The English Defence
What should Black play here?
In the diagram position Kraai (in Game 1) improves with 14...Nf3+ (recommended on this site instead of 14...Nf5!) and the resulting simplified position seems to be more-or-less equal. A slight imprecision later enabled White to play for more than a shared point, which he indeed tried to, but sidelining his own king led to his downfall. Before getting carried away with it's importance, remember that there's still many questions unanswered about the key alternative 9 Bg5.
Bunzmann has shown a preference for 5...Bb4+ but recent experiences following 6 Kf1 Nf6 7 Be2 don't look good for Black. Game 2 and others (see the notes) seem to suggest that this line simply doesn't hold water for the second player who therefore needs to find an earlier alternative. For example, 5...Bxg2 (a big maybe i.e. if the complications hold up to scrutiny) or with 4...Bb4+ and 4...Nc6 (these are solid enough but allow White a more comfortable time and a space edge).
So is the English Defence suffering a crisis after 4 Bd3?
Game Three features a hard-fought Benko from last month's prestigious Russian Championship.
Tseshkovsky's unusual ...Rb4 (provoking a2-a3) and then back to b8 was partially successful in that White never was able to take full control of the queenside. Black's activity was adequate, a further example confirming popular sentiment that ...Ra6 with ...Qa8 is a robust no-nonsense way of handling White's popular system.
Game 4 is a fun game with 'forever young' Andrew Martin showing what a dangerous tactician he can be on his day.
It's not really 'theoretical' but definitely 'inspirational'. By playing 1...b6 one is hoping to just get some bits out and 'play' a decent and original game of chess, such as this one.
There follows no less than six games from the Neo-Grünfeld!
I gave extensive coverage to these 'g3 versus the Grünfeld' lines a few months ago in the summer months of 2004, but it's interesting to see some top players in recent action. I'm particularly impressed at how they are able to generate sharp play to put their opponents off their guard. These six games are all quite lively and should offer chances for Grünfeld fans to get some positive ideas against this reputedly 'solid' set-up. The main lesson we can learn after seeing these games is that White's game isn't that solid after all and the lines are far from dry.
In Game five Romanishin met ...dxc4 with 6 Qa4+, a speciality of his, but looking through the database it seems that White hasn't been able to keep an opening pull playing like this.
Black seems to get too much play against the d-pawn and gains a couple of tempi against the white queen along the way. The veteran Ukrainian's tenth move smacks of an oversight and he spent the rest of the game with only modest compensation for a pawn!
Game Six sees Vaganian successfully defend against Smirin's optimistic attack. As for the opening, the 'quiet' 7 Qb3 is met with the notable 7...a5!? when White has to face a more complex tussle than in the better known variations following 7...Qb6 and 7...dxc4.
The opening move order in Game Seven took the players out of the book early. In such cases it's important to use general experience and knowledge from similar lines to help find a plan. Black gave up one bishop for a knight and then a second one in order to establish fine knight outposts in White's camp. It's not clear if his play was totally sound but the resulting complications were fascinating especially the placing of Black's cavalry.
Rowson introduces a new idea in Game Eight, see the following position:
Black played 14...Nbc4 rather than 14...Rc8, in order to improve Black's chances (see the June 2004 update to remind yourself of Black's problems here). The Scottish GM managed to achieve a satisfactory position in this notorious line where Black has to keep active to avoid ending up with prospectless knights (especially the one on a5). Unfortunately he made a tactical oversight that rather ruined all his good work.
Kotronias shows how to get pressure against a planless White opening. Game Nine will not be remembered for it's theory but for the series of interesting sacrifices that Kotronias unleashed to break down his opponent's resolute defence. A draw is a draw, but what a draw!
Ribli's cautious 7 Nbd2 is well answered by 7...a5! as Volokitin illustrates in Game ten. In fact Ribli hasn't been able to prove an edge in several games as White despite years of experience. Here he suffered a humiliating defeat after a sensational exchange sacrifice from Volokitin (he likes to give up the exchange as I know from the game Volokitin, A - Flear, G St.Vincent 2002!).
I know that there are some out there (who in order to get some 'winning chances') resort to a King's Indian after White plays an early g2-g3, I suggest that they play through these games and think again about defending against the Neo-Grünfeld!
Till next time,