Feb 2003 - 1 e4 e5
Welcome to my February update!
GM Nigel Davies
Theme tournaments, in which the opening is agreed in advance, are quite rare these days. So it was interesting to see that a Christmas Rapid Chess Theme Tournament took place in Kiev 11th-12th January. All the games started with Steinitz's still controversial line in the Two Knights defence: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5.ed5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dc6 bc6 8.Be2 h6 9.Nh3.
Grandmasters Olga Dolzhikova and Georgy Timoshenko were the winners.
This line has an interesting history with the game Steinitz - Chigorin having been played by telegraph for a purse of 750 US dollars when Steinitz claimed it was good for White and Chigorin offered to take Black. Chigorin won both games, though that was far from being an end of the matter. Seventy-three years later Bobby Fischer revived this line to score a nice win against Bisguier (see Fischer - Bisguier). White's kingside gets broken up with 11...Bxh3, but he has the two bishops and he is a pawn up.
I suspect that the critical line is 9...g5!? as in Timoshenko - Kosikov from the above mentioned Kiev tournament. White loses this game but that's far from being an end to the matter; it's worth mentioning that Bronstein felt he was worse in the game against Veinger which is incorporated in the notes.
A few years ago nobody would have guessed that the old Mieses variation of the Scotch would become a major theoretical battleground. White has the better structure but the awkwardly placed queen is his only developed piece. Faced with a strategic inferiority Black must play actively, and this clash of structure vs development leads to complex forcing lines which extend well into the middlegame. In Game 4 an unknown correspondence player called McLaughlin unveils an innovation on move 24... .
It seems that it is not enough for Black to play 'natural' moves in this line if he hopes to equalise. In Game 5 we see Black play very sensibly, but nevertheless he gets the worst of it and is fortunate to draw.
In the early 1960s Bobby Fischer experimented with the Black side of the Ruy Lopez. He played a few games with the Classical defence 3...Bc5 and in the 1963 US championship adopted the so-called 'Norwegian Variation' (see Addison - Fischer) with 3...a6 4 Ba4 b5 5 Bb3 Na5.
Fischer was probably attracted to this line this line by the fact that it gains the two bishops. But meanwhile he loses time and White gains the ascendency in the center...
As Fischer played this opening with Black, his treatment with White is especially noteworthy. In Game 7 Black plays 7...Nxb3 so as to avoid 7...f6 8.Bxg8, but it could be that the medicine is worse than the disease.
The main line arises after 7...f6 8.Nc3 Nxb3 9.axb3 Bb7
when White's can choose between 10.Qe2 and 10.Nh4. 10.Qe2 is the civilised move, continuing White's development and making room for a rook to arrive on d1. It looks as if it's enough to keep a slight advantage, with Black's attempts to unbalance the game ending in disaster in Pavlovic - Agdestein.
10.Nh4 has much more violent intent, clearing the way for White's f-pawn to advance and his queen to come out to h5. In Short - Sulskis Black's 10...Qd7 is met by the dangerous 11.Nd5 when White had a strong initiative. Black may be better advised to keep developing with 10...Ne7. Though even here Black is under pressure with Anand's 14.Nd5 in Game 10 adding to the burden of defence.
The Norwegian Variation is an interesting and quite double-edged line, but frankly I suspect that the position is just unpleasant for Black. Having said that I doubt that its exponents will give up quite that fast; midnight oil will be burning in Oslo.
That's all for this time.