The Slav Defense is a popular response to the Queen’s Gambit, and is characterized by the moves 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6
Rather than accepting the gambit right away with 2…dxc4 or playing the more traditional 2…e6, black uses the c-pawn to reinforce the pawn on d5 in the Slav Defense.
This move has two important advantages:
It’s worth noting that black usually can’t develop this bishop early on against white’s most ambitious setups. For example, after 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 Bf5?
White can respond with 5. cxd5 cxd5 6. Qb3, attacking both d5 and b7. Black is left without a fully satisfactory way to defend both pawns. (6…Qd7 runs into 7. Ne5, and 6…Qb6 allows weak doubled pawns on the b-file).
That said, there are some key variations where this bishop can make its presence felt – as we will soon see!
Let’s examine some of the possible variations of the Slav Defense:
In this variation, white gives up their space advantage and opts for a completely symmetrical position. Many of the main lines can be quite dull, for example 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Bf4 Bf5 7. e3 e6 8. Bd3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Bd6 10. Bxd6 Qxd6
Yawn! Black certainly has nothing to fear here, but it might be tough to avoid a draw against an experience opponent. The fact that many lower-rated players play the Exchange Slav with white to try to draw their higher-rated opponents gives some Slav Defense players headaches!
But black doesn’t have to play along. In the video above, I cover some attempts for black to imbalance the game and play for a win against the otherwise-boring Exchange Slav, for example with 7…a6 or 7…Ne4.
Playing an early e3 certainly ends the question of whether black can successfully take the pawn on c4 – white defends it immediately with the light-squared bishop!
Let’s consider the position after 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3:
To defend the c4-pawn early on, white must make a concession: White has locked his dark-squared bishop inside the pawn chain!
This comes down to personal preference, but I have a philosophy when playing the Slav Defense as black: White will either defend their c4 pawn, or white will develop their dark bishop actively, but I will not allow both!
If white spends a tempo here to play 4. Bf4 here, for example, I would answer with 4…dxc4 and try to hold onto my extra pawn. I would not allow white to develop this bishop actively and follow up with e3 to defend the pawn!
In the position from the diagram above, black is also allowed to develop his own light-squared bishop with 4…Bf5. White’s Qb3 idea does not work, as there’s no longer enough pressure on d5. Black will be able to complete development comfortably.
Black has three very popular options in this position.
4…dxc4 is the mainline of the Slav Defense, where black finally makes good on his threat to win the c4 pawn. We’ll spent the rest of this article examining this line
4…e6 is the Semi-Slav, and is nowhere near as calm as it looks! Check out the video above to see how complex the game might become in both the Meran Variation and the Botvinnik Variation.
4…a6 is yet another option black has, preparing to play an early …b5, and is also covered in the video above. White might elect to play 5. c5.
After 4…dxc4, black is threatening to play …b5 and have a solid extra pawn, so white will usually respond with 5. a4:
From white’s perspective, if white can prevent black from holding onto the c4 pawn and win it back with a later Bxc4, white will succeed in restoring material equality and have a space advantage to boot!
But a4 is also a concession. White gives up the right to control the b4 square, which will often find itself home to a black minor piece. Black is also able to develop their light bishop actively now, with Qb3 no longer being a concern.
The main line continues 5…Bf5 6. e3 e6 7. Bxc4 Bb4 8. 0-0 Nbd7 9. Qe2 0-0 10. e4 Bg6:
White controls the full center for now, but all the black pieces stand well, and it’s not easy for white to advance their central pawns further without creating weaknesses in their position.
Later on, black can try to strike back at the center with …c5 or …e5 to fight back against white’s extra space.
The Slav Defense has become one of the most popular defenses to the Queen’s Gambit. Black’s set-up is extremely solid while still providing black chances to seek activity and play for a win.
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