April 2004 Update
In the steps of the pioneers Hodgson and Miladinovic, the Pseudo-Trompowsky undoubtedly surfs on the wave of popularity of its elder brother and benefits from its fallout.
GM Eric Prié, firstname.lastname@example.org
However the absence of a knight on f6 makes a big difference (thus 2...f6 is the critical line) by offering Black the necessary flexibility to adapt to the early sortie of White's queen's bishop. As a result, with correct play and a minimum of theoretical baggage he is generally capable of equalizing out of the opening.
This my intimate opinion but, as far as I am concerned, it does not bother me too much!
In fact, I have taken up this opening as White more in the idea of building a consistent, super-economical repertoire for either side (Scandinavian with 2...Qxd5, ...Nf7-f6, ...Bc8-f5, ...c7-c6, ...e7-e6 against the king pawn, Slav with ...a6 against the queen pawn, 1...c6 2....d5 against the English, 1...d5 2...c6 or 2...Bg4 against the Reti, 1...d5 2...Bg4 against the Bird, for instance. With Black I have always happily played the reverse Pseudo-Tromp ;o) reaching positions that I normally 'understand' almost every time, with themes I am acquainted to and, for this reason, in which I feel at home.
According to me, this is the spirit with which one should play the Pseudo-Tromp as White, and we should not be too demanding with it. Otherwise, I believe that the d-Pawn Special player can often feel somewhat "disarmed" as White, when facing Black's best response 1...d5!
So this update is dedicated to the most widespread Pseudo-Tromp system for Black:
2...h6 3.Bh4 c6
Intending the convenient all-purpose ...Qb6, ...Bf5, ...e6, ...Be7, ...Nbd7, ...Nf6 set-up (The corresponding games are given in chronological order) with special prominence given to an interesting alternative for White, my innovation:
Generally speaking, the prophylactic move a2-a3 works well in conjunction with the development of the c1-bishop outside of the pawn chain, especially when Black can contest the opposing predominance in the centre by playing ...d7-d5 against a White pawn on c4 as in the Queen's Indian or the Queen's Gambit Declined. But basically, its first virtue is to control the b4 square which can be seen more concretely in the alternative line 4.e3 Qb6 5.Qc1 when 5...e5! is immediately equalizing since 6.dxe5? loses the bishop on h4 after 6...Qb4+, for instance.
Without doubt it is an immense pleasure for a chessplayer to be able to make a genuine novelty which is not complete rubbish as early as move 4 (or 3!), that is, a new move sustained by some concrete strategical considerations. And (as the chess audience will mainly focus on the result, with somewhat less attention towards the merits of the game) not be 'punished' (I think of Murey's 4...Nc6!?! in the Petroff, the most astonishing of all novelties, in his undeservedly lost game against Timman that I personally witnessed) by a negative result!
Anyway, I avoided this in Game one as my opponent was quickly forced into unknown territory and rapidly fell to a nice cheapo.
Black played the critical reply in Game 2:
4...Qb6, provoking 5.Ra2:
Which protects the b-pawn 'à la Morozevich', by analogy with the a6-Slav!
In return for his awkwardly placed rook, after 5...Bf5 6.e3 Nbd7, White is now able to play 7.c2-c4:
which he could (should?) have done on his second move.
There are lots of similar positions in chess theory, but usually when Black's light-squared bishop is outside of the Semi-Slav triangle c6-d5-e6, and when White's is blocked-in by a pawn on e3. Generally, when White wants to develop it on g5 in the Slav complex, then he takes the risk of gambiting the c4 pawn as in the Botvinnik.
Next, White (somewhat ashamed of his rook on a2) hastily decided to profit from the opposing queen's situation to launch a queenside pawn surge by means of c4-c5 and b2-b4 setting the rook free along the 2nd rank. Black, incredulous, reacted poorly and succumbed to a blitzkrieg attack on his king.
Game 3 was a real test for the idea in the person of the former World number 5 who came out with this great line after the game was over: "When I saw Ra2, I began to understand that I had to be cautious..."
