From theory I've encountered on the Catalan, I've understood that when black goes b7-b6 before first playing c7-c6, a good plan for white is to capture on d5. WI've understood that the rational for this might be that after black signaling that they might fianchetto, there's no longer a reason to keep not allow the exchange of the black e pawn, as their light squared bishop is anyway coming out, and that it's better for white that black recaptures with the e pawn than the c pawn (I'm guessing as after black later pushes the c pawn the hanging d- and c pawns might that become weak). However, I find it difficult to then come up with a follow up plan. What more breaks are there for white? Usually, when I still have my c pawn, I go for the e2-e4 break, but that seems less attractive in a case when there's no c pawn and I'd be landed with a isolated d pawn. Thoughts?

    
    [FEN "rnbq1rk1/p1p2ppp/1p2pn2/3p4/2PP4/5NP1/PP1NPPBP/R2QK2R w KQ - 0 8"]
1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 e6 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Bxd2+ 6. Nbxd2 O-O 7. Bg2 b6 *

The idea of exchanging on d5 when Black goes for an early ...b6 is usually connected with play on the c-file: Nc3, Bf4, Rc1, maybe Qa4.

In this particular position, after ...Bxd2 Nbxd2, this plan is not available and the pawn exchange is much less promising. Here, you can stand with the main plan of preparing e2-e4 (with 0-0, Qc2, Rd1), or look for an opportunity to exploit the dark squares (Ne5, e3, and someday either f4, Ndf3 or c4-c5).

If memory serves, 6.Qxd2 is a bit more promising than 6.Nbxd2 in this line.

  • I see 6. Qxd2 is played in some master games. I felt it the queen would invite a tempo loss there due to Ne4, which sometimes anyway is played by black. As for your main point about the cxd5 plan not being a good idea in this particular case when black has exchanged dark squared bishops, I guess you mean because, aside from not having a bishop to attack c7, also the white knight on d2 is misplaced to strike on the any particular square on the c file, and is in fact limited by the black d5 pawn. I guess that's why white has better use max firepower against that pawn, going e2-e4? – acye Jun 20 at 16:22

In double queen-pawn structure where x.cxd5 exd5 has occurred (sometimes called the Carlsbad structure) there is always the possibility of a "minority attack". This is more common in the QGD than in the Catalan but it is simply about the pawn islands. As you alluded to Black could end up with "hanging pawns" if he plays for c7-c5. If he doesn't, White will pile up on the c-file and push his 'a' and 'b' pawns hoping to isolate a black pawn and win it.

In your particular position you have traded dark-square bishops, so an eventual e2-e3 puts all your kingside pawns on dark-squares creating a very solid structure while you pressure d5 and the queen-side.

  • I have a hard time seeing how to pressure if the e pawn stays on e3. Do you mean that eventually e3-e4 should be played, going for a IQP structure? – acye Jun 20 at 16:30
  • Sure, Black has plenty of guys protecting d5 (for now). Now imagine you pressure c7. He might try c7-c6, then you are going to prepare and play play b2-b4-b5. If you trade your b-pawn for his c-pawn Black is left with an isolated d-pawn, then trade your a-pawn and he has another isolated pawn; These are the weaknesses you play against. – Ywapom Jun 20 at 16:36
  • Right, but I guess @Evargalo above has a point though, the knight on d2 is rather misplaced for this plan to work. I guess it would need to go back to b2 and then to c3, and also the bishop on g2 is not really contributing as long as there's a knight on f3, so the knight on f3 would have to go e5. All this would take time.. Maybe better not to go for the cxd5 plan but rather for e2-e4...? – acye Jun 20 at 17:38
  • And because of the Nd2 you could just avoid the cxd5 plan. – Ywapom Jun 20 at 21:18

Often in the Catalan rather than fighting for pawn breaks, you fight for piece activity. You want your pieces to be more active and constantly applying pressure to black while they have to passively defend.

cxd5 does a nice job of neutering the potential of the black bishop if it decides to go to b7, since it'll just be staring at d5 all day. Also your bishop will constantly be applying pressure to blacks d5 pawn. The knight on d2 is slightly misplaced, but it can go to f3 or b3 as needed. The knight on f3 has the naturally strong e5 square. The rook heading to c1 applies powerful pressure on blacks c pawn, which became a backwards pawn after b6 cxd5 got played. If black ever gets frustrated from passivity and plays c5 to break free, you have your choice between taking and fighting against hanging pawns, or waiting and continuing to amp up pressure and seeing how black changes the pawn structure (with c4, cxd, or trying to maintain the tension).

If you continued your variation 8. cxd5 exd5 9. o-o Bb7 10. Rc1 , you would reach similar positions to the ones in these example games. https://lichess.org/J7zbIFSu , https://lichess.org/0Vx36nsY

As you can see, these higher rated black players don't sit their passively as white pressures them with superior piece play, and instead try to generate play with c5, going for the hanging pawn structure.

You should not be trying to play e4 here in most cases. Focus on the piece play, and if black goes for it, fight against the hanging pawns.

  • You mean not going for e4 after I already played cxd5, right? Because the other possibility raised here was that in this case when bishops got exchanged and the knight is on d2, then it would be better not to play cxd5 at all, but to keep the tension and go for e4, in which case the knight on d2 is perfectly placed, ready to recapture on either c4 or e4. – acye Jun 26 at 9:45
  • Yes I'm talking about after cxd5. After seeing b6 it's really quite a good reaction in these sorts of positions. Not to mention that's the topic your question was about. I'm having trouble seeing a good way to organize an e4 push as well. Really leaving the pawn on e2 would be ideal unless there was some good reason to move it. Getting quick development and active piece play is the way to go here, like in the first game I linked. – Hockeyfan19 Jun 26 at 9:50
  • I agree with the first poster in that I'd be more tempted to go for the slightly more aggressive Qxd2 myself, but Nbxd2 with the good cxd5 after b6 is perfectly reasonable and what you were asking about. It can certainly defeat gm level opponents if backed up with strong play, like in the games I linked. – Hockeyfan19 Jun 26 at 9:56

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