Lifetime Repertoires: Queen’s Gambit Janowski Variation

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Lifetime Repertoires: Queen’s Gambit Janowski Variation by Grandmaster Max Warmerdam is this week’s release in our flagship series of Chessable courses. This one offers a full and interesting repertoire for Black against 1.d4.

The Janowski Variation is a name which may not immediately ring any bells. Indeed, it often goes unmentioned in works offering a 1.d4 2.c4 repertoire for White.

The opening moves are:

1.d4 d5

2.c4 e6

3.Nc3 (or 3.Nf3) a6

Queen's Gambit Janowski VariationQueen’s Gambit Janowski Variation

We are taught not to waste moves in the opening, because time is very important. Most of us have memories, from early in our chess lives, of running out of obvious developing moves and then resorting to pushing the a- and h-pawns forward a single move, convinced we are achieving something. What, then, is the justification for Black playing 3…a6?

First of all, the variation has a good pedigree, as explained by Grandmaster Warmerdam:

‘The Janowski Variation was named after Dawid Markelowicz Janowski, former World Championship Challenger, who liked playing original ideas and concepts. He was the first player to play the move a6 in my database in the year 1899 (!), with fine results. He even beat the former World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz with it.’

The Choice of Ambitious Champions

Janowski was a sharp player who liked to try and gain the maximum from a position. He didn’t like draws. This strongly suggests 3…a6 has more to it than meets the eye.

There are more historical heroes of the Janowski Variation, too. Oldrich Duras used it often and even managed to beat Janowski himself – with his own opening – on the way to winning the strong tournament in Prague, 1908. World Champions Alexander Alekhine and Max Euwe both used 3…a6 successfully. It is clearly an opening for chess fighters and none of the ones named here would ever feel comfortable wasting a move in the opening.

Incidentally, the Janowski Variation is also a part of World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s repertoire. Will we see it on the board in this year’s title match, when Carlsen faces the task of having to stop Ian Nepomniachtchi in his tracks?

The Point of 3…a6

The course reveals the point of the move 3…a6:

‘With this move we threaten to take on c4 followed by b5, so White should probably do something about the tension in the center.’

Exactly so! Black is already on the verge of winning a pawn, with a very favourable transposition to the Queen’s Gambit Accepted (2…dxc4). This is not an empty threat, as the course shows.

It is easy to imagine players with White developing as normal without taking into account the nuances at Black’s disposal. For example, 4.Nf3 is a very natural move, but this plays into Black’s hand.

‘As I have explained in the Introduction, one of the ideas behind the move 3…a6 is to play dxc4 and protect the c4-pawn with b5.’

Queen's Gambit Janowski Variation: Black Captures on c4

Naturally, Black seizes the moment.

4…dxc4!

‘I think that it is already White who has to be accurate to equalize here. White also has a decision to make, namely whether to attack the c4-pawn immediately with e3 or e4 or to play a4 and e3 or e4 later. The former allows us to respond with b5 to protect c4 immediately, while the latter gives us time to protect c4 with Nc6-Na5.’

It is certainly not often that White needs to think about equalizing after just four moves of a Queen’s Gambit. Even with accurate moves by the first player, it is not enough to prevent Black from achieving a promising middlegame position.

Black Has an Excellent Middlegame

The more I looked at the lines, the more I realised how little I knew about the whole variation – despite playing 1.d4 2.c4 for decades. It makes me think: How about surprising opponents with an unexpected, sound and ambitious third move? There doesn’t appear to be any way for White to exploit  the modest-looking 3…a6 and the author presents a convincing case for building a repertoire around the Janowski Variation.

London in Ruins

I also enjoyed investigating the lines advocated against the 1.d4 systems, which every chess player must expect to see on the board with ever-increasing regularity. It wouldn’t do to give away the secrets of the course here, but here is one indication of how combative the repertoire is for Black. Just look at the state of White’s position here. It started off as a ‘safe and sound’ London System. True, White is a pawn up, but it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that Black has more than enough compensation.

Anti-London System

Chessable Course

Lifetime Repertoires: Queen’s Gambit Janowski Variation by Grandmaster Max Warmerdam is available now. Surprising the opponent on move three is now definitely on the agenda.

Lifetime Repertoires: Queen's Gambit Janowski Variation

If you want to learn about other gambits check out:

The Smith-Morra Gambit

The Tennison Gambit

The Evans Gambit

The Danish Gambit

The Marshall Gambit

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