First, Chris from Germany is interested to know how Black should meet a rare but seemingly dangerous idea in the Exchange Variation. Luc Bergez surprised and defeated Vallejo Pons a couple of years back with 11 Bd3 (instead of the standard 11 Qd3) but there have been no more recent games:
I've looked again at the resulting positions and I'm pretty sure that Black can actually get away with taking the d-pawn. See my analysis in Game One.
A pleasant tussle in Game Two led to a hard-fought draw. White's kingside play and Black's queenside pawn hunting just about cancelled each other out although Black went the wrong way with his king and then had to dig in deep to earn his draw. The unusual 6...Nc6 hasn't been played enough for one to make any major conclusions:
but there's nothing wrong with 6...Nf6 which has scored fairly well in practise.
In Game 3 we have a look at Black meeting 5 b6 with the slightly unusual 5...Bb7!?. Despite the result of the featured game I have my doubts about Black's ability to fully equalize. See the note after White's 10th move where Dreev is successful with 10 Bb5+:
This rather than Esen's slightly wild 10 g4, of the game. The problem with the pawn structure in this variation is that White is able to maintain the d5-pawn. This guarantees him more space, whereas after the alternative 5...e6 6 Nc3 exd5 White doesn't have the same pawn wedge and so Black is more likely to get active piece play.
In Game Four Black met 5 b6 by 5...d6 with an eventual ...Nbd7 followed by ...Nxb6. This plan seems reasonably solid and in this particular case White didn't seem to keep any opening advantage. The exchange of light-squared bishops eased Black's defence which suggests that 11 Bf4 isn't White's most critical try. In the middlegame Gaprindashvili fell for a nasty trap and had to immediately resign.
The f3-variation has not regained the popularity it had a decade ago. However the resulting positions can be rich and unclear as was the case in Game Five. The main moment of interest from a theoretical point of view is White's opting for 10 f4 rather than 10 Nh3:
The lively struggle that followed doesn't really clarify who was really better although I suspect that Black was never in any danger.
The immediate 2 Bg5 can be met by several moves but 2...g6 and 2...h6 are critical.
In Game Six Williams sticks to his favourite bishop-chasing 2...h6 and soon creates some novel positions by employing the extravagant 4...Rh7 against a Grandmaster. Unfortunately for his fans he doesn't last 20 moves!
However a lot happens in this 19-move miniature and there were several alternatives for Black along the way which might have given him a fine game. So 4...Rh7 deserves other chances before being consigned to the rubbish bin of failed opening ideas. Is anyone else daring enough to give it a go? In the notes we see that Malaniuk sticks to 4...Nf6 and he ultimately obtained a decent game.
In Game 7, the Kovacevic derby, Black tries 2...g6 and is faced with the sharpest line involving a quick e2-e4. The retreat 6 Nc3 is rarer than 6 Nc5 but Black stuck to the same ...Nh6-f7 idea which has scored fairly well for him in analogous positions.
The opening phase went well for Black and then slightly unclear complications followed where White perhaps missed a chance to be better. The most surprising phase was the transition from middlegame to ending where Black must have been very short of time to exchange off his pieces in such a naive way.
Game Eight illustrates one of the traditional lines where B-g5 is met with an early ...Nf6 allowing Bxf6 damaging Black's pawns. In this game Ikonnikov showed that Black doesn't have much to fear despite having a closed position and an arguably inferior structure. The choice of an early ...Nc6 is instructive and seems reasonable for Black, but check out Kogan's treatment of the white pieces in the notes.
In fact Black's pawns are solid enough and if he handles the opening sensibly there's every chance that his bishops will gradually come into their own. Brodsky playing White spent most of the game defending but was luckily handed the point on a plate after Ikonnikov hallucinated.
In Games 9-11 White plays 2 Nc3 and Black replies with 2...d5 to ensure that e2-e4 won't be possible for a while. Black then is left with a Stonewall structure, which may not be his favourite way of playing the Dutch, but with the c-pawn stuck on c2 White has limited pressure on the centre:
The plan with 3 Bf4 bringing pressure to bear on the e5-hole was chosen by Malakhatko in Game Nine. I have also played this idea, but was put off when an opponent reacted in the same way as Bartel. Black's early ...a6 and ...c5 show up the negative side of White's strategy: With the c-pawn dormant Black's pawns have an important influence in the central arena.
Malakhatko therefore hit back with c2-c4 but his timing was out and Bartel was soon better. The critical plan is for White to develop his kingside and castle first before touching his c-pawn but even here I believe that Black is OK.
Krasenkow employs a logical plan as Black in Game 10 to hit back with ...e5. Kononenko's play as White however seemed to indicate that he was better, so I'm not sure that Black's oft-recommended plan with 3...c6 4 e3 Qb6 is sufficient for equality. Note also that 4 e4 might be dangerous in this line.
Unfortunately for White he overestimated his chances and underestimated the danger in the endgame and lost his queenside pawns.
Game 11 is last and longest. Volkov tries to win the later endgame until he runs out of time (Black claimed the draw by the 50 move rule). Although I'm not convinced by Bartel's handling of the opening (I believe that White has an edge after 14 Ne6) he outplayed his higher-rated opponent and had good winning chances until he blundered on move 34. In any case he demonstrated the potential of Black's position once he got his pieces out and his e-pawn advancing.
My conclusion after analyzing games 11 and 12 is that the defence with 3...c6 isn't so easy for Black, so 2 Nc3 remains one of White's best options against the Dutch.
Till next time, Glenn Flear