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What's New - December 2003

Since my last update a couple of questions came in from Doug Schwetke, a 'Texan stranded in New Jersey'. Doug was interested in the Riga Variation of the Spanish, as recommended by Soltis in his 'Grandmaster Opening Secrets', and wondered what I thought of it.

GM Nigel Davies

I must admit that I'd forgotten what the Riga Variation is, such is its rarity in modern tournaments!

Download PGN of December '03 1 e4 e5 games

Spanish Opening - Riga Variation

In fact it's the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 exd4:

which on the surface looks incredibly risky. According to Soltis, "Only one line has been found to give White any edge at all." 7.Re1 d5 8.Nxd4 Bd6 9.Nxc6 Bxh2+ 10.Kh1 Qh4 11.Rxe4 11.dxe4 12.Qd8+ Qxd8 13.Nxd8+ Kxd8 14.Kxh2 Be6 15.Be3 f5 16.Nc3 Ke7 17.g4 g6:

He also comments "White has to find about 10 only moves to reach an advantage 10.Kh1, 11.Rxe4, 12.Qd8 and it's not clear that it's much of an advantage".

Glenn Flear seconds Soltis's opinion in his book, "Open Spanish", giving the game Westerinen-Geisdof, Bundasliga 1980 with the comment "The risky but playable Riga variation. Black takes a second pawn but allows White a nasty pin on the e-file. Although it has a dubious reputation, White cannot in fact refute this cheeky line."

The first problem for Black is that the endgame Soltis mentions is far from pleasant for Black, Capablanca's play in Capablanca - Edward Lasker is a good model for White, as one might expect. Maybe the Hungarian GM, Zoltan Varga knows how to draw this endgame as he has played the Riga Variation in several games. Tolnai decided to keep his king's bishop with 15.c3 in Tolnai - Varga, but this hardly seems critical.

In the game Almasi - Varga we see the surprise value of the Riga Variation take its toll on the young Hungarian super-GM. It's not easy to get such a big advantage out of the opening against a 2650 player, but that's exactly what Varga does here.

When I asked for views on the Riga at the Tigerchess Yahoo Group, Hungarian IM Joszef Palkovi posted some fascinating Analysis on 8.Bg5!?:

There are no games in my database but it looks very interesting; could this be the refutation of the Riga?

Spanish Opening - 'Pseudo Open' Variation

On the subject of alternatives to 6...b5, I thought it worth mentioning 6...Be7, a move which crops up now and then:

The Polish IMs Sydor and Pytel seem to have done some joint homework on it and even the great Vassily Smyslov has played it now and then. Unfortunately for him he finds Jens Kristiansen well prepared in Kristiansen - Smyslov, with 9.Nc3 being a very interesting novelty. White's pieces become tremendously active and dominate the center; the former World Champion must count himself as having been very fortunate to escape.

With 7...b5 Black attempts to steer the game back into Open Spanish lines, with White having committed his rook to e1. Unfortunately it seems as if the 8.Rxe4 of Smirin - Piket is a problem.

Doug also asked me to explain the difference between playing 3...Nf6 and 3...a6 as after the latter move White has the annoying Exchange Variation with 4.Bxc6. In fact 3...Nf6 can be used as a transpositional trick to avoid the Exchange and reach the Open Variation and Swedish IM Tom Wedberg has been playing like this for a while. The point is that after 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4, Black can then play 5...a6:

Can White do better than 6.Ba4 b5, which transposes into an Open?

In Rausis - Wedberg he tries 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.Qe2, but after 7...Bf5 Black develops very comfortably. Kulaots did better with 7.Nxe5 in Kulaots - Wedberg; the opening looked fairly equal to me, but some small mistakes by Wedberg allowed White to assume the initiative.

White can also play 6.Bd3, which leads to positions which closely resemble the Petroff Defence. Korchnoi was doing well out of the opening in Rozentalis - Korchnoi, but his attempts to sharpen the struggle backfired. But it was good psychology from Korchnoi to use this line against an Exchange Variation specialist like Rozentalis. In Brynell - Wedberg Black's 8...Nc5 looks quite reasonable, despite the slight loss of time involved. His pawn sacrifice on move 15 looks fine, though I think Black is OK in any case.

It remains for me to wish you all the best for 2004!

Do you want to improve your chess? Then either email me (as just below), or visit for more information about my coaching services

Please post your Kingpawn Opening queries on the 1 e4 e5 Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.

Nigel Davies