12.09, 1-0, USSR Championship, Moscow URS

Tigran Petrosian – Hector Corral, 1954.04, 1-0, URU-URS, Montevideo URU

Max Euwe – Robert James Fischer, 1957.03.09, 1-0, New York, NY USA

Queen’s Gambit Declined Traps

Finally, it is important to take a look at some of the most frequently occurring opening traps from the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Here are the most important ones:

Queen’s Gambit Declined Opening Trap #1:

Queens’ Gambit Declined Opening Trap #2:

And last but not least: Queen’s Gambit Declined Opening Trap #3:

Queen’s Gambit Declined: Questions and Answers

1.) Is it better to accept or decline Queen’s Gambit?

Declining or accepting the gambit depends on your playing style. The Queen’s Gambit Accepted leads to more open positions where piece activity is extremely important.

2.) What happens if Queen’s Gambit is declined?

In the Queen’s Gambit Declined play is more positional and of a strategic nature. For example, in the Minority Attack, White’s strategy is to weaken the c6-pawn and then attack this weakness.

3.) How do you beat Queen’s Gambit Declined?

One of the most effective ways to beat the Queen’s Gambit Declined is the strategic plan introduced by World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik. This is known as the Exchange Variation because White plays 4.cxd5.

After 4…exd5 5.Bg5 White plays e3, Bd3, Nge2, 0-0, and f3 intending the e4 advance.

Final Thoughts: Best Chess Openings for Beginners

The Queen’s Gambit Declined is one of the best openings for beginners to try, especially if they don’t want to play e4 openings for one reason or another.

It is playable for both colors and can either lead to a slow, positional, or sharp tactical game, depending on the choices made in the opening. It is always a good idea to go over grandmaster games played with the opening you are studying.

Above all else, it is key to keep in mind that the opening is only one aspect of the game.

To be successful in chess, you need to understand middlegame positions, have solid endgame technique, spot chess tactics, and a lot more.

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The experienced chess coach and four-time Women’s World Chess Champion GM Susan Polgar has produced a comprehensive chess video course in which she guides you through everything you need to know to start playing chess with confidence. Get instant access to The Polgar Method – 50% OFF.

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Chess Strategy For Beginners: How To Play The Queen’s Gambit Declined


3 comments on “Chess Strategy for Beginners: How to Play the Queen’s Gambit Declined

  1. John says:

    Excellent article, studying openings is my least favorite because it usually feels so rote.
    This breakdown was very friendly.

  2. Harinder Brar says:

    I would love to purchase a deep dive by Damian Lemos on the QGD.

  3. Gorav says:

    Awesome tactics.
    Thanks for sharing

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