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After having mentioned the OTHER Berlin (with 5...Be7 instead of 5...Nd6) in my Chess Café column some weeks ago, a couple of readers wrote in to ask me about it. In fact it's a very interesting opening which is not currently fashionable; but wait for Kramnik to play it in a couple of games and suddenly it might become trendy again.

Download PGN of February '05 1 e4 e5 games

Spanish - Berlin with 5...Be7

Was 5...Be7 ever trendy? Yes, over a century ago! Lasker played it quite frequently then and a couple of strong players have played it over the years. The top expert is the legendary Serbian GM, Milorad Knezevic. But you can also find Boris Spassky playing Black in a few games. I played it in a number of games in my teenage years but gave it up for the wrong reasons. 5...Be7 leads to quite rich positions in which Black can choose between several interesting lines.:

The Karpov - Korchnoi encounter from their match in Merano in 1981 was the highest level encounter with 5...Be7 in the last quarter of a century. Karpov came out on top but improvements were later found for Black. Korchnoi didn't try it again in this match but it certainly wasn't put out of business.

Another top-notch game saw the ever inventive Dutchman Jan Timman give the Berlin a whirl against Anand (see Anand - Timman). Anand's unusual 12.Nxe6 is a direct and quite dangerous plan:

but Black could have gained counterplay with either 13...Bb7 or 15...Bb7. No refutation here either.

After 9.Nd4 0-0 10.Nc3 Black may be well advised to play 10...Bc5 rather than Cherniaev's 10...Nc5 in Game 3:

Then Gormally should have tried 15.Nc5, which looks difficult for Black. The way the game went we get a nice illustration of how Black's light square bishop can become strong.

In Lau - Smagin White's 9.Re1 0-0 10.b3 is unimpressive and we get another Berlin theme - the f-file being prised open with ...f7-f6. The spectacular finish is a nice advert for this ancient defence.

Instead of 8...Nb7 Black can also play 8...Nf5, which was a great speciality of Vladimirov:

The quiet treatment White adopted in Repkova - Vladimirov is not very impressive and Black had a number of ways to get a comfortable game besides what happened here. 9.Qe4 is the critical move, as in Ulibin - Vladimirov, when White won quickly in what might have been Vladimirov's home analysis. Black has to play 19...Bh8 instead of 19...Bxc3. My view is that he's more or less equal.

In Huebner - Vogel we see a recent outing for Trifunovic's daring 7...dxc6!?:

White wins very quickly but the result conceals some very scary moments. I think this line merits further study as a possible surprise weapon; it's always good to have variety in your opening repertoire and this goes well with the more solid 8...Nb7 and 8...Nf5 lines.

Does White have a way of avoiding such dangers? 6.dxe5 is tempting but Makarichev - Vladimirov shows how to deal with this move. I don't see any advantage for White, in fact he could easily get the worst of it.

So there you have it, an interesting and quite unfashionable line which has had the seal of approval of Lasker and Spassky! And plenty of scope for some creative research...

Nigel Davies

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Nigel Davies