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Slav Defense: How To Play The Exchange Variation

The Slav defense is one of the most popular defenses to the Queen’s gambit and this defense can arise after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6

2… e6 leads to the Queen’s gambit declined. By playing 2… c6, Black maintains the pawn tension in the center as taking on c4 will hand over the central squares to white after Nc3, Nf3, e4 e.t.c. This move also avoids lines where e6 is played early hemming in the light squared bishop(one of the drawbacks of the Queen’s gambit declined). The light squared bishop can be developed comfortably on the f5 or g4 square before the e6 pawn move can be played.

In this article, we’ll focus on the exchange variation of the Slav defense. Just like the name suggests, white releases the pawn tension early with 3. cxd5 and aims for quick and easy development of his pieces. This variation is a peaceful line and does not really give white any opening advantage as it is very drawish. However, Black must be very careful as lack of caution may land him in serious trouble. This variation can particularly be useful when playing a higher rated opponent to get a draw or when you don’t want to enter your opponent’s preparations in the Slav defense. 

The Slav defense is normally used by grandmasters looking for quick draws but if your opponent is not a titled player, chances are that he/she may not be able to play accurately in this variation. Many White players have obtained victories playing against the Slav defense because of the exchange variation due to the fact that most players handling the black side do not know the plans or the ideas associated with the opening.

We are going to analyze the mainline and look at possible plans for white and black :

QGD Slav defense: Exchange variation Mainline

1.d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5

The exchange that brings about the variation, It avoids some of the complex and theoretical lines that can arise from the Slav defense.

3… cxd5

[3… Qxd5

would be wrong as white would play 4. Nc3 gaining a tempo and then 5. e4 grabbing important central squares]

4.Nc3 Nf6

Both players stive for quick development of pieces.

5. Bf4

Better than 5. Bg5, White’s bishop places pressure on the f4-b8 diagonal.

5… Nc6 6. e3 Bf5

By getting this bishop out, Black is ready to follow up with the e6 pawn move to develop the dark squared bishop.

6. Nf3 e6

Instead of 6… e6, some players prefer 7…a6 preventing the bishop pin on the c6-knight. The move can support a later b5 pawn push grabbing space on the queenside. White can however try to make use of the noticeable holes incurred after a6 with ideas of Nc3-a4-c5 or Nc3-a4-b6. 

8. Bb5

One of the critical ideas in this opening. In most cases, white will exchange his light squared bishop with the c6-knight creating a weak c6 pawn and a weak c5 square which can be exploited by doubling rooks on the c-file (Nc3-a4-c5 works well here). Black needs to get rid of this pin as white threatens Qa4 and Ne5 placing more pressure on the c6-knight.

8… Nd7!

The best response! Black immediately unpins the knight, prevents Ne5 and supports the c5 pawn break after the c6-knight has been exchanged.

9. Qa4

[ In as much as white’s play is on the queenside, Black can also throw up some attack on the kingside as can be seen in the game Seirawan- Beliavsky where the game went O-O instead of Qa4 9… Be7 10. Bxc6 bxc6 11. Re1 Rc8 12. Na4? g5! 13. Bg3 h5 14. h3 g4 -/+ ; Black is better here]

Analysis Diagram

9… Rc8

Black defends the knight. If the knight at d7 was absent, then Qxa7 would have won white a pawn.

10. O-O

[Perhaps you noticed that white could grab a pawn with 10. Bxc6 Rxc6 11.

Qxa7 but black gets ample compensation after 11… Bd3! preventing castling and keeping the white king in the center.]

Analysis Diagram

10… a6

The end of this line. At this point, white can take the knight with the bishop and develop his rook to the open file with Rfc1. The game Kramnik- Rublevsky, USSR 1990 continued 11. Bxc6 Rxc6 12. Rfc1 Be7 13. Nd1 b5 14. Qb3 Rc4 15. Nd2 Rxc1 16. Rxc1 O-O 17. Qc3 b4 18. Qc6 Bd3 =

See Full Game Here:

In conclusion, this opening is generally drawish and requires technique but it can be a very interesting weapon against an unsuspecting player. How about you give it a trial in your next game to get a feel of the resulting positions; We’ll love to get your feedback!

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