Saturday, December 29, 2007

The End Is Near

My explorations of the move 1.a3 are nearing a conclusion. After today’s entry only the final hurdle - 1.a3 Nf6 - remains to be discussed. I must admit that the subject proved to be more extensive than I originally imagined. Whether it has any practical value is hard to evaluate. Personally I doubt I will ever play 1.a3 in a serious game; not because I consider it a bad move but because there are other moves that are more tempting.
1.a3 a6 2.e4 (Dia)

In some ways this position is not so different from the one arising after 1.e4. However, when you consider that the three most trusted lines in top-level chess is the Najdorf (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6), the Closed Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7) and the Sveshnikov (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5) it becomes apparent that there are major differences. Of the ‘big’ openings only the Petroff (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6) seems relatively unaffected.
2...e6!?
At first this seemed to me like Black’s best option. Now it probably will be something resembling a French Defence - a serious opening where Black frequently plays an early ...a6. And just as important: an opening where I couldn’t recall many lines where White plays an early a3. There are however several interesting alternatives:
a) 2...b5!? is the St. George Opening (1.e4 a6) where a3 seems more or less like a wasted tempo. However, after 3.d4 Bb7 4.Nc3 the move after all stops ...b4 as well as some ...Bb4 ideas and White has a grip on the centre.
b) I suppose it will be hard to find a line for Black where ...a6 is useful in the Alekhine. After 2...Nf6?! I believe White should go for the whole hog with 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 d6 5.c4 Nb6 6.f4 where a3 stops some potential counter-play with ...Bb4 or even ...Nb4.
c) The pseudo-Nimzowitsch arising after 2...Nc6!? could well be one of Black’s best options:
c1) 3.Nf3 d5!? (for 3...e5 see the entry on the ...a6 Mengarini) 4.exd5 Qxd5 and now 5.Nc3 Qa5 seems rather comfortable for Black who can develop quickly with ...Bg4 and ...0-0-0. So possibly 5.Be2, planning c4 and d4 is a better try.
c2) 3.d4 d5 and after the normal-looking 4.Nc3 Black’s best may be 4...dxe5 but I would be inclined to try 4...e5!, which is borderline playable even without a3 and ...a6 included and seems relatively safe with all Bb5 lines eliminated.
d) 2...d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 is a pseudo-Scandinavian:
d1) 4.Nc3 Qd6! should be very comfortable for Black as one of his main systems involves ...a6 while I never have seen anybody play an early a3 in these lines.
d2) 4.d4 is a more interesting try as a3 can indeed be useful in the quiet lines arising from 4...e5 (4...Nc6!?) 5.dxe5 (5.Nf3) 5...Qxd1+ 6.Kxd1. The continuation 6...Nc6 7.Bf4 Bf5 8.Nf3 0–0–0+ 9.Bd3 Nge7 (9...Bxd3 10.cxd3 Rxd3+ 11.Kc2 Rd7 =) 10.Ke2 Bxd3+ 11.cxd3 Ng6 12.Bg3 Bc5 with a small advantage to Black in Llapasset-Chatalbashev, Figueres 2006 is worth noting if only because it’s an example of a 2500+ player meeting 1.a3 with 1...a6.
e) 2...c5, leading to Sicilian waters cannot be a bad move but for some time now, 1.e4 c5 2.a3 has been a relatively popular anti-Sicilian line, and from that move-order 2...a6 doesn’t make much sense. Nevertheless there are a few examples to be found:
3.b4 e6 4.Bb2 (4.bxc5 Bxc5 5.d4 Be7 6.c4 b5 7.Bb2 d6 8.cxb5 Nf6 9.Nd2 gave White a clear advantage in Twitchell-Burton, Birmingham 2006) 4...Nf6 5.e5 Nd5 6.c4 Nf4 7.bxc5 Bxc5 8.d4 Ba7 9.Qd2 Ng6 10.Nf3 Nc6 11.h4 b6 12.h5 and White was clearly better in Korostenski-Orel, Tabor 2005.
3.d4 d5 (Dia)
3...c5!? may be best. It would resemble the Franco-Sicilian (1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5?!), which is considered slightly suspect because White after 3.d5 holds a space advantage. However, in this set-up an early ...a6 seems considerably more useful than a3 and after 4.d5, the immediate 4...b5 looks reasonable. My try with White would be 4.c3 with the possibility to transpose to our mainline after 4...d5 5.e5.
4.e5!
This must the way for White to make sense of a3.
a) 4.Nd2 seems rather pointless as ...a6 is a useful move for Black in the Tarrasch-variation (actually 3...a6 is steadily becoming more popular) while I am unable to recall any major variations where White plays an early a3.
b) 4.Nc3 was my immediate try for White - possibly because I knew a few rather strong players had met Prie’s 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 a6!? with the seemingly harmless 4.a3?!
b1) 4...dxe4 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Nf3 Nf6 7.Bd3 Nxe4 8.Bxe4 c5 9.0–0 Nd7 10.c4 += Lanka-Prie, Paris 1990.
b2) 4...Nf6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Nf3 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Bd3 Nc6 9.Bf4 Be7 10.0–0 0–0 11.Qe2 Nc5 = Guseinov-Radjabov, Moscow 1997.
b3) 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Bd3 dxe4 7.Nxe4 Be7 (7...Nxd4?? 8.Nxd4 Qxd4 9.Bb5+ +- Grillo-Mussap, Salsomaggiore Terme 2005) 8.0–0 0–0 9.c3 b6 10.Nfg5 Nxe4 11.Bxe4 Bxg5 12.Bxc6 += Garcia Vasquez-R.Gomez, Bogota 2004.
4...c5!?
Maybe 4...Bd7! is a simpler solution. It seems to compare favourably with the variation 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bd7 4.Nf3 a6, planning ...Bb5, but is it sufficient for equality?
5.c3 Nc6 6.Nf3 (Dia)
This French position has actually more frequently appeared from the Sicilian move-order 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6 (the O’Kelly-variation) 3.c3 e6 4.d4 d5 5.e5 Nc6 6.a3.
6...Bd7!
Other moves fail to make sense of ...a6:
a) 6...c4 7.Bf4 (It’s worth reminding of the old trap/error 7.Nbd2 Qb6 8.Be2 Nge7? 9.Bxc4!) 7...f5 8.exf6 Nxf6 9.Nbd2 Bd6 10.Bxd6 Qxd6 11.Be2 0–0 12.0–0 b5 13.Re1 += G.Lee-Joksic, Biel 1991.
b) 6...Qb6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Bd7 (8...Nge7 9.Bd3 Nf5 10.Bxf5 exf5 11.Nc3 Be6 12.0–0 Be7 13.Na4 Qa7 14.Nc5 b6 15.Nb3 h6 16.Ne1 0–0 = Lukianenko-Kuzuev, Moscow 1997) 9.Be3 Rc8 10.Bd3 Nge7 11.0–0 Nf5 12.Qd2 Be7 13.Nc3 Nxe3 14.fxe3 0–0 15.Na4 Qd8 16.Nc5 += A.Zaitsev-Potapov, Kaluga 2003.
7.b4
White has also tried:
a) 7.Be3 c4 8.Nbd2 Na5 9.Be2 Bc6 10.0–0 Qd7 11.Ng5 Ba4 12.Qb1 h6 13.Nh3 0–0–0 14.Nf4 Kb8 15.Bg4 Ne7 unclear Palos-Eingorn, Graz 1995.
b) 7.Bd3 cxd4 8.cxd4 Qb6 9.Bc2 Rc8 10.0–0 Nge7 11.Nc3 Na7 12.Rb1 Nb5 13.Ne2 h6 14.h4 Nc6 15.Be3 Na5 16.Nf4 Nc4 17.Nh5 Kd8 18.Bd3 Rc7 19.Qe2 Kc8 20.Rfc1 Nxe3 21.fxe3 Kb8 22.Qd1 += Iuldachev-Kotronias, Mumbai 2003.
c) 7.Be2 Rc8 8.0–0 h6 9.b4 cxd4 10.cxd4 Na7! (this is the key manoeuvre) 11.Bb2 Bb5 12.Nc3 Bxe2 13.Nxe2 Ne7 14.Qd3 Ng6 15.Nd2 Qd7 16.Rac1 Be7 17.Nb3 Rxc1 18.Rxc1 0–0 19.g3 Rb8 20.h4 Qb5 21.Qe3 Nc8 22.Nc3 Qe8 23.Kg2 Nb6 =+ Sadvakasov-Morozevich, Mainz rapid 2004. 7...cxd4
7...c4 also fails to make sense of ...a6 8.Be2 Nge7 9.Nbd2 Nf5 10.Nf1 Be7 11.Ng3 b5 12.Nxf5 exf5 13.h4 Be6 14.Bg5 h6 15.Bf4 a5 =+ Kozakov-Przybylka, Zabrzanski Wrzesien 1994.
8.cxd4 Rc8 9.Nbd2? (Dia)

