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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)

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.
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)

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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.


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
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.
This is a very natural continuation and may well be where interest will focus if 1.a3 a6 should ever receive grandmasterly attention.
This certainly seems more promising than the Torre approach 4.Bg5?! which is unlikely to achieve anything if Black replies with 4...Ne4!.
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.

(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.
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).
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.
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.
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:

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?