The Semi-Slav Defense is a popular and ambitious chess opening which can arise from several different move orders. The defining position of the Semi-Slav occurs most commonly after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6


Semi-Slav Defense

Rather than taking the undefended c4 pawn on move four, black solidifies the center and opens the dark bishop by playing e6.

Many naive players may view the Semi-Slav as a passive-yet-sturdy opening choice, but don’t be fooled – many of the main lines are extremely aggressive, tactical, and fun!



White has two main options for playing against the Semi-Slav – 5. e3 and 5. Bg5

5. e3 – The Meran and Anti-Meran

e3 Semi-Slav

You might think that this is the safe approach by white. Now that black has a solid foundation to his center and is well-positioned to take the c-pawn next turn, white finally decides to defend this pawn – at the cost of blocking in the dark-squared bishop on c1!

While this may be true, there are some very exciting lines to follow. White may want to play Bd3 next and prepare an eventually e3-e4 breakthrough in the center after castling, but black has other ideas!

Black most often responds with 5…Nbd7, and now white has two main choices yet again – 6. Bd3 or 6. Qc2

6. Bd3 – The Meran Variation

White implements the plan described above, but now black plays 6…dxc4!

Black was waiting for this bishop to move before playing this move, to force it to move again. After 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3:


Meran Main Line

Black has several ways to play, but one great option is 8…a6!

This move has a simple purpose – free the c-pawn from defensive duties so that black can play …c5 next turn. Then the light bishop will be a very active piece on b7 (not such a “bad bishop” after all!)

After 9. e4 c5 10. e5, or 9. e4 c5 d5, the game becomes incredibly sharp and complex – see the video above for an overview of these lines! Many players with white simply castle on move 9 instead, but then 9…c5 liberates the black position and black has no problems.

The Anti-Meran Variation

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Qc2


Anti-meran Semi-Slav

This is the popular Anti-Meran variation of the Semi-Slav Defense, geared against black’s ideas that we saw above.

The queen watches over the e4 square and could prepare an eventually break in the center, and now if black tries to play …dxc4 and …b5 to get counterplay, white’s light-squared bishop can join the fray straight from its starting square with no time wasted.

This makes 6…dxc4?! an unappealing option for black. Black usually plays 6…Bd6 to develop a piece, and once again white has several options.

7. Bd3 is often played, and it’s unsurprisingly often met with 7…dxc4 and a quick …b5

7. b3 is another frequent choice – white wants to strengthen the center and discourage …dxc4 since another pawn will take its place! In the video above, I show how black can bring all their pieces into the game before finally striking at the center with …e5 or …c5

Even 7. g4!? has been tried, in the spirit of Shirov!

Shirov Attack

It’s not so easy for black to accept this sacrifice, since 7…Nxg4 8. Rg1 puts a lot of pressure on the g-pawn. Some players prefer to play 7…h6, and later open the center to exploit the downsides of this flank pawn thrust – but a fun game is all but assured!

5. Bg5 – Active Bishop Development!

Botvinnik Slav setup

This move has the opposite philosophy of 5. e3 – you might call it the maximalist approach! White develops this bishop actively instead of locking it in. If left to his own devices, white can play e2-e3 next turn and then defend the c4-pawn.

While black sometimes allows this, it’s more common to put white’s ambitious idea to the test with 5…dxc4 or 5…h6

The Botvinnik Slav

5…dxc4 is an extremely sharp variation known at the Botvinnik Slav.

After 6. e4 b5 (otherwise white would simply recapture the pawn “with interest,” as he would have the full center!) 7. e5:


Botvinnik Slav Main Line

It might appear that black is in trouble due to the pin, but 7…h6 can be played. The main line continues 8. Bh4 g5 (forced) 9. Nxg5! hxg5 10. Bxg5. White temporarily sacrifices a piece, but now the f6-knight will fall. The resulting positions lead to some of the most crazy middlegames in all of chess!

The Moscow Variation

Alternatively, 5…h6 is the Moscow Variation

Moscow Variation

Black simply puts the question to the white bishop.

If white retreats with 6. Bh4, now 6…g5 can be played and then the c4 pawn can be taken safely – there’s no Nxg5 sacrifice in this line because the f6 knight isn’t loose! That said, white still obtains compensation in the form of black’s exposed kingside.

More often, white plays 6. Bxf6 Qxf6 and the position is yet again imbalanced – black has the pair of bishops, whereas white has a lead in development. The queen on f6 is also a little awkward, and may have to move again in the near future.

White often tries to finish up development and look to expand in the center, while black hopes the bishop pair is a long-term asset. See the video above for a sample line!


The Semi-Slav is an extremely complex opening that’s sturdy and adaptable, and one of my favorite openings with black. If you’d like to truly master the Semi-Slav Defense, get in touch with me – I can help you out!

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