I received an e-mail concerning the Leningrad Dutch from Björn Holzhauer who is interested to know my views on the line 1 d4 f5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 g6 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 0-0 0-0 6 c4 d6 7 Nc3 Qe8 8 Re1 Qf7 9 b3 Ne4 10 Bb2:
Over the years this variation has been given quite a bit of attention by specialist Stefan Kindermann and so I've already annotated a few games in previous updates.
Black has to choose between 10...Nc6 and 10...Nd7. I've included a summary of my thoughts in the notes to Game One but in a nutshell it comes down to this: 10...Nc6 seems fine if Black avoids the problems associated with Freitag-Beim (which you'll be able to find in the archives), but the variations are somewhat forcing which may not suit everyone.
Instead 10...Nd7 may appeal for those wanting to keep more tension. I can't find a sure-fire way for this line to 'fully equalize' but there are opportunities to avoid the annoying pressure achieved by White (for instance see 14...g5) in the featured game. However objectively speaking 10...Nc6 is the best try for equality.
The Classical still isn't as popular as the Leningrad but there are a few who give it a go from time to time. The two games in this month's update feature a couple of recent encounters. In Games 2 and 3 Black plays with an early ...Ne4 and ...Bf6 with the strategic aim of playing ...e5. In Game 3 Black achieved this comfortably and as a result stood well, whereas in Game Two this came a little later and under controversial circumstances. Strikovic (playing White in Game 2) might have missed the opportunity for an enterprising piece sacrifice, but a few moves later his exchange offer was very strong anyway.
In Game Four we see a further Aronian-Svidler tussle in the fashionable 4 Bg5 line where White gambits the c-pawn. Just like in Dortmund a few months back Svidler comes out on top but this one was more convincing. The plan with ...Bf5-d3 isn't new but this is the first time it's been played in this exact position, so full marks for the Russian's homework. I must admit that I can't find anything dramatic for White, so the onus is probably on the first player to find an earlier deviation.
Here, after White's 12 0-0, Svidler improves with 12...Nb6 rather than the reasonable-but-not-quite-equal 12...e5 (Aronian, L - Svidler, P Dortmund 2006) which I analysed in August's update.
Game Five isn't frankly very exciting but it may be important for our understanding of the theory. Ftacnik goes down a book equalizing variation, but the bad news was that despite playing logically he achieves a fairly lifeless position with a slight inferiority. The good news however from Black's point of view was that even though things went rather astray (so much so that he even lost a pawn) his bishop power managed to earn him half-a-point. Opening boffs will perhaps want to know: Does this mean that the line with 8...Na6 9 Bxa6 Qxg2 doesn't fully equalize after all?
Whether or not this is the case most subscribers to 'dynamic' defences to 1 d4 would like something more lively with Black, so investigating the complications after 8...Nc6 will be more to their taste. See my analysis of Gutov - Slizhevsky from the May 2006 update for more of that.
Although White played 8 h3 in Game Six, the resulting positions are reminiscent of that popular line of the Exchange Variation (where Black employs ...b6 against Rb1). Iordachescu demonstrates a solid system of development against which White just ran out of ideas. However, despite obtaining an ideal middlegame position it still wasn't an easy task for Black to win the game. Indeed time probably played a role in White folding at the end after defending resolutely for so long. I quite like the way Iordachescu handled the opening and this could also be a good model for meeting 8 Rb1.
White wins Game 7 by dint of sheer persistence as I believe that the bishop ending should be drawn. After going round in circles for a while he found a trick to annexe the c4-square and then was able to win. An instructive endgame perhaps, but if you are reading these lines you'll be more interested in the opening phase! The key decision for Black in the opening was the choice of 13...Bc7 rather than 13...Bg7. My impression is that the 'natural' retreat to g7 is sounder as I've emphasized in the notes. Kozubov must have been delighted to play his strong novelty on move 24 when instead of a drawish endgame suddenly Black is definitely on the defensive. So I'm not sure that we'll be seeing Black defend in this fashion again.
Radjabov follows anti-Grünfeld guru Konstantin Sakaev's analysis from his influential book An Expert's Guide to the 7.Bc4 Gruenfeld (Chess Stars 2006) in Game Eight, but the young Croatian Brkic found an effective solution with 16...e5 which helped regain the pawn and got him close to equality. Then a slightly frustrated Radjabov seemed to lose his way and was somewhat outplayed. At the end 35 Bxc5 leads to a draw whereas the move 35 d6 is worse for White. According to the game score obtained from an internet download 35 d6 was in fact played. If this is true then really Radjabov's big ELO saved him though, as his opponent accepted a draw prematurely. Brkic probably didn't realise that by playing on he had significant winning chances without much risk.
The system with Bf4, Nf3 and Rc1 has been fairly popular and here's another example. The early exchange of queens isn't always drawish, but it seems to be the case in the line covered in Game Nine. White's clumsy structure is a handicap even when his bishop-pair earn him a slight initiative. Black seems to have more than one way to obtain an equalish endgame as you'll notice in the notes. Is Black's play really dynamic? That's for you to judge but I believe that White should forage elsewhere if he has an appetite for realistic winning chances.
Vachier-Lagrave lost a rather soft game to Humpy Koneru in Game 10. Was this a case of him underestimating the danger or just not being familiar with this type of queenless middlegame? A feature of those variations where all the central pawns are exchanged is White's slight lead in development, which may not seem to be much but this combined with access to the d6-square caused Black problems. This doesn't mean that 13...e5 is wrong, it's just that Black needed to follow up more appropriately.
Finally ignoring Game 11 could be dangerous!
I've included this diagram position because a number of strong players have chosen to put their bishop on h3 rather than h5. I think 13...Bh3 should come with a health warning! See Game 11 and you'll understand my opinion. Best is the alternative 13...Bh5.
In the actual game White won a piece for a couple of pawns and was always on top. Baramidze wasn't the first the come a cropper in this line, but after this update is published he might be the last!
Till next time, Glenn Flear