Avoiding Theory: The Nh3 Queen’s Gambit Declined

For those of you who love avoiding theory yet reaching perfectly playable positions, this post is for you. If you are a d4 player, odds are you are fairly familiar with the Queen’s Gambit lines for both the Accepted and Declined lines. If you read my post last month, Going Out of Book, you probably noticed that while my Nh3 maneuver was unorthodox, I got a great position and beat an expert convincingly. I think this approach is solid and its great for blitz, but for the most part its untested in standard tournament play.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6

4.Bf4 Already, this is different than the main line Tartakower Bg5 lines. This move in it of itself  is not uncommon, but can often lead to draws with passive play. Black wants to play …Bf8–d6 and trade of the dark squares. If he plays …Bb4, the opening transposes to a Nimzo–Indian and White is okay playing 5. e3 and playing sound chess. Should black elect the passive …Be7 approach, then he cannot play the standard c7-c6 move, as the d6 square becomes uncomfortable after a move like Nbd7. Long story short, if Black wants to play a solid Queen’s Gambit Declined line, he must play Bd6 in the near future.

4…c6 I find that when I play blitz, this is the most instinctive response. For most lines of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, this is a textbook response. If 4… Bd6, 5.Bxd6 Qxd6 6.Nb5 could pose an awkward position for Black. 6… Qb4+ 7. Qd2 Qxd2+ 8. Kxd2 and Black’s lack of development will begin to cause him significant problems.

5.Nh3!? This is the awkward move that this article is about! My idea is that my opponent will play ..Bd6 and force me to capture on d6 to avoid doubling my pawns. This move develops a piece and means that …Bd6 is not a forcing move. I find that Black likes to sit around and wait for white to commit to a line, so this move forces Black out of his comfort zone.

5… Bd6 Black makes this move to castle kingside, not to force a trade on d6. The struggle in this position is who wants to trade bishops. If Black captures on f4, I have a nice square for my knight and can relocate to d3 and e5. Whereas if I take on d6, Black recaptures with the queen and is perfectly fine. In the case of 5… dxc4 6.e3 b5 7. a4 creates some exciting play. Even though White may not regain the pawn, he will definitely have the initiative with moves like Qd1–f3.

6.e3! The only way to improve the position. Now if Black ever takes on c4, White can just retake with the bishop. At this point, Black has two responses …0–0 and …Bxf4, but usually the lines transpose. The important point is to not play cxd5 until Black has traded on f4. This is because c4xd5 followed by e6xd5 opens Black’s light squared bishop to attack the h3 knight. Keep the tension in the position for as long as possible!

6… 0-0 7. Be2

7… Bxf4 The tension is too much for Black, and his need to develop takes precedence in this position. Black cannot play Nbd7 without hanging the bishop, and Na6-c7 ideas are too slow. Black’s only other move is 7…dxc4 8. Bxc4, but white is comfortable in this position, and black has not solved his problem in development.

8. Nxf4 Nbd7

From this position, White for the most part can play based on intuition and have a very comfortable position. There are two different plans here, one for aggressive players, and the other for more positional players. White can opt to castle kingside, and just play on the c-file, followed with a minority attack after an exchange on d5. The other idea, which I have not played as much is to capture cxd5 and play Nf4-d3 followed by f2-f4. This follows the basic Stonewall Dutch ideas to some extent, since White would then want to play Ne5, and then an h-pawn push on the kingside. Though there is not a pawn on c3, White doesn’t need to worry about …Nb4 counterattacking ideas since Black’s knight is on d7 and not c6. The latter idea is better for blitz because White’s king is generally unsafe.

With this Nh3 line, you can reach respectable positions and confuse your opponent, so win-win!

Feel like I forgot something? Feel free to comment below!

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