Thursday, January 31, 2008

Third London Question

I slowly work my way through the London questions supplied by an anonymous reader. Whether I ever will catch up is an open question as new questions are coming in.

Q3: After 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.Nf3 0-0 5.Be2 d6 6.0-0 Nfd7 7.h3 e5 8.Bh2 f5 9.c4 Nc6 10.Nc3 g5 11.dxe5 now you only cover Black responding with 11... Ndxe5, but what should White do against 11...dxe5? (Dia)

A: This recapture probably should have been mentioned in "Win with the London System" as it had been played by 2400 player Gonzalez Velez when the book was written (later it has also been employed by GM Nataf). However, at least to me, it appears less natural than 11...Ndxe5 which immediately frees Black's somewhat entangled queenside. Still the move clearly has some virtues as it keeps Black's kingside pawn front mobile. What's more problematic: it leads to extremely tense positions which are difficult to analyze and evaluate. I will give it a try with the assistance of some analysis engines (Mainly Rybka 2.3 and Fritz 11) but must warn the readers that this kind of positions are really GM territory.

I believe White should continue 12.Nd5!

Initially the computers seem to like
12.Qd5+ Kh8 13.Rad1, but after 13...h5 White’s queen is tactically exposed in some lines and it seems that Black has sufficient counter-play on the kingside:

a) 14.Qb5 g4 15.hxg4 hxg4 16.Ne1 a6! (16...Rf6 17.Bxe5!) 17.Qa4 Rf6 and Black’s attack seems dangerous.

b) 14.Rd2 a6 15.Rfd1 Qe7 16.e4?! g4 (16...Nc5 is simple and good) 17.Ne1 f4 18.Qd3 Nd4 19.Nd5 Qf7 (Black obviously is already better) 20.h4? Nc5 21.Qb1 g3 0–1 Zimny-Tirard, Koszalin 1999.

16.Ne1 improves but Black clearly is in good shape.

12...a5 (Dia)

This was the choice of the strongest player to take on Black’s side but the move is far from obvious and probably this is a critical junction:

a) 12...Nb6 13.Qb3 g4 14.hxg4 fxg4 15.Ne1 Na5 16.Qc3 Nxd5 17.Qxa5 Ne7 18.Rd1 looks good for White.

b) 12...Nc5 13.b4 Ne6 14.b5 e4 15.bxc6 exf3 16.Bxf3 Bxa1 17.Nxc7 Qxd1 18.Rxd1 Nxc7 19.Bxc7 bxc6 20.Bxc6 gave White a safe extra pawn in Bosque Ortega-Gonzalez Velez, Barbera 1997.

c) For good or bad 12...f4!? seems to be the consistent course:

c1) After 13.Nd2 Nf6 14.Bf3 Bf5 15.Nxf6+ Qxf6 16.Ne4 Qg6 17.Bh5 Qh6 18.Bf3 fxe3 19.fxe3 g4 a draw was agreed in Sprotte-Grabics, Balatonbereny 1997 even if Black was close to winning.

c2) I like 13.exf4 which opens the centre somewhat and makes kingside pawn storm more risky for Black, e.g.:

c21) 13...gxf4 14.Qc2 Nc5 15.Rad1 Bf5 16.Qc1 e4 17.Nxf4 Qf6 18.Nd5 Qxb2 19.Qxb2 Bxb2 20.Nh4 is clearly better for White.

c22) 13...exf4 14.Qc2 Nc5 15.Rad1 Bf5 16.Qc1 +=.


A very interesting idea which leads to positions that are hard to evaluate but 13.Qa4 could be an improvement:

a) 13...g4 14.hxg4 fxg4 15.Ne1 Nc5 16.Qb5 Ne4 17.Rd1 Nd6 18.Qb3 Rf7 19.c5 must be good for White.

b) 13...Nc5 14.Qa3 Ne6 15.Rad1 Bd7 (15...Qe8? 16.Nxg5!) 16.Nd2 also seems to favour White.

c) 13...h5 14.Rfd1 g4 15.hxg4 hxg4 may be critical, e.g., 16.Ne1 Nc5 17.Qa3 Ne4 and now White has the tactical finesse 18.Nb6 Nd4 19.exd4 cxb6 20.Bxe5! (20.dxe5 Qh4 21.Qe3 Kf7! =+) 20...Bxe5 21.dxe5 Qh4 22.Qe3 Kg7 23.g3 Qh5 24.Ng2 and it seems Black’s kingside initiative has been neutralized.

13...Qxg5 14.Nxc7 Rb8 15.Ne6

White collects two pawns and the exchange for his knight. In general that's a fair deal perhaps favouring White very slightly - with chances increasing as the endgame approaches. It's also very unbalanced and the correct evaluations may depend on rather fine positional points (but mainly on White's king's position).

15...Qe7 16.Nxf8 Qxf8

16...Nxf8 may improve Black’s co-ordination somewhat but the resulting position is still hard to evaluate.

17.Qd5+ Kh8 18.Rfd1 Bf6

18...Nc5 may be better and looks roughly balanced after e.g., 19.Qd6 Be6 20.Rac1 a4 21.Qxf8+ Rxf8 22.Rd6 Bf6 23.b3 axb3 24.axb3 Ra8 (24...Nxb3 25.Rb1 Nc5 26.Rb5 Be7 27.Rd5 +=) 25.Rb1 Ra2 26.Bf3 e4 27.b4 Nxb4 28.Rxb4 Ra1+ 29.Rd1 exf3 30.Rxa1 Bxa1 31.gxf3 =.


