Catalan Opening

The Catalan Opening is defined by white’s setup with pawns on d4-c4 and a fianchetto of the light-squared bishop, and it can be played almost against anything as long as white decides to follow the setup of the Catalan System; for example: 1.d4 (Queen’s Pawn Opening) Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2.

Catalan - Opening moves

Named after the Catalan region, the Catalan opening was played by Savielly Tartakower in 1929 during the Barcelona tournament. The organizers of the tournament requested Tartakower play a new variation that paid tribute to the region’s rich chess heritage. Since then, the opening has become a staple in the repertoire of top-level players and is frequently employed by the current World Chess Champion, Ding Liren.

Winning percentages on both sides

Results Rate
Win for white 28%
Draw 55%
Win for black 17%

Catalan’s Main Ideas

The Catalan Opening is not an aggressive opening where you try to checkmate the king as quickly as possible, like you would do in an opening like King’s Gambit, for example. So the opening is a popular choice among chess players who prefer playing for positional long-term advantages because it allows for solid and risk-free play, while still providing opportunities for active development and control of key squares. It often leads to closed or semi-closed positions, which can favor a player with strong positional skills.

In the Catalan opening, White integrates the strategic concepts of both the Queen’s Gambit and Réti Opening to gain control of the center of the board with d4 and c4, along with g3 and Bg2. This results in a solid pawn structure that exerts pressure on the queenside, while simultaneously securing the white king’s position for the long term. The game often involves a battle for control of key squares, particularly the e4 and d5 squares. White’s queen can be placed on c2 or e2 to support the pawn on e4 and hit the pawn on c4, as well as gain control over the c-file, followed by Ne5 to free up the fianchetto bishop. Black will try to neutralize white’s powerful light-squared bishop by either trying to hold a stronghold in the center with a d5-c6-e6 structure or with Nd5. Striking at the center with …c5 or trying to maintain a queenside pawn majority with dxc4-b5-a6 pawn chains are other common plans for black.

Catalan Opening Theory

Catalon System

The characteristic starting position for the Catalan system can be reached via different move orders, such as: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 with 5.Nf3 next, or 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 and 5.Bg2 as well as 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 and 5.Bg2 next. The line with the move order 3.g3 is considered the purest version of the Catalan Opening because it avoids many openings such as Nimzo-Indian, Queen’s Indian (with b6-Bb7), Ragozin, etc.

The main branching point of the opening is reached after the fourth move, where Black can either choose to accept the pawn sacrifice on c4 by capturing the pawn with 4…dxc4 and therefore entering the territory of Open Catalan, or simply continue with the development of their pieces with moves like 4…Be7, which would then be the so-called Closed Catalan. In both cases, white’s fourth and fifth moves will be Nf3 and Bg2 in any order.

Open Catalan: 4…dxc4

Open Catalan

In the position after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 dxc4, the long diagonal for white’s fianchettoed bishop becomes already open to put constant pressure on black’s queenside, which black will try to counter with Nd5 later on. White usually continue with the development first. If white manages to regain the pawn on c4 timely, white will not only have an extra pawn in the center (d- and e-pawns versus black’s only e-pawn) and greater central control, but also potential pressure on the c-file and c7-pawn with Qc2 and Rc1. So white typically will develop the knight with 5.Nf3 and now black has nine reasonable options. The main line is 5…a6, with the idea to defend the pawn with b5 and consolidate the position by building a pawn chain.

After 6.0-0, black’s best way to continue the game is 6…Nc6 instead of 6…b5, because black is then susceptible to discovered attacks such as 7.Ne5 Nd5 8.a4 Bb7 9.b3 and white will have a strong presence on the queenside. But the move 6….Nc6 puts some pressure on the d4 square, so Ne5 or Qc2 is not so easy to play, as is supporting a breakthrough with …e5. Therefore, 7.e3 is a logical way to continue the game with the idea of Qe2-Rd1-Nc3 and play e4.

