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This is a well-known Sicilian Kan tabiya, with over 100 master games played from it. I happened to meet it in a correspondence game a few months ago, and I was quite puzzled about the way white should handle it.
Question no.1: How do you evaluate the position?
Question no.2: Which is the best move for white? (explanations and planning are welcome).
Feel free to use books, databases, engines... anything.
Can I just ask why a4 and not a3? It looks passive, I know, but is it wrong?
pfren, Do you have any take on the Alekhine?
whish i could help, but the sicilian kan and the alekhines defense by black really gives me the jitters. NOt even the great books ive read has given me a potent weapon against it. or iits either im not just looking for more.
...and here it is! 12.Qe1!
I am proud of this move, because it's a clever one. By creating a half-illusionary threat (Qe1-g3, targetting g7) white lures Black to repel this sort-of-threat by castling. Heck, why not- after all, after hours of thought, the computer approves this, and says flat equal. However, it seems to me that Black should take some risks (which in this case is actually playing it safer) and consider 12...Bb7, when 13.Qg3 Be7 is not that clear. White has an initiative, but Black also has his chances after something like 14.a4 h5!?. In any case, I felt white's advantage is bigger than the previous lines, and somehow, I was expecting my opponent to trust his mighty Houdini, and castle short.
This is precisely what happened... and I do think it's at best very risky, and at worst a serious inaccuracy. In the next post, I will post the whole game (a nice one, by the way).
Next move I considered was 12.Qe2. After 12...Bb7 Black is "threatening" to play ...c5, so 13.a4 is the most logical move (it could also be achieved via the move order 12.a4 Bb7! 13.Qe2).
My computer still evaluated 13...0-0 as perfectly safe and adequate, and in that line it might have been right. However, there is still no big hurry to castle. 13...Bc5 enters another popular Kan variation a tempo down for Black (which might not be a big deal in such a type of position), but I could not find a reasonable long-term plan against the calm 13...Be7, which keeps options open. Probably something like 14.Nd1!? (this is one of the reasons white moves her majesty) but Black is fairly solid.
Almost convinced that white has nothing better than this almost non-existing initiative, I was reluctantly ready to play like that, and then sudeenly I noticed a very interesting possibility- to be presented at my next post.
OK, I do not know if I have persuaded you, but I have convinced myself that moving my queen is the best practical decision. All three squares have pluses, and minuses.
On f3, threatens to jump on the g3 square, when the g7 pawn is certainly in more danger than the previous variation with the rook lift. It also seems that this move renders castling short dubious because of g4, but on the dark side, the queen might be somewhat exposed there if Black manages to activate a bishop on b7.
In general, I would love to see Black castling short, and I have found two games with 12.Qf3 0-0 13.g4.
In one of them Black went quickly downhill, after poor play, but the other one is quite interesting:
That cautious Black regrouping with ...Ne8 and ...f6 is scorned by the computer, claiming that white is surely better, but when asked, it does not give a coherent attacking plan, even after a very long "thought". It seems to me that the Black position is solid enough for a successful defence- and of course, Black is in no hurry to castle at move 12, since he has another reasonable plan:
Computers render the move 12...Bb7 as somewhat inferior due to 12.Qg3- however, we will also deal with this move later on.
Shuhister, as I said earlier, it's not clear where the DSB belongs. That will probably become more clear as the game proceeds. At this point, the emphasis seems to be on improving white's position.
bishopson with that last plan you must answer the question where you want to place DSB...
So, back to one of my original suggestions of 12. Qe2. Then the N could be played to d1-e3. I kind of like that idea.
12.Ne2 is a bit too inflexible, me thinks: First of all, it does not make any attempt to force Black making a decision about his king. Second, it does not seem to me that g3 is an ideal square for the knight- I'd rather like it on e3, where it keeps control over some key squares (c4, d5, g4). I think Black could (and should) answer it by 12...Bb7 and the usual ...c5 follow-up, when Black looks in perfectly good shape.
12.Be3 is another option, although if one picks this simple developing plan, he should possibly use 12.a4 Bb7 13.Be3, as Bologan did several years ago against Ye Jangchuan. The game went 13...Rd8 (eliminating the threat of a bang at b5) 14.Qe2 and now instead of 14...h6, Ribli's suggestion 14...0-0!? 15. g4 b4 16.g5 Nd5! and the Black counterplay looks quite enough for equality.
