Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Elburg Reviews Stonewall II

I had expected to be holding my copy of Aagaard's new Stonewall book by now, but I am still waiting for it to arrive from Niggemann (via Sjakkbutikken - the major Norwegian chess retailer).

In the meantime I try to extract some information from an early September column by John Elburg where he reviews the book together with several other interesting new books. Unfortunately there is not much new to be learned as Elburg is as blandly positive as he generally is. However, he confirms that there now are 94 games and that also the older games have been somewhat updated. A curious detail is that Elburg informs that there is no bibliography in this German edition while it obviously is in the mysterious Italian version.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Creative Passivity

There appears to be a tendency in chess that activity will defeat passivity and that attack will win against defence. But that may to some extent be a psychological effect more than an integral part of the game. Here is a remarkable example of creative passivity:

U.Andersson - M.Basman, Hastings 1974
1.Nf3 b6

This is known as the English Opening. The talented English IM, Basman probably never quite realized his full potential. Whether it was due to his penchant for unorthodox openings or not is hard to say - his provocative style certainly earned him quite a few points too.


Andersson makes no attempt to refute Black's opening which in 1974 must have seemed a lot more unorthodox than it does today.

2...Bb7 3.Bg2 e6 4.0–0 d5 5.c4

Swedish grandmaster Ulf Andersson was known for his defensive technique, his risk avoidance and his faith in healthy if passive positions. He combined this playing style with a unique endgame understanding and a formidable willingness to play on forever in seemingly dead drawn endgames - frequently extracting that extra half point in the end.

5...Nf6 6.d4 Be7 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Ne5 h6 9.Bf4 a6 10.Rc1 Ra7 11.cxd5 exd5 12.Qb3 (Dia)

White has gained a fairly clear and stable advantage from the opening. Black is solid but he will find it hard to create counter-play. What happens now is an interesting case of psychological warfare. Basman abandons all attempts to free his position and just waits for the attack.

12...Ba8 13.Rfd1 Kh7 14.h3 Kg8 15.Kh2 Kh7 16.g4

This is a move you rarely see Andersson play in the opening or middlegame. Psychologically this may be the root to his eventual defeat .

16...Kg8 17.Bg3 Bb7 18.e3 Ba8 19.a3 Bb7 20.f4

Andersson's kingside pawns are lured forward. Probably the old Steinitz saying that the player with an advantage is obliged to attack were whispering somewhere in the back of his mind.

20...Ba8 21.Rd2 Qd6 22.f5 Qd8 23.Bf4 Bb7 (Dia)

Remarkably nothing has changed in Black's position since the last diagram. White's attacking pawn cloud looks imposing but actually his strategy may be mistaken.

24.Rg1 c6 25.Bf3 Nh7 26.Rc1 Bd6 27.Na4 Bc7 28.Kg3 Nf6 29.h4 Nfd7

Almost imperceptibly the game has turned. White has accepted too many obligations and is now actually struggling to defend his territory.

30.Nxd7 Nxd7 (Dia)

This exchange combined with the imminent exchange of dark-squared bishops frees Black's play and exposes White's king somewhat.

31.Re2 Re8 32.Kh3 Bxf4 33.exf4 Rxe2 34.Bxe2 Qe7 35.Bf3 b5 36.Nc5 Bc8 37.Qd3 h5 38.gxh5?!

38.g5 seems to keep White’s position more compact and would probably have been stronger.

38...Qf6 39.Kg3 Nxc5 40.Rxc5 Bxf5 41.Qc3 Bd7 42.Qd3 Ra8 43.Rc1 Re8

Black may be winning already thanks to White's weakened king's position.

44.Qc3 c5 45.Qxc5?

White had to try 45.dxc5. However, after 45...d4 46.Qd2 Re3 47.Re1 Rxe1 48.Qxe1 Qf5 49.Qe4 Qxc5 50.Qe5 Qc4 Black's passed d-pawn gives him a very clear advantage.

45...Qf5! (Dia)

Now all Black's remaining pieces take part in the attack - there just is no defence.

