"The Super Solid Slav Defense" by Sipke Ernst - a review

by Hedinn Steingrimsson
2/12/2023 – The Slav has a reputation for being a (very) solid opening. But there are ways to play it for a win and give your opponent difficult problems to solve. Dutch Grandmaster Sipke Ernst shows how in his course "The Super Solid Slav Defence". Hedinn Steingrimsson took a look at the course and liked what he saw.

The Super Solid Slav Defence The Super Solid Slav Defence

We get the Slav after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6. This video course will focus on 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 and now dxc4, but the white alternatives leading up to the mainline are also discussed in great detail.


Solid, but dangerous: "The Super Solid Slav Defense" by Sipke Ernst

The Slav has always been one of the toughest nuts to crack after 1.d4. On the other hand, it also has a reputation for being somewhat defensive and sometimes offering fewer opportunities to play for a win than some other openings, such as the currently popular Nimzo-Ragozin combo at the top level, where Black is looking for a bishop-knight trade to unbalance the game.

Nevertheless, a player such as Alireza Firouzja showed in his 8/9 winning streak at the European Team Championship that the Slav can be a formidable weapon when playing for a win. Perhaps if Alireza were more active, the Slav would be even more popular than it is now.

We live in interesting times as far as chess analysis is concerned. Back in the days when I started playing chess (I am a former U12 World Champion and became Icelandic Champion at the age of 15 in 1990), opening analysis required a lot of hard work, a board and your own thoughts. It could be a real challenge to come up with an answer to an opening novelty in your favourite line.

Now things are different, as chess engines are much more powerful. They usually only need a fraction of a second to come up with an antidote to a novelty. The fact that the engines are now so strong has had an impact on modern chess analysis and opening theory, with some highly respected opening theorists referring to themselves as "space bar monkeys", meaning that all they have to do is wait a bit and then hit the space bar, as the ChessBase programs will then enter the move into the database that the engine considers to be the strongest.

It is possible to work on your openings with this method, but the practical value may not be so great, as the lines produced by the engines will also tend to be the focus of the opponent's attention and hardly come as a surprise. Another, better way is to dive deeper and go beyond the initial engine evaluation, looking for practical chances and opportunities to throw the game off balance and draw the opponent into unfamiliar territory.

I find that the Slav course by Sipke Ernst falls into this second category. Ernst has played the Slav throughout his career and has gained a lot of practical experience. The repertoire that he presents is a very good antidote to the "space bar monkeys", as it emphasises the element of surprise and is looking for ways to throw the game off balance, thus entering a territory where the engine's initial assessment may not be correct. Also, in many cases the moves that White must make to maintain a symbolic advantage according to the engine are much harder to find than the much more natural moves that Black makes.

One such example of a line analysed in depth by Sipke occurred in the game Ding Liren - Jorden van Foreest in the 11th round of the Tata Steel Masters. Jorden has a reputation for being one of the best-prepared players in the world and was one of World Champion Magnus Carlsen's seconds in the last World Championship match against Nepo.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Be4 7.f3 Bg6 8.Bd2 Nbd7 9.Nxg6 hxg6 10.Qb3

This looks like a standard position of this variation, with Black typically responding with either 10...Qc7 or 10...Qb6. Having analysed Sipke Ernst's work, however, Jorden's next move did not come as a surprise to me, although Ding took several minutes for his reply. Jorden played:


This move is a good example of a practical resource which, while being objectively sound, is also likely to come as a surprise and to catch the opponent off guard. In the critical line, where White has to find many good moves, Black gains two pieces for a rook. White has many more opportunities to go wrong than Black, and even with ultra-precise engine play, Black's position is good.


White is more or less forced to play this, otherwise the queen will be misplaced.

11...c5 12. Nb5 Rb8 13.Nc7+ Ke7 14.Qxa7 Qc8 15.dxc5

Ernst gives 15.Qa5 as critical here. This is also the engine's preference. The resulting position after 15...cxd4 16.exd4 Rh5! 17.Bb4 Rxb4 18.Qxb4+ Kd8 19.Nxe6+ fxe6 20.Qxc4 Qa8, in which Black has two minor pieces for the rook, is initially rated by the engines as slightly better for White.

However, a closer analysis reveals that White will not be able to keep all his pawns, resulting in a position that is objectively good for Black. In this variation, of course, all three results are possible. Black has managed to unbalance the game and create even more chances of winning than in a typical Nimzo-Ragozin scenario, where the unbalancing factor is the bishop-knight exchange.

After 15.dxc5 Jorden followed the line recommended by Ernst with 15...Rb7 and the game continued with 16.Qa3 Qxc7 17.c6+ Ke8 18.cxd7 Nxd7 19.Qc3 Bb4 - all these moves were recommended by Ernst. Black is slightly better and has chances to press.

However, after 20.Qc2 Qe5 21.Bxb4 Qxe3+ 22.Qe2 Qxe2+ 23.Bxe2 Rxb4 24.000 Ke7 25.Rd2 g5 26.Rc2 Nb6 27.a3 Ra4 28.Kb1 Rh4 29.g3 Rh3 30.Bd1 Ra5 31.Be2 Ra4 32.Bd1 Ra5 33.Be2 the players agreed to a draw.

Jorden van Foreest after winning the Tata Steel Tournament in 2021 | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Replay the game



This example shows the quality and practical value of the course by Ernst, and it also shows how useful it is to take a step forward in the transition from the Slav to a powerful counter-attacking weapon, where White is the one who has to be careful and play solidly.

The game also illustrates the overall character of the Slav course by Ernst, who emphasises practical lines and uses every opportunity to point out dangerous lines that might surprise White, while at the same time recommending objectively sound variations. It is also very useful for white players to know these lines. Ding Liren might be well advided to take a look at this course to avoid surprises in the forthcoming World Championship match against Nepo, should Nepo play the Slav.

The Super Solid Slav Defence

We get the Slav after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6. This video course will focus on 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 and now dxc4, but the white alternatives leading up to the mainline are also discussed in great detail.

Sample video

Buy Sipke Ernst, The Super Solid Slav Defence in the shop...

Grandmaster Hedinn Steingrimsson was born 1975 in Iceland. In 1986 he became World Champion U12. 1990, at the age of 15, he won his first Icelandic Championship. Steingrimsson has also made interesting contributions to the field of chess training theory and is interested in how chess training can be improved theoretically and practically.