Against white, the main goal is to play e4, black will try to move out their pieces on the long diagonal of white’s fianchetto bishop with 7…Rb8 with the idea of b5 or 7…Bd7 (supporting the c6 knight in the case of b5). The battle will continue in the center and on the queen’s side.

Alternatively, black can strike at the center with 5…c5. The idea is simple: eliminate white’s pawn majority in the center by trading the c-pawn for the d-pawn, just like white has done with the c4-pawn sacrifice. After 6.0-0 Nc6 white will usually play 7.Qa4 to pin the knight as well as recapture the c4 pawn, as 7.dxc5 allows black to simplify the position by trading queens with 7…Qxd1, resulting in a highly balanced game after 8.Rxd1 Bc5.

Closed Catalan: 4…Be7

Closed Catalan

Instead of capturing the pawn on c4 with 4…dxc4, which allows white to compensate with a lead in development and initiative, black ignores the material and simply continues the game with 4…Be7. The Closed Catalan is a solid way to approach the position, but it does not pose any critical questions to white. So both sides will continue with their natural development: 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 and here black can try to build the triangle pawn arrangement with 6…c6 like in the Semi-Slav Defense.

The most direct approach for white is to go after the plan of obtaining central control by playing e4. So white will continue with the moves that support this idea: 7.Qc2 b6 8.Rd1 Bb7 9.Nc3 Nbd7 10.b3 to defend the c4 pawn, and if black plays a normal move like 10…Re8 or 10…Rc8, white is now ready to play 11.e4 and take control in the center. Black will therefore try to pose some questions to white with moves like 10…Ba6 and keep the pressure.

Anti-Catalan Variations


Anti-Catalan Variation - 3...c5 line

If Black wants to avoid the mainlines of the Catalan System but still plays 1…Nf6 and 2…e6, there are several lines with which black can seek to deviate from the standard structures of the Catalan Opening. In the move order with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3, one of them is to play 3…c5. With this move, black not only counterattacks the center but also forces a structural change that transposes to the Benoni Defense; usual continuation would be 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Bg2 Bg7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.0-0 Re8 and this is now no longer Catalan Opening Theory but Benoni Defense instead.


Anti-Catalan Variation - 3...Bb4+ line

The other alternative black has in order to deviate from the Catalan System is to play 3…Bb4+ and retreat back to e7 after 4.Bd2. If white had played 3.Nf3 instead of 3.g3, 3…Bb4+ would be Bogo-Indian Defense already. The idea behind this move is that after 4.Bd2 Be7, white will have a bishop that is misplaced on d2 and will have to lose time improving its position.

Famous Games on Catalan

№1 Vladimir Kramnik vs Computer Deep Fritz – GER, November 2006

№2 Kramnik vs Topalov – Russia, 2006 – WCC Match

Common trap in Catalan System

№1 (Open Catalan)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 c5 7.Bxb4 cxb4 8.Qa4+ Nc6 9.Ne5, hitting the pinned c6 knight, 9…Bd7 10.Nxc6 Bxc6 11.Bxc6+ bxc6 12.Qxc6+ Nd7 and now c4 pawn is poisoned: 13.Qxc4 Rc8 and 14…Rc1+ next picks up the rook on h1.

Pros and Cons of playing the Catalan

Solid opening with little risk for white, so white can play for two results most of the time. Requires theoretical preparation, considering that black has nine different playable moves after 4..dxc4 5.Nf3 in the Open Catalan
Integrates useful aspects of the Queen’s Gambit and Réti Opening into one single system. Players should possess technical skills to convert a long-term positional advantage.


The Catalan Opening is a versatile and formidable opening that offers white solid and flexible positions with various pawn structures and strategic plans, making it a popular choice at the top level. It requires some technical positional understanding and patience for a slow-paced game. At the same time, it provides white with a balance of control on both sides of the board, the center and the queenside in particular, making it hard to face it as black.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
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