R.Piepjohn (1920) - G.Sax (2600), Naestved 1988
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.
This seems a very sensible reaction to White's first move. Now the opening can be considered a reversed English.
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.
27.Rxf8+ Bxf8 28.Nf4 Nxg2 29.Kxg2 Qe7
Possibly 29...Bf7 planning to meet 30.Qf5 with 30...Re8 is better.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
7...e6 looks safer.
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...a6 9.exf6 b5 10.fxe7 Bxe7 11.Nd5 bxc4 12.Nxe7 Qe6+ 13.Ne2 Qxe7 14.Ba3 looks winning for White.
...and it seems like Black survives.