Wednesday, February 20, 2008

1.a3 - the Final Hurdle

It would be very surprising if 1.a3 were sufficient for a genuine opening advantage. But if White could expect comfortable equality in a position more familiar to himself than his opponent it would not be a bad opening option at all. To some extent I think I have demonstrated that this can be achieved against 1...e5, 1...g6, 1...c5 and 1...d5. Consequently the main challenge for White seems to be the flexible 1...Nf6:

1.a3 Nf6! 2.e3!? (Dia)

This is my best shot. It doesn't promise White an advantage but it may give unbalanced equality in a position where White can hope to be the best prepared. White has also tried:

a) Prie himself has declared that 2.d4 g6! leads to a King's Indian where the pawn move to a3 is mostly a waste of time.

b) 2.g3, planning a King's Indian set-up with Bg2, d3, Nd2, Nf3, 0-0 and e4 probably is sufficient for equality as a3 normally is vaguely useful in these set-ups.

c) 2.b4 may at first look consistent with White's first move. But when you look more closely at the position you realize that it could just as well have occured from the move-order 1.b4 Nf6 2.a3?! which looks rather pointless. A recent practical example went 2...d5 3.Bb2 g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.c4 c6 6.Qc2 0–0 7.Nf3 Bf5 8.d3 dxc4 9.Qxc4 Nbd7 10.Nbd2 Nb6 11.Qc2 Re8 12.h3 a5 = Suba-Moya Hernandez, Almeria 2006.


a) After 2...e6, I quite like 3.Bc4 d5 4.Ba2 with an original position which I suppose is roughly equal.

b) 2...c5 3.b4 may have a little less bite than 1.a3 c5 2.b4 but still gives White fair chances for a central superiority. 3...b6 may be best.

c) 2...g6 3.c4 (3.b4 Bg7 4.Bb2 d6 5.c4 0–0 6.g3 c6 7.Bg2 Nbd7 8.Nf3 e5 9.d3 Qe7 10.Nbd2 Nh5 11.Qc2 f5 unclear Emelianov-Ozgibcev, Novokuznetsk 1999) 3...d6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Be2 c6 6.d3 a6 7.Bd2 Nbd7 8.Rc1 Rb8 9.Nf3 e5 10.0–0 0–0 11.Qc2 Ne8 12.d4 f5 unclear Patuzzo-Giordano, Lugano 2003.

d) 2...d5 of course is very sound, but it seems White can unbalance the play:

d1) 3.b4 e6 4.Bb2 leads to a position that frequently has occurred from the Sokolsky move-order 1.b4 d5 2.Bb2 e6 3.e3 Nf6 4.a3.

d2) 3.Nf3 e6 4.c4 Be7 and now White has tried:

d21) 5.b3 0–0 6.Bb2 c5 7.Be2 b6 8.0–0 Bb7 9.d3 Nc6 10.Nbd2 Ne8 11.d4 cxd4 12.Nxd4 Nxd4 13.Bxd4 dxc4 14.Nxc4 Nd6 15.Be5 Nxc4 16.Bxc4 Bf6 17.Qxd8 Rfxd8 18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.Rfd1 += Gelashvili-Miladinovic, Kavala 1999.

d22) 5.g4!? is the trademark move for the new 'no rules' generation of chess players. 5...c5 6.b4 Nxg4 7.Rg1 Nh6 8.bxc5 Bf6 9.d4 was unclear in Bosboom-Sonntag, Germany 2006.

d23) 5.b4 seems like the logical move. 5...0–0 6.Bb2 b6 7.Qc2 c5 8.bxc5 bxc5 9.Bd3 Nc6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.0–0 Bb7 12.Bxf6 Bxf6 13.Nc3 g6 = Kozul-Sosonko, Bled 1997.

d3) I like 3.f4!? even if Black has somewhat reduced White's options compared to the 1.a3 d5 2.f4 lines I discussed in a previous entry (e3 is unnecessary or even damaging in a reversed Dutch Leningrad).

d21) 3...g6 4.b4 is an interesting Bird/Dutch set-up which is not easy to achieve as Black. Note that a3 is not wasted as 1.f4 d5 2.b4? is refuted by 2...Qd6! (1.f4 Nf6 2.b4? Nd5! is a variation of the theme).

d22) Also after 3...c5, 4.b4 is an interesting option, e.g., 4...cxb4 5.axb4 Qb6?! 6.Nc3 Qxb4? 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.Ba3 Qa5 9.Bxe7 and White's advantage is sizable.