9...Bxb4!
Black’s plan - besides completing his development - is to exchange his light-squared bishop by means of ...Na7 followed by ...Bb5. But the most important thing in chess is to strike immediately when opportunity arises.
10.Bb2
My computer suggests that after 10.axb4 Nxb4 11.Rb1 Nc2+ 12.Ke2, Black should play 12...Qa5, when one possible line is 13.Ne1 Nxd4+ 14.Ke3 Ba4 15.Qh5 Nf5+ 16.Ke2 Bb5+ 17.Kd1 Qa4+ 18.Nb3 Bxf1 19.Rxf1 Rc3 with an easy win for Black.
10...Bxd2+ 11.Qxd2 Nge7 12.Bd3 Na5 13.Qg5 Ng6 14.Rc1 Qxg5 15.Rxc8+ Ke7!
Quite a rare intermediate move; in Watzka-Karayannis, Chalkidiki 2002 White resigned. Not at all an unreasonable decision considering that Black will be at least two connected pawns up in an semi-endgame. But no game has been won by resigning, and I believe I would have tried 16.Rxh8?! Qxg2 17.Rg1 Qxf3 18.Bc3 with the faint hope of getting in the cheapo 18...Qxd3?? 19.Bb4 mate!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Leningrad Investigations I

When does an opening or a variation deserve a name? Obviously it does when it’s popular enough to be recognized by everybody. If you refer to the Marshall gambit in the Ruy Lopez, most players of any strength will know what you are talking about and you save a lot of time compared to giving the first nine moves of the opening. But even for rare lines it may make sense to designate a name if you are going to discuss it or write about it, and I spent some time contemplating a good name for the variation that’s the subject of this entry (see also my previous entry on this line). From my database it seems that Anic, Apsenieks, Danner, Gazic, Haub, Kostic, Ragozin, Szabolcsi and Zwaig (in alphabetic order) for slightly different reasons all seem to be candidates for eponymous fame. If one or more of them have published analysis of the line or in any way propagated it, their candidature will be considerably strengthened. For the moment I will stick to ‘the ...c6 Leningrad’.
1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.0–0 0–0 6.c4 c6!?
This is a highly transpositional move. And in order to fully appreciate it, you must see it from White’s perspective. He almost certainly has prepared something against 6...d6 - most likely 7.Nc3 and then a reply to Black’s most common 7th moves: 7...Qe8, 7...c6 and 7...Nc6. But 6...c6 is a seemingly modest move he may have overlooked. It would be very convenient for him if Black’s rare move proved to be only a feint, so 7.Nc3, hoping for 7...d6 is a likely (and good) reply:
7.Nc3 (Dia)

7...Na6!?
The main strength of this move is that it keeps White guessing whether Black is still planning to return to normal Leningrad lines with a delayed ...d6 or not. More independent moves are 7...Qb6, 7...Ne4 and 7...d5.
If Black immediately plays 7...d6 (returning to one of the 6...d6 mainlines) White’s most popular move is 8.d5 but also other moves have their followers. Against most of these moves (8.b3, 8.Qc2 8.Rb1 and 8.Re1) 8...Na6 is a respected reply. Most probably White now is trying to make up his mind: Should he play the move that he would have played against the ‘normal’ 7...d6 - again hoping for transposition after 8...d6 - or should he try to pick one of the moves against which ...Na6 isn’t popular?
8.Rb1
This move makes sense as a delayed ...d6 now would lead to a line where White is scoring very well. You should however bear in mind that White quite likely had prepared 6...d6 7.Nc3 c6 8.d5 against the Leningrad and now is slightly outside his normal repertoire.
8...Ne4
Black cannot stay completely uncommitted forever. This move is to some extent connected with a ...d5 set-up but White cannot be completely sure about Black’s intentions.
a) 8...d6 9.b4 transposes to the line 6...d6 7.Nc3 c6 8.Rb1 Na6 9.b4, which (as already mentioned) scores rather poorly for Black.
b) 8...Kh8 is a flexible move but may also prove a waste of time. 9.b4 Ne4 10.Qb3 d6 11.Bb2 d5 12.Nxe4 fxe4 13.Ne5 Be6 14.cxd5 Bxd5 15.Qa4 Nc7 16.h3 Nb5 17.Qc2 Nd6 18.f3 exf3 19.Bxf3 Bxf3 20.Nxf3 Qc8 1/2–1/2 Novikov-E.Ragozin, St Petersburg 1995.
c) 8...d5 is fairly solid but Black suffers from a certain lack of counter-play: 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.Qb3 Nac7 11.Bf4 Kh8 (11...Ne6 12.Be5 f4 seems to create a little more counter-play) 12.Be5 and White’s advantage was fairly clear in Littke-Bernadet, North Bay 1994.
9.Qc2
White has also tried:
a) 9.Bf4 d6 10.Qc1 Nxc3 11.bxc3 Qa5 12.c5 dxc5 13.Qe3 Nc7 14.c4 Ne6 15.d5 cxd5 16.cxd5 Nxf4 17.Qxf4 Qd8 =+ Graf-Bartel, Kusadasi 2006.
b) 9.Qb3 Kh8 10.Bf4 d6 11.Nxe4 fxe4 12.Nd2 Bxd4 13.Nxe4 Qb6 14.Qd1 Bf5 15.b4 Bg7 16.Be3 Qd8 17.b5 cxb5 18.Rxb5 b6 = Bruzon Bautista-Bartel, Calvia 2006.
c) 9.c5 b6 10.cxb6 axb6 11.Qc2 d5 12.Rd1 Be6 13.Ng5 Bd7 14.f3 Nxg5 15.Bxg5 Qe8 16.e4 fxe4 17.fxe4 Bg4 = Glyanets-E.Ragozin, Orel 1992.
9...d6 10.Rd1
10.Nxe4 fxe4 11.Ng5 d5 12.cxd5 cxd5 13.Qb3 e6 would have been unclear.
10...Qe8! (Dia)
This looks more active than 10...Nc7 11.b4 h6 12.Bb2 Kh7 13.d5 Nxc3 14.Bxc3 of Shuklin-Poletaev, Kazan 1995 which nevertheless might have been playable for Black if he hadn’t blundered with 14...e5?? which allowed 15.dxc6 bxc6 16.Bxe5 and a winning advantage to White.
11.b4
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where White goes wrong in this game. This looks like a more active way to exclude Black’s ...Nb4 option than 11.a3 but now the weakness of the c-pawn becomes a factor.
11...Qf7 12.Na4 Be6
Every opening has its distinct personality but few are so peculiar as the Leningrad. Black’s piece deployment would seem strange by any standard except the Leningrad Dutch, yet he is probably already better.
13.d5
White experiences similar problems after 13.b5 cxb5 14.cxb5 Rac8, e.g. 15.Qb2 Nc7 16.b6 Bd7 17.Qb3 Nd5 and Black’s play in the c-file promises him the better chances.
13...cxd5 14.cxd5 Bd7 15.b5 Rac8 (Dia)
Here, in Lacrosse-Murey, Bethune 1998 White already resigned. That certainly was a bit premature and my guess is that White, depressed by the development of the game, miscalculated the line 16.Qd3 (16.Qb3 leads to much of the same) 16...Nac5?! 17.Nxc5 Rxc5 and overlooked the resource 18.Ng5! Nxg5 19.Bxg5 Rc3 20.Qd2 which is fairly equal. Instead Black gets a clear (but hardly winning) advantage after 16...Nc7! 17.Be3 (17.a3 Qe8 18.Nd4 Nxd5 19.Nxf5 Bxf5 20.Bxe4 Bxe4 21.Qxe4 e6 22.Qd3 Nf6 23.Qxd6 Ne4 24.Qb4 Nxf2 isn’t better) 17...Qe8 18.Nd4 Nxd5 19.Nxf5 Rxf5 20.Bxe4 Nxe3 21.Qxe3 Rxb5.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Toothless Sophistication?

