The new choice of champions

by ChessBase
9/9/2020 – The Ragozin Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4) has become more and more popular in recent years. Many top Grandmasters play it these days. But how do Grandmasters fight the Ragozin at top level? Peter Svidler brought 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 into play. Ding Liren, Caruana and others took up the idea, and Carlsen has also tested the bishop move. In the new ChessBase Magazine, CBM #197, Alexey Kuzmin checks the latest trends.

ChessBase Magazine 197 ChessBase Magazine 197

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The new choice of champions

Alexey Kuzmin checks out 6.Bf4 in the Ragozin Defence

Our starting position arises after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4.


The first elite grandmaster to decide to use the last bishop move by White was Peter Svidler. who was followed by Ding Liren, Mamedyarov and Caruana - and this year Magnus Carlsen employed the continuation three times(!).

Black has sevral replies available to him: A) 6...c5, B) 6...c6, C) 6...0-0 and D) 6...Ne4.

A) The move 6...c5 is rarely seen. After 7.g3 positions arise which are typical of theTarrasch Defence. The black bishop is not particularly cleverly placed on b4, so that White can justifiably have hopes of something of an advantage, especially as the attempt to exploit the pin on the Nc3 with 7...Ne4 8.Rc1 Qa5 falls flat:


9.Bg2!, see Shankland,S - Hou,Y 1-0, Honolulu 2015.

B) The plan 6...c6 7.e3 Bf5 is considered in Ding,L - Aronian,L 0-1, Tbilisi 2017. It leads to rather quiet play. Black has good prospects of equality, but White can set his opponent some problems without having to take any risks on his part, which can be seen in the top game mentioned:


14.g4! (Ding,L - Aronian,L 0-1).

C) After 6...0–0 7.e3


Black has a choice:

C1) Both Anand (against Caruana) and Firouzja (against Carlsen) decided in favour of 7...Bf5, which after 8.Qb3 Nc6


leads to complex play, investigated in Carlsen,M - Firouzja,A 1-0, INT 2020.

C2) But as well as 7...Bf5 the move 7...c5 is also well worth our attention.


In the event of 8. dxc5 Black manages with precise manoeuvres to simplify the position and to obtain outstanding chances of equality. I would prefer 8.Bd3!? which is followed by a complicated struggle. Both continuations are discussed in the game Martirosyan,H - Boruchovsky,A 1-0, INT 2020.

D) 6...Ne4 7.Rc1


Here the most popular move is very clearly7...Nc6, which, e.g. , can be seen in the game Carlsen,M - Giri,A 0-1, INT 2020. The same leads to very complicated positions, often with unique pawn structures. The chances in the forthcoming struggle are roughly even. The alternative possibilities 7...Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 g5 (Sjugirov,S - Ni,H 0-1, Hua Riadh 2017) and 7...Nd7 (Xiong,J - Swiercz,D ½-½, Saint Louis 2019) offer White better prospects of an opening initiative.

Conclusion: One of the advantages of the 6.Bf4 variation consists of the fact that it has not yet been particularly thoroughly investigated – thus your use of it can come as a surprise to your opponent. The most promising continuations for Black are either 6…0-0 7.e3 and then 7...Bf5 or 7…c5 and/or 6…Ne4 7.Rc1 Nc6, which leads to more specific territory. Black may in both cases hope to get a full measure of counterplay. But the variations which arise are as a rule very complex and lead to original positions, which offers a lot of space for creativity during the game.

You will find the complete article with all games and analyses in ChessBase Magazine #197 (September/October 2020).

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