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In one game between world class players, (Alekhine and Rubinstein), the game began 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 ...

When Rubenstein played 3... a6?, Alekhine grabbed the opportunity to reply 4. c5! because a6 was a "wasted" move and 2) weakened b6. This was the case even though it is usually not good for White to release the tension on d5 so early. (Alekhine won.)

In this game between amateurs, the game appears to have been decided by Black's 14th move 14. ... Nf8, and the fact that White could play c5 on move 18 (after exchange of several "forced" moves). I lost a game without making tactical mistakes; how can I avoid this happening in the future?

On the other hand, I was told that if Black can play c5 against d4 without adverse consequences, he equalizes. Which is why I advised Black to play 3... b6 in the game in the previous paragraph, to prepare for an eventual c5.

Is it true that in a game where White opens d4, the result of the game is largely determined by who gets to play c5?

  • 3
    I have never heard the c5 thing. I vote no, c5 is not a super-critical square. – Tony Ennis Apr 28 '13 at 23:03
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First of all, 3...a6 after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 is not a terrible move for Black. It has been played by many top-level grandmasters, including Morozevich multiple times. 4.c5 is historically the eighth most common move in that position (4.cxd5 is the most common), so it's not like it refutes 3...a6. Opening theory has moved on since Alekhine.

To the more general question: putting a pawn on c5 in 1.d4 d5 positions changes the position a lot, played either as White or as Black, so it's always worth considering.

For Black, ...c5 is one of the primary ways to try to break up White's strong center based on d4. It can be easier to engineer than the other possibility, ...e5, because his dark-squared bishop is already supporting it. He can also play supporting moves like ...Nbd7, ...Qc7 (both of which are also useful for preparing ...e5), and ...Rac8. Often Black's early play is based on creating the opportunity to play ...c5; if he can get it in without problems, he's usually doing well. Note also that ...c5 is an incredibly important move in the French, again trying to pry open d4.

For White, c5 is fairly rare. It does gain space on the Queenside, but its main drawback is that it releases a lot of pressure on Black's d5 pawn. This means that his e6 pawn isn't as necessary to support it, which makes it a lot easier for him to play ...e5, since he doesn't have to worry so much about having lots of support for both the new e5 pawn and the suddenly-less-defended d5 pawn. Generally it is considered that the cons of c5 (removing pressure on d5 so that ...e5 is harder to stop) outweigh the pros (gaining space on the Queenside).

One exception is the Chebanenko Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6), where 5.c5 is a quite common move. One extra thing it has going for it here is that it highlights the weakness of Black's b6 square, and it's going to be a bit difficult for Black to play ...b6 to engage with it. In the game you mention, Alekhine probably had a similar idea regarding the weakness of the b6 square after 3...a6.

(18.c5 in the game you link to had nothing to do with any of this; that move is good because it entombs the bishop on b7.)

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After reading your question, I googled and Franco Sicilian Defense came up. I wouldn't play the Sicilian directly against d4 (as in 1.d4 c5), so the Franco actually makes sense to me.

Looking at the games in their database it appears that out of 1600 games, black only wins 31% of the time, and 2...c5 is played, which is the probably the earliest I myself would play c5 against d4, so I'd have to say myth busted :=)


Also, we can debunk that by imaging what would happen in an amateur game if 1.d4 c5 was the opening play, I don't think statistically black would come out on top or even draw. Quote from Wikipedia:

"Indeed, most statistical surveys suggest that 1.d4 is the most successful first move for White, but only because 1...c5 scores so highly against 1.e4."

  • 2
    1.d4 c5 is called the Old Benoni and is a perfectly respectable opening that has been played by many grandmasters. – dfan Apr 29 '13 at 11:58
  • @dfan thanks for the info, I did a search and found a board for the old benoi trap, looks more beneficial for black after 2.dxc5. Also, an amateur game vs. a grandmaster game is apples and oranges. Should the OP perhaps update the question to reflect one or the other? – MDMoore313 Apr 29 '13 at 13:34
  • "Debnked." Not necessarily. There are many that consider c5 in the Benoni "premature," and suffering from "adverse consequences." As Black, former world champion JR Capablanca would spend the first half of any game that White opened d4 preparing c5. His won-loss record AFTER he played the move (if he played it) was basically unequalled in human history. – Tom Au Apr 29 '13 at 20:34
  • @TomAu, would you like to change the question to either GM level or similar, as opposed to the amateur level? It's really apples and oranges. I don't know much about the championship level, but I see you had both in your question so I weighed in. – MDMoore313 Apr 29 '13 at 20:47
  • I'd say master, although the "amateur" in that game was in the 1900s, near the top of "amateur" and not far from "expert," the level below "master." I once played d4 against a 2100 ("expert") player and he beat me with c5. chess.stackexchange.com/questions/327/… – Tom Au Apr 29 '13 at 21:07
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The entire family of Benoni Defenses and the Benko Gambit all include ...c5 in response to 1.d4.

[FEN ""]
[White "Benoni Defense & Benko Gambit"]
[Black "A57-A79"]
[PlyCount "15"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 {is the Benko Gambit} (3... e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 {is the Benoni}) 

The Blumenfeld Counter-Gambit is another example:

[FEN ""]
[White "Blumenfeld Counter Gambit"]
[Black "E10"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 c5 4. d5 b5 {is the Blumenfeld Counter Gambit}

The Benoni has a performance of 62%-38% for White over 9650 decisive games, and 28% draws. So, ...c5 doesn't seem to work for Black in that opening.

The Benko Gambit has a performance of 58%-42% for White over 15,300 decisive games, and 31% draws. So, it looks as if ...c5 doesn't seem to work for Black in that opening.

The Blumenfeld has a performance of 58%-42% for White over 2390 decisive games, and 28% draws. So, again, it looks like ...c5 doesn't seem to work for Black in that opening.

However, in the Berlin Defense, a notoriously difficult nut for White to crack, the performance is 59%-41% for White in decisive games, with 49% draws.

So, ironically, the Blumenfeld and Benko Gambits_both_ yield marginally better results for Black than the Berlin Defense! There is no way to confirm that it is a direct result of the move ...c5, however.

Conversely, when White can play both 1.d4 and a later c5, he has a performance of 61%-38% score in the decisive games, and about 32% of the games being draws. (This is based on a sample of 3880 games where both players were ELO 2000 or higher.) This is a slightly higher score than most openings offer.

A comparison could be made with the Giuoco Piano (Italian Game), where White scores only about 54-46% in decisive games, with 43% draws.

A possible hypothesis is that the move c5 leads to a win, but it may be that strong players of White play the move when it's reasonable, and weaker players don't, even if it's reasonable. In other words, it may just be an indicator of when a strong player of white is facing a weaker player of black, not the deciding factor itself.

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