46.Qxd5 Qh3+ 47.Kf2 Qh2+ 48.Bg2

48.Kf1 Bh3+ is even worse.

48...Qxf4+ 49.Bf3 Bg4 50.Rc3 Qh2+ 51.Bg2 Qxh4+ 52.Kg1 Re1+ 53.Bf1 Bh3


(With 54.Rxh3 Qxh3 55.Qa8+ Kh7 56.Qe4+ Rxe4 57.Bxh3 Rxd4 White only reaches a completely lost endgame.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Reversed Dutch

A reversed Dutch? Isn't that the Bird's Opening (1.f4)?

Actually not. 1.f4 d5 is indeed a reversed Dutch but I have always been slightly skeptical about 1.f4 because of 1...Nf6! which avoids the weakening of the e5-square and at least temporarily stops e4. Correspondingly I find 1...d5 a slightly illogical reply which to some extent justifies White's first move. That's why I consider 1.a3!? d5 2.f4!? an interesting sequence of moves while 1.f4 d5 2.a3 appears rather meaningless.

But is there actually any advantage in having the extra a-pawn move in a reversed Dutch? There obviously are certain Dutch lines with an early ...Na6 that simply become impossible to play with a pawn already occupying that square. However, I assume that with a deep understanding of Dutch strategy and a little imagination it should be possible to steer for positions where a3 is useful. Here is an example where White succeeded wonderfully:

N.McDonald - B.Thipsay, Banwell mem London 2001

1.a3 d5 2.f4 Nf6

Quite possibly Black should immediately ensure control of the long diagonal with 2...g6.

3.Nf3 g6 (Dia)

Black has chosen a sensible set-up that can be completed without taking on too many obligations in the centre.


With this move White heads for a reversed Leningrad system. Actually 4.b4!? - to some extent preventing ...c5 - seems sensible too. One of Black's main problems in the Dutch is to complete the development of his queen-side. With that problem solved, this reversed version cannot be too bad.

4...Bg7 5.Bg2 0–0 6.0–0 c5

Finally Black accepts his role as White! Probably 6...c6 would have given comfortable equality.

7.d3 Nc6 8.Nc3!

Probably this is White's best chance to make something out of his pawn on a3. From a comparison with the parallel position with reversed colours it seems that 8.Qe1 and 8.c3 are sensible alternatives.

8...d4 9.Na4! (Dia)

After 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.0–0 0–0 6.c4 d6 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.d5, 8...Ne5 is a little more popular than 8...Na5 but odds are much better that White can make use of a3 in this line.

9...Qd6 10.c4 Ng4

In the reversed position the main continuation is 10.b3 a6. However, 10...b6 could nevertheless have been considered as White's score in the reversed line is 59%. Only experience can tell how much difference one tempo can make but in a sharp position where both players pursue different plans, it may well make the difference between a win and a loss.


Philosophically White can claim some success as the two main continuations in the parallel reversed position are 11...Rb8 and 11...a6. What's more: in the 28 games with these two moves, the score is 9 wins for White, 7 draws and 12 wins for Black!


11...e5 seems a more consistent follow-up of Black's 10th move.


A relevant game for comparison is Benko-Tal, Candidates Tournament Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade 1959: 1.Nf3 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.c4 Bg7 5.Nc3 0–0 6.0–0 d6 7.d4 Nc6 8.d5 Na5 9.Qd3 c5 10.Ng5 a6 11.Rb1 Rb8 12.Bd2 Qe8 13.b3 b5 14.a3 Ng4 15.Nf3 bxc4 16.bxc4 Rb3 17.Rxb3 Nxb3 18.Rb1 Nd4 19.e3 Nxf3+ 20.Bxf3 Ne5 21.Qe2 Nxf3+ 22.Qxf3 e5 23.Qd1 e4 24.Qa4 Qe7 25.Qc6 f4!? 26.Rb8 Bh3 27.Rxf8+ Qxf8 28.exf4 Qb8! 29.Ne2 Qb1+ 0–1.

