If White begins 1. d4, Black’s ability to equalize often is based on whether he can play c5. Many times when it seems he cannot, that is not true, as World Chess’s columnist explains.

In many d-pawn openings, Black’s ability to play  c5 at some point  is often a key element in the fight for equality. So White tries to make the break come at a cost, or better still, to prevent it altogether. Sometimes when it looks as if White has succeeded in stopping c5, it turns out that he has not. Here is a beautiful example from several years ago:

Topalov, Veselin vs. Kasimdzhanov, Rustam
London FIDE GP 1st | London | Round 3 | 23 Sep 2012 | ECO: D46 | 1/2-1/2
1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bb7 9. a3 Bd6 10. O-O O-O 11. Qc2 Rc8 Obviously intending ...c5, so White puts his foot down and stops it for good.
12. b4 No more ...c5, right?
12... c5!? Wrong. Kasimdzhanov devised an amazing novelty, though subsequent analysis has cast some doubt upon the idea.
12... a5 was the original move here, and the move to which players have returned in light of White's improvement on move 14 after 12...c5.  )
13. bxc5 Bxf3 14. gxf3 The obvious move, but now as both theory (i.e. computers) and practice (15 out of 15) have shown, the game is simply a draw.
14. cxd6! Nd5 15. gxf3 seems to favor White, who enjoys a plus score and the computer's blessing here after both 15...Qg5+ and 15... Nxc3.  )
14... Nxc5!! 15. dxc5 Rxc5 16. f4 Saving the knight allows a speedy perpetual:
16. Bb2 Bxh2+ 17. Kxh2 Rh5+ 18. Kg2 Rg5+ 19. Kh1 Rh5+ 20. Kg2  )
16... Nd5 17. Bb2 Nxc3 18. Bxc3 Qc7 19. Rfc1 Rc8 Black regains the piece, White regains the pawn (on h7), and a draw quickly ensues.
20. Bxh7+ Here's another drawing variation that has occurred (at least) seven times:
20. Bb4 Rxc2 21. Rxc2 Qxc2 22. Bxc2 Bxb4 23. axb4 Rxc2 24. Rxa7 g5 25. fxg5 Rb2  )
20... Kh8 21. Bd3 Rxc3 22. Qxc3 Qxc3 23. Rxc3 Rxc3 24. Bxb5 Bxa3 The rest was necessitated only by the Corsia/Sofia rules about drawing.
25. Kg2 g6 26. Rd1 Rc7 27. Rd7 Rxd7 28. Bxd7 Kg7 29. e4 Kf6 30. Kf3 a5 31. e5+ Ke7 32. Ba4 Bc5 33. h3 Bb6 34. Bb5 Bc5 35. Ba4 Bb6 36. Bb5 Bc5 37. Ba4

For several years, Rustam Kasimdzhanov worked as the second for Viswanathan Anand, the former World Champion, and he may have been responsible for the idea in the following game, one of the most beautiful played in this decade. In the same variation as the previous example, White tries to prevent the c5 break by more indirect means, and once again it comes up short.

Aronian, Levon vs. Anand, Viswanathan
Tata Steel-A 75th | Wijk aan Zee | Round 4 | 15 Jan 2013 | ECO: D46 | 0-1
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bd6 9. O-O O-O 10. Qc2 Bb7 11. a3 Rc8 12. Ng5 This avoids ...c5, as the move hangs both h7 and b5. (Or so it seems.) On the other hand, it might appear that White has blundered a pawn to ...Bxh2+ Kxh2 Ng4+ followed by ...Qxg5.
12. b4 was played in the previous game, Topalov-Kasimdzhanov, played approximately four months earlier.  )
12... c5!! Once again this idea! The lines are even more complicated than in the previous game, and there are also more dangers for White.
12... Bxh2+ 13. Kxh2 Ng4+ 14. Kg1 Qxg5 15. f3 Ngf6 16. e4 Or
...   )
13. Nxh7
13. Bxh7+ Kh8 14. f4 is another try, and the computer's first choice.
14... g6 It takes a while for the computer to come around to this move, which has scored brilliantly for Black: 3.5/4.
15. Bxg6 fxg6 16. Nxb5 Bb8 17. Nxe6 Qb6 18. Nxf8 Nxf8  )
13... Ng4! Again not the engine's immediate choice (that was 13...c4), but after a little while it comes around.
14. f4
14. h3 has been tried in all the subsequent games, though both moves are good for nothing more than equality.
14... Bh2+ 15. Kh1 Qh4 16. d5 Rfd8 The position remains complicated.  )
14... cxd4 15. exd4?! From here Anand couldn't remember his preparation, but he managed to reconstruct and figure out what to do.
15. Nxf8 Bxf8 16. h3 dxc3 17. hxg4 gives Black adequate compensation after
17... Qh4 or
...   )
15... Bc5!! 16. Be2?
16. dxc5 Nxc5 17. Nxf8 Qd4+ 18. Kh1 Nxd3 19. h3 Ndf2+ 20. Rxf2 Nxf2+ 21. Kh2 Nd3 22. Nxe6 fxe6  )
16... Nde5!! While the move's logic is clear once one sees the move, walking into a self-fork like this is both rare and beautiful.
17. Bxg4
17. fxe5? Qxd4+ 18. Kh1 Qg1+! 19. Rxg1 Nf2# is a nice if simple variation.  )
17... Bxd4+ 18. Kh1 Nxg4 19. Nxf8 f5!
19... Qh4? looks wonderful until one spots
20. Qh7+ , which allows White to escape his problems.  )
20. Ng6 Qf6! 21. h3
21. Ne5 wins against everything but
21... Nxh2! , and this keeps Black on top.  )
21... Qxg6 22. Qe2 Qh5 23. Qd3?
23. Rf3 was absolutely necessary.
23... Nf2+ 24. Kh2 Bxf3 25. Qxf3 Qxf3 26. gxf3 Nd3 looks like an amazing escape for White for a couple of seconds, until one realizes that although material is equal and White's king won't be mated any time soon, the resulting endgame is completely winning for Black.  )
23... Be3!
23... Be3! is a nice finishing touch:
24. Bxe3 Qxh3+ 25. Kg1 Qxg2#  )

The third example is not from practice, but was perhaps inspired by it. I was looking through Boris Avrukh’s 1.d4: The Queen’s Gambit 1B, and, as in the previous examples, the battle revolves around Black’s attempts to play c5. Avrukh says in his his analysis of the following position that White has prevented the break, but I don’t think that is true.

