Openings Workshop 2011

Four questions from the floor with comments from all

A defence to the Kings Gambit

1.e4 e5 2.f4

Asking around the group for moves for Black at move 2, we collected:

2...d5 ...

And that probably doesn't exhaust everything that has been tried, but it will do for now.  All have some logic so let's work our way through them.

Before we do, it is important to note at the start that White is not yet threatening the Black e-pawn,  Here if 2...a6 3.exf4?? Qh4+ and White is embarrassed.   So actually Black can pretty well do what they like.

* 2...f6 is well motivated but fails to the elementary tactical sequence

3. fxe5 fxe5 4. Qh5+ g6 5. Qxe5+ Qe7 6. Qxh8 Qxe4+ 7. Be2 Qxg2 8. Bf3 ...

* 2...Nf6 and 2...Nc6

Both neglect to support the King's pawn.  After 2...Nc6 3.Nf3 Black has the same problem.

3.fxe4 becomes a threat after 2...Nf6 and the logical sequence:

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nf6 3.fxe5 Nxe4 4.Nf3 Ng5 (4...Nc6 5. d3 Nc5 6. d4 Ne4) 5.d4 Nxf3+ 6.Qxf3 Qh4+ 7.Qf2 Qxf2+ 8.Kxf2 in Fischer-Wade, 1968, gives White an edge.

 * 2...d6

Not daft, not bad, but not best.  This move is unkind to the Bf8, and, as there is no direct threat to the e-pawn, we can go:

2...Bc5 3.Nf3 d6

Now White can try 4.Nc3 and 5.Bc4, or 4.c3, with normal chances of a small White advantage.

 * Falkbeer/Nimzowitsch


White can avoid all dangers 3.Nc3 - however, White is also in no danger of getting an advantage with this tame move.

3. exd5

Now Black has a choice of counter-gambits, Nimzowitsch's 3...c6 and Falkbeer's 3...e4.

After 3...c6, any mess can be declined with 4.Nc3, reckoned to be the best line at the moment.

3...e4 is a great idea but I think White can find a way towards an advantage:

4. d3 Nf6

(4... Qxd5 5. Qe2 Nf6 6. Nd2 Bf5 (6...Bg4 7. Ngf3) 7. dxe4 {idea ?xe4, 8 g4! is very strong.})

5. dxe4 Nxe4 6.Nf3

(6. Be3!? is an idea of Spassky: 6... Qh4+ 7. g3 Nxg3 8.Nf3 Qe7 9.hxg3 and now 9...Qxe3+ 10.Qe2 or 9...Qxh1 10.Qe2)

6... Bc5 7. Qe2 f5

(7... Bf5 8. Nc3+=)

8. Nc3 Bf2+ 9. Kd1 += and Black's juggernaut has run into sand.

* The Gambit Accepted and the Cunningham Defence

Turning now to ways of accepting the gambit, after 2...exf4, Black's threat of playing 3...Qh4+ is most easily met by 3.Nf3. Now Black has another enormous choice here, but I recommend looking first at the Cunningham Defence. 

3...Be7 threat ...Bh4+

4. Bc4

4.Nc3?! Bh4+ 5.Ke2 may not be terrible, but White probably doesn't want to go down this line.

But after 4.Bc4, 4...Bh4+ 5.Kf1 may inconvenience Black more than White.

4... Nf6

There are now an encouraging number of mistakes for White to make in the first few moves.

(5. O-O? Nxe4)

(5. Nc3?! Nxe4!)

(5. d3?! d5!)

So, by the process of elimination:

5. e5! Ng4!

Now 6. h3?? Bh4+ is awful for White and 6. d4 d5 7. exd6 Qxd6 looks OK for Black, so 

6. 0-0 0-0! 7. h3?! d5! 8. Bb3

[8.exd6 then 8...Qxd6 threatens to win the loose c4-bishop with 9...Qc5+.]

8...c5! 9.c3

[9.hxg4 c4 10.Ba4 b5 11.Bxb5 Qb6+ 12.Kh1 Qxb5 13.Nc3 Qc6 14.d4 Bxg4 15.Bxf4 Nd7 16.Qd2 Bxf3 17.Rxf3 f6 18.exf6 Bxf6 19.Re1 Rf7 20.Rfe3 Nf8 21.Be5? Bg5 ...0-1 Kennaugh-Hebden, 1994]

9...c4 10.hxg4

[10.Bc2? loses swiftly to 10...Qb6+]

10...cxb3 11.Qxb3 d4! 12.d3

[12.Nxd4 Bc5 13.Rxf4 Nc6 14.Qc4 Nxe5! 15.Qxc5 Nd3!]

