Friday, February 23, 2007

Play the Ruy Lopez

When I some 10 days ago received Andrew Greet’s “Play the Ruy Lopez” - an impressive tome of 376 pages - my instinctive reaction was to check how his analysis of the Worrall compared to our coverage in “Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black”. It came as no shock that his 131 pages (!) offered quite a lot more than our 8.5 pages did. The Worrall is after all a rather minor option for White. (But our 4 pages on 7.d3 and 7.a4 may be of some interest even to Greet’s readers wishing to expand their Worrall repertoire a bit). Whether he really has made 5.Qe2 a promising line for White is another question, to which I may return later if I reach any conclusion.

The next thing I did was to check what Greet had to offer on the Norwegian variation. As a good Norwegian I have always wanted to play this risky line, but I have never dared to. Instead I have from time to time checked its theoretical status and recent games by Norwegian players. In order to play it successfully you need good defensive technique, good nerves and a deep understanding of chess - three qualities I have never claimed to possess.
The variation’s theoretical standing has always been shaky, and without offering a lot of new analysis, I believe Greet’s book has made Black’s task even harder; mainly by pointing out White’s most promising course but also by offering some small improvements for White where needed. Below is my summary of one of the mainlines with some additions from Greet's book :

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5
This is the Norwegian Variation. In Greet's words it is "...arguably Black's most direct method of fighting against the Ruy Lopez".
6.0–0 d6 7.d4 Nxb3 8.axb3 f6 9.Nc3 Bb7 10.Nh4 Qd7
Up to here, Greet deals systematically with all of Black's possible deviations. But every Norwegian knows that this is the first real junction for Black (with a possible exception for Zwaig's 7...f6). Now, however, 10...Ne7 is a major alternative which deserves a separate entry.
Greet recommends this over 11.f4, which is also quite challenging.
This is not a perfect solution but the alternatives are even less tempting:
a) 11...Ne7?! 12.Qh5+ Kd8 13.c4 when Black’s king soon felt very vulnerable in the centre in Short-Sulskis, Bled 2002.
b) 11...0–0–0 12.c4 Ne7 13.Be3 Nxd5 14.cxd5 Kb8 15.Qe2 Re8 16.dxe5 dxe5 17.Rfc1 when Black’s king again was under heavy fire, this time on the queenside, in Leventic-Krstic, Zadar 2004.
c) 11...Qf7 has been considered the main continuation but after 12.c4 c6 there are problems ahead:
c1) 13.Ne3?! Ne7 was not too bad for Black in Anand-Timman, Linares 1993.
c2) Anand later suggested 13.Nc3! as an improvement.
c3) Greet suggests 13.Nb6! which he modestly attributes to his computers. My Fritz 9.0 agrees that White has a very clear advantage after e.g. 13...Rb8 14.d5. It is not inconceivable that the knight may turn out to be trapped, or at least misplaced at b6, but I honestly cannot see how. I would not feel comfortable on the dark side here.
12.c4 Bg7

In Gutsche-Boog, corr 2000, 12...Rd8 was made to look quite silly after 13.Bd2 exd4 14.Ba5. 13.dxe5
Here Greet concludes with Anand's recommended 13.f4, presumably agreeing that White is clearly better. I happen to know that some Norwegian players disagree with that evaluation. I will not try to reproduce the analysis I saw a couple of months ago, but I can promise that things are not at all clear. However, judging from available games, this central exchange may be more critical.
Could 13...dxe5!? be the right move?
This could be the critical position. Black has a difficult task ahead, e.g.:
14...h6? 15.Nxg6 hxg5 16.Nxh8 Bxh8 17.Qh5+ obviously is not an option.
15.Qd3 bxc4 16.Qxc4 c6!?
Giving up the light-squared bishop with 16...Bxd5 17.exd5 of Raidna-Boog, corr 2000 is a desperate measure.
17.Nb6!? Qf7 18.Rfd1 Bf6
18...h6? seems to lose after the slightly surprising 19.Qb4!
a) 19...hxg5? is out of the question because of 20.Qxd6.
b) 19...Qc7 20.Nc4 c5 21.Qa4+ and Black’s fortress is cracking again.
19.Nf3 Qe7 20.Be3
This position is not necessarily lost for Black, but it cannot be what Black hoped for when entering the Norwegian variation.


Alexbertoni said...

I got your book today and I'm very pleased with what I discover. It's both clear and up to date. I hope either you or Leif will keeep updating the book on this very nicely-made blog. Thanks a lot !
Best regards from Laurent (From France)

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff - thanks for cheering it with us Sverre. This wasn't so obscure as the lines you usually come up with - great stuff!

Sverre Johnsen said...


I am happy to see that you like our book. I am sorry to tell that there will not be any updates of the book in a traditional sense. I believe the publishers wouldn't appreciate that. But what I can promise is some stuff that is somewhat related to the book:
- Some thoughts on writing books in general, and maybe about the Ruy Lopez book in particular.
- Some ideas and analysis that didn't make it into the book, because we made different repertoire choices for Black.
- Possibly some annotated games by Leif Erlend (or even me, if I should happen to play a game of any theoretical interest).

Sverre Johnsen said...


I am not sure how I will react to totally anonymous entries in the future - I would prefer to at least see some initials or a nick. But as your post in general was positive and constructive, I decided to allow it and even reply:

I assume most opening analysis you will find here will be fairly obscure to most readers. I consider this blog a place mainly for chess thoughts that are not publishable in more serious fora.

However, in time I believe you will find some items of more general interest. Most notably chess book reviews and some short and hopefully instructive games.