Meran Setup vs. Vs. The Slow Slav
? | ? | Round ? | 29 Dec 2016 | ECO: D45 | *
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. b3 Nbd7 6. Bb2 b6 7. Bd3 Bb7 8. O-O Bd6 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Qc2 Rc8 The immediate
10... c5 probably doesn't equalize:
11. cxd5 exd5 12. Rfd1 Qe7 13. Rac1 Avrukh also likes
...  g6 14. Bb5! Rac8 15. Qe2 Ba8 16. Rc2 "White had nice pressure", says Avrukh, though he agreed to a draw a move later.
16... h6 17. Rcc1 1/2-1/2 (17) Dreev,A (2668)-Grachev,B (2652) Sibenik 2009  )
11. e4 dxe4 12. Nxe4 Nxe4 13. Bxe4 Nf6 If Black tries to take care of h7 first and then play ...c5, he'll discover that he's too late.
13... h6 14. c5! Be7 15. Rfd1 Qc7 16. Bh7+ The following is Avrukh's improvement over S. Savchenko-Itkis, Ilichevsk 2006.
16... Kh8 17. Bd3 bxc5 18. dxc5 Nxc5 19. Be5 Qa5 20. Bf1 Rfd8 21. Qb2 Threatening both b4 and Bxg7+.  )
14. Bd3 Qe7 15. Rac1 Here Avrukh asserts that "Black cannot do much against the upcoming c4-c5, locking in his light-squared bishop." But what about simply pushing the pawn?
15... c5! Instead,
15... Rfd8 16. c5 Bc7 17. Rfe1 h6 18. Ne5 Nd5 19. a3 and  )
15... Ba3 16. c5 Bxb2 17. Qxb2 are the lines given by Avrukh. Both lines are logical and result in a slight but very usable White edge. Surprisingly, however, he doesn't look at Black's most direct and most principled reply.  )
16. d5! Certainly the best move, and the most dangerous move for Black to face.
16. dxc5?! Bf4! 17. Bxf6 Qxf6 18. Bxh7+ Kh8 19. Be4 Bxe4 20. Qxe4 Bxc1 21. Rxc1 Rxc5 /-/+  )
16. Ne5 cxd4 17. Bxd4 Rfd8 18. Rcd1 h6  )
16... exd5 17. cxd5 White could first move the rook of his choosing to e1; for simplicity's sake we'll start with the exchange on d5.
17... Bxd5 18. Rfe1!
18. Rce1 Qd8 19. Ng5 h6 20. Bh7+! Kh8 21. Bf5 Rc6! 22. Bxf6 Qxf6 23. Nh7 It looks like Black is in trouble, but some attractive and subtle tactics come to the rescue:
23... Bxh2+! 24. Kxh2 Qh4+ 25. Kg1 Rd8! 26. Qe2 Re6! 27. Bxe6 fxe6 28. f4 Kxh7 29. Qf2 Qxf2+ 30. Rxf2  )
18... Qd8 19. Nh4! Re8! This time
19... c4 isn't as good.
20. bxc4 b5 21. Nf5 bxc4? 22. Qd2! shows why Rfe1 is correct and Rce1 isn't. Black is already in big trouble, and if
22... cxd3? then
23. Rxc8 Qxc8 24. Qg5 is crushing.  )
20. Nf5 Qc7! Not an easy move to make. White has the initiative in what follows, but with precise play it seems that Black can maintain equal chances.
20... Rxe1+ 21. Rxe1 Bf8 22. Rd1 c4! 23. bxc4 Be6 24. Qe2  )
21. Bxf6 gxf6
21... Bxh2+? is tricky, but if White plays correctly he comes out on top.
22. Kf1! Qc6 23. Rxe8+ Rxe8 24. Ne7+ Rxe7 25. Bxe7 Bxg2+ 26. Ke1 Bf4 27. Bxh7+ Kh8 28. Rd1 Qe6+ 29. Qe2 Qh3 30. Rd8+ Kxh7 31. Qd3+ Qxd3 32. Rxd3 /+-  )
22. g3 Bf8 23. Rxe8 Rxe8 24. Qd1 Qc6 25. Qh5 h6 26. Ne3 After
26. Nxh6+ Bxh6 27. Qxh6 Be4 Black's centralization compensates for his exposed kingside and White's passed h-pawn.  )
26... Bf3 27. Qf5 Be4 28. Qg4+ Bg7 29. Bc4
29. Nf5 Bxf5 30. Bxf5 Rd8 Of course White's position looks more comfortable, but Black will play ...Rd4 followed by ...Qd5 with equality.  )
29... Rd8 30. b4! Bf3 31. Qg6 Qd7 32. bxc5 bxc5 33. Bb3 Ba8! 34. Nf5 Qd1+! 35. Bxd1 fxg6 36. Bb3+ Kh7 37. Nxg7 Kxg7 38. Rxc5 Rd7 Safety at last.

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Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.