So eliminating the other possible moves, I had decided to move her majesty, but was not sure at all on which of the three possible squares (f3, e2, e1) she should settle.
I looked at the 12. Rf3 idea, but did not like it either. However, if black 0-0, then Rf3 could be a powerful move. However, what about 12. h3. It's kind of a waiting move, but it also prepares a K-side pawn attack if black 0-0. If black doesn't 0-0, h3 keeps black's N off of g4, so white could play a4, break up the Q-side, and perhaps get R's doubled on the open d-file.
Another interesting move for white is 12.Rf3. Now after a casual look engines suggest 12...0-0, which I do not like (but I will explain why in a later post). I rejected it because of the line 12...Bb7 13.Rg3 (if white sits idle then Black has a good game with the standard ...c5-c4 plan) 13...h5! when neither my Stockfish, nor I, can find a way to punish Black for his audacity, e.g. 14.Rxg7 h4, intending ...Bf8-h6, when the rook does not feel very comfortable on the g-file.
I'm not sure I like the 12. Bg5 idea. As I said earlier it's not clear to me where the darksquared B belongs. I would still lean towards 12. Ne2 or 12. Qe2. With 12. Ne2, the N can go to g3 and even to h5 creating pressure on g7.
I think that Petrosianic said nothing about Qf3
I'm not sure it's at all foolish to suggest that White play on the queenside. In fact, I'm not sure there's any choice since the center is closed and pushing blindly (or Bg5 and Bxf6?!) on the kingside before Black castles can easily backfire. In fact, the lessons we would learn from trying an early g4 apply to Black should his own pawns rush heedlessly down the board, exposing fresh weaknesses in their wake (c4 being probably the most obvious "hole" after ...b5-b4).
All that said, it's of course not so simple to force matters anywhere at the moment, as Black develops irritating pressure on e4 after the inevitable ...Bb7 and ...b4 and it's not clear how best to defend that point - perhaps Petrosianic's (EDIT: might not have been Petrosianic's idea, sorry) suggestion of Qf3 is one way. Another might be Qe2, with Nc3-d1-f2 in the works. Once e4 is secured, the onus again falls on Black to either O-O whereupon we may "release the hounds" with g4, or to find some way to carry on without his h8 rook.
What do you guys think?
You tell me, you're the IM :)
Well, I would be a fool to suggest something else than white's play should aim at the kingside (asuming that the immediate a2-a4 does not really work)- after all, the pawn structure (and the e4/f5 pawn duo in particular) suggests that.
However, there is some not-so-slight technical problem here: Where are we attacking at? In other words, white would love to have Black committing his king BEFORE performing any concrete actions. On the other side, it seems reasonable for Black (who is slightly cramped, but has no real weaknesses and retains a respectable amount of flexibility) to postpone committing his king, until it's safe to do so.
White can start kingside operations by various moves: Bg5, Rf3, Qf3, Qe1, Qe2, Ne2, and finally g4. Every one of them has pluses, and minuses, so lets tray to deal with every one of them.
12.g4 is too hasty, IMO. Black will simply play 12...h6, and continue with Bb7, c5 etc, with a perfectly sound position- unless I am missing some big cheapo (which i doubt).
12.Bg5 is a less committal attacking move, but it does raise a question: Is really Bf6 an important positional threat? Tiviakov thinks it is not, and that Black can leave white to call his bluff by ...Bb7 or ...Bc5. However, lets assume that Black is more cautious, and protects against this "threat" (12...Be7). Now white can interpose a4, or keep on piling at the kingside with Qe1-a4. 13.a4 and now Black may choose between 13...Rd8 and 13...h6 14.Be3 0-0. Both moves look quite OK, since white has no direct attacking plan. 13.Qe1 looks like a more threatening attacking idea to me, until I found a straightforward and very clever defensive idea by Black:
14...Ra7! protects the e7 bishop and is "threatening" simplifications by ...Ne8, while 15...Nd5! is a very cute tactical justification of the idea.
Maybe I am noob in chess, but my plan would be Qf3 and then Ne2-g4-(h4-Qh3)-Ng3... and King side attack. Black can't chase LSB with c4 because of b3...
So the engine comes up with that at move 16, which leaves me speechless and it is obvious I have no idea how to use the engine.
I've put it through a 25 move deep analysis from Stockfish and the same from Rybka. Here is what the engines think (which left me wondering though):
Stockfish came pretty much to the same conclusions +/- maximum of 4/100 of a pawn.
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