Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why Not the Slav?

This is the second part of an answer to why I didn't follow up 'Win with the London System' with a book on the Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6).

The Slav and the London system are quite a popular pair of openings - frequently complemented by the Caro Kann against 1.e4. And if my first project had been on the Slav, quite likely the London would have appeared a natural continuation. However, with the London coming first, I didn't really consider following up with the Slav. This isn't quite as silly as it may sound:

While I enjoy playing a reversed opening with White (see my posts on 1.a3) - looking for a good way to use that extra tempo, I find it quite uncomfortable to go the opposite direction - taking an opening which I play with White and play it a tempo down. There certainly will be related lines but a tempo down they almost always are slightly worse.

In the case of the Slav compared to the London, this most clearly is illustrated with this position (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3):

a) 4...Bf5?! followed by ...e6 and a typical London position would be Black's preferred move if it was playable. However, very few strong players use this move regularly with Black - probably with good reason as White scores around 80% with 5.cxd5! cxd5 6.Qb3 (a database search hints that there may be more to this than is generally known so I may return to this subject).

b) 4...dxc4, which gives up Black's central foothold but wins some time for development, is Black's traditional main continuation. After 5.a4 Bf5 the position has some resemblance of a reversed London. However, the pawn exchange is generally considered undesirable and for London players mainly interesting as an example of how to handle the position if something goes wrong.

c) The Semi-Slav 4...e6, which locks in the light-squared bishop, can lead to very interesting positions if White plays ambitiously but isn't very similar to a London set-up.

d) 4...a6!? - the Chebanenko Slav - is a more recent try for Black. Now when Qb3 can be met by ...b5 or even the exotic ...Ra7, ...Bf5 becomes an option for Black in certain lines. This is a very interesting idea but seen in a London perspective not very attractive. While a3 frequently can be useful in London, it has quite low priority. Consequently Black is not just his normal tempo down - in many respects he is closer to two tempi behind a normal London line.

e) 4...Qb6!? has been played by many strong players, most recently by Kamsky. Black prepares ...Bf5 by defusing the Qb3 option but it must be admitted that this system is more solid than exciting and it seems that White has several paths to a small edge.

f) Black has other options like 4...Ne4, 4...Bg4 and 4...Nbd7 but none of them are very London-like.

Monday, August 25, 2008

London Stonewall Similarities

In a previous post I got a question about why I didn't follow up the London book with one on the Slav Defence. I am eventually going to say something more about that but first I would like to point out some similarities between the Dutch Stonewall and the London System:

  • The London as well as the Stonewall to a great degree are based on ideas rather than exact variations and involve a lot of possibilities for transpositions and move-order tricks.
  • In both openings you normally attempt to fortify a central bastion rather than create immediate central activity.
  • Both openings frequently allow you to switch to a kingside attack shouldn't your opponent play actively enough.
  • Both openings lead to characteristic pawn structures that can frequently be recognized even in the endgame.
  • There are certain London lines where White sets up a Stonewall formation (normally after the exchange of the light-squared bishops but not exclusively).
  • Both openings are in my opinion a bit underestimated.
A typical London position:

A typical Stonewall position:

See the similarity?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Simen Plays the Stonewall

I was very happy when I got Simen Agdestein on my team for 'Win with the Stonewall Dutch'. He is one of the real pioners for the modern version with ...Bd6 rather than Botwinnik's classical ...Be7 Stonewall. Simen is not as active on the tournament circuit as he used to be, and even though he has started well in Tromsø's Arctic Chess Challenge, he is most of all the head of NTG's delegation of young chess students. But Simen is still capable of beating almost anybody and he still plays the Stonewall forcefully:

M.Turner (2493) - S.Agdestein (2583)
Arctic Chess Challenge (5) 2008

1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.Nf3 d5 5.0–0 Bd6 6.c4 c6 7.b3 Qe7 8.Bb2 b6 9.Qc1 Bb7 10.Ba3 Nbd7 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.Qa3 c5!?

Characteristically Simen goes for the sharpest solution.

13.cxd5 exd5 14.Nc3 0–0 15.Rac1 f4!

The name 'Stonewall' has tricked many white players. In Simen's hands, the wall is actually extremely mobile.

16.Rfd1 a6 17.dxc5 bxc5 18.Ng5 fxg3 19.hxg3 Ng4 20.Nf3 Rae8 21.Rd4?! (Dia)

White tries to fend off the attack by tactical means. It backfires badly but it seems White had serious problems anyway.


This looks convincing, but I'd have to consult Fritz to be entirely sure.

22.Kxf2 Qe7 23.Rdd1 d4 24.Kg1 Qe3+ 25.Kh2 Nf6 26.Qxc5 Ng4+ 27.Kh3 Nf2+ 28.Kh2 Ng4+ 29.Kh3 Nf2+ 30.Kh2 Nxd1 31.Nxd1 Qh6+ 32.Kg1 Rc8 33.Ng5 Rxc5 34.Rxc5 Qd6 35.Ne6 Bxg2 0–1