Everyone wants to head towards the Queens Gambit Declined Main Lines with confidence. When you enter these variations it always feels better to know what lies in wait.
Sure you can stay off the QGD highways if you're not sure of them. Better though to tame them and make these lines your backyard.
You've played 3...Nf6 and you're ready to go to the beating heart of the QGD. Yet even now there are slip roads off the main trunk. More deviations on move 4. These little avenues should also be investigated.
As White you've got options here. You can go with the Semi-Tarrasch or maybe the Ragozin with 4.Nf3. You can take the game into the Exchange Variation with 4.cxd5. Or 4.Bg5 which will lead you after 4...Be7 5.Nf3 to a number of famous lines.
4.Nf3 will often transpose to this position with 4...Be7 5.Bg5 the continuation. This is a key position in the QGD. Play will center around the d5-pawn and you will be trying to get an edge of some kind. Black is happy to come out equal.
To get out of the opening in one piece with Black, you have some resources. The Tartakower Defense, the Orthodox Defense, the Lasker Defense and the Capablanca Variation all have good reputations. The Tartakower was so highly respected that people set about coming up with a remedy to it. They call it the Anti-Tartakower.
The Tartakower is a very popular way to play the QGD as Black. You get a solid position without any problems. White has to play well to gain the initiative. You will look for a chance to play ...c5 and free up some space.
You will be looking for ...Ne4 to trade off dark square Bishops at your earliest convenience. With less space you need to get pieces off the board to relieve the pressure.
How do you get on top with White? Try to stop the ...c5 advance. Black will still be solid but he will be passive and less able to mount any threats. If he gets in ...c5, you can leave him with hanging pawns. You may be able to induce weaknesses by constantly harassing and attacking these pawns.
People were so exasperated with the strength and durability of the Tartakower Defense that they came up with the Anti-Tartakower. Here White just trades on f6, giving up his dark square Bishop for the Knight.
White is hoping that the Bishop will be a less suitable occupant of f6. He wants to turn over the apple cart with ideas of Qb3 and cxd5.
The Anti-Tartakower has proven ineffective over the years at the highest level. This was most notably demonstrated during the Kasparov-Karpov World Championship marathons of the 1980s. Black was always able to keep White at bay.
The Orthodox Defense is a good option for Black if he's playing for a draw. After 6...Nbd7 7.Rc1 c6 Black has a practically impenetrable, if passive position. He has avoided any structural damage but he is squeezed for space.
White has the initiative and space but is very hard to turn it to profit. The move ...c6 has made White's potential half-open c-file not quite the prospect he might have hoped. After Bd3 Black forces White to move the Bishop again by ...dxc4.
The new vacant point on d5 gives Black a chance to exchange pieces and give himself room to breathe. After ...Nd5, the dark square Bishops come off and if the central Knight is exchanged, Black can release his light square Bishop with the recapture ...exd5.
So why has such a safe line for Black faded into the background? The problem is Black has no practical winning chances. All he can do is withstand pressure for a long time. Then if he hasn't made a mistake he can get a draw. Maybe not so exciting.
The Lasker Defense is an excellent way for Black to deal with the leather White throws at him in the opening engagements of the QGD. After 6.e3 you will have reached a very common position in modern competition.
As Black you have a solid, compact position with no weaknesses. The problem is, however, White has all the space and his pieces are much more active. Compare the dark square Bishops for instance. Look at your minor pieces on the Queenside. They compare unfavorably with White's pieces. What to do?
Lasker came up with the solution. Trade as many units as you can. This reduces the value of White's spatial advantage significantly. After 6...h6 7.Bh4 Ne4 8.Bxe7 Qxe7, the dark square Bishops have been traded. White's active piece for Black's passive one, a good trade for Black.
And now you have a well posted Knight. Given your solid structure you can expect to get good chances in the endgame when your Queenside pieces emerge.
The Capablanca Variation is similar to the Lasker in that Black is seeking to trade down and neutralize White's initiative. It has proved so proficient in this that it's Main Lines have seen minimal tweaking since the 1920s.