12...Nc6 13.c4 g5! 14.Nbd2 Bxg4 15.a3

[15.Qxb7 Nb4 is horrible for White.]

15...Qc7 16.Re1 Bh5

(idea 17...g4)

17.Ne4 Bxf3 18.gxf3 Nxe5 19.Kg2 f5 20.Nf2 Ng6 0-1 Holmes-Motwani 1994.

Tchigorin's bust of the Stonewall Attack.

When the Stonewall works, it can feel as simple as shelling peas:


That is very much How Not To Defend Against The Stonewall Attack, although the move order is worth remembering.

However, Black can play more craftily and survive, mostly by not castling into the attack, but also by making a more determined effort to control the light squares and/or the centre.

In a way, White has learned a trick, like Scholar's Mate is a trick:

1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6?? 4.Qxf7#

(Actually that was my first ever game in a chess club, and I was Black...)  Once Black has seen the idea it is not so hard to dodge.  Then White needs an opening with more and deeper ideas, that poses Black problems that are not so easy to see coming or to deal with.

Tchigorin worked out a move order that makes nonsense of the whole Stonewall Attack, which Brian (**) is having trouble with:

 * Tarrasch-Tchigorin, 1895

Sad to say, there is no answer to this for White.  You either have to hope that Black players don't know this defence, or you need to trick them with some other move order (3.Nd2!?), or really you need to find a better opening. 

By all means start towards it with 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 but now I suggest 3.Nf3.

After 3...e6 we can play the Colle System and after 3...Bf5 we can play the Slow Slav with 4.c4 - not a hugely inspiring way to play but Kramnik struggled occasionally in 2006 when faced with it by Topalov in their 2006 match.  (3...Bg4 4.c4 is similar.)  Certainly, White has better chances with these ideas than in the Tchigorin line.

That's not to say that you should forget all about this formation.  You might find that Black uses a move order in the opening which does not allow Black to play the very best defences.

(1) You might be able to spring a Stonewall Attack after a different start, while playing more mainstream QP openings:

 * Portisch-Petrosian, 1974

 * Prie-Jablonski , 2003

(2) You can try Bird's Opening:

 * Danielsen-Halldorsson, 2002

(3) And lastly, there is still an enthusiasm for playing the Stonewall Dutch Defence as Black (ask Tim!), perhaps not with such directness as this:

 * Glucksberg-Najdorf, 1935

Kramnik famously declared that, with the extra space, the Stonewall Dutch is easier to play with Black than for White!  I was very struck when I got a copy of NCO, to see all the main lines of the Stonewall were given an unadorned "=".

With recommendations like that, it is hard to dismiss the defence, but of course with greater attention came greater number of ideas for White, and it perhaps is less easy to play the Stonewall for Black than it used to be.

There are a couple of excellent books on the defence around, by Aagaard and by Johnssen et al.

(**) I will just say here that Brian's adoption of the Stonewall is due to the book How to Think Ahead in Chess, which, whatever its title might suggest, is an opening repertoire book recommending the Stonewall for White.  I note that this book appeared in 1943 while Tchigorin's bust has been known since the well-known game Tarrasch-Tchigorin, Hastings 1895.  Soltis also suggested the Stonewall for White in 1992, but at least he had the integrity to mention the problem and suggest a solution. (4. f4 Nb4 5. Nf3 Nxd3+ 6. Qxd3 when Soltis suggests the central control is still worth something.)

Defending against the Ruy Lopez.

Well, if I could guarantee a trouble-free life against the Lopez, I would be able to earn a fortune selling the secret.  It seems the GMs are still working out the details of the Zaitsev and the Marshall and the Moller, but these sophisticated and subtle systems are buried under a mountain of theory, not easily absorbed by club players.