1.a3 a6 (Dia)

If I as a tournament director saw a game starting like this I suppose I would have to follow the game to make sure a real game was being played - not just some meaningless moves camouflaging a pre-arranged draw. That being said, 1...a6 is quite a reasonable reaction to White’s attempt at passing the initiative over to Black. Now we are back to square one so to speak, and it’s White’s task to demonstrate that the two extra moves haven’t hurt his winning chances. That he may attempt with most reasonable moves, including 2.Nf3, 2.c4, 2.g3, 2.Nc3 and 2.f4. However, for the sake of simplicity I will limit myself to White’s two main ‘first’ moves: 2.d4 and 2.e4. And in order not to make an overly long entry, I will have to split the subject into two.
2.d4
I assume Eric Prie, who preaches the virtues of 1.d4 d5 2.a3, would already be very pleased with White’s position. White can safely develop his dark-squared bishop as any attack on b2 by a black queen going to b6 can safely be met by b4 or Ra2.


A:
2...d5
(Dia)

This certainly must be a sound move. However, if there is anything at all for White in the Prie System, this should be a great chance to demonstrate White’s edge:
a) 2...c5?
b) 2...f5 3.g3 (3.Nf3 b5) 3...Nf6 4.Bg2 g6 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.0–0 0–0 7.c4 d6
3.Nf3
a) 3.c4?! has more or less been eliminated as an option. After 3...dxc4 White will have a hard time regaining his pawn
b) 3.e3?! appears illogical as a3 isn’t a particularly useful move either in the Colle or in the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Despite of that White had an edge after 3...Nf6 4.c4 c6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 Bd6 8.Nf3 0–0 9.e4 in Bodi-Deli, Heves 2001. Black probably should have taken his chance to play 5...Bf5! with excellent chances.
c) 3.Bf4!? may somewhat improve over 3.Nf3 (I believe that 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 slightly improves over 2.Nf3 followed by 3.Bf4). However, not everything is so clear - for instance after 3...c5!? I assume that the pseudo-Albin gambit 4.e4 must be rather dubious as ...a6 is a useful defensive move while a3 hardly can be of much use.
3...Nf6
This is a very natural continuation and may well be where interest will focus if 1.a3 a6 should ever receive grandmasterly attention.
4.Bf4!
This certainly seems more promising than the Torre approach 4.Bg5?! which is unlikely to achieve anything if Black replies with 4...Ne4!.
4...Bf5!
Black too takes advantage of the fact that his b-pawn too can be comfortably defended.
5.e3 e6 (Dia)

After the symmetric introduction it’s up to White to demonstrate that his extra tempo can be used constructively:
a) 6.Bd3 is hardly the way to go: B.Lengyel-Czebe, Budapest 1998 continued 6...Bd6 7.Nbd2 Nc6 8.Qe2 1/2–1/2. It obviously would have been able to play on for both sides but White cannot boast of any advantage.
b) 6.c4 seems more promising.
b1) If Black is content with sound but modest development White may well have a little play as he had in Frosch-Wanderer, Schladming 1994 which continued 6...Be7 7.Nc3 c6 8.h3 h6 9.Be2 0–0 10.0–0 Bd6 11.Ne5 +=.
b2) The big question is what happens if Black uncompromisingly upholds symmetry with 6...c5. Janse van Rensburg-Diedericks, Port Elizabeth 2005 continued 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.Bd3 Bg4 9.Be2 dxc4 10.dxc5 Bxc5 11.Bxc4 with rather dull equality. I suspect that 7.Rc1 may be White’s best try but that the position ultimately will prove rather barren.

B:
(1.a3 a6 2.d4)
2...Nf6 (Dia)

This is more flexible than 2...d5 and logically it should be harder to prove that a3 is useful against all set-ups available to Black. Prie has stated that he has been unable to find any advantage for White after 1.d4 Nf6 2.a3?! g6!. That’s not really surprising. However, chances should be a little better after 2...a6.
3.Nf3
a) 3.Bf4 will quite likely transpose below after 3...g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.Nf3 0–0 but 3...d5 (leading to line A above) and 3...e6 4.e3 c5 are also reasonable options.
b) 3.c4 certainly looks natural but after the further natural moves 3...g6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.e4 d6 it seems that ...a6 is more useful than a3 in all of White’s main systems (6.f3; 6.f4; and 6.Nf3/6.Be2).
3...g6!
There’s hardly anything wrong with 3...d5 or 3...e6 4.Bf4 c5 or even 3...b5!? but the King’s Indian is one of the hardest systems to meet for London players.
4.Bf4
The London approach - not necessarily White’s best but certainly the system with which I am the most familiar. Alternatives include:
a) 4.g3 b5!? seems fine for Black.
b) The King’s Indian Torre 4.Bg5 is worth consideration.
c) Trying for the Barry/150 Attack with 4.Nc3 cannot be too bad but after 4...d5 (4...Bg7 5.e4 d6 certainly is OK for Black too) 5.Bf4, Black if nothing else has 5...Nbd7!? as Nb5 is no longer an option.
4...Bg7 5.e3 0–0 6.Be2 d6 7.0–0 (Dia)

These moves are far from forced but yet a kind of London vs. King’s Indian main line.
7...Nbd7
This is Black’s most popular continuation in the similar position without the two a-pawn moves. 7...c5, 7...Nfd7 and 7...b6 are all important alternatives. In general it should be noted that systems with ...b6 seem very appropriate against this London version as the standard reaction a4 involves a tempo loss. In contrast systems with ...c5 and ...Qb6 allows White to demonstrate an advantage of his early a3, as he (after having met ...c5 with c3) frequently can protect his b-pawn with the active b4.
8.h3 Qe8 9.c4 e5 10.Bh2 Qe7 11.Nc3 (Dia)

This series of moves is known from the London system versus the King’s Indian. White’s plan is to break up Black’s queenside pawn chain with c5 and then apply pressure on c7 and d6. That may be feasible in this position too, but one of White’s resources: the move Nb5 - often including a piece sacrifice for two pawns - has been eliminated. Therefore it seems natural to conclude that in this slightly modified version White has less chance to get an advantage.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Smallest Repertoire

How small can a functional repertoire be?
Some of us are busy or lazy enough to look for opening repertoires that require as little learning and maintenance as possible. But how much (or little?) knowledge is the actual minimum? There probably is a correct answer somewhere but it's constantly changing as opening theory is developing. If you only consider the amount of available GM-praxis you can reach "a playable middlegame" with very little preparation. One solution could be this:

  • Black versus 1.d4: 1...c6 2.c4 b5 - a system occasionally employed by GM Rogers.
  • Black versus 1.e4: 1...c6 2.d4 Na6 (or 2...b5?!) - a system occasionally employed by GM Miles.
  • White: 1.e3, hoping for 1...e5 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qh5 - the Mexican Attack which has a certain surprise value.


The main problem with an approach like this is that you will rarely get an advantage with White and will have to struggle for some time with Black. It must also be said that you give your opponent so much freedom to choose his preferred set-up that you can hardly expect to be playing the game on your home ground. If you are looking for "+=" with White and "=" or "unclear" with Black you will have to devote slightly more time to your preparations.
So if you are looking for an easy solution, these are my recommendations:

White:
Here we either are looking for an opening starting 1.d4 or 1.e4 but deviating on the second move (1.d4 d5 2.Bf4!? / 1...Nf6 2.Bf4 are my personal favorites) or an alternative first move which still restricts Black's choice - possibly the King's Indian Attack: 1.Nf3 followed by 2.g3, 3.Bg2 and 0-0. A move like 1.b3 or 1.g3 may take your opponent out of the book quite quickly but for yourself to be properly prepared you simply have too many options to consider - not only 1...d5 and 1...e5 followed by different development schemes - but also 1...c5, 1...f5, 1...Nf6 etc.

Black versus 1.d4:
My suggestion here is some variation of the Dutch (1.d4 f5). Possibly it's not a good way to fight for straight equality but chances are good to reach an unclear position. I am not yet decided about which sub-system yet but possibly the Classical is a good candidate.

Black versus 1.e4:
Here my favorite is the Scandinavian (1.e4 d5) . The theory is expanding and actually there now is quite a lot of theory. But the important thing is that Black makes most of the choices and to some extent can decide whether he wants a sharp or a solid game.

Any alternative suggestions?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Svein Johannessen RIP

It was with sorrow that I two days ago was informed that International Master Svein Johannessen had passed away.

