If the hurly-burly world of 1.e4 disturbs your inner equilibrium too much for your liking, consider entering the calmer waters of the Queen’s Gambit.
That doesn’t mean you need to rein in your attacking desires – there is every opportunity to play for the attack while acknowledging this won’t be possible every time.
In some of your games, you will need to display your great technique and convert a small but persistent advantage into a win.
Besides, you know in the long run honing your middlegame skills will make you a stronger chess player. This is why you want a repertoire with clear, effective, and easy-to-understand middlegame plans.
You also want to improve your game, which means being challenged. The lines suggested here are sound but they require a courageous attitude towards chess.
What Is The Queen’s Gambit?
This is one of the oldest chess openings. Although it has been mentioned as far back as 1490 it didn’t start to get played with regularity until 1873.
Thanks to the growing interest in positional play, the Queen’s Gambit slowly grew in popularity.
The opening moves of the Queen’s Gambit are 1.d4 d5 2.c4. White offers black the c-pawn in return for having an extra pawn in the center.
Black obviously doesn’t need to capture the pawn and can choose to support his own pawn instead. Supporting it with ..e6 leads to the Queen’s Gambit Declined, and with ..c6 we enter what is called the Slav Defense setups.
Accepting the gambit is certainly playable and White is not guaranteed any advantage by force. In chess, the choice of the opening is closely tied to the positions you enjoy playing.
No matter what theory or our silicone friends say, it hardly makes sense to choose positions that you are uncomfortable with.
A Powerful, Aggressive Way To Dominate With The Queen’s Gambit
This repertoire will allow you to reach a sound position with the Queen’s Gambit while giving you every chance to dominate your opponent in the middlegame.
The suggestions offered more often-than-not require you to gambit a pawn or even two. You will get more than adequate compensation and the lines are sound.
These variations have been played by the top attacking players in the world today and this ought to give you confidence in them.
By including common themes, piece placement, and tactical ideas against the four main variations of the Queen’s Gambit, you cut down your study time even further.
The variations covered in this guide are:
- The Queen’s Gambit Declined
- Queen’s Gambit Accepted
- Slav Defense
- Semi-Slav Defense
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The Queen’s Gambit Accepted
The Queen’s Gambit Accepted is a much stronger defense for Black than many are willing to credit it. As in many openings, the key with White is to temper your opening ambitions.
Always remember there’s still a middlegame to play.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 e6 4.e3 c5 5.Bxc4 a6 6.O-O Nf6 brings us to the Queen’s Gambit Accepted tabiya.
7.Bb3 is a modern, prophylactic move aimed against Black’s queenside expansion. The older 7.a4 allowed Black to make use of the b4 square.
Now if black inflicts an IQP on White, it’s easier to get the bishop and queen battery aimed against h7. For example, here is one way the Isolated Queen Pawn (IQP) position might be reached.
Black needs to develop his light-squared bishop so 7…b5 makes sense. White immediately attacks it with 8.a4 forcing Black to occupy the b4 square with a pawn.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 e6 4.e3 c5 5.Bxc4 a6 6.O-O Nf6 7.Bb3 black has two further options – 7…b6 and 7…Nbd7 but both are strongly met with 8.e4.
In the Queen’s Gambit Accepted White’s position is often easier to play than Black’s. This is due mostly to his space advantage and easier development with the pieces coming to their natural squares.
In this video, IM Milovan Ratkovic explains what happens when Black takes the pawn and white wants to get it back immediately:
The Queen’s Gambit Declined
You can’t hope to gain any advantage against an opening as sound as the Queen’s Gambit Declined without playing courageous chess.
This doesn’t mean playing foolishly or taking unnecessary risks. There are also times when you will need to adopt a more positional approach to get an advantage.
However, there is nothing quite like opposite-side castling to ensure you are in for a fun game. Remember, in such positions speed is the critical factor.
After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 is the move that defines the Queen’s Gambit Declined. A good way to play against this opening is with the move 5.Bf4
On f4, the bishop controls the central squares e5 and d6 while putting pressure on c7. Although White must be aware of …Bb4+, it is sometimes possible to play Nb5, threatening to win the c7-pawn.
Sixth Move Alternatives For Black
Since …e6 locks in the queenside bishop it makes sense for Black to try develop it as soon as possible.
A sensible developing move many of your opponents might play against you is 6…Nbd7. In this instance, it’s best to secure a small but lasting positional advantage and inflict an isolated queen’s pawn on Black.
