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.
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.