From the position shown White may play 7.Rc1 c6 8.Bd3 dxc4 9.Bxc4 Nd5. This is the Main Line. After Bishop takes, Queen takes, castles, Black will trade Knights on c3, White recapturing with the Rook. Black has made it through the opening in decent shape.
White has tried many continuations to show he has some type of advantage. None however have been in any way convincing. Black can get an even game in every line by playing good, solid chess.
The Cambridge Springs Variation disappeared from top level chess in the 1920s. White was able to get and retain a small advantage in all lines. The masters couldn't find a way for Black to equalize without a long hard toil stretching into the middlegame.
The opening is still seen at lower levels. It contains a couple of traps which always attracts fans. The elephant trap has been known to claim a few victims. There are also ideas involving ...dxc4 in response to a careless Bd3. The dark square Bishop is exposed with a double attack and White is down a piece.
Should White be well enough versed to avoid these traps Black will bring his dark square Bishop to b4 and the battery along the a5-e1 diagonal can make life tricky for White for a while.
The Semi-Tarrasch is a Tarrasch Defense with 3...Nf6 4.Nf3 thrown in. This changes the dynamics of the play dramatically. Black continues with ...c5 as before. The presence of the two Kingside Knights in the center means a different kind of middlegame from a Tarrasch.
You are specifically playing for an isolated d-pawn in the Tarrasch Defense. You're counting on this to give you activity. You are trying to avoid getting an isolated d-pawn in the Semi-Tarrasch. This is why ...Nf6 is played before ...c5. You will recapture with the Knight, not the e6-pawn if White takes on d5.
As soon as the Knight is in position, you are more than happy to play ...c5 and put the pressure on White's center. 5.cxd5 Nxd5 often follows and White can choose between the continuations, 6.e3, 6.e4 or 6.g3. Each have their own factors to consider.
The Ragozin Variation is a plan very similar to the Nimzo-Indian. In fact White can transpose to the Nimzo-Indian with 5.e3. If allowed you can think about ...dxc4 giving you a dangerous initiative on the Queenside. White may cut that out by playing 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5.
You've got your Nimzo-like Bishop on b4 with the f6 Knight threatening to swoop in to e4, pressurizing the c3-Knight. You can also think about ...Qa5 at some point. This can be a possibility after the pin from the dark square Bishop has been broken.
You also have the ...c5 as a possible weapon against the d4-pawn. White has played Qa4 to stop ...Qa5 and Nd2 can break the pin from the b4-Bishop making Nxd5 a live possibility if ...Ndb7 has already been played.
The Vienna Variation comes about after you take on c4. This may seem a strange decision having originally declined it. The rationale for ...dxc4 is if White plays 5.e3 and takes the pawn you will get into some Queen's Gambit Accepted lines.
The QGA is more attractive now as some of White's options that would have been available after 2...dxc4 will not now be. White might not be so enthusiastic about things as they stand now. He can also transpose to some Slav lines after 5.Qa4+ but with similar limitations.
So White usually plays 6.e4 and after 6...c5 the game has entered the Vienna with lots of tactics waiting in the wings. It seems with his open position, White should have lots of scope to put Black on the ropes. But Black doesn't enter this line without some nifty resources.
Most important openings have an Exchange Variation. This occurs when the tension in a position is resolved pretty early. Usually it leads to an uneventful draw. This is because it tends to mean a symmetrical pawn structure. It's hard for either player to generate enough momentum or energy to get the win.
The Queen's Gambit Declined is an exception. The QGD Exchange Variation usually leads to an asymmetrical pawn structure. Imbalances such as this should lead to an interesting games with chances for either side to build a growing initiative or land a decisive blow.
The Carlsbad Formation in particular is heavily associated with this opening. White has ideas like a minority attack and play on the Queenside. He may also consider an advance in the center followed by a Kingside attack.
Black will attack on the Kingside in response to the former. He can defend against the latter with a Knight on f8, covering h7. If he survives the attack he has good chances.
The Queens Gambit Declined is an umbrella over many openings that you're bound to encounter again and again. What at first seems like a quiet, mechanical system turns out to be a path to exciting chess.