If you are faced with any unusual moves by your opponent a key point to bear in mind is to delay moving your bishop on f1.
This will save you a tempo because you can recapture on c4 with one move instead of two. Useful waiting moves are Qc2, a3 and long-castle.
The Queen’s Gambit Declined 6…c5
This is the heart of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Our plan is to develop sensibly, castle queenside and launch a ferocious attack on the Black king.
It is important to note that there are one or two variations where we must temper our aggression and adopt a slightly more positional approach.
The key points of our chosen approach are:
- the bishop is developed to f4 not g5.
- when Black plays …c5, always capture the pawn with dxc5
- our attacking plans are based on a combination of h4 and Ng5
- sometimes we adopt a more positional approach with Nd2
In the following study board (below) we arrive at our ideal starting position. This is where we will consider adopting the super aggressive approach with Ng5 and h4. When you think Black can repulse the attack, then it’s time to switch to plan B – Nd2.
Two key things to remember if you play Ng5 and h4:
- Look to sacrifice the knight on f7
- Against …h6, support your knight on g5 with h4 and don’t retreat.
The main move is 10…Be7 but we must also know how to play against three other moves 10…dxc4, 10…Bd7, and 10…a6.
In this game Xu demonstrates why we leave our knight on g5. The open h-file proved decisive in this game where a strong player lost in 20 moves.
Remember, if black places a bishop on d7 it’s often undefended. Even though this is an attacking variation don’t neglect prophylaxis.
Against 10…a6 we can still use the Ng5, h4 attacking plan but having options is always good. Even in an aggressive setup, there is still scope for positional play.
The Queen’s Gambit Declined 10…Be7
Our strategy in this opening is based on a lot of common themes. When it comes to the main move of 10…Be7, retreating the bishop to safety, our plans stay the same.
This variation has been used by Garry Kasparov with the white pieces. Take a look at his game against Rafael Vaganian.
Castling queenside is a simple yet very effective strategy against the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The plans are easy to remember and you have lots of fun attacking.
Enjoy this free 1-hour lesson with GM Marian Petrov (former coach of Levon Aronian) on the Queen’s Gambit Declined ⬇⬇
The Queen’s Gambit Slav Defense
This defense is a very popular defense with club players and titled players against the Queen’s Gambit. Black supports his d5-pawn without blocking his bishop by playing e6.
The Slav Defense is reached after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6. In many variations a common theme for black is to capture on c4 and keep his extra pawn by playing b5.
The downside of this move is black concedes control of the e4-square. This results in double-edged positions where white gets greater control of the center and a lead in development for the sacrificed pawn.
Slav Defense 3…dxc4
Whenever offering a gambit it’s a good idea to consider how you will respond if it’s accepted.
Since the gambit is offered to divert the black pawn from controlling e4, this makes 4.e4 a logical response.
This games is a great example of how to counter a flank advance with one in the center. Black had both the king and queen on their starting squares at the end of the game.
Moves like Rd1 and Nd5 are unstoppable and the bishop on a6 is in danger of being captured.
The key maneuver in this game was re-routing the knight from c3 to g3 via e2. Also, note that black still had an extra pawn at the end of the game.
The Slav Defense 4…a6 Variation
Black also has waiting moves at his disposal in the openings. 4…a6 is both a waiting move and one which guards against any bishop checks on b5.
Since black frequently plays b5 the move a6 offers additional support to this advance as well.
One of the best approaches by white against this move is to adopt a kingside fianchetto.
5.a4 is a good response to clamp down on black’s intended expansion. White is also not afraid of transitioning to an endgame by allowing an exchange of queens on d1.
GM Jan Gustafsson offers a useful introduction on the a6 Slav Defense in this short video:
One of white’s main advantages is a lead in development which can be used effectively to keep black on the defensive even without queen’s on the board.
Here is a great example of this strategy by Hristos Banikas.
Slav Defense 7…h6
One of the most aggressive plans for white involves the move Ng5. This is why black often plays …h6 as a prophylactic move.
Against this move white must adopt a more restrained approach initially.
A key tactic is to develop the bishop on a3 when e6 allows white to capture the bishop on f8 and force black to give up his castling rights.
The game may have started in a sedate fashion but notice how quickly white was able to bring his pieces close to the black king.
Because of the king on f8 the rook on h8 wasn’t able to participate in the game. These dynamic imbalances are what make the Slav Defense such a great opening to play with either color.
