In Part One of Riding The Winds Of Fashion, I talked about the Hübner Variation of the Nimzo-Indian and how, at one time, it was one of the most fashionable openings in the world. In the main example (Bruce Leverett – Silman, National Open 1982) I explored typical positions where the center was fully closed. Most of the puzzles also came from closed centers.
But, since White has the two bishops, what happens if he keeps the center as fluid as possible? White has various ways of doing this, from leaving the basic central position as it is while developing his pieces to good squares, playing to rip the center open with a timely f2-f4 advance, or (after Black plays …e6-e5) trying to get the light-squared bishop to d5 via Nf3-d2-e4xf6 followed by Bd3-e4-d5, or Nf3-g5-e4xf6 followed by Bd3-e4-d5.
In Part Two, we’ll take a look at these kinds of quasi-closed, somewhat fluid centers in our main game (Gliksman – Silman), and in most of the puzzles.
Here are the general pros and cons of embracing a fashionable opening system:
- If it’s fashionable, that means it’s usually both sound and interesting.
- If it’s fashionable, a huge amount of games will be played with it, which will allow you to ride that rapidly growing theory wave.
- Since so many people play it, the masses that have to face your fashionable system will work hard trying to discredit it.
- Since theory will be rapidly changing, and since those changes will be easy to find for anyone with an up-to-date database, you are more or less forced to keep a close eye on any new games that features your system. Not everyone has that kind of work ethic.
David Gliksman (2235) – Silman (2560), [E41]
Software Toolworks 1988
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Nc3 c5 5.e3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.0-0 e5 9.Nd2
A different strategy than the previous game. White will try to open the position for his bishops with f2-f4. Another idea is to play Ne4, swap knights, and then stick the light-squared bishop on the d5-hole via Bd3-e4-d5.
Black refuses to win a pawn by 9...exd4 10.cxd4 cxd4 11.exd4 Nxd4 since after 12.Bb2, White’s bishops would be very strong on their wide open diagonals. Once you know the ideas of your opening, you’ll easily avoid temptations like this.
10.d5 Ne7 11.f4
White is still trying to open up lines for his bishops. In addition, Black must take the threat of 12.f5 (gaining a crushing advantage in space) very seriously.
Again playing with the idea of 13.f5, White activates his dark-squared bishop and squeezes Black to death with his lack of territory. Note that 12.Rxf4 Ng6 gives Black access to the e5-hole and also leaves White’s e3-pawn vulnerable on the half-open e-file.
A tremendously important move! This simultaneously exchanges White’s active bishop (and deprives White of his bishop pair) and stops the advance of White’s f-pawn in its tracks.
This begins a battle for the f5-square. Less good is 13.Bxf5 Nxf5 14.Nf3 Qd7 when Black’s knights are quite lovely, while White’s bishop is quite pathetic.
This maintains firm control over the f5-square. By fixing White f-pawn on f4, White’s bishop will be permanently blocked.
14...Nxe4 15.Bxe4 Rae8 16.Bd2 Bxe4 17.Qxe4 f5!
This permanently blocks the position while creating a nice support point on e4 for the black knight and/or Rooks. Notice how the logic based on 6…Bxc3+ and 7…d6 has been carried out in crystal clear form: The bishop vs. knight battle has been won by Black.
This has an obvious threat and a much deeper, hidden, purpose. If left alone, Black will surround White’s c4-pawn by ...Nb6 followed by ...Qa4. White can prevent this and chase the knight back with a2-a4-a5, but that brings White’s a-pawn into striking distance of Black’s b-pawn, allowing an eventual ...b7-b6 advance which will lead to the creation of a winning passed a-pawn for Black. The rest of the game was already clear to me (seriously); I only had to work out individual tactics, never allowing White to veer the game off the positional path I had foreseen.
The threat of ...Qa4 is very annoying for White, so he stops it in the only way possible.
20.a4 Rxe1+ 21.Bxe1 Re8
Also possible is 21...Nxa4 22.Qd1 Nb6 23.Rxa7 Nxc4, but I didn’t see a need to give White any possible counterplay. I was much happier simply keeping his pieces contained and helpless.
22.a5 Nc8 23.Bh4 g6 24.Re1 Rxe1+ 25.Bxe1
This position clearly shows the shortcomings of computers. Houdini thinks it’s equal, while I was sure that White was doomed.
25...Qe7 26.Bf2 Kf7 27.Qb1 a6
The game is now over. Black’s plan: he will march his king over to c7 and play ...b7-b6. The passed a-pawn that results will prove decisive.
28.h3 h5 29.Qc2 Ke8 30.Qb1 Kd8 31.g4 hxg4 32.hxg4 Qf7 33.gxf5 gxf5 34.Bh4+ Kc7 35.Bg5 Qd7
Suddenly the computer wakes up and realizes that something has gone terribly wrong for White.
36.Kg2 b6 37.Qa2 Kb7 38.axb6 Nxb6 39.Qe2 a5
I actually saw the structure of this position (with Black having a passed a-pawn, Black’s knight on b6 and king on b7) on move 18 (of course, it would be impossible to know exactly where the queens and White’s king would be). Hardly any calculation was needed. All it took was an understanding of the position’s fundamentals (a minor piece advantage and White’s structural woes). Of course, this kind of thing is quite rare, but being on top of the strategic details in all the openings you play will guarantee a massive improvement in your results.
40.Kg3 a4 41.Kf2 a3 42.Qa2 Qa4 43.Bd8 Nxc4 44.Qe2 a2 45.Qe7+ Ka6 46.Qc7
This threatens perpetual check. Black’s next move prevents this.
