What's New - May 2003
Why do people play tricky side lines of the Spanish when the meaty Chigorin is available? John Nunn in Secrets of Practical Chess (Gambit, 1998) certainly didn't understand why this ancient opening had been neglected and recommended it for inclusion in our opening repertoires.
GM Nigel Davies
Quoting Nunn: "...There is a wide range of possibilities to choose from.... All these are viable lines, so there is no need to panic. They all lead to the same general type of position, so that the experience you have gained with your former line will not be wasted. The general principles governing play with these Chigorin structures will still be valid in your new line. Moreover, all the effort you have put into learning how to combat earlier deviations by White will remain valid. Instead of facing a major overhaul, only a minor modification will be necessary."
Spanish Opening: Chigorin Variation
Nunn may not have practised what he preached, and he doesn't play the Chigorin much in his own games but his remarks seem to have be borne out by some recent high level encounters. The Chigorin Defence with 12...cxd4 and 13...Bd7 has enjoyed a solid reputation for decades but has recently featured in the games of top flight GMs such as Nigel Short and Jeroen Piket.
In the Leko - Short game Black undergoes a stern test - Leko's play with White is a thing of beauty. Yet even he finds it hard to make any progress and towards the end of the game it was Short who was better.
Black against Luke McShane may one day be a similarly unpleasant assignment ... but not just yet. His 18.Nd2 in McShane - Short looks more like perspiration than inspiration and left Black with an excellent game.
Instead of 18.Nd2 White should play 18.a3 Na6 19.b4. Piket has shown a preference for 19...Ra8 in this position. White's ambitious 21.g4 (de Firmian - Piket and Kasparov - Piket) is aimed at preventing 21...Nh5 or a later ...f7-f5 whilst trying to build up a menacing position on the kingside. Still, it's quite a risky decision as White is weakening his kingside, and when Black gets ...f7-f5 in anyway he faces something of a crisis. In Kasparov - Piket White attempted to improve with 23.Nf1, but this was nothing special for White until he was allowed to play 37.Nxe5.
Black has several alternatives to 19...Ra8 which are explored in Bologan - Peng Xiaomin. They all look very reasonable to me but are unlikely to hit the limelight until some super-GM gives them his patronage.
The other fashionable line is 12...cxd4 13.cxd4 Rd8.
If White plays 14.Nf1 Black can get interesting counterplay with 14...exd4 15.Nxd4 d5 as in Hellers - Polgar.
This has prompted White to look for alternatives which keep the knight on d2 for a while. 14.b3 (Grischuk - Kasimdzhanov) fits the bill quite well and on current evidence seems to make life difficult for Black.
The temptation is to delay capturing on d4 by playing 12...Rd8 so that 13.b3 can be met by 13...Bd7. Though here there is a question mark over whether Black can get enough counterplay after 12...Rd8 13.d5.
Kindermann - Yusupov certainly shows Black's potential, but White can try to improve at several points.
The aggressive 15.g4!? of Firman - Golod certainly calls for accurate defence by Black lest he drifts into a bad position, though here he manages the defensive task quite well and at least got to enjoy a full-blooded struggle.
The 14.Re3!? of Leko - Kasimdzhanov looks quite restrictive, though Black may be fine after Kasimdzhanov's suggestion of 14...Nb7.
In view of these developments the Chigorin is looking like quite an interesting defence with more counterattacking potential than many other Closed Spanish lines. Will White get to pin it down and retain a typical edge? Only time will tell....
See you next month!