How To Play The Mar del Plata

How To Play The Mar del Plata

| 21 | Opening Theory

Dear readers: I will be continuing to cover opening variations in my column, but a slight shift will be made. Rather than looking at the historical developments of whole openings, I will be covering specific lines -- and not as much from a historical point of view. I will now be focusing on well-played, thematic games in specific lines.

The first article of my new series will feature a razor-sharp line of the King's Indian Defense. This is a line of the Classical Variation, which begins with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Ne8!?

Note that the more common move is 9...Nd7. The first thing is to note the crucial differences between these two moves.

Both knight moves free the black f-pawn, which is necessary for the progression of Black's play. The move 9...Nd7 is more common, since it simultaneously slows down the White c-pawn's advance, which is a key part of the advancement of White's queenside attack.

all photos: Mar del Plata

9...Ne8, on the other hand, preemptively defends the squares c7 and d6, the main objects of White's attack once c4-c5 is achieved.

Now, 9...Nd7 is far more popular and is seen as "more sound." In an already do-or-die variation, 9...Ne8 has a reputation as even more radical than 9...Nd7.

But, after 9...Nd7, does White really need to waste time preparing c4-c5? In fact, there are a number of variations where White plays c4-c5 as a clearly justified pawn sacrifice.

For instance:


In view of the fact that after 9...Nd7, Black doesn't necessarily succeed in forcing White to make additional preparation (e.g. b2-b4) for c4-c5, the move 9...Ne8 begins to look more logical.

While after 9...Ne8, White has several additional possibilities, such as those involving f2-f4 or f2-f3 and g2-g4; in this article we will be focusing on the line 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2

Here we have a lopsided, colorful, and chaotic position, typical of the King's Indian. Black is attacking on the kingside, White on the queenside.

The next two moves are typically 12...h5 13.c5 g5

The purpose of 12...h5 is to help to prepare ...g5-g4 while at the same time preventing White's possibility of playing 13.g4, which White could use after, for instance 12...g5.

In many lines of the Mar del Plata, Black tries to do without this ...h5 move. Sometimes the h5-square can be used for the black knight. But not normally here -- Black needs the early threat of ...g4. Additionally, in this position, it looks like the blocking move 13.g4 is very successful. White, for his part, can certainly delay c4-c5, but there is not much reason to do so, since this advance always comes into his plans.

This position is an amazingly sharp and rich position, full of fascinating strategic and tactical themes. Far from being a simple "race," the play on opposite sides of the board hinges not just on the speed, but also the effectiveness, of both players' maneuvers.

As noted above, following the plan with 14.Rc1 (as in the 9...Nd7 line) is not going to be as successful, since the knight on e8 defends c7. Therefore, in the positions after 9...Ne8 White usually switches to a different approach, involving the advance of the white a-pawn. With c4-c5 not delayed at all, there is no need for the rook to be on the c-file, and White can instead target the a7-pawn. Thus, the most common move is 14.a4.

In the next few moves, both players must make some critical decisions. White must decide the timing of the capture cxd6. Thus, 14.cxd6 is also an important possibility. He must also decide the timing of moves such as Qb3, Nd3, or a5-a6.

Black has even more decisions to make. An important theme is the possibility of recapturing on d6 with the knight rather than the c-pawn. This abandons the base of the pawn chain, but also might slow White down on the queenside by, for instance, keeping the b6-square guarded. Black also has to consider the possibility of playing ...dxc5, which can lead to the same structure.

Another very important decision is between three different ways of arranging the pieces for the kingside advance: ...Ng6, ...Nf6, and possible ...Rf7/...Bf8/...Rg7; ...Rf6-g6; or ...Kh8, and ...Neg8 with the idea of ...Nh6 and ...Nf6. All of these approaches are valid, some more or less so in slightly different positions.

Thus, despite the do or die nature of the position, the possibilities remain essentially limitless. While 9...Nd7 has been greatly examined, and some main lines have congealed, the 9...Ne8 line has no main line, and success or failure depends on one's familiarity with the particular themes and calculation ability.

Now let's jump into some demonstrative games.

Kasparov was a famous advocate of the King's Indian, of course, and he generally played the wild lines with 7...Nc6. On several occasions, he preferred 9...Ne8 to 9...Nd7. Here is his fascinating, complicated draw with Viktor Korchnoi.

I thought to cover this line with 9...Ne8 because I played it twice in my most recent tournament. This was yet another dismal tournament, with me throwing away a couple games in ridiculous fashion due to the shattered nerves I have suffered from more and more in the last few years. When I first played this line, it was on the spur of the moment in the third round.

I had just played a comical game where I avoided a slightly better -- but probably drawn -- ending in order to lose within a couple of moves, and was in the mood for a quick and brutal game. When my young opponent went into the main line, I decided to play the less-common 9...Ne8. Later in the tournament, I repeated this move against another young player, with a very similar kind of game resulting.

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