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Mar 2003 - 1 e4 e5

Is your opening repertoire smelling a bit stale? Do you want something new and exciting to wheel out? Well the Ponziani is certainly worth a thought, as shown by the fact that a number of strong players have given it a try with White. To name but a few you can find Grandmasters Tony Miles, Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Dragan Velimirovic, Jonny Hector, Mark Hebden, Konstantin Sakaev, Robert Zelcic, Albin Planinc, Istvan Csom and others on the White side.

GM Nigel Davies

Ponziani Opening

Four Knights Game

Spanish Opening

Download PGN of March '03 1 e4 e5 games

Ponziani Opening

An economical way for Black to meet the Ponziani is with 3...Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.e5 Nd5

as in Game 1. Sermek tries a bit too hard to extract something from the position with his 7.Bxc6?! but goes on to win a tense battle. If Black wants more excitement an is prepared to study some theory he can try 5...Ne4!? instead as in Upton - Lalic. The beauty of this 3...Nf6 4.d4 exd4 line is that you can also get it as Black against the Scotch Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 Nf6 is a direct transposition).

It's rather dangerous for Black to venture into the main line of the "Ponz" as after 3...d5 White has a tricky move in 4.Qa4!?

The fact that Hebden lost so badly to Surtees in this line (see Game 3) is warning enough that this is very risky for Black. Especially against someone who might spend their evenings analyzing ancient games by the likes of Mikhail Chigorin.

Is 3...Nf6 4.d4 exd4 a complete answer for Black? Well yes and no! The problem is that White has a quite different treatment of the "Ponz" which leads to prolonged trench warfare. He can play 4.d3 and get a kind of Philidor Attack. This is quite an interesting set-up for White as he can expand on the queenside by playing for b2-b4. In Pachman - Minev we see a controlled positional masterpiece by White in which gradually shuffles forwards on the queenside and simplifies into a good endgame.

This kind of game can work very well against players who enjoy free piece play. Benko picked his opponent very well in the game Benko - Alexander as the aggressive Englishman seemed to be very frustrated by White's slow build-up and never really came to terms with the position. Benko kept the pressure up right into the endgame. The last example of this opening is Csom - Cooper. Before he discovered the English Opening, Istvan Csom played the Reversed Philidor extensively. In Game 6 he turns in a polished performance, reducing his opponent to helplessness with some quiet little moves.

Besides having significance for the Ponziani, White can achieve this kind of position against the Alekhine Defence by playing 1.e4 Nf6 2.d3. It can also be significant in the French as after 1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.Ngf3 Nc6 5.c3 e5 White gets the same position with an extra tempo.

Four Knights Game

My clubmate and strong correspondence player Phil Adams recently showed me some very interesting analysis in the Four Knights Game. The 'copy-cat variation' with 7...Bg4

has long been assumed to be bad for Black, yet existing analysis is scrappy and incomplete. Adams' improvements are incorporated in the notes to Ponomariov - Azarov.

Spanish Opening: Exchange Variation

One of Black's problems when playing 1...e5 is in finding a good answer to the Exchange Spanish. And in trying to find a way to generate winning chances Black should not forget that it might also be difficult to make a draw.

One move that deserves some attention is the little played 5...Be7!?.

A few GMs, such as Ivan Sokolov, Jonny Hector, Stefan Djuric and Efstratios Grivas have been playing it with Black and there have been some interesting recent games. The most interesting of these is Zhang Zhong - De Vreugt in which the brilliant Chinese tactician hits his opponent from all sides. Black can improve of course, but the first time against a dangerous plan such as 6.Nc3 and 7.Qe2 is never going to be easy.

Another critical line is 6.Nxe5!? as in Brynell - Hector. Black seems to be OK after 7...g6 but in the game he was in quite serious trouble. Brynell probably decided that his earlier 6.d3 (Brynell - Grivas) was rather innocuous. Indeed Black doesn't seem unduly troubled by it all with 11...c5 looking even more comfortable.

Ponziani Opening

Four Knights Game

Spanish Opening

That's all for this time. Happy hunting.

Nigel Davies