Defeat 1.d4 Now With the Chigorin Defense (2…Nc6!)

Active piece play, easy development, and chances to take your opponent by surprise, the Queen’s Gambit Declined Chigorin Defense is an excellent fighting chess opening for Black.

Defeat 1d4 Now With the Chigorin Defense blog image

Named after the strong Russian grandmaster Mikhail Chigorin, it is a robust opening that allows you to take the fight to White.

Active play is paramount in the Chigorin Defense chess opening with Black.

When you create an imbalance on move two and add to it by giving White the bishop pair, you are committed to counter-attacking instead of relying on the solidity of your position. 

In the Queen’s Gambit, the Chigorin Defense is, above all, a lot of fun to play.

One of the advantages of the Chigorin Defense for Black is the common strategies you can use against many of White’s different set-ups, including the mainline 3.cxd5 and 4.e3. Take a look at how Black uses active piece play to counter White’s central pawn play in the mainline.

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Chigorin Defense 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.e3

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.e3

Chigorin 4.e3 1
Chigorin Defense 4.e3

White overprotects the d4-pawn because, after 3.cxd5 Qxd5, Black threatens to win the pawn on d4.

Be aware of this threat because your opponent might miss it!

Some direct threats are easy for your opponent to spot, but you don’t want to miss your chance if he blunders the pawn.

Now White intends to gain time by attacking the queen with Nc3, so Black must play 4…e5.

The move …e5 frees the dark-squared bishop, which will pin the knight on c3 and capture it.

After 4…e5 play continues with 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Nf6

Chigorin 7...Nf6 1
Chigorin Defense 7…Nf6

In this position, White’s two main choices are

  • 8.f3, and
  • 8.c4.

8.f3 is the most popular, but 8.c4 is logical because it gains space with time by attacking the queen and knight.

Chigorin Defense 8.f3

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.e3 e5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Nf6 8.f3

Chigorin Defense 8.f3
Chigorin Defense chess opening 8.f3

The idea behind 8.f3 is to build a large center with e4, c4, and d4-d5. Black intends to make use of the squares left by the advancing pawns.

8…0-0 9.e4 Qd6 10.d5 Ne7 11.c4

Chigorin Defense 11.c4
Chigorin Defense 11.c4

Black can take advantage of the f4 and c5 squares with his knights.

Here is Morozevich, one of today’s top grandmasters who has remained loyal to the Chigorin Defense, showing us how to play the position.

In this game, he was able to secure the whole point against a strong grandmaster rated 2632. 

Piket, Jeroen – Morozevich, Alexander, 0-1, Corus, 2001

Instead of the pawn advance 10.d5, White can continue his development with 10.Ne2.

8…0-0 9.e4 Qd6 10.Ne2 exd4 11.Bf4 Qa3 12.cxd4

Chigorin Defense 12.cxd4
Chigorin Defense 12.cxd4

White has managed to create an impressive center but at the expense of his development.

Look at how Alex Yermolinsky comes out on top in this battle of two 2600 grandmasters. 

Beliavsky, Alexander G – Yermolinsky, Alex, 0-1, Madrid Magistral 7th, 1998

Chigorin Defense chess opening 8.c4

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.e3 e5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Nf6 8.c4

Chigorin Defense 8.c4
Chigorin Defense 8.c4

In this position, it isn’t uncommon for Black to switch his knights to opposite flanks.

8…Qd6 9.d5 Ne7 10.Qb1 0-0 11.e4 Nd7

Chigorin Defense 11...Nd7
Chigorin Defense 11…Nd7

Black’s knight will soon find a home on c5 from where it puts pressure on the White center squares.

Once again, here is Alexander Morozevich to show us how to win with the Chigorin Defense.

Ljubojevic, Ljubomir – Morozevich, Alexander, 0-1, Amber-blindfold 12th, 2003

Chigorin Defense 3.cxd5 e5 4.Nf3

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.cxd5 Qxd5 4.Nf3

Chigorin Defense 4.Nf3
Chigorin Defense 4.Nf3

White develops a knight and defends the d-pawn. The other knight will soon attack the Black queen with Nc3.

Unsurprisingly Black must react actively by striking back in the center with 4…e5 which frees his bishop to pin the knight on c3 next.

4…e5 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 e4 8.Ne5 Nge7 9.e3 Be6 10.Bc4 Qd6

Chigorin Defense 10...Qd6
Chigorin Defense 10…Qd6

The Black knight will soon become entrenched on d5, and even though the Black king remains in the center, White can not take advantage of it, as the following game shows.

Pham, Minh Hoang – Miladinovic, Igor, 0-1, FRA-chT2 0304a, 2004

Final Thoughts

One of the great things about the Chigorin Defense in chess is the numerous common strategies used by Black.

No matter what response White chooses, you will find many standard moves to play for Black.

Moves like …e5, …Bb4, and …Bg4 are common yet highly effective moves used by Black to achieve equality and more.

The unbalanced nature of the position leads to dynamic play.

In the Queen’s Gambit, the Chigorin Defense has proven itself against a lot of powerful players.

Black has scored impressive victories against many chess grandmasters rated above 2500 and will continue to do so.

Minimal theory combined with the surprise factor makes this an excellent chess opening for club players. When you advance, you can continue to play the Chigorin Defense confidently against titled players.

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