Better that he was! After playing the more precise
I hesitated for a long time before making this decision. Even now it is not clear to me that this capture is best, for after the alternative 8.Bg3 my bishop is obviously more active than its counterpart on e7, but the loss of time has also to be taken into consideration. Anyway, lured by the favourable impression left by my successful first attempt with the rook on a2, I played the same idea of the pawn surge on the queenside. However, this time Black found a strong and simple plan which consisted in methodically undermining the base of the c5 pawn whereas its counterpart, on c6 was usefully protected by the knight on e7. As a result White became tied up and eventually lost the thread during the tactical phase of the game.
Was that defeat to lead to such a brilliant idea being sent back into oblivion?
No! It was rewarded, eventually, in Game 4, with a full point after a nice tense game against top-class opposition!
After my last move, 33 Bd2 Black can hardly avoid mate.
In Game 5, the top African player (who also happens to be a club mate of mine) declined to play the critical 4...Qb6, and when asked why he had this surprising answer: "I did not want to play 'in your garden', with the rook on a2!" It is the first time that I hear somebody being afraid of the terrible concealed power of this move! Indeed, if this bizarre 'development' of the queen's rook has happened a couple of times, with reversed colours, in my long Slav ...a6 practice, it was never played with a light heart. Instead, he played as in the first game
4..Bf5 5.e3 Nd7 6.c4 and then only
6...Qb6 on which, when given the choice, I replied 7.b4!:
At some point I may have missed something but the game was fairly level on the whole and ended in a draw.
The last three games illustrate why the variation is so popular for Black, and therefore considered to be the main line of the Pseudo, since after White's mostly logical 4.Nf3 he virtually loses an important central pawn to 4...Qb6 5.Qc1
(The famous game Morozevich-Kramnik, won by the latter, saw 5.b3 and certainly has something to do with the popularity of the variation for Black)
5...g5! 6.Bg3 g4 7.Ne5 Qxd4
which is the critical continuation, strangely never dealt with so far on this site.
In Game 6 Mr TromPOPOULos (after all, the POPULarity of the Trompowsky and the Pseudo has gained thanks to his games) saw a novelty with 8.a4 which did not turn out very well. However, playing in his usual, enterprising, aggressive, optimistic (!) spirit the Pseudo-Tromp has often come out of the opening without any advantage against top-class opposition. But he was in great form in this tournament and needed just one mistake by his opponent to drastically reverse the course of the game.
Game 7 saw the critical continuation of the gambit:
8.c4 Nd7 9.e3 Qc5 10.Nd2 Bg7 11.Nd3 Qb6 12.a4 Nc5 13.cxd5 Nxd3+ 14.Bxd3 (note that some other move order is possible) and then the 'greedy'
14...Bxb2 when White continues 15.a5! Qb4 16.Qb1 Nf6 17.Ra4!
This deviation was probably the result of some fantastic home preparation from Mr Tromp himself, namely Julian Hodgson. As a result, he obtained a strong dark-squared initiative along the long diagonal, which he transformed into a win, although there still remains some obscure areas regarding the exact correctness of the exchange sacrifice.
Game 8 has to be considered to be the theoretical reference after
14...cxd5 15.Bb5+ Kf8
Since, after all, losing the right to castle, with a non-exposed king behind a closed centre, does not appear so terrifying. And considering the 2 important Mr Tromp's games enclosed, as well, it seems difficult to improve play for either side as the game ended in a draw.
In conclusion, I would like to say that personally I cannot help being impervious to the idea of offering a pawn so quickly in the opening, without my opponent having to fight for it. I know there is also another idea with 4.c3 (3.c3 against 2...c6 is the same) when, accordingly, 4...Qb6 is now inaccurate due to 5.Qc2 as ...Bf5 is just a terrible blunder because the queen can simply capture, threatening Qc8 mate.
Nevertheless, that does not solve the question of finding anything "enterprising" to do against 4...Bf5 and the plan ...e6, ...Be7, ...Nd7, ...Nf6.
For that reason I still prefer my 4.a3!? if I can then push the c-pawn one square further!
Till next month! Eric Prié.