Chigorin Defense: Active Play in the Queen’s Gambit Declined

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Table of Contents

The Chigorin Defense is counter-attacking.

  • Learn how to make the most of your knights by playing the Chigorin Defense.
  • Apply pressure against White’s center and gain easy development of your pieces.
  • White does best to accept modest gains and resist the urge to over-extend.

Ideas Behind the Chigorin Defense

The Chigorin Defense in the Queen’s Gambit Declined is named after the strong Russian chess master, Mikhail Chigorin. He was one of the strongest players in the world and challenged Wilhelm Steinitz for the World Chess Championship twice.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6

The Starting position of the Chigorin Defense in the Queen's Gambit Declined is reached after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6

Instead of defending the pawn on d5 with a pawn, Black uses tactics and develops a piece. Now, if White plays 3.cxd5 hoping to drive the queen away with Nc3, White must spend a tempo defending the d-pawn.

This tempo is all Black needs to begin to play in the center and free up the bishops. A common strategy in the Chigorin Defense is for Black to pin the knights on c3 and f3 with …Bb4 and …Bg4.

In many variations, Black willingly exchanges the bishop for a knight, giving White the advantage of the bishop pair. In light of this, the Chigorin Defense is not the defense for you if you tend to favor bishops over knights.

Blocking the c-pawn in the Queen’s Gambit signals Black’s intention to play with pieces instead of the regular Queen’s Gambit Declined c5 pawn break. Along with voluntarily exchanging a bishop for a knight, blocking the c-pawn is a second anti-positional theme in the Chigorin Defense.

The Chigorin Defense is for you if you enjoy active piece play, striking out early in the center, and open positions.

Despite giving White a central pawn advantage, if White plays cxd5, the Chigorin Defense is still acknowledged as a defense to 1.d4 that leads to equality.

White often adopts one of three strategies against the Chigorin Defense:

  • 3.Nc3, which increases the pressure on the d5 pawn.
  • 3.Nf3 developing a piece while defending d4.
  • 3.cxd5 ensuring a central pawn majority of 2:1.

The Chigorin Defense With 3.Nc3

This move is the most logical as it is a typical developing move in the Queen’s Gambit. The knight on c3 adds pressure to the d5 pawn, which Black has not defended with another pawn.

Continuing in the spirit of the Chigorin Defense, an excellent response for Black is 3…dxc4.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 dxc4

Black chooses to meet 3.Nc3 with the principled 3...dxc4.

Once again, Black does not mind conceding a central pawn majority. Active piece play is at the heart of the Chigorin Defense, but conceding the center is not without risks.

Now White must once again pay attention to defending the d4 pawn. Advancing the pawn is possible but allows Black to respond with …Ne5. Thus, it makes sense to control the e5 square while defending the d4-pawn with 4.Nf3

4.Nf3 dxc4 5.e4 Bg4 6.Be3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.Qc2 0-0 9.Rd1 Bxf3 10.gxf3

White has taken full advantage of his central control and placed almost every piece in the center of the board. Black must defend well, and thanks to his position having no weaknesses, it is possible for Black to fight back with active play.

The Chigorin Defense With 3.Nf3

The solid option for White is 4.Nf3. White chooses to develop a knight and seeks to prevent Black’s thematic …e5 pawn break.

Defending the d4-pawn with 4.Nf3 reinstates the threat to play cxd5, and if Black plays …Qxd5, White can play Nc3 developing the knight with tempo.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 Bg4

Black meets 3.Nf3 with the typical 3...Bg4. Exchanging a bishop for a knight is standard practice for Black in the Chigorin Defense.

Now Black is ready to meet cxd5 with …Bxf3 preventing White from meeting …Qxd5 with the tempo gaining Nc3. Once again, the need to defend d4 buys Black a vital tempo.

One of the advantages of playing the Chigorin Defense is how frequently common tactics occur in the different variations. These common tactics make learning the opening much more straightforward.

4.Nc3 e6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 Bxf3 7.gxf3 Bd6 8.Bg3 Nf6 9.e3 0-0

Because Black developed the light-squared bishop early with 3…Bg4, it made defending the d5 pawn with 4…e6 easier. There was no need to worry about having a bad light-squared bishop.

Once again, this is a position where White’s central control is balanced by Black’s easy development and better structure.

The Chigorin Defense With 3.cxd5

When first faced with the Chigorin Defense in Vienna in 1898, Wilhelm Steinitz chose the direct attempt to refute the Chigorin Defense and entered the 3.cxd5 Qxd5 variation.

3.cxd5 is an attempt by White to refute the Chigorin Defense outrightly; however, it is not without its drawbacks. The tempo needed to defend d4 allows Black to play the thematic e5 pawn break.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.cxd5 Qxd5

White plays 3.cxd5 in an attempt to prove the Chigorin Defense is unsound and establish a central majority..

Here we have the classic pieces against a central pawn majority. The attack on d4 gives Black the vital tempo needed to free up the other bishop with …e5.

4.e3 e5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Nf6 8.f3 0-0 9.e4 Qd6 10.d5 Ne7

White has undoubtedly gained a considerable space advantage, but it restricts the light-squared bishop. Black, in turn, can attack the f3,e4, and d5 pawn chain from the front with …c6.

In keeping with gaining and keeping a pawn majority in the center, White played 7.bxc3. This capture brings another pawn to the center.

Playing with a central pawn majority is a simple and sound strategy for White to adopt, making this variation easy to play.

Within this variation, you find a clash of the main strategies at the heart of the Chigorin Defense for both colors. Little wonder this variation remains in the top three of the Chigorin Defense.

One modern grandmaster who plays the Chigorin Defense regularly is Alexander Morozevich. GM Morozevich is not afraid to use the Chigorin against extremely strong players, as his game against Jeroen Piket rated 2632 shows.

In Conclusion

One of the constant themes in the Chigorin defense is that White gets greater control of the center and centralized pieces. This central pawn majority is often balanced by Black’s better structure and easy piece development.

The results of master games played in the Chigorin Defense tend to bear out the theoretical assessment that Black achieves equality in the Chigorin Defense.

A draw with Black is not a bad result by any means, and the dynamic nature of the positions gives Black every reason to play for the win. The Chigorin Defense is a reliable, solid defense to the Queen’s Gambit and a safe way to test your opponent’s preparedness.

The Chigorin Defense Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Chigorin Defense good?

The Chigorin Defense is an excellent defense to 1.d4.

What is the Chigorin Defense?

The Chigorin Defense is characterized by the move 2…Nc6.

Is Chigorin Defense suitable for beginners?

The Chigorin Defense relies on piece play and tactics, making it a tricky opening for beginners.

How do you beat Chigorin Defense?

The best way to beat the Chigorin Defense is to accept modest gains and not rush into advancing your central pawn majority.

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