12...b6 13.bxc5 bxc5 14.Rb5 Rxb5 15.cxb5 Nd8 16.Qc2 Ne6 17.f5 gxf5 18.Nh4 Bf6

Fritz suggests 18...Nc7 with roughly equal chances.

19.Nxf5 (Dia)

The pawn structure is quite murky but White's advantage is not in doubt as his piece activity is superior.

19...Qe5 20.b6 axb6 21.Nxb6 Ng7 22.Nc4 Qc7 23.Bf4 Qd8 24.Nh6+ Nxh6 25.Bxh6 e5 26.a4 Re8 27.a5 Ne6?

27...Ba6 would have been a better try.


This wins an exchange thanks to the hanging bishop on f6.

28...Bg7 29.Bxe8 Bxh6 30.Bxf7+ Kg7 31.Bxe6 Bxe6 32.a6 Qa8 33.Qb1 Qxa6 34.Qb8 Bxc4 35.Qf8+ Kg6 36.Qf5+ Kg7 37.Qxe5+ Kg8 38.Qe8+ Kg7 39.Qf8+ Kg6 40.Qf5+ Kg7 41.dxc4 1–0

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Not a Defence

At the German site Freechess.info there now is a review of Aagaard's "Stonewall II" . There really isn't that much new to be learned about the book (the game Astrom –Ulibin, Göteborg 1999 was already included in the English version) but it's interesting to note that it seems to have changed title from "Die Stonewall Verteidigung II" to simply "Stonewall II". See my entry of July 25 for the "original" cover.
One can speculate what the reasons are for the change. Maybe the publishers simply decided that they didn't like the passivity that can be associated with the word "Verteidigung" which means defence. Or maybe it was the strange mix of German and English that didn't appeal. My personal theory is that the word "Verteidigung" doesn't score well on Google's rankings and may make the book harder to find for potential buyers.

As an aside there is a funny remark by the reviewer:
"Vielleicht hätte man noch ein Extrakapitel zu diversen Ablehnungen in das Buch aufnehmen können, ich denke hier in erster Linie an die Zugfolge 1.d4 f5 2.e4. Natürlich wird ein erfahrener Spieler diese mit 1…e6 umgehen, doch etwas unerfahrenere Spieler könnten hier schmerzvolle Erfahrungen machen. Wie ich unlängst erfahren habe, gibt es im Staunton-Gambit mit 1.d4 f5 2.e4 unter einigen Großmeistern eine noch geheime bisher nicht gespielte Variante, die Weiß deutlich im Vorteil sehen soll!"
In English this roughly translates to:
"Maybe an extra chapter about various early deviations could have been added; what I primarily have in mind is the the move-order 1.d4 f5 2.e4. An experienced player will of course bypass this with 1...e6, but players with less experience may collect some painful lessons. As I have long since discovered, some GMs have found a secret and not yet played variation in the Staunton-Gambit 1.d4 f5 2.e4 which gives White a clear advantage."
This is a quite central move-order question in my coming Stonewall book and I will not comment much on it in this blog. However I think I should make my preliminary conclusion clear: If you play the French against 1.e4 there certainly are some reasons to prefer the 1...e6 path to the Stonewall over 1...f5, but the Staunton gambit isn't among them.

The publisher's have (somewhat curiously) announced that there will not be an English version of this revised Stonewall book, and the Swedish version apparently has been canceled. But today I found that an Italian version seems to be on its way.
My knowledge of Italian consists of a few tourist phrases and a little chess jargon, but doesn't "completamente rinnovata e in esclusiva mondiale per Caissa Italia" indicate that this is something more than a pure translation? That theory seems to be supported by the claim of more than 100 annotated games while the German only is said to contain 94.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Zwaig Variation

Like most of the early developers of the Norwegian variation, IM Arne Zwaig is now a member of my chess-club, Oslo Schakselskap. One of his main contributions was his investigation of the line 7...f6 (after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5 6.0–0 d6 7.d4) which borders between being an independent line and a pure move-order finesse. Black offers White to exchange his light-squared bishop for Black’s knight on g8 rather than the a5-knight. This may at first glance seem advantageous for White who prevents short castling and avoids doubled b-pawns, but on closer inspection it’s not at all so clear, as the open a-file after ...Nxb3 is one of White’s major assets in the mainlines.

