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The Romanishin Gambit
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 c5 7 dxc5 d4:
This sharp line continues to attract followers, which is unsurprising since it has led to a number of crushing victories for Black. As far as I know, a clear route to a guaranteed advantage for White has yet to be found, but of late White has been causing Black a few theoretical problems.
Most players agree that 8 Qg3 is the most testing move, and recently there have been one or two developments in this line.
First there's Likavsky - Najer, Bundesliga 2009. After 8...Nc6 9 Nf3 0-0 10 Bh6 Ne8, White plays 11 e4!. This looks like a more serious try for the advantage than 11 h4 e5 12 h5 f5, which worked out well for Black in Gasanov-Miroshnichenko, Kharkiv 2007 (see Richard Palliser's annotations in the archives). Indeed, 11 e4 has been played more than once recently. Najer's 11...e5 12 Bd3 f5!? provides some real entertainment and ultimately a win for Black, but from a theoretical viewpoint Black may have to look elsewhere.
In Safin - Sargissian, Al Ain 2008, White employs a novelty after 8 Qg3 Nc6 9 Nf3 e5 (instead of 9...0-0), in 10 e4!?:
James Vigus suggested this move in Dangerous Weapons: The Nimzo-Indian, but as far as I'm aware this is the first time it's been tried over the board (10 Nxe5 and 10 b4 have been White's choices so far). Sargissian chose the natural reply 10...0-0, but it's even possible that is already a mistake. White was doing well in this topsy-turvy game, and then badly, and then well again!
8 Qc2 is considered to be less critical, and games like Podolchenko - Maiorov, Minsk 2009, only add to the appeal of the Romanishin Gambit. White attempted to improve on some old analysis by Romanishin, but he was hit by a novelty, reacted poorly, and was lost after only 14 moves!
4 Qc2 d5 5 a3
After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 Ne4 7 Qc2 c5 8 dxc5 Nc6 9 cxd5 exd5, Kasimdzhanov's 10 e3!? is even beginning to challenge 10 Nf3 for the right to be considered the 'main line'. Black has more than one tempting way to react, and some of these have been previously covered here. However, in Morozevich - Adams, Wijk aan Zee 2009, the English GM chose the rather modest 10...Bf5 11 Bd3 0-0!?, with Black limiting his ambitions to regaining the c5-pawn with 12 Nf3 Qa5+. This approach does look pretty solid, and it's perhaps revealing that Morozevich couldn't find a way to an advantage even when Carlsen repeated Adams's idea a few rounds later.
4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 h6 7 Bh4 c5 8 dxc5 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 e3 Qa5 11 Nge2 Bf5 12 Be5 0-0 13 Nd4:
Does Black have yet another option in the main line? Maybe he does if the evidence of recent games is anything to go by. 13...Nd7!? has been dismissed as inferior to both 13...Re8 and 13...Nxc3, but it's interesting that more than one grandmaster has been willing to try it with Black recently. One such example is Kotanjian - Khalifman, Budva 2009.
4 Qc2 0-0
After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d6 7 Nf3 Nbd7:
White invariably plays one of 8 g3, 8 e3 or 8 Bg5. When I reached this position recently (Rowson - Emms, 4NCL 2009) my opponent came up with the very rare 8 Qc2!?. Because Black has delayed ...b6 and ...Bb7 there is certainly a case for preparing e2-e4. Objectively I don't think Black has too much to worry about, but as the game shows there is no blindingly obvious way for Black to exploit White's third queen move in quick succession and White has some chances to keep an edge.
The Anti-Nimzo/Bogo: 3 a3
Rui Silva asks, "What can a Nimzo/Bogo-Indian player do against 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 a3? It seems that I have to prepare a completely different opening system against 3 a3."
First of all it's worth pointing out that this is not a problem a Nimzo/Bogo-Indian player is likely to face very often. In fact I've just checked my own games and I can only find one example of someone playing 3 a3 against me in around 200 games. So you may only face it once every ten years or so. On the other hand, it could just be that one of your regular opponents happens to play 3 a3 all the time!
The 'bad' news is, yes, Nimzo/Bogo players do have to play a completely different opening against 3 a3 - there's no doubt this little move rules out ...Bb4 for a while! Furthermore, perhaps surprisingly there are also problems for Queen's Indian players.
The good news is that a2-a3 has only limited value if Black 'transposes' to the Queen's Gambit or (even better) the Modern Benoni. Black can avoid all of the critical lines, and in that sense he doesn't really have to learn the mainline theory of these openings; he just needs to keep an eye out for how best to exploit White's extravagance to reach a reasonable position. Hopefully the notes to Damjanovic - Matulovic, Sarajevo 1961, will provide some guidance of what Black should aim for.
Till next time, John