QGD: The Cambridge Springs

The Cambridge Springs variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined takes its name from a small town in rural Pennsylvania (population 2,363), and is characterized by the daring move 6…Qa5, which breaks the pin on black’s knight and pins the white knight in a single move. The early Queen sortie also seeks to pressure white’s center immediately. This variation is known for being replete with traps and zaps, and for this reason it’s the kind of defense which appeals to class-level patzers like myself. Having said that, the opening does make an occasional appearance in top level chess now and then, though many GMs do not attempt to play it because of its major flaw: that white can enter an exchange variation of the QGD. For this reason, it is usually employed via the semi-slav move order, however, in order to do this you must be prepared to play main line meran positions as well as face sharp anti-merans etc. The QGD move order is reached after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Nd7 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Qa5, giving us the following position which is the beginning of the Cambridge Springs variation.

Right off the bat there are a couple of traps which every good schoolboy must know if he is going to handle this delicate position with appropriate care. For instance, after the common moves 7.Qc2 Ne4, many white players would like to stick their bishop on d3 to remove that bothersome knight. However, white looses immediately after 8.Bd3 in this position because of a stock idea in this opening:

Here, black responds with 8…Nxg5!, when after 9. Nxg5 dxc4 white is dropping a piece because of the double attack on the bishop and the knight on g5.

Another trap which is a cornerstone of Cambridge Springiness arises after the following natural moves: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Nxd5?? we have the following position in which a zwischenzug wins black a piece.

Here, black has the simple 6…Nxd5!, because after 7.Bxd8 Bb4+ 8.Qd2 Kxd8 black is simply up a minor piece.

So, returning to our tabiya after 6…Qa5, white has a few options available on move 7. There is (1) Nd2, (2) cxd4 and (3) Bxf6, with 7.Nd2 being the most testing and main line. Needless to say, there is a lot of theory on these variations, and unfortunately it isn’t very easy to come by. To my knowledge, there are only a couple of books on this variation, one by Eric Schiller (i.e. drek) and the other a Gambit manual, by Panczyk and Ilczuk, which is incredible but also incredibly rare and expensive.

While the Cambridge Springs isn’t a work horse defense like the Slav, it has appeared in World Championship matches a number of times, and some GMs have made regular use of it such as Bogoljubov, who contributed greatly to it’s theory, and over the last few decades a number of top GMs have tried their hand it at from time to time, including Kasparov. The following 4 games are all taken from World Championship matches, and out of these games black scores an impressive 3.5/4!