The Chigorin Defense is a niche opening that black can use to surprise unprepared opponents.
What’s the Chigorin Defense?
The Chigorin Defense is a chess opening that players can play as a response to the Queen’s Gambit. It occurs after the move order 1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nf6.
In the Chigorin Defense, black develops the knight to put pressure on d4.
Compared to other popular openings such as the Slav Defense or the Queen’s Gambit Declined, black focuses on development instead of pawn moves!
What are the main lines of the Chigorin Defense?
After 2. … Nc6, white has three main responses: 3. cxd5, 3. Nf3 and 3. Nc3.
I will show you how to play against each move and give you a game plan so that you can try out the Chigorin for yourself!
White plays 3. cxd5
Against 3. cxd5, the move 3. … Qxd5 is the logical response, it recaptures the pawn and attacks the pawn on d4.
White has two main ways to respond: 4. Nf3 and 4. e3.
Let’s look at 4. e3 first: The best response is 4. … e5, which puts pressure on the d4 pawn and fights for control over the center.
After 5. Nc3, black can reply with 5. … Bb4.
When the Queen gets attacked in the Chigorin, the pin with Bb4 is often the correct reply. Black gives up the bishop in most variations but keeps an active position.
After the variation 6. Bd2 Bxc3 7. bxc3, we reach an important position.
White is about to play c4 and will start to take over the center. That’s why black plays 7. … Qd6 here to stop c4 (the d4 pawn hangs otherwise). The bishop on d2 is restricted.
A possible further continuation is 8. Bd3 Nf6 9. Ne2 0-0 10. 0-0.
The position is about equal.
If white plays 4. Nf3, similar ideas apply. Black responds with 4. … e5 and if white plays Nc3, black pins the knight with Bb4.
A possible variation is 4. … e5 5. Nc3 Bb4 6. Bd2 Bxc3 7. Bxc3 e4 8. Ne5.
In this position, black can play the interesting move 8. … e3!, a pawn sacrifice to limit the white bishop.
After 9. fxe3 Nxe5 10. dxe5 Ne7, white has the bishop pair and is a pawn up, but the tripled pawns on the e-line give black easy targets to play against and the position is equal.
White plays 3. Nf3
Black can respond with 3. …. Bg4.
After 4. e3, 4 … e5 is the most aggressive move that will give you a double-edged game.
The variation continues with 5. dxe5 dxc4 6. Qxd8+ Rxd8 7. Bxc4 Nxe5.
Now 8. Be2 is forced. If white blunders with Nxe5, Rd1# will end the game.
Black has good chances in this variation.
White plays 3. Nc3
The move 3. Nc3 is considered to be the best response for white. If you play the Queens Gambit with white, you should play Nc3 against the Chigorin Defense.
Black can respond with 3. … dxc4, 3. … Nf6 or 3. … e5.
Grandmaster Ben Finegold is one of the few master-level players who plays the Chigorin Defense on a regular basis.
He often plays 3. … e5, which is a double-edged move that will throw most opponents of their preparation.
4. cxd5 is the best response for white. 4. e3 is passive and will give black a good game after 4. … exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6. Bg5 Be7 7. cxd5 Nxd5.
A possible continuation would be 4. … Nxd4 5. e3 Nf5 6. Nf3 Bd6 7. e4 Nfe7 8. Bb5+ Kf8 9. h3 Nf6.
I will say that white has a slight edge in this variation. However, it’s still playable for black, and if you’re comfortable with this position, you should look deeper into this position for yourself.
Is the Chigorin Defense a good chess opening?
I consider the Chigorin Defense to be a slightly inaccurate opening that still can score great results as a surprise weapon.
Most white players will be prepared for common openings such as the Queen’s Gambit Declined, but won’t know the Chigorin in great detail – or maybe even not at all. This can give you an edge.
In master play, the Chigorin Defense has only been used as a surprise weapon. For example, Ivanchuk managed to beat Carlsen in 2013 with the Chigorin Defense.
If you’re curious now and want to get a deeper look into the opening, I recommend the book “The Chigorin Defence: Move by Move” by Jimmy Liew. You can check the current price for the book here.