If White accepts the offer, the game will take an independent course. However, if he declines with 8.Nc3 (as Greet recommends in his Play the Ruy Lopez), play will almost always transpose to the mainline after 8...Nxb3 9.axb3. So in reality the effect of Zwaig’s move-order is to avoid the 7...Nxb3 8.axb3 f6 9.c4 line and maybe to tempt White into inferior lines.

Let’s have a look at 8.Bxg8!? Rxg8 (Dia):


This opens a path to h5 for White's queen and is a natural attempt to demonstrate that Black's kingside has been weakened. The main alternative is 9.b4 (to which I may return in a later entry) but White has also tried 9.a4, 9.Nc3, 9.Qe2, 9.Ne1, 9.c3 and 9.dxe5.


This indirectly protects the h-pawn so that Qh5 now can be safely met by ...g6.


White must try to stir up things early as Black's bishop pair tends to become a significant factor if the game develops quietly.

a) 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.Qh5+ g6 12.Qf3 Be7 13.h3 Bb7 14.Rd1 Qc6 15.Nc3 f5 16.g3 fxe4 –+ R.Rodriguez-Alvarez Ibarra, San Sebastian 1996

b) Fritz' suggestion 10.Nf5 g6 11.Ne3 must be taken seriously as 11...c6 12.d5 c5 13.Bd2 Nb7 14.a4 b4 15.Nc4 is very good for White.

c) 10.Nc3 and now:

c1) 10...Qg4 11.Nd5 (11.Nf3 Bb7 12.a4 b4 13.Nd5 0–0–0 14.Re1 f5 was unclear in Ostojic-Johannessen, Amsterdam 1969) 11...Ra7 12.Nf3 +=

c2) 10...c6 11.b4 Nc4 12.a4 Bb7?! (12...Qg4 looks like an improvement, e.g.: 13.Qxg4 Bxg4 14.dxe5 dxe5 15.axb5 Bxb4 and Black is clearly better) 13.Qd3 g6 14.Nf3 Rg7 15.d5 c5 16.axb5 axb5 17.Rxa8+ Bxa8 18.Bh6 +/- Y.Gruenfeld-Moen, La Valetta 1980

10...b4 11.c3 Rb8 12.Nd2 g6 13.Nhf3 c5 14.dxc5 dxc5 15.Qe2 Rg7 16.Ne1 b3 (Dia)


17.f4 seems to be a better attempt and may be sufficient for a small advantage. Black's king will be exposed but may escape danger via f7 and g8.

17...Qc6 18.Ng2 c4 19.Ne3 Be6 20.Nd5?!

Tactically this is a correct pawn sacrifice; if Black accepts it immediately his king will be dangerously exposed. However, strategically White is not able to support this knight so in a relatively short perspective this move will either be an incorrect pawn sacrifice or a double tempo loss.

20...Rf7 21.f4 Bc5+ (Dia)

It's already obvious that Black is better - mainly because his king now is ready to run to f8.


After 22.Ne3 Qd6 Black is more active and has the bishop-pair as a bonus.


Also the direct 22...Bxd5 23.exd5 Qxd5+ seems to be sufficient for a clear advantage.

23.Nf3 Bxd5 24.exd5 Rxd5 25.Be3 Bxe3 26.Qxe3 Rd3 27.Qe2 Re7 28.Rae1 e4 29.Nd4 Qd5

Now Black's advantage is beyond doubt, and it's hard to see how White can keep his position together.

30.Qg4 f5 31.Qg5 Nc6 32.Qf6

32.Nxc6 Qxc6 33.Kh3 Rd2 is no better.

32...Nxd4 33.cxd4 Rd2+ 0–1 Hecht-Zwaig, Raach 1969 (34.Kh3 e3 35.Rg1 Qf3 decides immediately)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Not a Ghost After All

It seems "Die Stonewall Verteidigung" by Aagaard has become a reality after all. After numerous delays Niggemann now announces it as 'Neu'.

