The Magic of Catalan opening!

“In Catalan opening, I feel white is just one tempo short of winning the game!” – Anish Giri.

With such a bold statement from not-so-bold Dutch No.1 and Elite Grandmaster Anish Giri, anyone can get inspired to try out the Catalan opening. So what is the Catalan opening? Since when is it popular? What are the concepts?

Mover order of the Catalan –

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 is the initial position of the Catalan. A lot of variations are possible. Black has different possible approaches. He can opt for open Catalans with 6. …-dxc4, another way to play is 6. …-c6. Black can also try for the tarrasch type approach with 6. …- c5. Later it also depends on how white decides to recapture the pawn.

When to Play Catalan opening 

Catalan is a very Rich opening. It can be seen in elite tournaments as well as in club events. Catalan is hands down the favourite opening of a lot of top Grandmasters. Every Top player has once in his life played this opening. It can be used as a main weapon. As the positions which arise tend to give white a slight plus out of the opening in almost all the lines, it can be a sufficient reason for you to take up this opening.

Pioneers of The Catalan –

As far as I have studied this opening, I have seen the following few players who championed this opening. A few names might come as a surprise to you, but it must be because you might have studied the games of this opening in less amount.

  • Vladimir Kramnik
  • Ulf Andersson
  • Vidit Gujrathi
  • Daniil Dubov
  • Erigaisi Arjun

The Vladimir Kramnik A.K.A Big Vlad is one of the biggest pioneers of this system. Kramnik kept on bringing new tries in this opening when a few years seemed that Catalan doesn’t provide advantage. Before him it was Ulf Andersson who emphasized on exploiting the “c6-square”. Vidit Gujrathi is a player who has played Catalan for his life and also always comes up with a lot of variations which provide white decent advantage.  Daniil Dubov is always known as a creative person. Recently when he knocked out Magnus Carlsen in Quarter-Finals of one of the online events. His ideas like h4 or g4 in Catalan has shown that any opening can be turned into a creative one when you are creative yourself! The last one according to me is Erigaisi Arjun who plays Catalan quite often and has good sense of the positions which arise in the middlegame.

Concepts of The Catalan opening –

Whatever knowledge I present here will be according to my current understanding. These concepts will vary according to positions. Catalan has vast depth. Let’s see some common concepts –

  • The Catalan Bishop – The g2 Bishop is white’s strength. The whole game is based on the fact that white tries to prove his superiority with his light square Bishop taming black’s light squared bishop. It is said that if black manages to develop his light squared bishop without any problems, then he manages to equalize the game. White tries his best to tame the black light squared bishop.
  • The e5/c5 break – Black tries to achieve the e5/c5 break. This break is vital to grab breathing space for his pieces. There are lines where white himself plays a move like Ba5 followed by b4 to stop c5 ideas. I have selected a few games on this concept which you can check in model games section.
  • Weak “c6 square” – Ulf Anderrson used to show his magic around this square to squeeze a win out of dry positions. His lots of games were based on this concept. These games are very instructive and I recommend everyone to carefully go trough these games. Generally we observe that if white manages to establish a Knight on c6, it is worth a Rook!
  • The Catalan Endgame – The typical Catalan endgame where white has a Rook+Knight v/s Black’s Rook+Bishop. Here white keeps on pushing for small positional gains to increase them slowly and convert to a big plus.
  • The h4 Idea – As mentioned earlier in the article, Russian Elite Grandmaster Daniil Dubov is famous for his unique ideas of h4 h5 in the Catalan! Generally people try such rash attacks in QGD or KID lines, but here Dubov keeps it complicated. I have attached a video where he beats World No.3 Ding Liren in less than 20 moves!

These were a few concepts, as we all know the depth of Catalan, its difficult to explain all concepts here. I will try to come up with another article on Catalan which will have a few different concepts.

How to Prepare Catalan –

There are a few approaches I will suggest on preparing the Catalan. These depend on your style of play so choose wisely! –

  • Studying the Catalan course by GM Narayanan Srinath – Narayanan Srinath is strong GM from India. He has created a course on the opening Catalan for chessable. You can check the course here. The course is very instructive. Srinath Focuses on providing positions which are practically easy to play and also easy to recall while playing. His narration is one of the X-Factors as he explains each and every detail in depth! In this course you can find solution to all the lines possible against 1.d4.
  • Studying classics – In the modern world where everyone tries to mock the current theory or try to follow some “Lifetime Repertoires” the unique approach to study games from late 1970’s till today will increase your general understanding of the game. You can follow games of legends like Vladimir Kramnik, Vidit Gujrathi, Anish Giri, Daniil Dubov etc.
  • Analysing the pawn structures arising out of the openings – Once you see decent number of games, you can start analysing the pawn structure. This approach will ensure you take proper decisions as to which piece to keep and which to trade.

Final Words about the catalan opening –

At the end I would say is Catalan is a fantastic opening and one should use it at least once in their life

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