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This month I have been asked to do a guest overview of the Open Variation of the Spanish Opening.
The Open variation is in itself a vast subject, especially when there are several high profile players playing it with some regularity: Carlsen, Vallejo Pons, Sutovsky, Ivan Sokolov, Korchnoi and recently even Karpov!

Download PGN of March '08 1 e4 e5 games

In the following eleven games there are plenty of novelties and nuances but I'm not sure that the theory of any of the principal variations has been seriously altered in the last twelve months.

Open Spanish 9 Nbd2

The first eight games feature 9 Nbd2 which is now fully established as the main line:

Older lines involving 9 Qe2 and 9 c3 are receiving little attention these days.

After 9...Nc5 10 c3, Black plays the critical move 10...d4 in Game One, Nijboer-Reinderman:

The sharper line 11 Ng5 continues to have it's followers but nothing seems to shake my assessment from three years back that with best play the complications simplify to a drawn rook ending. See Bluvstein-Mikhalevski in the notes for an example.

Instead recent White efforts to obtain an advantage have mainly concentrated on 11 Bxe6 Nxe6 12 cxd4 Ncxd4 13 a4, as in this game.

The title of a recent New in Chess (Yearbook 83) survey on this actual line - 'Hard Times for Black' - is unnecessarily pessimistic as in most games Black is able to nullify White's slight advantage.

However for the practical player 10...d4 is hardly a sensible winning try and most readers would probably prefer something with more potential for individual input and realistic winning chances!

In Game Two Ivan Sokolov plays the dynamic move 10...Bg4 with the idea of following up with ...Ne6 and ...Bc5

In this particular game Van den Doel is unable to find a particularly good antidote and Black goes on to dominate the game. However although further tests are required from the point of view of theory, I must admit that the positions are more fun to play than those resulting from 10...d4.

Game Three examines the solid combination of ...Bg4 with ...Be7. This makes a sensible alternative to the over-analyzed 10...d4 and slightly speculative 10...Bg4, that is when combined with ...Ne6 and ...Bc5.

In the game Guliyev pushed with g2-g4, but this shouldn't give Black any particular problems despite temporarily ceding a pawn. Even playing with the more careful N-f1-g3-f5 doesn't seem to unhinge the solidity of Black's defences, as the notes seem to suggest.

In Game Four Romanian GM Marin decides instead to vary with 10...g6, but overall this whole idea hasn't really been very successful. In this game, despite the innovative ...Qd7, Black never really looked happy. However this idea may suit those who like to experiment with obscure sidelines.

In Game Five Black provokes simplification with 11...d4:

John-Paul Wallace recently analyzed a win by Adams (playing White) in this line, and this game by Nisipeanu tends to reinforce his sentiments that it's probably not such a great choice for Black. White's advantage isn't that big but equalizing fully can be hard work and there are virtually no winning chances for Black.

More robust is the line examined in Game 6 where Black supports the knight on e4 with ...f5. Most of the time Black is able to hold the fort despite allowing White the potential slight advantage of the bishop pair. Strong players use this line to equalize and there is perhaps sufficient tension in the middlegame positions for both sides to have hopes of more.

Despite it's respectable reputation, Black shouldn't play on auto-pilot, as he may get into trouble if he doesn't pay attention, as we can see in the actual game.

Position from the next two games after 12 Nd4!?:

Shirov shows his fangs in Game 7 as he rips into young Carlsen. A sure sign that something is wrong with the Black position is that apart from Shirov's 17 Rec3, White may also be better with 17 Rd3.

Black may instead be able to improve with 14...Nf4!?.

The previous diagram position also occurred in Game 8. Here Sutovsky responded with 12...Nxd4 13 cxd4 Nxb3 (instead of Carlsen's 13...Nd3) but failed to equalize and went on to lose the endgame. I have suggested 12...Qd7 (see the previous diagram) as a possible way for Black to avoid the difficulties that he encountered in these two games.

White places his bishop on e3

In the last three games White plays his bishop to e3, either on move 9 or 10, which is the other popular way for White to meet the Open Spanish.

In Game 9 Black threatens the e5-pawn with the manoeuvre ...Ne4-c5-d7:

The dichotomy for White is then 12 Re1 (temporarily sacrificing the pawn) or 12 Bd4 (holding the centre). In the notes we can see that there have been a number of developments after 12 Re1 Ndxe5 13 Nxe5 Nxe5 14 Bd4, when Carlsen's choice last year against Svidler was 14...f6!? which may well be Black's best equalizing try.

Arencibia chose 12 Bd4 in this game, but Vallejo successfully mixed things with 12...g5!?, which will be new to many and has only been played in one other game on my database.

In Game 10 Black at first maintains the e4-knight with 12...f5 and then after 13 exf6 Nxf6 the centre is opened up. Akopian wins a nice technical game but this doesn't reflect the value of Black's opening which should be fine for the second player. Filippov reacted rather passively and should surely have met 15 a4 with 15...b4.

Finally Game 11 and we notice a certain Victor Korchnoi playing the Open Spanish for about the 100th time.

Korchnoi has shown a certain preference for meeting Be3 with ...Bc5, which has a less solid reputation than the ...Be7-systems of Games 9 and 10. He in fact produces a novelty but then errs on his very next move. It could well be that the opening moves of this particular game, if followed up with 13...Nxc3 (this needs a closer look as it's not clear if Black gets enough for the queen in the critical line), could be the crunch variation for Black's whole development plan. Otherwise he may have to rely on 11...Bxe3 which gets close to equality, but not close enough for me!


The advantage of the Open Variation from Black's point of view is that White usually has to have quite good theoretical knowledge to get anything from the opening. The disadvantage is that some of the main lines lead to White having a small nagging edge deep into the game which can be annoying as Black's pawn structure is usually slightly inferior.

Tony will be back next month, Glenn/i>

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