with guest GM Neil McDonald
Panov-Botvinnik Attack with 5...g6 and 5...Nc6
It was very nice to be asked to be the guest writer this month on the 1 e4... website. Also a bit daunting as Alexander Volzhin has got an excellent site going here. Well I hummed and hawed as to what my subject should be until I finally made a decision- the Panov-Botvinnik Attack in the Caro-Kann.
If I have another chance then in future I would also like to look at the Mainline Isolated Queen's Pawn Positions and 4 Bd3.
So here goes with
- I hope you enjoy it!
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6
The position now resembles the Grunfeld but without pawns on c7 and e2. At first glance you might think this difference favoured Black- after all, in the Grunfeld White is able to build a big centre with e2-e4. Perhaps in the long term there is some truth in this, but in the Panov setup the fact that White's king's bishop isn't blocked in by a pawn on e2 gives him the chance to act quickly to gain a lasting initiative.
The first two games feature the most aggressive response 6 Qb3, when the standard continuation is 6...Bg7 7.cxd5 0-0
Now White has to make a critical decision- should he try to defend d5 with the straightforward fianchetto g2-g3 and Bg2 or should he play the slightly more subtle- or 'artificial' depending on your point of view!- plan of Be2 and Bf3.
The immediate 8 Nge2 indicates that White intends to fianchetto. Then 8...Na6 9.g3 b5!? is Black's most aggressive response, which exploits the fact that White's last move has ruled out the reply Bxb5. It clears the b7 square for the bishop and also threatens to drive away a defender of d5 with 10...b4. This move and other alternatives such as 9...b6 and 9...Qb6 are thoroughly examined in Adams - Granda Zuniga.
This game is a quick win for White who combines restraint with aggression extremely well. Nevertheless, despite the outcome the line seems to be alive for Black.
In the next game we see the different, and possibly superior, method of developing the bishop with 8 Be2 and 9 Bf3. White decides to put his bishop on f3, so that it has the same function as after g2-g3 and Bg2 in the Adams game but without the kingside being weakened. Praxis seems to indicate that this will make a potential d5-d6 more potent. Hebden's follow up 10 Bg5!? aiming to eliminate immediately one of the attackers of d5 was interesting, but perhaps not best. Have a look at the detailed analysis in Hebden - Hansen.
The third game examines 6 Nf3. White adopts a much more less forcing approach than 6.Qb3 . His slow build up looks entirely harmless, but results in a 28 move win against a strong Grandmaster! This is because he manages to open the centre with d4-d5! whilst his opponent's queenside is still slumbering. Meanwhile all White's pieces are ready for action. As usual in this line Black's structure is solid and the black bishop can claim to be the best minor piece on the board but no position can withstand such an imbalance in firepower when the centre is completely open. Have a look at Prokopchuk - Burmakin.
Finally, in the fourth game we analyse 6 cxd5. Black suffers a quick defeat after 6...Nxd5 etc. but only because he misses a chance to activate his position. Instead Black could try 6...g6 aiming to transpose to 6 Qb3 or 6 Nc3 lines, but take a look at 7 Bb5+!? in the analysis- it's all there in Glek - Szabolsci.
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6
This move seems to offer better chances than 5...g6. In recent years it has been adopted by two players who hardly ever lose, namely Kramnik and Leko. So you are in good company if you want a solid, albeit slightly worse, position.
To play this line well as either colour you need to spend some time looking at the typical endgame reached after the standard moves
6 Nf3 Bg4 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qb3 Bxf3 9.gxf3 e6 10.Qxb7 Nxd4 11.Bb5+ Nxb5 12.Qc6+ Ke7 13.Qxb5 Qd7 14.Nxd5+ Qxd5 15.Qxd5 exd5 16.Be3 Ke6
With his 16th move Black defends d5 and clears the way for his bishop to enter the game. It is evident that in the long term the pawn on d5 is going to come under attack. Therefore it is imperative for Black that he finds a way to maintain its defence without putting one or more of his pieces in a dangerously passive situation. In fact a good player of Black will always be looking for the best moment to jettison the pawn in return for activity with his other pawns and pieces. This activity will usually consist of an attack on White's weakened kingside. Thus the black king will rarely finish the game on e6. Often he goes to the kingside to generate counterplay with Kf5 etc, usually in combination with an advance of the kingside pawns; or sometimes he goes to c6 via d7 to defend the d5 pawn in a different way if the situation requires it- which normally means the white rooks have driven him away from the e file.