The Table of Content according to Niggemann (see below) is a bit disappointing as it seems the book's structure is exactly the same as Aagaard's earlier 'Dutch Stonewall'. However, the 'Katalog' (German language) informs that there are 94 annotated games. That are 17 more than the older English version.

5 Vorwort
7 Einleitung
65 Weiß zieht 7.b3
97 Weiß zieht 7.Lf4
123 Weiße Alternativen im 7.Zug: 7.Sbd2, 7.Se5, 7.Dc2
145 5.Sh3
171 Andere Abspiele im Stonewall
183 Weiß spielt frühzeitig e2-e3

Well, I will buy the book anyhow, and it will be very interesting to see how much new material there is.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Chigorin Mainline

I promised to try identifying the current "Chigorin Mainline". My quest starts after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 (Dia) when we have the first real split:


This is the Classical Chigorin - as the eponymous master himself played it. Black has tried other moves but none of them are as popular:

a) 11...Nd7, Keres’ variation is Davies’ recommendation in ‘Play 1.e4 e5!’, but has recently run into certain theoretical difficulties. Most likely this is only temporary but it’s Black that’s looking for improvements now.

b) 11...cxd4, I.Sokolov’s favorite is very playable but it appears slightly illogical to allow White the option to develop his knight to c3.

c) 11...Nc6, Borisenko’s variation too is fully playable, but White tends to play 12.d5 when Black doesn’t really have an attractive square for his knight.

d) 11...Bb7, Romanishin’s variation is fully playable but Black will frequently have to return his bishop to c8 in order to re-activate it if White plays d5.

e) 11...exd4, has no accepted name but has been played by Chiburdanidze among others.

f) 11...Re8, Hebden’s gambit line may be theoretically suspect but has been used relatively recently by Gustafsson.


This is played more than ten times as frequently as 12.d5 which is White’s second most popular move. The knight is on its way to g3 via f1 and the e-pawn may soon need protection.


It’s not at all obvious that it’s in Black’s interest to exchange his c-pawn for White’s more modestly placed c-pawn. But the open c-file will ensure that something is happening on the queenside and distract White from his slow but dangerous kingside plans. In addition Black gains temporary access to b4 for his knight.

a) 12...Bd7 is what Marin in ‘A Spanish Repertoire for Black’ calls the ‘Petrosian System’ - or more accurately that’s what he calls the natural follow-up 13.Nf1 Nc4. In my opinion ‘Petrosian variation’ would have been a more appropriate name.

b) 12...Nc6 is what Marin calls the ‘Rubinstein System’ (again I prefer ‘variation’ rather than ‘system’).

c) 12...Re8 could reasonably be called the Donner variation.

d) 12...Rd8 is a sensible move that has been played by many strong players, but it seems Romanov is the most consistent patron.

e) 12...Bb7 I suppose could be called the Panov variation after the strong player who was one of the early practitioners.

f) 12...Be6, 12...h6, 12...g6, 12...Nd7, 12...exd4 are rare moves that have been tried by strong players and that may well be valid tries for equality.




At this point Black only has a very few independent alternatives:

a) 13...Bb7 14.Nf1 transposes to 12...Bb7 13.Nf1 cxd4 14.cxd4

b) 13...Bd7 14.Nf1 transposes to 12...Bd7 13.Nf1 cxd4 14.cxd4

c) 13...Be6 14.Nf1 transposes to 12...Be6 13.Nf1 cxd4 14.cxd4

d) 13...Rd8 is relatively independent and has been played by Shirov, Kasimdzhanov and Bologan among others. Not at all a bad line-up but I could find only 180 games versus more than one thousand with 13...Nc6.


The fact that this move is necessary is one of Black’s small triumphs in the Chigorin. The knight will soon be on its way to the king's wing again but it will cost two extra moves.


The Chigorin variation is extremely solid but also slightly passive. It is hardly a coincidence that the most active sub-variations have become the mainlines. This is Black's choice in almost 90% of the games.