White is hoping for a reversed Paulsen/Kan Sicilian. Other possibilities include:
a) 3.d4 exd4 4.exd4 Be7 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Bd3 d5 7.0–0 Bg4 8.c3 Bh5 9.Bf4 Bg6 10.Ne5 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 Nbd7 = Filzmeier-Marjanovic, Nova Gorica 1999.

b) 3.b4 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.h3 Bg7 6.Bb2 0–0 7.c4 Re8 8.Nc3 Nbd7 9.Be2 e4 10.Nh2 Ne5 =+ Basman-Kinlay, Bristol 1980.

c) I have a weak spot for 3.Bc4 d5 4.Ba2 which leads to a quite unique position. However, objectively I must admit that White is unlikely to achieve full equality.

3...c6 (Dia)

Probably this is best. It's known from the O'Kelly Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6) that ...a6 (here a3) is not particularly useful in set-ups with c3 (here ...c6).

a) 3...b6 4.Nc3 Bb7 5.Nf3 e4 6.Nd4 c5 7.Nf5 g6 8.Ng3 Bg7 9.Be2 0–0 10.0–0 ½–½ Galkin-Malaniuk, Sochi 1997.

b) 3...g6 4.Nc3 (4.b4 Bg7 5.Bb2 d6 6.d3 0–0 7.Nf3 Ng4 8.h3 Nh6 9.Qb3 a5 10.Nbd2 axb4 11.axb4 Rxa1+ 12.Bxa1 Be6 13.d4 exd4 14.Bxd4 Nc6 15.Bxg7 Kxg7 16.Be2 += Bosboom-Gulko, Wijk aan Zee 2001) 4...Bg7 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Qc2 a5 7.Rb1 0–0 8.Be2 Re8 9.d3 d6 10.0–0 Bf5 11.Nd2 Rb8 ½–½ Hulak-Tkachiev, Istanbul 2003.

c) I was surprised to discover that there are quite a few games continuing 3...d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5. This seems quite accommodating as White is playing a Kan/Paulsen Sicilian a move up. It may tell something about the importance of one tempo in an unbalanced position that White in this line scores 61% (in 41 games) while Black in the corresponding position after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 scores 51% (in 39.435 games) - which is still an amazingly good result for Black. Maybe I will return to this in a later entry.


Also 4.d4 seems reasonable: 4...exd4 (4...e4!?) and now:

a) 5.Qxd4 seems relatively safe (isn’t this somewhat reminiscent of the French line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5!?). A recent game went 5...d5 6.Nf3 Bd6 7.Nc3 dxc4 8.Bxc4 0–0 9.e4 Bc7 10.Qxd8 Rxd8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.f4 h6 13.Nxf7!? Rxf7 14.e5 Nfd7 15.Be3 Nf8 16.Bxf7+ Kxf7 17.0–0–0 and it seemed that Black had slightly the better chances in a difficult position in Bosboom-Tiviakov, Hilversum 2007.

b) 5.exd4 would follow the parallel main line in the reversed 2.c3-Sicilian. After 5...d5, 6.Nf3 most likely would lead to an IQP position where a3 probably would be marginally useful. Also 6.c5, planning to meet 6...b6 with 7.b4 and a queenside space advantage makes sense.

4...e4 5.Nd4 d5
5...g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Qc2 Qe7 8.b4 0–0 9.Bb2 d5 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.Be2 Nbd7 12.0–0 Ne5 unclear Kuligowski-Sosonko, Amsterdam 1982.

6.cxd5 cxd5 (Dia)


a) I like 7.Qc2 here but it hardly changes the evaluation that White must thread carefully in order to keep the chances equal.

b) 7.b4 seems consistent but is hardly sufficient for equality:

b1) 7...Nc6 8.Bb2 (8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Qc2 Bd7 10.d3 exd3 11.Bxd3 Bd6 =+ Haapasalo-Rantanen, Salo 1998) 8...Bd6 9.Be2 0–0 10.f4 Bd7 11.0–0 Rc8 12.Nb3= Talon-Dal Borgo, Belgium 2002.

b2) 7...a5 8.b5 Bd6 9.Be2 0–0 10.Bb2 Nbd7 11.f4?! (after 11.Nc3 White is close to equality in an unbalanced position) 11...Nb6 =+ Talon-Van den Brande, Westerlo 2004.


Or 7...a6 8.Nc3 Bd6 9.dxe4 dxe4 (Bosboom-Van Wely, Wijk aan Zee 1999) 10.Qc2 +=.

8.Nc3 0–0 9.Be2 Qe7 10.0–0 Rd8 11.b4 Bxd4 12.exd4 Nc6 13.Be3 Bf5
= Milov-Godena, Cannes 2006.

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