Meanwhile, White's usual strategy is to attack the pawns on d5 and a7 and, if he can't win them, then at least tie down Black's pieces to their defence.
In the second of these games White diverges from the sequence of moves given above with the zwischenzug 15 Bg5+!? before exchanging queens to force Black to loosen his pawns with 15...f6. A good idea or not? Although in some scenarios leaving the black pawn on f7 can make it a useful target for a white rook on the seventh rank, probably the answer is yes, as in the future the fact that the e6 square is available for a rook check can prove important. As you will see from the analysis of the Bologan game it was also Karpov's choice against Kramnik.
In my opinion defending this endgame is a thankless task for Black. Although he draws the game and even wins the next after White overpresses, his general record is an awful lot of draws, the occasional loss and very rarely a win. Kramnik succeeded in getting an excellent position as Black against Karpov but if you enjoy your chess I would recommend you choose a different variation. These games are both well handled by IM Velicka, who is virtually the only good player on my database to have won a game with this line as Black!
So is it possible to play this line without being forced into this defensible, but not very cheerful, endgame?
In the next two games after
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qb3 Bxf3 9.gxf3 Black avoids the endgame with 9...Nb6?!
However, this is very much a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, as White now seems to have at least two ways to gain a definite advantage.
After 10.d5 Nd4 11.Bb5+! Black had serious problems in Rudolf - Fuhrmann. Also considered there in the notes is the interesting 11 Qd1!? but White has no need to allow the big complications that result.
Alternatively another way for White to guarantee himself a pleasant and risk free position is 10 Be3 when Black was always under pressure in Payen - Koskinen.
Finally, we look at an alternative for White after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6, namely 6 Bg5!?
White isn't interested in trying to grind out a win in the endgame that usually occurs after 6.Nf3. The bold game move usually leads to a hard fought middlegame.
Now 6...Be6 is popular- see the game given for alternatives- when 7 a3!? has received most attention.
What makes opening play so difficult and novelties so powerful is that best moves aren't always the most 'obvious-looking' ones. I'm doubtful whether the greatest chess genius ever would have recognised the value of this quiet little pawn move if confronted with the position after 6...Be6 unexpectedly during a game. It takes research at home based on trial and error to appreciate its strengths. Basically there are scenarios in which Black plays Qa5[+] and it's useful to have the response b2-b4 handy. Also, in the future White may well close the centre with c4-c5, and then want to begin an attack with b2-b4, and 7.a3 will prove to have been a useful preparatory move. Thirdly, in some cases to have prevented Nc6-b4 will have been useful. But all of this is by no means obvious at the moment!
Take a peek at Hansen - Hector for analysis, which also features a fine exchange sacrifice by White.
However, the verdict that 7.a3 is the best move isn't undisputed. White's alternatives, some of which require close attention, are examined in Kalod - Palkovi.
When I selected what I thought were the ten most important games in the 5...g6 variation, I was surprised to see that White had scored +8=2. Clearly either I am subconsciously biased against the line or it is not very good for Black. It cannot be said in defence of the variation that it scores poorly because strong players don't play it as Black- there's normally an obvious reason why good players avoid playing a line!
Maybe at the level of club chess 5...g6 might be effective, but studying the line has left me with serious doubts about its validity in international chess.
Also Black doesn't have an easy life in the 5...Nc6 variation. The aggressive response 6 Bg5 just leads to rather unclear positions, but the endgame that arises after 6 Nf3 etc. is not very pleasant for Black. Of course Kramnik defended it successfully against Karpov, but then he has also survived five or so games in the Berlin Defence against Kasparov- some players are just invincible in worse endgames!
In the future I'd like to take a look at the most well respected line for Black- the solid treatment with 5...e6 which leads to standard IQP positions.
Until then I hope you enjoyed the first part!