The Hübner Variation of the Nimzo-Indian is an awesome opening. But, as I said earlier, when you ride the winds of fashion, and if that fashion is causing the other side serious pain, the world will unite in trying to destroy it. That means your favorite opening will always be under the gun, and one example of that “gun” was Bareev’s 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.0-0 e5 9.Nd2 0-0 10.Rb1 b6 11.h3.
The idea is to keep the center fluid, which will ultimately (if things go well for White) allow the bishops to show their stuff. Of course, White will always threaten d4-d5, gaining central space if a favorable moment presents itself. One nice thing about it is that Black doesn’t get the closed positions he likes, and thus, he has to find new ideas and plans (in other words, Black’s been taken out of his comfort zone). However, this is hardly earth-shaking!
The game A. Korobov – T. Polak, Plovdiv 2010 (an impressive White win) was the game that brought down the Hübner “house.” Let’s take a look:
As usual, quite a few Hübner fans freaked out. Panic was etched on the faces of Nimzo-Indian adherents. Frogs rained down from the heavens. Mass suicide became a common occurrence at chess events. The Dark Ages had, without any doubt, returned.
Immediate aftermath of A. Korobov – T. Polak, Plovdiv 2010 | Image Wikipedia
Since then, lots of grandmasters have come back to the Black side of the Hübner, which is a clear sign that they don’t fear the Bareev line. In fact, even Korobov, the man that shook the very foundation of the Hübner, has tried the Black side!
I’ve seen this kind of thing occur over and over again in a multitude of openings. One side is doing great, theorists work overtime and find an answer, and folks everywhere announce that the “beast is dead.” However, if the opening is sound in concept and structure, the beast is never dead. Eventually a counter is found, then a counter to the counter appears, and on and on it goes. That’s life in the fashion lane!
When preparing an opening, you need to look at the analysis in books and also play over tons of games featuring the system in question. These puzzles (all from games using the Hübner Variation) show the kinds of things you’ll learn about your new opening when you explore the way the big guys handle it.
In this game White is doing everything he can to rip the center open. In the end he succeeds, but Black is the one who takes advantage of it!
This game started: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.0-0 e5 9.Ng5 0-0 10.Ne4 Bf5 11.Ng3 Bxd3 12.Qxd3 Re8 13.f3 Qb6 14.d5 Ne7 15.e4 Nd7 16.h4 Qa6 and Black had a good position.
In the puzzle, White has just played 21.Qe2-g4 threatening the d7-Knight, Qe6+ in some lines, and (if the d7-Knight moves to b6 or b8) fxe5 when Bxh6 is primed and ready to go. How should Black deal with this? Do take note that White’s “eternal weakness” on c4 is in very bad shape.
The opening moves were 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.0-0 0-0 9.Nd2 e5 10.Ne4 Bf5 11.Nxc5 e4 12.Nxb7 Qc7 13.Nxd6 Qxd6 14.Be2, a piece sacrifice that was tried three times from 2010 and 2013. Black won every game.
In our puzzle, the 2517 rated Zilka (an International Master) gives this (in my view, highly dubious) gambit a go against a 2145 opponent and gets eviscerated! The puzzle starts with White having 2 bishops vs. 2 knights, and White also has an extra pawn. However, Black has a raging attack against White’s King.
The game opened like this: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.Nd2 e5 9.0-0 0-0 10.Ne4 Bf5 11.Nxf6+ Qxf6 12.e4 Bd7 13.d5 Ne7 14.Qh5 h6 15.Rb1 b6 16.g3 Qg6 17.Qxg6 Nxg6 18.Kg2 f5 19.exf5 Bxf5 20.Bxf5 Rxf5 21.f3 Re8 22.Be3 Rf7 23.a4 Ne7 24.Bd2 g5 with an edge for Black. In the game, White played 25.Rbe1 (Black went on to win).
But what would have happened if White played the more thematic 25.a5, trying to get some counterplay?
This game started: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.0-0 e5 9.Nd2 0-0 10.Ne4 Bf5 11.Nxf6+ Qxf6 12.e4 Bd7 13.d5 Ne7 14.Rb1 b6 15.f3 Qg6 16.a4 f5 17.a5 fxe4 18.Bxe4 Bf5 19.Re1 Nc8 20.Qa4 Bxe4 21.fxe4 bxa5 22.Qxa5 Nb6 and Black was better thanks to the weakness of c4.
Later we reach an interesting endgame:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 c5 5.e3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 d6 7.Bd3 Nc6 8.0-0 e5 9.Qc2 h6 10.Bb2 0-0 11.Nd2 b6 12.Nb3 Bd7 13.Rae1 Re8 14.Qb1 Black already has a very comfortable position since it’s hard to see how White can achieve anything on either wing. 14…e4 15.Bc2 Bf5 16.f3 Bh7 17.Nd2 Qe7 18.f4Bf5 (Black will make sure White can’t play an eventual g2-g4.) 19.Bd1 Na5 20.h3 h5 21.Kh2 g6 22.Rg1
And now we have our puzzle:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.0-0 0-0 9.e4 e5 10.d5 Ne7 11.Nh4 Ng6 12.Nf5 Re8 13.Rb1 h6 14.Qf3 Rb8 15.g3 Nh7 16.h4 Ne7 17.Ne3 Rf8 18.Nf5 Nxf5 19.exf5 Re8 20.Be4 Bd7 21.Kg2
And, after 21.Kg2, we have our puzzle:
In this game, White uses a plan that makes use of a hole on d5. A quick glance might convince you that it’s great, but a closer look shows you the dark underbelly of this setup:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.Qc2 e5 9.dxc5 dxc5 10.0-0 0-0 11.Ng5 h6 12.Ne4 b6 13.Nxf6+ Qxf6 14.Bh7+ Kh8 15.Be4
After 16.Bd5 and 17.e4, it would seem that White has done well. Is this true?