Now, let’s apply the model to the question: What do I play against 1.d4?
I would fill the four quadrants as follows, omitting openings that are unimportant or about which I am not 100% sure:

1) classical – inferior quality

Chigorin Defense – lack of pawn support in the center

2) modern – inferior quality
  • King’s Indian Defense – too little respect for space
  • Dutch Defense – too little space, weakens the king position
  • Budapest Gambit – lack of space
  • Modern Benoni – pawn minority in the center
  • Volga-Benko Gambit – insufficient compensation for the pawn
  • Blumenfeld Gambit – insufficient compensation for the pawn
3) classical – high quality
  • Queen’s Gambit Declined
  • Slav Defence
4) modern – high quality
  • Nimzo-Indian Defense/Queen’s Indian Defense
  • Grunfeld Indian Defense


Modern players should keep in mind that the Grunfeld Indian is probably the most difficult of all openings against 1.d4, as there are many concrete lines to learn. Playing Nimzo-Indian/Queen’s Indian is significantly easier, as patterns play a bigger role. Furthermore, these openings have a hybrid character, where many classic elements are incorporated. Often, you have the choice between interpreting the position in a classical or rather modern fashion.

Within the classical openings, I like the Slav Defense more than the Queen’s Gambit Declined, because there is apparently less to learn. After all, White has four different options against the Queen’s Gambit Declined: 1) the Catalan 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3, 2) the Classic Variation 1.d4 d4 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5, 3) the Exchange Variation 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 and 4) the variation 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.Bf4.

As you can see, economic aspects also play a role. This is a dimension missing in the simple matrix above. The Slav Defense can be described as a universal opening, since it also serves as a weapon against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3. One would still have to learn how to react against 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 or 3.e3, but that’s no rocket science.

Let’s summarize the advantages of the Slave Defense:

  • High-quality 
  • Easy to play, as no knowledge of modern chess strategy is required 
  • Patterns and motives tends to be more important than the knowledge of variations
  • Solid, suitable as a draw weapon
  • Manageable expenditure of time

I recently started to give Slave Defense-lessons to my students (complementing those on the Nimzo and the Queen’s Indian). Feel free to join the club!

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