ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
An interesting trend has emerged in the Closed Catalan, Black advancing his a-pawn with ...a7-a5 instead of old-fashioned procedures such as 'developing the pieces'. This has been happening in both main major versions, 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 and now 6...c6 or 6...Nbd7. To my surprise I discovered that 6...a5 has also been played, and turns out to have been a speciality of the Argentinian Grandmaster, Sergio Slipak, as well as the Danish IM, Jens Over Fries Neilsen. It can transpose into one of the other two if Black plays ...c6 and/or ...Nbd7, or maintain independent significance.

Download PGN of March ’24 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

>> Previous Update >>

Closed Catalan 4...Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 Nbd7 7.Qc2 a5 [E08]

What is the idea behind pushing the a-pawn? It seems that it is quite an elastic and multi-purpose move, and can be used quite differently depending on whether Black has pushed his c-pawn already. I was particularly taken with the idea of 6...Nbd7 7.Qc2 a5 8.Nbd2 c5! 9.cxd5 exd5! in Peil, C - Pap, G:

The strategic basis for this is that White's knight on d2 is ineffectively placed against the isolated d-pawn, so much so that 10.Nb1 might be White's best option. Needless to say, White is usually reluctant to make this apparently abject retreat.

What about other typical moves instead of 8.Nbd2? I mention the possibility of 6...Nbd7 7.Qc2 a5 8.Nc3 in the notes to Peil - Pap, the engine approving of the logical 8...dxc4 9.Nd2 Nb6.

Banikas, H - Predke, A saw the natural 8.b3 played, and this looks like a reasonable chance for an edge:

After 8...a4 9.Ba3 there are very few examples, and Black may be able to do better than Predke's 9...Re8. White seemed to have the more comfortable game throughout, but reached a position in which further progress would be difficult if not impossible.

Mohammad, N - Aveskulov, V saw another ingenious point of 7...a5, after 8.Rd1 Black has 8...dxc4 9.Qxc4 b5!:

the point being that 10.Qxb5 Ba6 will get the e2 pawn. White struggled to draw and he should probably investigate the alternatives to 9.Qxc4. In the notes I suggested 9.Bg5, which would be a theoretical novelty.

Closed Catalan 4...Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 c6 7.Nbd2 c5 [E06]

Moving on to 6...c6, the game Peil - Pap made me wonder of Black can lose a tempo with ...c6-c5 after 7.Nbd2. Sure enough I found Aditya, V - Fedoseev, V in which White's 7.Nbd2 (possibly intending 8.Re1 and 9.e4) was met by 7...c5!?:

It seems to me that there may be more situations in which this is possible, for example 7...a5 8.Re1 c5!?.

Closed Catalan 4...Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 c6 7.Qc2 a5 [E08]

After 6...c6 7.Qc2 the move 7...a5 is exactly mid-way in popularity from 17 different attempts, but almost certainly deserves to be higher. Black is taking some space on the queenside and can follow up with a variety of options, such as ...b6, ...b5 and ...Na6. He can also consider ...a5-a4 should White play b2-b3.

White has several ways of meeting it, the main one being 8.Nbd2 intending the typical 9.e4 when Black can counter with 8...b5:

I take a look at this in the games Shadhursshaan, R - Barski, R and Sadubayev, A - Salemgareev, T, the former featuring 9.cxb5 and the latter seeing 9.b3. I also mention 9.c5, which leads to complex middle game positions quite typical of the Closed Catalan. There are lots of options for both sides here and I mentioned the possibility of 9...Na6 10.a3 Nd7.

Closed Catalan 4...Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.Nc3 c6 7.0-0 a5 [E06]

Another possibility after 6...c6 7.Qc2 a5 is 8.Nc3, which is often reached after 6.Nc3 instead of 6.0-0. Playing 8.Nc3 might seem to make sense because it prepares e2-e4, discourages ...b7-b5 and White might think that gambiting the c4 pawn should be good after the 'wasted' ...a7-a5:

Yet with the queen on c2 it proves surprisingly difficult to show adequate compensation, as we see in Gorshtein, I - Garrido Outon, A. The problem is that White needs to protect the d4 pawn before he can play Nf3-e5.

Closed Catalan 4...Be7, 6...a5 [E06]

Having looked at 6...Nbd7 7.Qc2 a5 and 6...c6 7.Qc2 a5, let's move on to 6...a5. Clearly there will be lots of transpositional possibilities, but one interesting independent line is 6...a5 7.Nc3 dxc4 8.Ne5 Nc6!?:

There was a good illustration of Black's chances in Zhu Wei - Zhang Di, a 2023 Chinese Championship Semi-Final game.

These ...a5 ideas have been around for a while, but only recently have they started to attract attention. I would think that they are likely to become more popular as they offer Black a little explored means of complicating matters.

See you next month! Nigel

>> Previous Update >>

If you have any questions, then please post a message at the 1 d4 d5 Forum, or subscribers can email