Svein was the first Norwegian player of international strength and would easily have become an GM if tournament opportunities in the 1950s and 1960s had been more like what they are today. During long periods of his life Svein was part of the inventory in Oslo Schakselskap's playing venues in Bogstadveien 30 - mostly to be found playing blitz or looking up games or studies in old chess magazines. His play was always refreshingly free from routine moves and schematic thinking - even in his old years with the clock ticking away a little too quickly. I picked the game below partly because the opening interests me but I also think it's quite typical of his style of play:

James Aitken - Svein Johannessen, Tel Aviv ol (Men) B-final 1964

1.e4

Svein's opponent in this game was somewhat past his prime but had some 25 years earlier taken a few nice scalps from world class opposition.

1...c5

Although the Norwegian Variation (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5) to some extent became Svein’s trademark variation, he had a very varied repertoire, and always seemed more comfortable in the semi-closed and semi-open games.

2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6!?

This is the Kan variation - an opening for which I have always had a soft spot. Unfortunately my score with it is rather catastrophic and a very good reason for me to avoid it in serious games.

5.Nc3 Qc7

Opening terminology can be quite confusing. If Black here plays ...Nc6 and ...Nge7 the line is often called the Taimanov variation.

Another option which has fascinated me lately is 5...b5!?, possibly followed by ...Qb6, attacking the knight on d4, and only after Nb3, to play ...Qc7 (or even ...Qb8). It can occasionally be very hard to tell who has lost or won a tempo, as White frequently withdraws his d4-knight voluntarily in order to keep some pressure in the open d-file.

6.g3

This modest-looking move is third in popularity after 6.Bd3 and 6.Be2 and quite logical as there are some tactical shots in the h1-a8 diagonal.

6...b5

Around the time when this game was played, Svein experimented with other moves at this point:

a) 6...Bb4 7.Nde2 Ne7 8.a3 Bc5 9.Bg2 Nbc6 10.0–0 0–0 11.Kh1 Rd8 12.Nf4 b5 13.Nd3 Ba7 14.a4 bxa4 15.Rxa4 Bb7 16.Bf4 d6 = Gaprindashvili-Johannessen, Reykjavik 1964.

b) 6...Nf6 7.Bg2 Nc6 8.Nb3 (8.0–0 Be7 9.Kh1 0–0 10.Be3 d6 11.f4 Bd7 12.Qe2 Rac8 13.Rad1 b5 = Duraku-Johannessen, Varna 1962) 8...Be7 9.0–0 0–0 10.Qe2 d6 11.f4 Bd7 12.Be3 Rac8 13.g4 d5 14.exd5 Nb4 15.dxe6 Bxe6 =+ Czerniak-Johannessen, Belgrade 1962.

7.Bg2 Bb7 8.0–0 Nf6 (Dia)

9.a3?!

This slow move isn’t really necessary. More to the point is 9.Re1!

a) 9...b4 10.Nd5! demonstrates White’s tactical point. After 10...exd5 11.exd5+ Kd8 12.Bg5 Bc5 13.Nf5 h6 14.Bxf6+ gxf6 15.Qg4 Kc8 16.Qg7 White had plenty of compensation in Vesselovsky-Hrivnak, Ceske Budejovice 1997.

b) Probably 9...d6 10.a4 b4 (10...bxa4 11.Nxa4 Be7 12.Bd2 0–0 13.Nb3 Nc6 14.Be3 Nd7 15.Qd2 Nce5 16.Na5 Nc4 17.Nxc4 Qxc4 18.Nb6 Nxb6 19.Bxb6 Rfc8 = Unzicker-Mariotti, Milan 1975) 11.Nd5! is of greater theoretical interest: 11...exd5 12.exd5+ Kd8 13.Bg5 Nbd7 14.Qe2 Qb6 15.c3 Ne5 16.a5 Qc5 17.Nc6+ Kc8 18.Be3 and White was winning in Smirin-Gelfand, Sverdlovsk 1987. The game concluded 18...Qb5 19.Bh3+ Nfd7 20.Bxd7+ Kxd7 21.Nxe5+ Kc8 (21...dxe5 22.c4) 22.c4 1–0 .

9...d6

Now the game merges with other lines where Black has played an earlier ...e6. 9...Nc6!? could be an attempt to take advantage of White’s slow 9th move.

10.Qe2

Probably White should consider one of the alternatives in order to fight for an advantage:

a) 10.f4 Nc6 11.Nb3 Be7 12.Be3 0–0 13.Qe2 Na5 14.Nxa5 Qxa5 15.Rfd1 Qc7 16.Rd2 Rfd8 17.Rad1 += Panov-Kotov, Moscow 1946.

b) 10.Re1 Be7 11.a4 (11.g4?! h6 12.h4 g6 13.g5 hxg5 14.hxg5 Nh5 15.Nde2 Nc6 16.Be3 Ne5 =+ Mueller-Bologan, Oakham 1992) 11...b4 12.Na2 0–0 13.Bg5 Nbd7 14.Qd2 a5 15.Nb5 Qb6 16.c3 Nc5 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Nd4 bxc3 19.Nxc3 Rab8 unclear Topalov-Short, Dortmund 1997.

10...Nbd7

The game Koskinen-Barda, Jonkoping 1958 which continued 10...Be7 11.Be3 Nbd7 12.f4 0–0 13.f5 e5 14.Nb3 Nb6 15.Na5 Rac8 16.Rad1 Ba8 17.Bg5 Nbd7 18.Nb3 h6 19.Bc1 Nb6 and an unclear position may be of some historical interest to Norwegians.

11.Nb3 Be7 12.f4 Rc8 13.Be3 0–0 14.Kh1

14.Rfd1 Rfd8 15.Rac1 Nb6 16.Na5 Ba8 17.h3 d5 18.e5 Nfd7 19.Na2 Nc4 20.Nxc4 Qxc4 21.Qxc4 bxc4 was unclear Holeksa-Zajic, Prague 1968.

14...Nb6 15.Na5 Ba8 16.Rad1

After 16.Bxb6 Qxb6 17.Nb3 Rfd8 Black seems a little more comfortable thanks to his bishop-pair.

16...Na4 17.Nxa4 bxa4 18.Qxa6 Nxe4 (Dia)

Now it’s obvious that Black has won the opening duel. This is the kind of central majority he normally can only dream about - even in the Sicilian.

19.c4?!

19.c3 would have been somewhat better.

19...Rb8 20.c5

Black’s tactical point was 20.Rb1 Nd2! 21.Bxd2 Bxg2+ 22.Kxg2 Rb6 which traps the queen.

20...Nxc5 21.Bxc5 Bxg2+ 22.Kxg2 Qxc5 23.Nc4 d5 24.Nd2 Rxb2 25.Qxa4 Qe3 26.Qa5 Bd8 0–1

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Leningrad Finesses

I have for a long time been found of opening lines which are only subtly different from the mainlines and which can easily transpose to an advantageous version should your opponent be careless. I stumbled over the game below when researching 'alternative Stonewalls' as back-ground material for a book on the Dutch Stonewall. It first caught my attention because of the interesting exchange offer (or possibly blunder) which White somewhat surprisingly turned down. Later, however, the opening line has started to interest me.

Hera - Gajewski, Oberwart 2007
1.d4 f5

The Dutch is Black's most unbalancing reply to the closed games.

2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6

This is the Leningrad variation which is one of Black's most dynamic lines within the Dutch complex. 3...e6, leading to the Classical Dutch or the Stonewall is a more solid option.

4.Nf3 Bg7 5.0–0 0–0 6.c4 c6!? (Dia)

6...d6 is by far Black's most popular option at this point. Then, after 7.Nc3, 7...Qe8 is now Black's most popular line, but 7...c6 is still frequently played. One of the ideas behind the game move is to set up a kind of stonewall with pawns on c6, d5 and f5 (and eventually e6, but usually only after bringing the light-squared bishop via e6 to f7). But White also must take into account that Black can return to a more standard Leningrad set-up with ...d6 as long as he keeps playing flexible moves like ...Na6, ...a5, ...Kh8 etc. There are also lines with ...Ne4 and ...Qe8 which may transpose to standard Leningrad lines. One of Black's more independent ideas is an early ...Qb6.
7.Nc3

This is White's most natural continuation but 7.b3 and 7.b4 are important alternatives to which I may return in a later entry.

7...Na6!?

I like this move which is an attempt to keep White guessing about Black's intentions. It's still possible to play ...d6 with a relatively normal looking Leningrad position. Black's most frequent choice is 7...d6 immediately returning to the 6...d6 7.Nc3 c6 line. The direct 7...d5 reveals Black's plans too early for my taste but 7...Ne4!? is another flexible approach.

8.d5!?

This stops Black's ...d5 plans but doesn't appear very logical when there is no weakness on e6 to clamp down on.

