THE PROS & CONS OF SICILIAN NAJDORF MEGA-THEORY
[As you can see, I did something a bit different this week. Other than the fact that I like to keep people guessing (you never know if you’ll get tactics, Tiny Tim, positional lessons, or Mega-Theory), I had a few reasons for this departure from the norm: 1) I have to throw the higher-rated players on chess.com a bone from time to time; 2) Taking a glance at the kind of things grandmasters have to deal with during their daily preparations might prove eye-opening for those that think reading a few chess books will get them a title; 3) Mega-Theory gives countless players a lot of pleasure (demonstrate a bit of mega-theory to your relatives, or even to your chess friends, and they will think you’re a genius); 4) It’s a part of chess, and if a reader offers it up, I have to show them the same respect as a guy that asks about mating patterns; 5) Finally, if you think opening theory is boring, take a look at the offered games and, if you still think it’s boring, you need to find another sport!]
Most players on chess.com just want to get their pieces out and enjoy a game of chess where it’s one person’s skill versus another. As time goes by, they create an easy-to-grasp opening repertoire that appeals to them, improve their general skills, and even learn some endgames. Some will reach a certain level that makes them competitive with their friends, and that’s more than enough. And others will study hard and add to all these skills in an effort to reach for the stars.
Other players live for gambits, and if they can’t sacrifice a pawn (as either color!) and attack for all they are worth, then why bother at all? This is pure chess for fun, and I have to admit that it’s quite appealing.
And finally, we have a group of players that love sharp mega-theory. I’m not talking about reams of analysis that lead down quiet positional roads and long, drawn out endgames. I’m talking about theory that’s so hot, so violent, that at times the chessboard bursts into flames.
When I was 14 years old, I spent countless hours exploring the latest Sicilian Dragon theory, with its King-hunts and Exchange sacrifices and wild tactics. In our present article, those old memories came flowing back when I saw the following game:
Camp100 (1700) vs. N.N. (1900), North American Open 2011
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.O-O-O Nbd7 10.g4 b5 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.g5 Nd7 13.f5 Nc5
Still critical is 13…Bxg5+ 14.Kb1, which occurred in a game I played when I was 15 years old (vs. another kid my age in the California Junior State Championship).
I remember we both blitzed out all these moves, then another 6 or 7 after this until we reached move 21. At that point I still knew theory, but my opponent had reached the end of the line. Since we reached an incredibly complex position where I knew the grandmaster moves and he didn’t, he lasted exactly 3 more moves and resigned. If that’s your idea of fun chess, then the rush of living and dying on the mega-theory highway might be for you!
After 13…Bxg5+ 14.Kb1 Ne5 is still the main battleground. However, 14…0-0!? has become a serious alternative:
Finally, I should mention that 13…0-0!? has recently caught fire, with Ju Wenjun championing the line. Here’s a small taste of this new “Najdorf flavor”:
14.f6 gxf6 15.gxf6 Bf8
Camp 100 (who is playing White and has a 1700 rating) didn’t know theory past 15…Bf8, and as a result played this rare move rather than the popular 16.Rg1. This Rook move leads to very sharp play, though it’s not clear if it gives White any advantage. Nevertheless, the positions are so tactically demanding that anyone of any rating can trip and fall on his face. Here’s an example of this:
An amazing upset where a 2122 player beats the mighty De Firmian (2540). The above game is a shining example of how super-sharp Mega-Theory can come through for the amateur. To be fair though, in 99% of the cases it’s the amateur that will either be outgunned with the theory, or out-calculated in the resulting positions.
16…b4 is better:
16…h5 is the correct reaction to 16.Rg1 but not to the slower 16.Bh3. However, Black is rated 1900 and sticks with the script, even though White veered off the course he knew. Once again we see an important problem with super-sharp Mega-Theory: once you’re out of book, if you’re not good enough to handle the position on your own (in other words, the position from that particular opening asks more from you than you can give), then errors will immediately occur.
17.Rhe1 Bd7 18.Nf5
Camp100 said: “Not accurate. After the game I looked in a database and the three previous games all went Nd5! with a lot of compensation. I saw the idea in the game yet thought that since it didn’t lead to mate it wasn’t correct. I think I was wrong though. After 18.Nd5 exd5 19.exd5+ Kd8 20.Bxd7 Qxd7 21.Ne6+ White has a lot of compensation.”
I won’t give the rest of Camp100s game. He played way above his rating (though he eventually lost), which leads me to believe that other areas of his game must be lacking (no doubt due to all the study time he gives to Mega-Theory!). But I wanted to get to this point because his comment (“I saw the idea in the game yet thought that since it didn’t lead to mate it wasn’t correct.”) was quite interesting. If Camp100 really understood these positions, he would have known that these sacrifices almost never lead to a forced mate. Instead they offer serious pressure against the enemy King that might lead to mate, or it might lead to other happy things (like the win of material). And that understanding would have led to him giving 18.Nd5 a try.
Oh, one other point: Camp100 said that “three previous games” in his database featured 18.Nd5. The problem is that all those database games feature fairly weak players. Thus, none of them can be trusted. However, that’s fine. It forces you, the player, to figure out if 18.Nd5 is or isn’t good long before you ever get it in a real game. And that kind of preparation (sometimes you never get to use it, and other times it might occur years after you did all the work!) is a whole other area of chess pleasure.
In any case, Camp100 clearly loves his Mega-Theory. And who can complain if the study of complex attacking theory gives you a rush, and ultimately deep pleasure? It’s not for everyone (even many pros avoid such lines!), but it’s a valid part of the game that many players worldwide enjoy.
What might have happened if White had played 18.Nd5? Let’s take a look:
Lessons From This Article
* There are many ways to enjoy chess (blitz, rapid, long time control, postal, chess history, gambits, chess news, analysis of games, opening analysis, endgame analysis, the study of Mega-Theory, etc.), it's just a matter of finding your niche.
* Though a specific opening might be more than you can handle, your mistakes/defeats will pull you upward, and will (after you get past the pain of being ripped limb from limb) eventually be looked at as critcally instructive nuggets.
* Studying an opening does more than teach you how to play the initial moves. Games from a sharp system will often teach you how and why certain thematic sacrifices work (or don't work). Quiet systems will teach you how to use space, or how to maneuver. Every opening has secrets to offer you.
* If you love something (in this case, Mega-Theory), don't let anyone tell you that it's not worthwhile.
* Many games in databases are completely worthless. If you are studying an opening on a database, make sure the games you refer to are played by experts on that system, and/or a very strong player. [ed note: Opening Explorer has had all such "worthless games" culled from it]
HOW TO PRESENT A GAME FOR CONSIDERATION
If you want me to look over your game, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
I need your name (real or chess.com handle), your OPPONENT’S name (real or chess.com handle), both player’s ratings, where the game was played, and date. If you don’t give me this information, I won’t use your game! BTW: I’ve noticed that many people are reluctant to give me their opponent’s name. This is very strange! Showing the names of both players is the way chess games are presented in databases, books, magazines, websites – everywhere! Permission from the opponent isn’t necessary. If permission was necessary, everyone who ever lost a game wouldn’t allow their name to be on it!