The Slav Defense: A Powerful Opening for Black

When you play the Slav Defense in chess, you have an opening that offers you excellent winning chances. Play for a win, and if you must settle for a draw, don’t be happy about it!

Beat 1d4 with the slav defense

Imagine for a moment you are playing Magnus Carlsen and he plays 1.d4. What defense would you play? Garry Kasparov chose to play the Slav!

From as early as the second move, you are challenging White to decide if he wants to make his opening a true gambit. 2…c6 combines defense and attack and sets an excellent tone for the rest of the game.

Even if your opponent decides to toss thoughts of a win aside and play the Exchange Variation, you can play for a win with the Slav Defense.

Read on to learn how to triumph over this insipid choice by White!

The Exchange Variation of the Slav Defense in Chess

Before we begin to explore specific variations, GM Damian Lemos introduces the Exchange Variation of the Slav Defense in chess.

After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 Black can give thanks he has achieved easy equality in the opening. It is not a good idea to press for an advantage in chess before you reach an equal position.

Slav Exchange Starting position
Slav Exchange Starting position

The vast majority of your opponents will make you work hard to achieve equality, but in the Exchange Variation of the Slav Defense, equality comes as a gift!

Play will most likely continue 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bf4 Nc6 6.e3 Bg4

Beating the Slav Exchange 6...Bg4
Beating the Slav Exchange Variation with 6…Bg4

These moves are natural developing moves by Black, which makes them easy to remember. The only nuance to remember is …Nf6 before …Nc6.

An excellent way to help you remember …Nf6 first is to understand …Nf6 prevents e4!

Once we have stopped this freeing break from White, it is time to develop our second knight. We are developing along the classical line of knights before bishops.

White’s three main choices here are:

  • 7.Qb3
  • 7.f3
  • 7.Be2

Slav Defense Exchange Variation with 7.Qb3

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bf4 Nc6 6.e3 Bg4 7.Qb3

This is the most often played move by White. Since 6…Bg4 leaves the b7-pawn unprotected, it is a logical attempt to take advantage of the bishop’s move.

Slav Exchange 7.Qb3
Slav Exchange 7.Qb3

Now we see the advantage of developing knights before bishops!

7…Na5 defends the b7-pawn and attacks the queen on b3. Now 8.Bb5+ is met with 8…Bd7 when Black has everything under control. 

If White plays 9.Qa4 with the threat of winning the d-pawn with Bxd7 Nxd7 Nxd5, Black has time to play …e6. After all, Black has done nothing to violate the opening principles, and in such circumstances, you will always find a way to hold the position.

Slav Exchange 9...e6
Slav Exchange 9…e6

Take a look at how Alexei Shirov played this position against Valery Salov, who was rated 2685 at the time. 

Salov, Valery (2685) – Shirov, Alexei (2715), 1/2 – 1/2, Madrid, 1994

Another crucial defensive move to remember is to meet an attack on c7 with …Rc8! When a later …Rc4 attacking the queen on a4 comes into play.

In a battle between two players rated over 2700, White chose 8.Qa4+ and Black came out on top in a decisive fashion. Once again, the check was met with …Bd7.

You have every reason to feel confident this set-up by Black will prove more than sufficient against your opponents too.

Wang Yue (2723) – Mamedyarov, S (2757), 0-1, SportAccord Blitz Men 2013

Slav Defense Exchange Variation with 7.f3

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bf4 Nc6 6.e3 Bg4 7.f3

Slav Exchange 7.f3
Slav Exchange 7.f3

Black does best to retreat the bishop to d7. 

After 7…Bd7 both 8.Bd3 and 8.g4 can be easily met similarly with …e6 and 0-0. 

If White plays 8.g4 and 9.g5, a good response by Black is 9.Nh5 when White’s kingside structure will soon be in bad shape.

Strong GM Artur Jussupow could not make any headway against either GM Lembit Oll or GM Alexei Shirov. Both these games ended in early draws.

Jussupow, Artur (2655) – Shirov, Alexei (2740), 1/2 – 1/2, Horgen CS, 1994

Slav Defense Exchange Variation with 7.Be2

Unsurprisingly, the move 7.Be2 is not a very ambitious try by White. 

Of course, you can safely assume any chess player choosing to play the Slav Defense Exchange Variation no longer harbors any ambition at the chessboard. Thus, 7.Be2 is a very logical choice by White.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bf4 Nc6 6.e3 Bg4 7.Be2

Slav Exchange 7.Be2
Slav Exchange 7.Be2

After 7…Bxe2 White will usually play either 8.Qxe2 or 8.Ngxe2.

Against either move, Black plays …e6, …Be7, and 0-0.

Once again, GM Alexei Shirov shows us how to play against the most popular recapture by White – 8.Ngxe2

Ashwath, R (2239) – Shirov, A (2631), 0-1, 6th Lorca Open, 2017

Final Thoughts

Many chess players turn to the Exchange Variation in many chess openings to minimize their opening study time. In doing so, they not only reduce their winning chances but their chances to improve too!

Playing the mainlines requires more work, which helps you become a better chess player. 

The Slav Defense holds up well against all the mainlines. You can play it with confidence against 1.d4.

The work and time you invest in learning the Slav Defense will be richly rewarded. As you have discovered, this is a lifetime opening you can be playing when your rating passes 2700!

Act now! For a Limited Time get 50% Off! Deep Dive: The Slav Defense Learn how effective the Slav Defense can be against all of White’s attempts to gain an advantage. You truly can beat 1.d4 with the Slav Defense and some coaching from GM Damian Lemos. Act quickly and gain instant access to The Slav Defense for only $29.99!

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