An easy guide into the trendy Slav (4...a6)

by ChessBase
4/21/2007 – Kasparov, Shirov, Morozevich, Bologan and others played it with success: The trendy Slav with a very aerly ...a7-a6 offers Black solidity, dynamism and variety couched in an easy-to-understand setting. On his new DVD Andrew Martin shows lots of ideas for Black which can be used by amateur and professional alike. Buy it now or read more.

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As Easy as ABC  - Andrew Martin's "The Modern Slav"
Review by Steve Giddins

Every chessplayer needs a decent defence to 1 d4, and at the time of writing, the Slav is just about the most popular and reliable defence at all levels of play. In addition to the main lines, the systems with 4…a6 have become extremely popular and reputable over the past 15 years, and have formed an important part of the opening repertoire of such players as Shirov, Sokolov, Morozevich, Bologan and Dreev, not to mention Garry Kasparov.

The invention of 4…a6 is generally credited to the great Moldavian trainer, Chebanenko (though see here for a different version of events!), which explains Bologan’s patronage of the line. 4…a6 is in essence a high-class waiting move, asking White how he proposes to develop his pieces. At the same time, Black prepares a later b5 advance, claiming space on the queenside, whilst in other cases, his rook can even come to a7, to defend the b7-pawn, such as in the line 5 e3 Bf5 6 Qb3 Ra7. Despite the initial scepticism with which the move 4…a6 was greeted by certain GMs (most notably Korchnoi), it has established itself as a perfectly respectable defence to 1 d4. Kasparov used the line repeatedly, in the period after his match loss to Kramnik in 2000, and you can be quite sure that nothing ever entered Kasparov’s opening repertoire unless it was fully sound.

On this video, Andrew Martin presents a full repertoire for Black, based on the 4…a6 system. One of the great advantages of this line, for the average player, is that it does not generally lead to sharp tactical variations. Instead, the play is usually slower and more positionally based, which means that understanding the basic ideas is all that the Black player requires, in order to employ the line successfully. This is a great advantage for players, who lack either the time or the inclination to analyse sharp tactical complications and commit numerous such variations to memory.

Buy it now.

Another benefit of the 4…a6 lines is that Black actually has quite a degree of flexibility in interpretation. This is important, because with 4…a6 being popular at top GM level, certain variations have been quite heavily played and analysed. This is especially true of the line 5 c5 (probably the most critical move), where 5…Nbd7 has been extensively tested at super-GM level, with Topalov, in particular, winning several impressive games on the White side. For this reason, Andrew prefers to recommend another, less popular, but also perfectly sound approach for Black, based around the move 5…Bg4. This has been played successfully by both Ivan Sokolov and Julian Hodgson, and as Martin demonstrates on this DVD, it is a very reasonable, and easy-to-understand alternative to the more heavily-analysed 5…Nbd7.

Similar comments apply to the move 5 e3. The most popular line for Black now is 5…b5 6 b3 Bg4, but this line too, has been played and analysed very extensively at GM level, with such ideas as 7 h3 Bxf3 8 gxf3!? requiring accurate defence from Black. Andrew instead recommends that Black side-step all of this with the simple recipe 5…Bf5, a line which has been played by 4…a6 specialist, Sergey Volkov. Andrew’s presentation shows that Black has no real problems after 5…Bf5, and his solid Slav structure is easy to handle.

As with all of his DVDs, Andrew Martin’s relaxed and lucid presentation is to the fore, and makes the experience of watching the 4 hours of this DVD highly enjoyable.

Click here to view one of his lectures on the 5.c5 Nd7 line (in reduced quality).

He covers all of White’s likely 5th move alternatives, after 4…a6, and offers a series of simple, practical, and easy-to-play recommendations for the Black player. As a result, this repertoire will suit not only players new to the Slav, but also experienced players of the main line Slav (with 4…dxc4), who are looking to broaden their repertoire by adding some 4…a6 lines. Highly recommended.

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