8...cxd5

This seems to be a new move and I am not convinced it's better than 8...Nc5 which have been tested in several games, e.g. 9.Be3 Nce4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Bd4 Nf6 12.b4 cxd5 13.cxd5 d6 14.Qb3 Qe8 15.Ng5 += L.B.Hansen-J.Kristiansen, Denmark 1992.

9.cxd5 b6 10.d6 Bb7 11.dxe7 Qxe7 12.Bf4

Black is active but White obviously has got the better pawn structure and probably is somewhat better.

12...Ne4!?

Is this an intentional exchange sacrifice? 12...d5 is an obvious alternative and doesn't look too bad.

13.Nxe4 fxe4 14.Bd6 Qf6 15.Qb3+

If White wants to win that exchange it may be better to do it right away as 15.Bxf8 Rxf8 16.Nd2 Qxb2?! (16...d5 17.Rb1) can be met with 17.Nxe4!, threatening Nf6+ when Black may not have anything better than 17...Kh8 anyway (17...Qxa1?? 18.Qb3+ loses immediately).

15...Kh8 16.Be5?!

After this move it seems that Black is already somewhat better as he is allowed to connect his center pawns. The critical test must 16.Bxf8 Rxf8 when Black indeed will have some compensation after e.g. 17.Nd2 Nc5 18.Qc2 Qxb2 (18...d5) 19.Qxb2 Bxb2 20.Rab1. His extra central pawn and strong bishops will make it very hard for White to make any progress.

16...Qe7 17.Bxg7+ Qxg7 18.Nd2 d5 (Dia)

Now Black's position appears very harmonious.

19.Rad1 Rac8 20.Nb1 Rc4 21.Qa3 Nc5 22.b3 Rc2

It's hard to suggest improvements for White but it's obvious that his position has worsened during the last few moves.

23.Qxa7?

Now the queen will find herself in trouble. After 23.b4 Ne6 24.Qxa7 Nd4 25.Qxb6 Nxe2+ 26.Kh1 Rxa2 Black must be somewhat better thanks to his center pawns but it's not obvious how he should continue.

23...Qf6 24.Qa3 Ra8 25.Qb4 Raxa2 26.Rd2 Rxd2 27.Nxd2 Na6 28.Nxe4 dxe4 29.Qc4 Rd2 30.Bxe4 Rd4 31.Bxb7

The game is decided. 31.Qc3 Bxe4 32.Qc8+ Kg7 33.Qxa6 Bd5 is just as bad.

31...Rxc4 32.bxc4 Nc5 33.Bd5 Qb2 34.e4 Nd3 35.f4 Kg7 36.e5 b5 37.Kh1 bxc4 38.Bxc4 Qb7+ 39.Kg1 Qb6+ 40.Kg2 Qc6+ 0–1

Friday, November 23, 2007

Some More Chess Records

I have not played any more remarkable games but my number of chess records is still rising. At his chess record page, Tim Krabbe has now identified a few more records in my 1991 game against IM Hannu Wegner. In addition to the two (three?) I already was aware of:
  • Longest sequence without captures =151
  • Greatest number of checks =141 (both sides together) and 98 (one side)
There now are three new ones:
  • The greatest number of moves with a pawn = 108 (of which 102 as a queen).
  • The greatest number of different squares visited by a (promoted) queen =45.
  • The greatest number of different squares visited by a pawn ('including its next life as a queen') = 47.
All together that gives me a total of 5 (possibly 6) records in chess. Could that possibly count as another record? The greatest number of chess records held by one person.

PS
If there turns out to be serious competitors, I will first claim 'The greatest number of chess records set in one game'. Only after having added this sixth (seventh?) record to my list, I will claim the seventh (eight?) and final record.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Top 10 Chess Variants

Our beloved chess game has evolved through roughly 1500 years and is now an extremely playable game. It owes its playability to many different factors. In my opinion two of the most important are:

  • the stabilizing power of the pawns which sometimes allows very long-term strategical planning.
  • the unlikely similarity in strength of knights and bishops which sometimes may demand an extremely careful evaluation of the position.

But although our game is the end result of a long evolutionary process it's not the only viable chess game. Here are my top rankings. With one exception the links lead to the Chess Variants home page which offers rules and a short introduction. However, also Wikipedia's Chess Variant Pages are quite good.

  1. Shogi
    This is the Japanese version of chess and to me it appears a just as good game as what we normally call chess, but which I in this entry will refer to as IC (International Chess). The main difference from IC is that when you capture an enemy piece, it joins your army and you can put it back onto the board again instead of moving one of your "on-board" pieces.
  2. Bughouse
    Also known as Tandem chess, this variant is basically a team chess game. You are sure to have seen it if you have attended a week-end tournament with young participants.
  3. Ultima
    As a student I used to enjoy a version of this game, called Australian Chess. It has relatively little to do with IC and gives me futuristic associations - the high-tech variation of chess.
  4. Xiangqi
    This is the traditional Chinese chess. It's played on a special 9x10 board but with some difficulty it's possible to use the corners of an IC board. Usually the games are highly tactical as pieces are not as hindered by pawns as in IC.
  5. Fischer Random
    This is also known as Fischer 960 and according to some players the future of IC. The only difference between this version and IC is that the games start with random piece configurations on the back rank. The main advantage of the FR is that opening theory has not yet developed (to automatically assume that it will never develop seems a bit naive).
    In my experience from various internet chess servers it appears that most piece configurations are roughly as playable as normal chess but a few tend to lead to rapid exchanges while others seem to give White a greater advantage than traditional chess.
  6. Crazyhouse
    I consider this game a cross between IC and Shogi. It's played on a IC board with IC pieces but captured enemy pieces join your army and can be placed on the board For practical reasons this game is mainly played online - with a chess engine changing the
    colour of captured pieces). I plan to design and produce a set of flat Crazyhouse pieces which are white on one side and black on the other but I would like them to look really nice, so I don't know when I will find the time.
  7. Suicide Chess
    This is also a popular chess variant to be seen at tournaments with young players passing time between rounds. Besides the obvious charm of reversing the aim of the game (you try to lose pieces rather than winning them), it's also a fascinating game because it's possible to calculate extremely long, forcing lines.
    There also is a version of this game called Losing Chess which I have never liked. The difference is mainly that the king cannot be captured and the objective is to lose all your pieces OR to be checkmated. To me this version appears to be a compromise between IC and Suicide - possibly introduced by an incompetent or lazy programmer.
  8. Progressive Chess
    In this variant White first makes one move; Black makes two, White three, Black four etc. Unlike most variants it can probably be a good training tool for visualization and mating patterns. There are amazingly many nice mates from roughly Black's 2nd move (4 consecutive moves) to White's 4th move (7 consecutive moves).
  9. Kriegspiel
    This is another chess variant I used to play a lot as a student - usually through most of the night as it's quite time consuming if you allow the players time to really ponder their moves. In addition to the two players you need a referee. This may be quite hard to find but there actually are those who enjoy this role even more than playing the game themselves.
  10. Kung Fu Chess
    This is the real-time version of chess. You don't have to wait for your opponent's move - just keep your pieces flowing. This requires quite a lot of physical skill and I must admit that I have always been exceptionally inept at this game.

Honorary Mention
Shatranj
This chess version is quite close to the original Indian chess - Chaturanga. I find the game a bit too slow to be really engaging but in a future blog I will probably return to the Thai version of the game which actually is quite close to the Indian original.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Another London Question

I have not had much time for this blog during the last month but my next couple of months look a little less busy. Anyway, it's now long overdue to return to the London questions that I took up in my entry of September 26.

Q2: After 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3 Bf5 (Dia) you give two moves for White, 5.Nf3 and 5.Qb3, but what's wrong with 5.dxc5?

A2: 4...Bf5?! is a very rare move; it has only been played in three games. That should have been reason enough for us to suspect that it might be quite a poor move. And it indeed seems that the closest White comes to a refutation of 4...Bf5 is to accept the pawn with your suggestion 5.dxc5! (and not our routine move 5.Qb3 which only seems sufficient for a very small plus). There are lines where Black gets a nice centre for the pawn and murky lines like 5...Nc6 6.Nf3 Ne4!? 7.b4 g5!? 8.Nxg5 Nxg5 9.Bxg5 Bg7 10.Bb5 but sufficient compensation is nowhere to be seen.

