Vuckevic is one of the most faithful supporters of the Benko Gambit as you'll see in Games 1 & 2. Both of these are from the Serbian Team Championship and in each case play becomes wild and wonderful. Although Vuckevic only managed an average 1/2 from these encounters he had a lot more fun than most players do from more solid openings!
After Game One was completed he must have had regrets as he basically threw away a good game (time trouble no doubt). The opening was rather unclear but looks like a good way to get interesting complications against 4 Qc2:
In Game Two one of the main lines against 5 e3 is tested. Black came up trumps in all departments as Vuckovic didn't let this one slip, indeed Markus (playing White) suffers a humiliating defeat. I like the idea of capturing on f3 (12...Bxf3!) as White's position is then so discoordinated it's extremely difficult to handle for him.
I received an e-mail from Michael Ridge who has been investigating the Classical Dutch. He has generally found that the lines where White plays without g2-g3 are less-well covered in books and asked me to make some recommendations.
Already this early on we can see that the e4-square has some significance. White has shown his willingness to occupy the centre with his pawns and Black has allowed this, but only up-to-a-point as he has already made a challenge for control of e4.
In fact White's choice of g2-g3 not only prepares a convenient developing move, but from g2 the bishop bears down on e4 and along the diagonal onto squares such as b7. On the other hand if Black's bishop is allowed the time and opportunity to develop to b7 then it will have a fine view of e4 and along the diagonal to g2 etc.
So this perhaps explains why the plan with g2-g3 is understandably popular.
If instead White decides to play with e2-e3 and Bf1-d3 then White concerns himself with the e4-square along the alternative b1-h7 diagonal. As there isn't the same pressure on Black's queenside then the second player tends to have a fair selection of development plans and move orders at his disposal, but there are four main themes:
- Respond with a Stonewall set-up (...d5, ...e6, ...f5 and often ...c6) where Black retains a grip on e4 with pawns.
- Control of e4 with piece-play i.e. typically ...Bb4 and ...b6 with ...Bb7.
- Aiming for a quick ...e6-e5 (to counter-balance any White central play such as e3-e4) when the pawn front on e5 and f5, when supported by pieces, gives Black chances for play on the kingside.
- The occasional plan involving ...c5, where Black competes for space is rarer.
Here are my personal thoughts about these 'themes':
- The Stonewall set-up solidifies the centre and thus gives Black time to organize his development. Black will have to think about how to get his light-squared bishop into play and this may take time.
If White has played his dark-squared bishop outside of the pawn chain and is on say f4 (contributing towards control of Black's potential weakness on e5) or g5 then these positions tend to play a little easier for White. However with the bishop inside the pawn chain on c1 or b2 then Black is generally considered to be fully OK. Play in the middlegame is then often on the flanks.
- The most reliable plan is to play ...Bb4 (developing quickly and by pinning the knight decreasing White's influence on e4) and so this is where I've concentrated my efforts. The follow-up with ...b6 and ...Bb7 is logical in that it adds an extra unit to the fight for e4. Another point is that Black's bishop is much less likely to see daylight for quite a while on the c8-h3 diagonal. See Game Four, Game Five (both also involving theme 3), Game 7 and Game Eight.
- The idea of ...e5 crops up in many lines of the Classical Dutch. Here as usual it's a question of timing, but will generally have to be played before White gets himself properly organized (i.e. to play e3-e4 and press down the e-file). See Game Six and Game Nine for some examples.
- Playing with ...c5 in mind is sometimes a good way of competing for space and counters White's centre. This has to be handled with care as the two advances ...f5 and ...c5, when combined, can lead to weaknesses on the 'd' and e-files, see Game Nine (again).
I have included these half-a-dozen examples to show how Black's plans work out in practise, have a look at the Classical Dutch overview for the exact opening moves.
There is some similarity with other openings such as the Nimzo or Queen's Indian and even the English Defence but it's not necessary to know the theory of these. One of the aspects you would read about in a book on the Nimzo is that Black is aiming for 'a good Dutch'!
Here is a typical position (theme 2) which should be quite promising for Black:
Black's hold of the e4-square ensures that he has time to complete his development and can look forward to the middlegame with confidence.
I hope that the examples chosen will enable subscribers to feel more comfortable defending such positions.
We start with a look at some lesser lines in the Exchange Variation.
In Game Ten Ivan Sokolov is successful with 5 Bd2 against L'Ami. The 8 Bb5 idea that features in this game is still employed regularly showing that this unusual move isn't so easy for Black to meet:
The opening however went fairly well for Black until L'Ami rather unwisely decided to sacrifice a pawn and then soon found himself with no real compensation. To compound his problems he soon lost the exchange. Not one of his best days!
In Game Eleven big Ivan preferred 7 Qa4+ against David Howell. I'm not sure if young David Howell prepared the following novelty in advance or if it was over-the-board inspiration but it led to a fascinating struggle. After 16 h4 Black introduced the new move 16...f5:
Sokolov then invested two pawns for a somewhat speculative attack. In fact until near the end Black should have been able to draw (at least!) and he probably could have limited White's attacking chances earlier on, when he may have been objectively better. So although Black's game wasn't easy to play in practise I suspect that Sokolov's attack was dubious and therefore 16...f5 could be quite promising for Black.
Although in Game Twelve the sideline starting with 7 Ba3 would seem fairly benign, Sharevich (playing White) surprised her higher higher-rated opponent and obtained a good game. So how can Marin's opening be improved? See move 12!
Marin later took a good practical decision to sacrifice the exchange and obtained a very defensible position although he was probably surprised that his opponent folded so badly enabling him to even win.
In the traditional Exchange (with Bc4 and Ne2 for White) Black players are still experimenting with alternatives to the main line defence of 10...Bg4 11 f3 Na5. In Games 13 and 14 neither of Black's tries were successful.
The line with 10...Bd7 still has it's followers but Game 13 represents another nail in it's coffin. Nepomniachtchi's attempt at improving on Vorobiev's play from a couple of years ago didn't lead to equality and he soon had to give up the exchange to ease the pressure. White kept control and one never really doubted the result.
A key variation in the 10...Qc7 defence was passed under the microscope in the game (and the pre-match preparation of course!) Richard Pert against Simon Knott (Game 14) from the British Championships in Swansea. Richard Pert was rewarded for reviving an idea that seems to be better for White and, on the basis of this game, Black will need a significant improvement if he wants to keep playing this line.
Here, after 15...e6, the key move is 16 Bb3! which may be better than 16 Bxc6, against which Knott has demonstrated that Black is OK.
In Game 15 Steve Gordon plays the fashionable 4 Bg5, but play quickly transposes to the positional lines associated mainly from 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Bg5 Ne4 and ...Nxc3 with ...c5. These lines are probably safer for Black than the ...dxc4 ideas that have captured so much interest lately. White's 11 Qa4 is unusual and provokes Gormally to seek complications. These weren't at all clear until White fell for a devilish trap, when after the blow 18...Nxd4 White was busted.
In Game 16 the main line of the Hungarian Variation in the Russian System is tested. Mihael Gurevich takes the offered exchange but never seems to be able to prove that Black has any problems, so it seems to me that Black is indeed OK in this key variation.
The game score doesn't explain everything, indeed the final position is still about equal.
Don't forget to send me some e-mails with some of your interesting games and questions.
Look out for the next update in early October, Glenn Flear