Review: Ivan Sokolov: Understanding Middlegame Strategies Vol.7 - Dynamic Catalan

by Hannes Langrock
12/12/2023 – Ivan Sokolov has risen to the ranks of the top coaches since the team of Uzbekistan, which he coached, won gold at the the Chess Olympiad in Chennai 2022. In his Fritztrainer series "Understanding Middlegame Strategies", Sokolov regularly shares his grandmaster knowledge and shows what to do in a large variety of positions and structures. Hannes Langrock had a look at Sokolov's course on the Catalan.

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"White has the pressure, Black has a pawn" – Ivan Sokolov presents an exciting recipe against the Semi-Slav

Thanks to modern engines, it seems as if you can nowadays play the Catalan - d4, c4, Nf3, g3, Bg2 etc. - against almost. Of course, you can play the Catalan against the classical set-up ...d5, ...e6, ...Nf6 anyway, but also against the Slav with ...Bf5 or, and this is the topic of the new middlegame course by Grandmaster Ivan Sokolov, against a semi-Slav/Triangle/Noteboom set-up with ...e6, ...c6 and early ...dxc4.

One of the basic positions of the set-up. It is White to move.

Dynamic Catalan is what Sokolov calls his Fritztrainer, because Black keeps his extra pawn for some time, while White gets promising compensation for the small material disadvantage with dynamic play.

In fact, White doesn't even try to get the pawn back, but soon plays b2-b3, which opens up the c-file and also the a2-g8 diagonal if White retaliates with the queen on b3 after ...cxb3. And then it can get really dynamic. Sometimes White even gives up d4 because the move Ne5 is also part of his build-up, which can leave the central pawn temporarily unprotected.

In Esipenko-Kacharava, game 3 of the DVD, White just sacrificed the pawn d4. Stockfish says 0.00, but that does not always help when sitting at the board.

The pawn push d4-d5 and the piece sacrifice Nxf7 are also part of White's arsenal.

"Dynamic Catalan – tactics are working for White." Here White just let it rip and Black was already lost in Giri-Morozevich, game 2 of the DVD.

In the course of the middlegame course, the strong grandmaster - highest Elo 2706 in 2004 - repeats what is needed in this kind of position: self-confidence in your attacking skills, courage, confidence in your own position, a feeling for the initiative, strong nerves...   

But even if you don't have all these qualities, I think it's worth adding the dynamic Catalan to your repertoire. After all, it's not easy for the opposition either: who wants to defend a passive position for so long?

Understanding Middlegame Strategies Vol.7 - Dynamic Catalan

Let Toptrainer Sokolov show you the ins and outs of middlegames. This course is about the catalan structures vs. semi-slav/triangle setups

Sokolov presents the typical ideas and motifs in nine extensively analysed grandmaster games, in three of which he himself was on the white side, including beating a young Fabiano Caruana. It is fascinating to observe how an experienced grandmaster thinks before making a decision. How deeply he calculates or sometimes decides more intuitively... As this is a middlegame course, it is advisable to leave the engine switched off while you watch and instead immerse yourself in the position. If you then switch on the 3D board, it almost feels like live training from the GM.

After the main part of the Fritztrainer, the viewer can take part in 14 tasks and interactively test their knowledge. A nice addition, although the feedback format could be improved. There doesn't seem to be any feedback for obvious but incorrect answers, and the first move is always enough for the correct answers - even if this is quite obvious and the real point comes later.

Conclusion: As a change from all the opening courses on the market, a middlegame course from an experienced chess teacher - Ivan Sokolov crowned his success as a coach in Chennai when his team became Olympic champions in 2022 - is definitely something refreshing! Catalan players who would like to expand their repertoire with the Dynamic Catalan or who already play it should particularly benefit from the course. All the variations presented can be added to your personal ChessBase repertoire at the click of a mouse, so there is no need to type in any moves. Semi-Slav/Triangle/Noteboom players who want to know what they might face with Black in the near future should also benefit from the course. For all his sympathy for the white side, Sokolov remains objective. After all, the computer rating often hovers around the famous 0.00 - "White has the pressure, Black has a pawn".

Understanding Middlegame Strategies Vol.7 - Dynamic Catalan

Let Toptrainer Sokolov show you the ins and outs of middlegames. This course is about the catalan structures vs. semi-slav/triangle setups

Understanding Middlegame Strategies Vol.1 - 9

In this Video-Course we deal with different dynamic decisions involving pawns. The aim of this Course is to arm club/tournament players with fresh ideas which they can use in their own practice.

Hannes is an International Master and plays for ESV Nickelhütte Aue in the 2nd Bundesliga. He lives with his family in Leipzig and works as a lecturer at a fiction publishing house.