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Slav Defense Geller Gambit
There can be no doubt playing the Geller Gambit against the Slav Defense in the Queen’s Gambit is a lot of fun.
Now we come to the mainline Slav where the aggressive 8.Ng5 offers might good attacking chances in return for the pawn.
There are four key ideas to remember when playing this aggressive system with white:
- when black captures on c4 respond with the immediate e4
- if you can force a knight of f6 by playing e5 do it right away
- meet b5 with a4
- against the b4 advance you retreat your knight to b1 and develop it to d2, putting pressure on the black c4 pawn.
8.Ng5 is a dual-purpose move intending to provoke a weakening h6 and getting the knight to e4, where it puts pressure on the key d6 and f6 squares.
This time white was down three pawns but his piece activity was so great black couldn’t avoid losing a decisive amount of material.
Slav Defense 4th Move Alternatives
Since the whole purpose behind playing c6 instead of e6 is to allow for easy development of the bishop 4…Bf5 is a logical alternative to 4…dxc4.
Another sensible developing move is 4…g6.
In both instances, white can easily obtain a satisfactory position with logical, developing moves.
Here is an example of how to play against each of these moves.
Remember to start with 5.cxd5 against both these moves to safeguard your c4-pawn and continue with natural development aimed at black’s weak points.
For example, 4…Bf5 leaves the b7 pawn undefended. This makes Qb3 a natural follow-up and not only does it attack b7 but it also hits d5.
The Queen’s Gambit Semi-Slav Defense
In the Semi-Slav the move order adopted by black induces the white knight to f3 which makes the Queen’s Gambit Exchange variation less effective.
However, in return black is often left with a bad bishop on c8 which will have trouble getting into the game.
Despite this the black position is very solid and the bishop can often play a supporting role for the advancing pawns. As is usual in all Slav setups there is a lot of dynamic potential in the positions.
The white c-pawn is also in danger of being captured and many white players choose to defend it with e3. This is a perfectly playable system but 5.Bg5 puts more pressure on black’s setup and keeps white from getting a bad bishop.
When adopting 5.Bg5 white is preparing to sacrifice the c-pawn and get compensation in the form of greater control of the center, more space and easier development.
This continues our recommended strategy against the Slav Defense.
Semi-Slav Defense 5…h6
The move 5…h6 is a logical response to white playing Bg5 and it forces white into playing a true gambit after the moves 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5.
Play usually continues with 8.Bg3 b5 9.Be2.
Against a solid defense like the Semi-Slav a timid approach will not help you obtain any advantage. However, this gambit will give you every chance to play for the win.
Semi-Slav The Botvinnik Variation 6.e4
Named after the fifth world chess champion this is arguably one of the sharpest variations in chess. However, it’s still possible for you to play this variation with confidence.
5.Bg5 is met with 5…dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 follows when it looks like black has blundered a piece but 7…h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Nxg5 is the key sequence to remember.
The next key move to keep in mind is 11.g3 to help ease the pressure from a bishop on b7 and rook on g8 both targeting your g2 square.
When learning such a complex and sharp variation playing through several games is a must. Become familiar with the patterns and piece placement adopted by the top players.
This is when you must trust what you see and seek to answer the questions that come to your mind before your turn on an engine.
Refraining from weakening pawn moves and breaking the pin by moving the queen are two sensible ideas.
White has a decision to make after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5
This time white is not forced to sacrifice a pawn. White can choose 7.Nd2 instead of 7.cxd5.
Once again compensation for the pawn is found in active pieces and piece placement.
Final Thoughts On The Queen’s Gambit
As you can clearly see choosing bold continuations requires you to have sound chess skills to back them up.
However, it’s important to keep in mind these variations are not very difficult to play and understanding the ideas will take you far.
Instead of learning lots of theory play through the games of top players and see if you can figure out why they placed their pieces in certain patterns.
This will take time and effort but you will become a better player.
GM Marian Petrov (former coach of GM Levon Aronian) reveals how to build your own 1.d4 repertoire, including the Queen’s Gambit and many other options for white! Get this course with 50% off.
These positions will put your chess skills to the test and show you areas where you can improve. Remember, becoming a better middlegame player can have a big impact on the results you get from a particular opening.
You will learn a lot about chess playing gambit lines. Your pieces will become developed faster, your pieces will work together better and your attacking skills will improve tremendously.
The very best thing about playing gambits is you will have lots of fun.