Before we deal with this month's game selection I've received an e-mail from Chris in Germany who asks for my opinion on a couple of lines. One arising from the Budapest and the second from the Albin (but it can also arise via the Chigorin).
In the Budapest (Game 1) he asks about the Bf4 and Nc3 system where White retains an extra pawn but allows his queenside to be badly split. There are GMs who will play this line as White who hope to stifle any Black activity and then get their central pawns going. Using the extra pawn is in the back of their mind but I'm not sure how often this actually comes about.
In the diagram position after 11 g3 I recommend 11...0-0 12 Bg2 Bg4.
The Albin line (Game Two) has special interest because Jonathan Rowson has recently found the idea of self-inflicted doubled (and ugly!) pawns quite interesting. The idea seems paradoxical but can be awkward for Black whose king gets in the way of him catching up in development.
After 4...Nc6 5 e3, it seems that 5...dxe3 and 5...a5 are the main moves. The line after 5...dxe3 6 Qxd8+ Kxd8 7 Bxe3 Nxe5 8 Nf3 is probably nothing special for White but shouldn't be underestimated and requires careful defence.
More in the spirit of the opening is 5...a5 6 Nf3 Bc5 7 exd4 Bxd4 when Black's activity and control of d4 should enable him to get his pawn back. White has chances to retain an edge due to his bishop pair.
I think the idea has merit and White may be able to keep a very slight pull with 4 a3. However I'm not sure that it's any better than a host of other ideas that seem promising for White in theory but aren't that successful in practise against pumped-up Albin Gambiteers. You would have thought that now that the Albin is in the limelight (or at least played sufficiently to be less of a surprise weapon) that strong White players would be able to cope with this opening, but there seem to be plenty of ideas in the Black armoury to keep White on his toes as Games 6-8 suggest! See below.
More bad news for Black in Game Three!
Another White win with the system based on Ng1-e2, h2-h3 and Kf1-g1-h2. This set-up is so solid (the knights defend each other and there is always f2-f3 in reserve) that Black's traditional Benko counterplay didn't cause much of a stir in the featured game. Akobian completed development before expanding with f3-f4 and e4-e5 and retained the advantage. See Shulman-Khalifman in last month's update for an alternative defensive plan by Black.
After 1 d4 f5 2 Bg5, chasing the bishop the whole way with 2...h6 and 3...g5 is playable, but only if 4 e4 is then met by 4...Nf6. Instead 4...Bg7 has a poor reputation and Game Four won't change that:
Although Black's 5th move novelty perhaps had surprise value, it was well handled by Nguyen Ngoc Truongson playing White who seemed to have everything under control. The latter stages of the ending were riddled with errors which rather ruined the game but is the typical result of serious time pressure.
When I was young time controls were much slower, but players took genuine pride in refining their technique to squeeze the maximum out of a position. Nowadays so many games that start so logically become farcical after move 35 or so. The importance of endgame technique has been replaced by an era of clock-induced blunders where having nerves of steel is what matters.
In Game Five Malaniuk made a rather weak blunder just after the opening which Korchnoi pounced on to steal an important pawn.
I bet Korchnoi was enjoying himself when he played 16 Bxd5! However the rest of the game went well for the experienced Leningrad specialist. The opening move order is worth a closer look and could represent a better option for Black than the immediate 8...c6 followed by 9...d5 and near the end (surprisingly!) Korchnoi failed to convert his advantage.
Kasimdzhanov had obviously prepared himself to play this for the rapid tournament in Estonia known as the Keres Memorial.
Against Vitiugov (Game Eight) he varied from Morozevich's 1993 game against Krasenkov, the first recorded game with the now standard 8 e6:
He successfully equalized, but a day later against Karpov (Game Six) he didn't quite. His Albin score of 1½/2 can be deemed a success but most Albin players wouldn't have enjoyed trying to defend against Karpov's positional pull inaugurated by the new 9 Qxd4:
Cebalo-Fontaine in Game Seven was a more lively affair where Black had a useful initiative all game long. The Frenchman missed a delightful win right at the end and this may not have been the only way to successfully finish off the double rook ending.
I think we can conclude that putting the bishop on f4 isn't a very good solution for White.
This month's Game nine (Graf-Braun) looks like a one-off. White's 16 Qc3 and 17 f4 creates complications which are only good enough for a draw if Black is alert. Herr Braun was indeed and earned half-a-point:
Don't forget to take heed of Simon Knott's important novelty in the notes. Does this take the sting out of 14 Ng5 I wonder? Well, you'll have to find out by reading future updates!
In Karpov-Shirov the most notable feature is Black's blunder at the end, see Game ten. The opening idea with 10 Bc4 doesn't seem to be dangerous and in the subsequent play Shirov eschewed easy equality for the slightly risky d-pawn grab. Although there was nothing wrong with that, it certainly led to the type of position where Black blundering isn't such a surprise. White's two bishops create plenty of probing threats and it's not even clear that if Black were to consolidate that he could hope for anything better than say Rook and opposite bishops with an extra pawn where a win may be problematic.
Frankly Game 11 is rather one-sided as Ikonnikov neatly exploits Black's poor 15th and 18th moves. Instead of 15...Rfd8, much better was 15...Be6 16 Rfd1 Rfd8 which experience suggests offers Black a satisfactory game.
The last game this time, number 12, is a positional grind as Bareev squeezes Svidler who makes an imprecision on move 16 and is then forced to go uncharacteristically passive for the whole game. It will be interesting to see if Svidler repeats 11...Nb4 again or prefers to switch to another move such as 11...Bf5 which doesn't have a bad reputation.
Till next time,