White doesn't achieve anything particular with 19.Qb5 Ra8 .

19...Nc5 20.Qd6 (Dia)

This position from Prie-Nataf, Paris 2006 is quite hard to evaluate. In my experience computers tend to evaluate this material imbalance as more favorable for White than most human masters. Whether this is due to poor evaluation functions or reflects the fact that there are tactical resources available for the rook and pawn side that humans tend to overlook is hard to tell. Rybka 2.3 says +0.85 at 18 ply. That seems too optimistic but it's also clear that White has a rather low losing risk after the exchange of queens. For what it's worth, the game ended in a draw after the further moves 20...Ne6 21.Bxc6 Qxd6 22.Rxd6 bxc6 23.Rxc6 Kg7 24.Rd1 Kf7 25.b3 f4 26.Kf1 Bb7 27.Rcd6 Be7 28.Rd7 Bc6 29.Ra7 a4 30.Rd6 axb3 31.axb3 Be8 32.Rd5 Kf6 33.exf4 exf4 34.Ra6 Rxb3 35.Bxf4 Bg6 36.Bg5+ Kf7 37.Ra7 Nxg5 38.Rxg5 Bd3+ 39.Kg1.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ask Dr. Johnsen

Today 'anonymous' left this message under my entry 'The Smallest Repertoire':

Q: I am due to play against a much stronger player in an on-line tournament soon, and wondered if you had a recommendation on how to approach it?
I can see that he uses the French (I'm playing White) which I could prepare against (I'm an e4 player), but should I do something more psychological? Assume that he feels confident against me and adopt an opening as White that he has to attack me to win? Is there such a thing as a reversed Pirc, as I really enjoy that opening?
Any ideas welcome....

I don't really pretend to be a chess guru. But with too little time (and energy) to play tournaments myself, it's tempting to give advise to those who actually do play. So here are my 50 cents:

First of all: It's fully possible to play a reversed Pirc. 1.g3 d5 2.Bg2 e5 3.d3 might be a good attempt but it really depends on which lines you favor. However, I wouldn't expect you to gain much by heading for a reversed Pirc. Quite likely your opponent will choose a line which is not considered to give (White) a lasting advantage but which gives (Black) easy equality when reversed.

If you are willing to invest some time and work in this game, my main recommendation is to head for the sharpest mainline. Most strong players hates to risk losing to a weaker player who happens to be better prepared. Consequently they are quite likely to chicken out with an inferior move in order to avoid prepared surprises. With some luck this will give you a clear opening advantage. If the difference in playing strength isn't too great this could offer a chance for a win (or a draw offer from a position of strength).
More concretely:
1) Find out as much as possible about your opponents preferences in the French. Does he play the Winawer? The Classical? Which subline(s) does he prefer? Does he tend to follow the mainlines or does he play some home-brewed mixture?
2) Find a good book about the line you are most likely to encounter. Concentrate on the sharpest mainlines (that's the most ambitious lines for White). You will not have time to prepare for all the ways he may deviate but at least you should know when he leaves your prepared line (and you have to start thinking rather than remembering).
3) During the game, try to give an impression that you are well prepared and looking forward to a theoretical duel.

If this approach should fail (he is after all a much stronger player), you at least are likely to learn something from your preparations. If theoretical mainlines are not to your taste, you have got two main options:
  1. Try to complicate from move two, and hope he gets more confused that you. You most likely will lose, but there always is a chance that he blunders first. 1.e4 e6 2.b3 d5 3.Bb2 dxe4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.g4 could be a try.
  2. Play unashamedly for a draw. If he isn't too much stronger than you, he may worry if he really will be able to win a dead level ending and try to introduce some complications himself. That could backfire and give you an undeserved chance. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 is the obvious (and banal) solution.
Option 1 has the added bonus that it will give you a reputation as a dangerous chess pirate. Yet I suspect that option 2 is most likely to bring success.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gewinnen mit dem Londoner System

The German translation of "Win with the London System" is now available with the title "Gewinnen mit dem Londoner System". I still have not got the book myself but expect some copies to arrive in the mailbox any day now. It will be a nice addition to my book shelf and even if my preferred reading language is English, I suppose I will read it from cover to cover just to get an impression of the translation.

As for the content I know that there are no new analysis or variations. Three minor misprints in the English edition has been corrected - that's all. It obviously would have been possible to improve the analysis and add some recent games with relatively little effort. Yet I believe this was a wise decision by Gambit Publications. Partly because the London System is a low-maintenance system which generally doesn't require heavy loads of analysis and memorization but mostly for marketing reasons.

I know that original German works which are later translated to English and updated in the process have caused a lot of frustration for German buyers who feel cheated when they have to buy a new book in order to feel fully prepared. Moreover the two publishing companies Quality Chess (their books are better than their website) and Chess Stars which have made it a habit to publish revised versions of their books have mainly gotten criticism for their efforts. One example of the typical reader reactions can be found at the ChessPublishing discussion forum (as far as I know the best chess discussion forum on the net).

The first review (in German) of this German edition can be found at Freechess Info . This, by the way, is an excellent review site for those who can work their way through a German text. At times I find their verdicts too kind, but the reviews are generally well written and well researched. I don't expect there to be a lot of reviews in English for this translation.