So what are we to do?  Lots of options, but let's have a look at these two:

  * Open Defence 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. c3

I always liked to see Korchnoi's progress with this vigorous Defence, favoured by Tarrasch and also adopted by the upright Dr.Euwe.  When I was a boy I had a notion of playing the Dilworth Variation, a complicated line of which the evaluation defends on a complicated endgame:
9... Bc5 Alternatives are (9... Be7) and (9... Nc5)

Sadly, Korchnoi's persistence with the line at World Championship level provoked Karpov and his team to develop better anti-Open variations, and these days 9.c3 is discarded in favour of the modern 9.Nbd2.  This is particularly sad for fans of the Dilworth, for although Black is still battling away with 9...Be7 and 9...Nc5, it seems White has a simple small advantage after 9...Bc5.

 * Berlin Defence

Is there any reason to play a line without 3...a6?  Fine showed the superiority of Morphy's move-order in clear terms in his well-known book, The Ideas Behind The Chess Openings. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 with and without 3...a6 4.Ba4

Without ...a6 With ....a6
3...Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Be7 6.Qe2 Nd6 7.Bxc6 bxc6 8.dxe5 Nb7 9.Nc3+= 4...Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.c3=
3...d6 4.d4 Bd7 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Bxc6 Bxc6 7.Qd3 exd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7 9.Bg5+= [4...d6 5.d4 b5 6.Bb3 Nxd4 7.Nxd4 exd4 8.Bd5 Rb8 9.Bc6+ Bd7=

You can argue about the moves but I hope the point is made.

Only if you were very keen to avoid the Exchange Variation would it seem advantageous to omit 3...a6.

However, while Black's winning chances in the Berlin are not great, White's winning percentage is not huge either.  Let's look at the main line:

3... Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 (6. dxe5!? Nxb5 7. a4) 6... dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8

The Queens come off and White has to try his best in an endgame where yes, the King's-side majority is a big asset, but Black has two Bishops and already a lot of light-square control.

White can point to several advantages but the position is relatively quiet and the play positional. So what?  Well, Kramnik possibly owes his World Championship title to the Berlin Defence, where in 2000 Kasparov failed to make effective use of the White pieces:

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 
 * 1 * . . . . . * 1 . . * . . 

so, 2-0 or 8.5-6.5 to Kramnik.  The marked games were draws where Kramnik played the Berlin and held it. The Berlin is a smart move against a player with such a marked preference for complex attacking play.

 * Schliemann Gambit

Just a second suggestion if the Open and Berlin don't appeal. 

The main lines of this variation are long and difficult and probably better for White.  White has to know them, though!

Lutz,C - Yagupov,I Groningen, 1995
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Nxe5 dxe4 7.Nxc6 Qg5 8.Qe2 Nf6 9.f4 Qxf4 10.Ne5+ c6 11.d4 Qh4+ 12.g3 Qh3 13.Bc4 Be6 14.Bf4 0-0-0 15.0-0-0 Bd6 16.Kb1 Rhf8 17.Rhf1 Kb8 18.a4 Ka8 19.a5 Bxc4 20.Qxc4 Bxe5 21.dxe5 Nd5 22.a6...  (1-0,60)

Sokolov and others have pointed to 5...Nf6 as a less high-stakes option, where Black has reasonable chances for the pawn.

A line in the Alapin Sicilian

Charlie asked after the variation:

1.e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3 d5 4. exd5 Qxd5 ...

Now both Charlie's suggested plans:

5. d4
5. Na3

... look like very reasonable ways of seeking the advantage.  I don't know much about this line but I looked it up.  The move order is not one that you find in all the books, but after 5.d4 we are into a fairly well-known position where Black can try 5...cxd4, 5...Nf6 or even 5....e5!? with reasonable chances of equality.  5.Na3 has been tried a couple of dozen times in the last 10 years, with fair results, although following 5.Na3 the most common sequence has been 5...Bg4 6.Be2 e5, and I can't see that White has succeeded in setting Black any problems after this.

In the search for novel play we should avoid:

 * Potze-Van der Elburg, Hoogeveen 2006: 1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Na3 Bg4 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 0-0-0 8.Qa4 e4 9.d3 Bxf3 0-1 as 10.gxf3 exd3 11.Bd1 d2 wins a piece.

Chess Quotes

Chess players
"Who is your opponent tonight?"
"Tonight I am playing against the Black pieces"
— A. RUBINSTEIN (via ilias kastanas)