I no longer have any idea why we missed this rather obvious pawn win. The obvious explanation is the fact that humans are so used to see hanging c-pawns (e.g. in the Queen's Gambit) which are only indirectly defended that we become blind to the possibility of capturing them and hanging on to them. However, this isn't a really satisfactory explanation as we used chess programs extensively to check our analysis. And even if the pawn win isn't immediately obvious to the human eye, there is no computer program that will miss it. In theory it should be possible to trace the correspondence between me and mr. Kovacevic and the ChessBase files we exchanged and establish who did the original analysis of this line and whether there were any discussion about the line. But as I see it that would be rather tedious and quite pointless research.

As a consequence of the above conclusion, the lines given with 5.Nf3 appear rather meaningless and should instead have been discussed under the more popular move-order 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.Nf3 Bf5 5.c3 and now Black has either 5...Nc6 - which leads to a well known position - or the popular mistake 5...e6? which might well have deserved a diagram in the book and will get one here: (Dia)

According to MegaBase 2007 this position has occurred in no less than 33 games but only in ten of them White has found the tactical stroke 6.Bxb8!. Now 6...Qxb8! 7.Bb5+ Kd8 allows Black to fight on in a bad position, and in Zimmer-Mosthaf, Hassloch 1997 Black actually won a quite weakly played game.
However, probably in shock, Black more frequently has continued 6...Rxb8? 7.Bb5+ Ke7 8.dxc5 after which he with some justification already could resign.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Double Mengarini, Please

The Mengarini Opening to some extent is an attempt to turn the tables in the opening struggle. It comes in at least three different versions:
  • 1.e4 e5 2.a3
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.a3
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.a3

Against each of these move-orders Black can resolutely turn the table back again with the reply ...a6. Instinctively one would think that these extra moves - which mainly appears to have defensive qualities - would favor Black who by nature is the defending part. However it's not that clear in practice. Actually it turns out to be quite hard to figure out how the extra moves influence the resulting double king-pawn positions:

1.e4 e5 2.a3 a6 (Dia)

3.Nf3

a) Sadly 3.f4!? with a Pseudo King's Gambit seems untested.

b) 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 would transpose but the Vienna style moves 4.Bc4 or 4.f4!? may be worth a try.

c) 3.d4 exd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qe3 d6 looks like a slight improvement over the well-known 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 line of the Centre Game. However, in Hofstetter-S.Mueller, Kahl 1996 chances were equal after 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Bd2 Be7 8.Bc4 Be6 9.Nd5 0–0 10.Ne2 Ne5 11.Nxf6+ Bxf6 12.Bxe6 fxe6.

3...Nc6 4.Nc3

a) 4.Bc4 b5 5.Ba2 Nf6 6.Ng5 d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Nxf7 Kxf7 9.Qf3+ Ke6 10.Nc3 Nce7 11.d4 Qd6? (11...Bb7) and in Vasic-Ristovski, Portoroz 2003 White could have obtained a winning position with 12.Ne4.

b) 4.d4 exd4 and now:

b1) I really don't understand why nobody has tried 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5. In this line it's quite likely that Black's ...a6 will be to his disadvantage, as he after 7...Qe7 8.Qe2 doesn't have the sharp option ...Ba6.

b2) 5.c3 dxc3 6.Bc4 d6 7.0–0 Bg4 8.Qb3 Qd7 9.Ng5 (after 9.Bxf7+ Qxf7 10.Qxb7 Kd7 11.Qxa8 Bxf3 12.gxf3 Qxf3 Black at least has a perpetual check) 9...Bh5 10.Bxf7+ Bxf7 11.Nxf7 Na5 12.Qxc3 Qxf7 13.Qxa5 and White had a clear advantage in Zagrapan-Ilkovics, Slovakia 1998.

4...Nf6 (Dia)

One of the strengths as well as the limitations of the Three Knights Opening is the fact that it reduces the active options for both sides. With a3 and a6 eliminating all lines with Bb5 and ...Bb4 this becomes even more pronounced. 4...Bc5?! is met strongly by 5.Nxe5!

5.d4

5.g3 Nxe4?! is yet another version of the Halloween Gambit. I cannot even guess if the extra a-pawn moves favor any of the sides but a sensible solution is as usual to return the piece with 6.Nxe4 d5 7.Nc3 d4 8.Bg2 dxc3 9.bxc3 which would be a well-known theoretical position if it weren't for these extra a-pawn moves. But maybe the entire gambit is silly as Black after 8.Ne2 the doesn't have option of ...d3 followed by ...Nb4.

5...exd4 6.Nxd4 (Dia)

6...Bc5

a) 6...Nxd4 7.Qxd4 simply gives White the freer game and slightly the better chances, e.g: 7...d6 8.Be2 Be7 9.0–0 0–0 10.Bf4 Be6 11.Rad1 += Bucher-Knaus, Switzerland 2006.

b) 6...g6 7.Bg5 (7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 Qe7 9.Qe2 Nd5 10.Ne4 Bg7 11.c4 +=) 7...h6 8.Bh4 Bg7?? (8...d6 9.Bxf6!? Qxf6 10.Nd5 Qxd4 11.Nxc7+ Kd8 12.Nxa8 Qxe4+ 13.Qe2) 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.e5+- Gunsberg-Zukertort, London 1887.

c) 6...d6 7.f3 (7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.Bc4 Be7 9.0–0 +=) 7...g6 8.Be3 Bg7 9.Qd2 Qe7 10.0–0–0 Be6 11.g4 += Nanu-Chirpii, Eforie Nord 1999.

d) 6...d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Bc4 Qe7+ 10.Ne2 Qe4 11.Bxd5 Qxd5 (11...cxd5 12.0–0 +=) 12.0–0 Bd6 13.Bf4 += Bhend-Mottas, Pizol 1997.

7.Nxc6

a) After 7.Nb3 Ba7 only Black has any use of the extra a-pawn moves.

b) 7.Be3 may well be best.

b1) Instinctively 7...Bb6 looks less compact with the pawn on a6.

b2) After 7...Ba7 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Bxa7 Rxa7 Black's rook looks a little silly.

b3) 7...Nxd4 8.Bxd4 looks more comfortable for White: 8...Qe7 (after 8...Bxd4 9.Qxd4 d6 10.0–0–0 0–0 11.e5 Ng4 12.f4 Qh4 13.exd6 cxd6 14.g3 Qh5 15.h3 White was clearly better in Eichner-Feldmann, Germany 2006) 9.Be2 d6 10.Bxc5 dxc5 11.0–0 0–0 12.Qd3 += Pirttimaki-Nippula, Finland 1993.

7...bxc6 8.e5

This must be better than 8.Bc4 d6 9.h3 h6 10.0–0 0–0 = of E.Reppen-Garcia Serrano, Copenhagen 2004.

8...Qe7 9.Qe2 Nd5 10.Ne4 (Dia)

10...0–0?!

10...Bd4!? 11.f4 f5 12.c3 Ba7 is better and at first glance unclear.

11.c4 Nb6 12.Bg5

White's opening has been a success - White is at least somewhat better, Braeuning-X.Garcia, Barcelona 1997.

Friday, October 5, 2007

An Interesting Review

The German language magazine KARL always provides well researched reviews. So when they yesterday published a review of "The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black" I read it with great interest and maybe I will translate some of it for non-German readers one day when I am less busy.

NB: For some strange reason it seems that the link to the review (http://www.karlonline.org/kol64.htm) works in Internet Explorer but not in Mozilla Firefox, which mysteriously 'redirects' to another review (http://www.karlonline.org/kol46.htm)!

Despite the heading 'Jugendlicher Leichtsinn' which translates to something like 'Youthful Recklessness' (maybe light-headedness is more precise?), the review is generally positive. However, as quite a few others it's also quite critical to our choice of mainline. Not so much because the reviewer, Erik Zude, doubts its soundness or because he finds faults in our analysis but because of the extremely sharp nature of the resulting positions. He is however quite happy with our chapter 5 - Regrouping System, which is a complete alternative repertoire for readers who don't enjoy memorizing razor-sharp variations.

His analysis of a random position from the book seems quite interesting and may be the basis for a future blog entry.

It's a pity that the otherwise very conscientious review got a few errors in the Table of Content. This one, which I copied from Niggemann is more correct:

004 Symbols
005 Bibliography
006 Preface by Sverre
008 Preface by Leif

023 Part 1: Introduction
023 A Quality Opening
029 A Great Learning Tool
030 Learning the Closed Ruy Lopez
031 Closed Ruy Lopez Strategy
032 Some Closed Ruy Lopez Concepts
033 Ruy Lopez Overview

048 Part 2: The Main Battleground
051 1 The Zaitsev Main Line
082 2 The 17. ..c4 Zaitsev
091 3 Other Zaitsev Lines
107 4 Imperfection
117 5 Regrouping System

132 Part 3: White Ducks the Challenge
133 6 Rare 8th and 9th Moves
156 7 5th and 6th Move Alternatives

175 Part 4: Exchange Variations
178 8 The Exchange Variation
194 9 Delayed Exchange Variations
205 Index of Variations

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A 1.a3 Mystery

BigBase 2007 offers this mysterious game:

R.Piepjohn (1920) - G.Sax (2600), Naestved 1988

1.a3!?

