Crush 1.c4 With the Queen’s Gambit Declined

The English Opening in chess has become quite popular and can easily transpose to a 1.d4 chess opening. What do you do if you don’t want to learn two entirely different openings?

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You could go for a King’s Indian Defense set-up, but your opponent will know what to play against this popular way of meeting it. The lesser-known but no less effective approach of the Queen’s Gambit Declined is your answer.

The Queen’s Gambit Declined is an excellent defense against 1.c4 too!

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Table of contents

White Can Change Course

Because it’s unlikely one system will cover every eventuality if you play the robust Queen’s Gambit Declined against the English, you must be willing to enter a French Defense. Fortunately, it is usually the harmless French Defense Exchange Variation.

1.c4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.d4

French Exchange 4.c4
French Exchange 4.c4

A simple yet effective way to develop is 4…Bb4+ 5.Nc3 (5.Bd2 Bxd2+) Nf6 6.Nf3 0-0. When White develops the bishop to e2 or d3 play …dxc4 and leaves White with an isolated queen’s pawn.

French Defense Exchange 6...0-0
French Defense Exchange 6…0-0

Now that we’ve taken care of how to play against the French Defense Exchange variation we can turn our attention back to the English Opening in chess.

Black Plays 4…dxc4! Against The English Opening

1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4

English 4...dxc4
English 4…dxc4

Black gets easy development and active piece play after this move, while White will need time to regain the pawn.

In this position, White has three main choices:

  • 5.Qa4+
  • 5.0-0
  • 5.Na3

The most common choice by White by a considerable margin is 5.Qa4+, even though it allows Black to develop with a gain of tempo.

An excellent way to meet 5.Qa4+ is with 5…Bd7 because it attacks the queen, supports the knight when it develops to c6, and gives Black the option of playing …Bc6 to challenge the bishop on g2.

1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.Qa4+ Bd7

English Opening 5...Bd7
English Opening 5…Bd7

Play continues with 6.Qxc4 c5 when we reach a position that at least three chess grandmasters rated above 2700 are willing to play – Ding Liren, Aronian, and Eljanov.

White has tried several moves in this position. The most popular being:

  • 7.Ne5
  • 7.0-0
  • 7.d4

After 7.Ne5 Qc8 8.Qd3 Nc6 9.Nxd7 Nxd7 10.Nc3 Be7 Black has a comfortable position and will gain more time by harassing the White queen.

Edouard, R. – Akobian, V., 0-1, St Louis Spring A, 2018

Against 7.d4, Black makes use of the bishop being on d7 and plays 7…Bc6. 

You’re unlikely to go wrong following in the footsteps of Vishy Anand. His game against Radjabov continued with 8.0-0 Nbd7 9.Nc3 Rc8 10.Be3 b5

English Opening 10...b5
English Opening 10…b5

Anand went on to win the game in only 34 moves!

Radjabov, Teimour – Anand, Viswanathan, 0-1, Norway Chess, 2013

White Plays 5.0-0

1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.0-0

English Opening 5.0-0
English Opening 5.0-0

Black’s best course of action is not to concern himself with keeping his extra pawn but to develop his pieces and gain space on the queenside with …a6 and …b5.

5…a6 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Qxc4 b5 8.Qc2 Bb7 9.a4 c510.Nc3

English Opening 5.0 0 10.Nc3
English Opening 10.Nc3

Black will play 10…Qb6, where the queen helps protect many pieces and Black has achieved equality.

Grachev, B. – Riazantsev, A., 1/2-1/2, TCh-RUS Premier 2018

White Plays 5.Na3

1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.Na3

Against the English 5.Na3 a great way to play is to immediately wreck white's pawn structure with 5...Bxa3
English Opening 5.Na3

Black’s next move will come as no surprise – 5…Bxa3. This is an excellent move to play now because we haven’t invested a tempo developing the bishop.

6.bx3 Nbd7 7.Bb2 0-0 8.Rc1 c5 9.Ne5 Nxe5 10.Bxe5 Nd5 11.Rxc4 f6 12.Ba1 b6

English Opening 12...b6
English Opening 12…b6

Black has achieved an excellent position. In fact, instead of 11…f6 Black can play 11…b6 12.Qc2 Bb7 13.Rh4 h6 14.0-0 Qd7 when he has everything under control and no loose pieces.

English Opening 14...Qd7
English Opening 14…Qd7

Tiemann, Christoph – Morley, Paul, 1/2-1/2, WS/M/388, 2012

The Queen’s Gambit Declined is a great weapon against 1.c4 but it is always wise to have more than one option to play against an opening. Here is IM Valori Lilov to show us another fighting approach with Black against 1.c4

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Final Thoughts

Whether you want to add to your repertoire against the English Opening in chess or simply looking for an excellent way to meet it, the Queen’s Gambit Declined is an effective way to rack up wins.

White will find proving any advantage with the English Opening against the Queen’s Gambit declined system a very challenging task. A task he is more than likely going to fail at!

Even players as strong as Aronian and Radjabov struggled to achieve any advantage with the English Opening. If the Queen’s Gambit Declined can stand against them, you know it will prove even more decisive against your club-level opponents.

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