The d-pawn needs new protection so the knight can be released for worthier tasks.


And this natural follow-up is Black's choice in almost 95% of the games.


This is the natural move, even if there actually are 11 games with 16.Nc1 - some of them with quite strong white players.


At this point there again is a split. This is the preferred move in more than 50% of the games but there are alternatives that have been played by world-class players:

a) 16...Nb4 has been played by Adams and Beliavsky among others.

b) 16...Be6 too has been played by Beliavsky in addition to Tkachiev, Sturua and some other GMs.


There can hardly be a more natural move than placing the rook vis-a-vis Black's queen and making room for the bishop on b1. Still 17.a3 is quite a popular move which is fairly likely to transpose at some point.



With this move we reach what I declare the starting point of the Modern Chigorin Mainline in the Ruy Lopez. This is Black's preferred move in 140 out of 217 games in MegaBase 2007. The two main alternatives 17...Rac8 and 17...Rfc8 can both transpose. One reason I choose to stop here is the fact that it's not absolutely clear what's White's main continuation in this position. From the 140 MegaBase 2007 games we have this distribution:

  • 18.Qe2: 51 games, with Kramnik and Shirov as the most prominent recent players.
  • 18.Nf1: 39 games, with Ivanchuk, Svidler and Leko as recent top players.
  • 18.a3: 28 games, with Karjakin and Bologan as leading practitioners.
  • 18.Bb1: 18 games with Almasi and Kotronias as recent top players (and Anand with a 10-years old game)
  • There also are games with 18.d5 and 18.Bd3 by strong GMs.

I suppose I will return to this position in a future blog.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Prie System

To me the main problem with starting a game 1.a3 always has seemed to be the closed defences, 1...d5 and 1...Nf6. That is still so, but lately a new system has appeared that is very relevant for 1.a3 players - the Prie System which goes 1.d4 d5 2.a3 (Dia) and may at first seem mysterious. The move is not new - it was first used (repeatedly) by Somacarana in the eighteen-fifties - but it seems Prie deserves the naming rights as he is the first top player not only playing it successfully but also writing about it.

I believe Prie's reasoning goes roughly like this:
1) 2.c4 is White's best move but some lines demand quite a lot of study.
2) Systems with an early bishop development to f4 or g5 fail to gain an advantage and possibly even to achieve equality because of lines with an early ...c5 and ...Qb6.
3) 2.a3 to some extent discourages 2...c5 and a3 is a useful 'extra' move against most reversed Queen's Pawn openings.
4) a3 is useful in a few of White's normal Queen's Gambit lines, so White may well consider a delayed c4 should Black play too passively.
5) The possible switching between black and white strategies and speculating in which lines a3 is useful, irrelevant or even damaging can be quite confusing.

In short the Prie System may not lead to any objective advantage to White but it leads to 'normal looking' positions where the strongest player is likely to win. Here is a game where Prie definitely was the stronger:

Prie - D.Adams, British Cht 2005
1.d4 d5 2.a3

This is Prie's preferred move-order. He also considers 1...e6 2.a3 a valid try but against 1...Nf6 he prefers 2.Nf3 because of 2.a3?! g6.


2...c5 definitely is risky in view of 3.dxc5 when White may actually try to hang on to the pawn.

3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 h6 6.Bf4 0–0 7.Nbd2 b6 8.Ne5 Bb7 9.Qf3 c5 10.c3 (Dia)

Now it looks like a London system where it's not easy for Black to make use of his extra tempo.

10...a5 11.h4 Nfd7 12.Bd3 Nc6 13.Rh3! Ndxe5 14.dxe5 Qc7 15.Qh5

Most likely White is winning already.

15...Ba6 16.Bc2 Rfd8 17.Rg3

Now it's definitely decided.

17...Bf8 18.Bxh6 Qxe5 19.Bg5 f5 20.Nf3 Qd6 21.Bxd8 Nxd8 22.Ng5 Be7 23.Qh7+ 1–0

The London is such an easy game to play!