Grandmasters are usually quite aware that they have to fight for every point - even against modest opposition. However, if Black in any way was inclined to underestimate his lowly rated opponent this move may have been a clever choice.
1...c5!? (Dia)
This seems a very sensible reaction to White's first move. Now the opening can be considered a reversed English.
2.g3

We will have a look at White's alternatives at the end of this entry.

2...g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.d3 d6

Black has also tried 4...Nc6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Nf3 Nf6 7.0–0 0–0 which looks fairly equal. Here White may have been a tad too optimistic when he initiated a kingside attack with 8.Nh4 e5 9.f4 exf4 10.gxf4 d5 11.f5. After 11...d4 12.Na4 Ng4 13.Qe1 Bf6 14.Nf3 Qe7 15.fxg6 hxg6 16.c4 Bf5 17.Rb1 Rae8 it was obvious that Black was better in Huettig-Klundt, Ditzingen 2000.

5.Nd2 Nc6 6.e3 e5 7.Rb1 a5 8.b3

Obviously White's success in this game was not directly related to his opening play.

8...Nge7 9.Ne2 0–0 10.0–0 Be6 (Dia)

The opening phase is more or less over, and despite Black's slight space advantage, the position looks roughly equal.

11.h3 Qd7 12.Kh2 f5 13.c4 g5 14.f4 g4 15.h4 Rad8 16.Qc2 b6 17.Bb2 Bf7 18.Rbd1 d5!?

This opens up the position somewhat but not really to Black's advantage.

19.fxe5 Nxe5 20.d4 cxd4 21.Bxd4 Qc7 22.c5 b5 23.Nc3 Be8 24.a4 b4 25.Ne2 N7g6 (Dia)

The position has become quite unbalanced. Now the armies engage in close combat and surprisingly it's the GM who fails in the calculation test.

26.Rxf5 Nxh4?!

Probably 26...Rxf5 27.Qxf5 Nxh4 is better. After 28.Bxe5 Qxe5 29.Qxe5 Bxe5 there are some long forcing lines and one of them goes 30.Nc4 Nxg2 31.Nxe5 Nxe3 32.Rd3 Nc2 33.Nxg4 d4 34.Nf6+ Kh8 35.Nxe8 Rxe8 36.Nxd4 Rd8 37.c6 Nxd4 38.c7 Rc8 39.Rxd4 Rxc7 =.

27.Rxf8+ Bxf8 28.Nf4 Nxg2 29.Kxg2 Qe7

Possibly 29...Bf7 planning to meet 30.Qf5 with 30...Re8 is better.

30.Qf5

Now White's advantage is obvious.

30...Bg7 31.Qe6+ Qf7?

After 31...Kf8 32.h4 White is objectively winning but there is still a fight and the 680 rating points might still have influenced the result.

32.Bxe5 1–0

It would indeed be a nice story if "super GM" Sax lost to an unknown amateur who opened the game 1.a3. At this time Sax was close to his peak as a player. So who was Reinhardt Piepjohn who so easily matched him? BigBase 2007 has only this single game by him and claims that it was played in the ninth and last round on October 4. But something isn't quite right as the tournament seems to have been played July 30th to August 7th as this Danish site shows. The tournament rating favorite Sax didn't do too badly and ended well ahead of Piepjohn. Can it be that the round number as well as the result is wrong? Or was Black a different player? Any information is appreciated!

And now let's return to some alternatives to 2.g3:

1.a3 c5 2.b4!? (Dia)

This looks logical and strong as White will now get a numerical superiority in the centre. However, I remember seeing 1...c5 recommended as a good antidote to 1.b4 and I don't believe 2.a3 is White's best try in that position. Other options are:

a) 2.Nf3 is a flexible and good move but I have not really found any lines that make sense of White's first move.

b) 2.e4 leads to an Anti-Sicilian line which has recently gotten quite a lot of attention. The main source of information is no doubt 'Challenging the Sicilian with 2.a3!?' - a 206 pages work by Alexei Bezgodov. However, for historical information you should also read Hans Ree's article for 'The Chess Cafe'. I assume that if you want to reach this position, 1.e4 is your best bet.

c) 2.c4 too makes sense as queenside expansion with a3, Rb1 and b4 is a common plan for White in the symmetrical English. Here are two game fragments that actually started with our move-order.

c1) 2...Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 e6 7.Nf3 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Nxd5 exd5 10.d4 c4 unclear Andrejic-Andrijevic, Obrenovac 2004.

c2) 2...g6 3.b4 Bg7 4.Ra2 d6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.e3 0–0 7.Be2 Nc6 8.b5 Na5 unclear Ambrus-Balashov, St Petersburg 2001.

d) 2.d3 doesn't have much independent significance compared to 2.Nf3 or 2.g3. After 2...d5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Nbd2 Nf6 5.e4 Bg4 6.Be2 Qc7 7.c3 Rd8 8.Qc2 e6 9.0–0 Be7 chances were balanced in Markus-Buljovcic, Subotica 2001.

e) 2.e3 too is relatively non-descript. One example is 2...b6 3.Nf3 Bb7 4.d4 e6 5.Be2 Nf6 6.0–0 Be7 7.b3 0–0 8.Bb2 cxd4 9.exd4 Nc6 with equal chances in Z.Markovic-Perunovic, Novi Sad 2000.

2...cxb4!?

This strengthens White's central influence and opens the a-file for his rook. Still it is probably critical as it exposes White's b-pawn to attack.

a) 2...e6 3.Bb2 Nf6 4.bxc5 Bxc5 5.e3 Nc6 6.Nf3 0–0 7.c4 d5 8.d4 Bd6 9.Nbd2 Qe7 10.Be2 e5 11.cxd5 Nxd5 12.Ne4 exd4 13.Nxd6 Qxd6 14.Nxd4 += Kulicov-Stiri, Athens 2006.

b) 2...e5 3.Bb2 (3.bxc5 Bxc5 4.Bb2?? Qb6 –+ Monastyrev-V.Karpov, Tomsk 1999) 3...e4 4.e3 Nf6 5.bxc5 Bxc5 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Nc3 Qe5 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Nge2 b6 10.Bd5 f5 11.0–0 Bd6 12.Ng3 Ba6 13.f4 Qf6 unclear Ermenkov-Adorjan, Riga 1981.

3.axb4 Qb6 (Dia)

4.Nc3!?

White cannot expect any advantage after 4.c3 or the strange looking 4.Ra4 d5 5.Nc3 e6 6.e3 Nf6 (6...Bxb4? 7.Bb5+ +-) 7.Nf3 Bd6 8.Nb5 Be7 9.Bb2 Nc6 10.Ne5 0–0 = Bettman-Wirschell, Soest 2000.

4...Qxb4!?

This is untested but must be critical. The sensible 4...e6 5.b5 d5 6.e3 Nf6 7.Nf3 Bd6 8.Bb2 Nbd7 9.Be2 0–0 10.0–0 e5 11.Ba3 Bxa3 12.Rxa3 Re8 lead to roughly equal chances in Frank-Bokelbrink, Pinneberg 2002.

It's not at all easy to give a meaningful continuation from here but it seems obvious that White's superior development gives him some play for the pawn. One almost absurd line goes:

5.e4 Qb6 (Dia)

6.Bc4 Nf6!?

7...e6 looks safer.

7.e5 Qc6

Could 7...d5 8.Bb5+ Nfd7 9.Nxd5 Qd4 really be better? 10.Nc7+ Kd8 11.Nxa8 Qxe5+ 12.Ne2 Qxa1 13.0–0 isn't too convincing.

8.d3 Ng4!

8...a6 9.exf6 b5 10.fxe7 Bxe7 11.Nd5 bxc4 12.Nxe7 Qe6+ 13.Ne2 Qxe7 14.Ba3 looks winning for White.

9.Qxg4 d5

...and it seems like Black survives.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Attacking Repertoire for Black is Cancelled

It's often hard to know exactly how reliable published information is - in particular if the publishing medium is the Internet. However, when the German chess book retailer Niggemann informs that Collins' book 'An Attacking Repertoire for Black' has been canceled, I assume they have a reliable source - most likely the publisher Batsford/Anova.

Although it came as no great surprise (see my blog entry of May 31), it's really a pity that the book probably never will materialize. It's a great title; a subject that's likely to interest a lot of club players; and it promised to discuss some really interesting subjects.

In particular I was eager to see Collins' ideas on the Stonewall versus 1.c4 and 1.Nf3. It would be a great selling point for a book on the Stonewall if it offered a complete answer to the Closed games. The subject hasn't received a lot of attention in sources that I have access to. Actually the only systematic treatment I could find was an old article in a Spanish language magazine and some analysis from White's point of view in Khalifman's 'Opening for White According to Kramnik'.

There of course still is the possibility that the book will appear by another publisher, but that would most likely delay the publishing date too much for me to include it as a reference for my upcoming Stonewall book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

London Questions

In a comment from an anonymous reader I have received 4 very relevant analytical questions to "Win with the London System".

I will in some entries try to answer them in one way or another. Due to two circumstances not all my answers will be very analytically illuminating:
  1. I have a contract with Gambit Publishing which does not permit me to publish any kind of update of the London book. This clause, of course, is subject to interpretations and I don't think it means I am not allowed to publish any kind of analysis on the London System. However, I will be particularly careful now when a German translation of the book is due to arrive soon.
  2. The main analyst in the London book was Vlado Kovacevic. If there ever will be an update of the book (I certainly hope so) I will consult him or another London expert in order to improve the analytical quality. In the meantime I must do with my own limited resources.
Q 1: After 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Bf5 3.c4 c6 4.e3 e6 you recommend 5.Nc3, but what's wrong with delaying Nc3, in favor of 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.c5 Qxb3 7.axb3 Nd7 8.b4 a6 9.Nd2 with the idea 9... Rc8 10.Nb3 Be7 11.Na5

A: There definitely isn't anything wrong with 5.Qb3. Our choice of 5.Nc3 was mainly because that move had been preferred by more and stronger players and because it after 5...Nf6 would lead to positions that White hardly can avoid anyway.
I have not really been able to determine which of the two moves is the strongest. Below follow some lines which should only be the starting point of an debate.

I will start from the position after 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.c5 Qxb3 7.axb3:
(even if 5...Qc8 really should be taken into consideration too)

7...Nd7
I think you are right to consider this the critical move. 7...Bxb1 8.Rxb1 Nd7 9.b4 a6 of Bistric-Velikov, Rijeka 2001 must be somewhat better for White.

8.b4!?

I am not sure whether this is better than 8.Nc3 (which gives up the Nd2-b3-a5 plan) or 8.Nf3 (which after 8...Nf6 would lead to known positions), but it can be argued that it's White's most consistent course and therefore should be investigated first.


8...Ngf6!

I believe this must be stronger than 8...a6 9.Nd2, planning 10.Nb3 which should be at least somewhat better for White.


9.b5!?

Again this seems the most consistent but 9.Nc3 and 9.h3 are serious alternatives.


9...e5!

There are some interesting complications after 9...Nh5 10.bxc6 bxc6 11.Bc7 Rc8 12.Rxa7 but they seem to favour White, so I assume this must be critical.


10.dxe5 Ne4


How should this position be evaluated? I am not 100% sure, but it seems to me that Black's active pieces should ensure him at least equal play.

So my tentative conclusion is that 5.Qb3 probably is a good move but that White shouldn't try to make it an independent continuation but rather follow up with normal development. And if that is correct it seems sensible to play 5.Nc3 and not force matters before something concrete can be achieved.


I will return to the rest of the questions in due time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Not Quite Fresh

A closer reading of "Stonewall II" supports my suspicion that this book has had a long production time. The preface mentions the Italian version which obviously came before the German (and the planned but probably canceled Swedish version). However, the clearest hints are a couple of Aagaard's remarks where he refers to the English version of the book which were published in 2001 (and probably written in 2000):

Game 28 (Page 105): "Five years later and a by far stronger player, I must say that today I am less convinced by the advantages of this move."

Game 72 (page 171): "The text move has not been played in any serious game during the last five years, so my annotations from 2000 are still valid".
(my translations)

So my conclusion must be that this book probably was completed some time by the end of 2005. The only indication of a later revision is the preface which is signed by "Jacob Aagaard, Glasgow 2007".

Does this change my generally positive impression of the book?

Well, not that much, actually. A theory book is always best served fresh but it cannot stay up-to-date for very long anyway. It's real worth will always be the ideas and insights it provides - otherwise we would all just be studying databases. And Aagaard's book contains a lot of useful advice for players of most strengths.

The Modern Dutch Stonewall was developed into a mainstream opening by Jussupow, Short, Agdestein and Dolmatov mainly from 1985 to 1995. After that it has had relatively little exposure on the very top level and development has been slow. Finesses are still being discovered but in a mainly strategical opening what was true in 2005 is still mostly true. However, the long production time makes me wonder whether the publishing company, Quality Chess, may have some business problems. Their homepage remains a strange mix of old news and some sporadic recent updates. If that is the case it's a pity because they seemed a worthy challenger on the chess book publishing arena.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ruy Lopez Review Under Way

I am having some busy days and there will be no substantial entries in this blog for the next week (but possibly some minor ones).

This morning I noted that there in the web pages for the German chess magazine KARL, there now is a review of Marin's "A Spanish Repertoire for Black". It's an excellent book (even if the experimental format doesn't please me) and an excellent review. However, what excites me more is a promised review of my and Leif Johannessen's "The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Stonewall II

Monday evening I finally laid my hands on a copy of Aagaard's 'Stonewall II'. I have not had the time to study it any detail yet, but here are some observations and first impressions:
  • There are enough verbal annotations to make the book hard to read for non-German readers. In particular this is the case for the long introduction (almost 60 pages).
  • As far as I can see, all the games from the first edition are still there - mostly in the same order. One has been moved and one has had the name of a player corrected.
  • I have not yet been able to determine to which extent the annotations of the older games have been updated but obviously some new game references have been added.
  • There is a list of complete games, but surprisingly the games from the introduction can not be found there.
  • There is no complete index of variations, but at the end of each chapter there is a summary of important lines with references to relevant complete games.
  • The book seems to be only very lightly updated after 2004. I have so far only found four game references to 2005 games (Pogorelov-Moskalenko, Salou 2005; note to game 10. Feller-Petrisor, Herceg Novi 2005; note to game 10. Mamedjarova-Gleizerov, Abu Dhabi 2005; note to Game 17. Rogers-Jasim, Gibraltar 2005; note to game 67) but no doubt there are some more hidden in the notes.
  • It seems that the new games are somewhat better annotated than the older ones, but this is only my first impression.
Compared to the original English edition, there are 17 new games:

Mainline 7.b3
Game 5: Farago-Ulibin, Obervart 2001 (1/2-1/2)
Game
13: Korotylev-Ulibin, Genf 2001 (1/2-1/2)
Game
17: Romanov-Gleizerov, Minsk 1997 (0-1)
Game
20: Agdestein-Straeter, Germany 2001 (1/2-1/2)

Mainline 7.Bf4
Game 29: Hanley-Williams, Port Erin 2001 (1-0)
Game
31: Kahn-Vajda, Hungary Ch 2003 (0-1)
Game
34: Barkhagen-Jussupow, Stockholm 2002 (1/2-1/2)

White's Rare 7th
Game 51: Schandorff-Sandner, Germany 2004 (1-0)
Game
53: Schandorff-L.B. Hansen, Denmark 1997 (1-0)

5.Nh3
Game 58: Dreev-Radjabov, Tallinn 2004 (1/2-1/2)
Game
63: Anand-Schmittdiel, Germany 2004 (1-0)
Game
70: Kempinski-Radjabov, Antalaya 2004 (1/2-1/2)

Lines with an Early e3
Game 83: Cu. Hansen-Hillarp Persson, Copenhagen 2004 (1-0)
Game
85: Sasikiran-Krasenkow, Calvia Ol 2004 (1-0)
Game
89: Bareev-Jussupow, Prague rapid 2002 (0-1)
Game
90:Yakovich-Kharlov, Elista 2001 (0-1)
Game
93: Bareev-Grischuk, Enghien-les-Bains 2001 (0-1)

PS: For the Table of Content see my entry of August 8th.


Addendum:
Another 2005 reference: Lomineischvili-Tereladze, Georgia 2005; note to game 61. I will add more here if I come by anything.