English Opening, Botvinnik System

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Glob said: “While I played a lot when I was younger, I stopped playing chess for several years. I got back into chess via and after playing for a while here ( rating around 1500), I decided it was time to play some classical games again and joined a team in Switzerland. This is my debut game, where I played a much higher rated opponent (my last classical rating was around 1500 as well). Time control was 2 hours for 40 moves plus one hour. Maybe the game is a bit short, but if you could draw some lessons from it, it would be great!

 N.N. (1900) - glob (1500) [A36], 1st Eastern League, Switzerland 2012

1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 0-0 5.d3 d6

glob said: “I liked how the game went so far. I know the setup and general plans and no ugly surprises came about. I pondered a bit about d6 though, wondering whether something more ambitious was possible instead.


This is often called the Botvinnik System and it’s very popular among amateurs who are looking for something that’s easy to learn but also has a good deal of bite. The idea is to grab central space and take advantage of black’s …Nf6, which blocks his f-pawn. Since White hasn’t moved his g1-Knight yet (it will almost always move to e2), he’s free to play f2-f4 and seek a kingside attack with a later f4-f5. On top of that possibility, White can also grab the whole center at some point with d3-d4, or play on the queenside by Rb1 followed by b2-b4-b5.

It’s interesting to note that after 1.c4 c5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 one of black’s most respected lines is 5…e5, playing the Botvinnik System with a tempo less!


glob said: “Contrary to White, I wanted to keep my bishop diagonal open.” 

Also common is 6…e5, but the majority of strong players put their faith in 6…c5, which clamps down on d4 and prepares for …Nc6.

7.Nge2 Nc6 8.0-0

By far the most popular and natural move. However, some strong players have also tried 8.h3, 8.a3, and 8.Rb1 (the latter two plan a quick b2-b4 break).


glob said: “Preparing a pawn march on the Queenside... it never came to that, though.

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.e4 d6 6.Nge2 c5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d3 Bd7 9.h3 (9.f4 Qc8 10.Rb1 Rb8 11.Nd5 b5 12.cxb5 Rxb5 13.Ndc3 Rb8 14.b3 Bh3 15.Bb2 Bxg2 16.Kxg2 Nb4 17.h3 Qa6 18.d4 cxd4 19.Qxd4 Nd3 20.Ba1 Nc5 21.Qe3 Qb7 22.Kh2 Ncxe4 23.Nxe4 Qxe4 24.Qf2 Rbc8 25.Nc3 Qb7 26.Rfe1 e6 27.Rbd1 d5 28.Qe2 Rc5 29.Na4 Rc6 30.Rc1 Rfc8 31.Bb2 Rxc1 32.Rxc1 Rxc1 33.Bxc1 Ne4 34.Qc2 Qa6 35.Kg2 h5 36.a3 Qb7 37.Kh2 d4 38.Nb2 Nc3 39.Bd2 Qf3 40.Be1 Ne2 41.Nd3 h4 42.gxh4 Bh6, 0-1, R. Bates – Bill Lombardy [A36], Wch U20 Toronto 1957) 9…Rb8 (9…Ne8 10.f4 a6 11.Be3 b5 12.Qd2 Nc7 13.Rae1 Ne6 14.b3 Ned4 15.g4 b4 16.Nd1 a5 17.Nb2 Nxe2+ 18.Qxe2 Nd4 19.Qd2 Bc6 20.f5 Qd7 21.Bh6 Rae8 22.Bxg7 Kxg7 23.e5 Bxg2 24.Qxg2 gxf5 25.gxf5+ Kh8 26.Qe4 Rg8+ 27.Kh2 dxe5 28.Qxe5+ f6 29.Qxc5 e6 30.Re4 Nxf5 31.Rg4 Rxg4 32.hxg4 Qg7 33.Rg1 Rg8 34.Rg2 Qh6+ 35.Kg1 Qc1+ 36.Kh2 Qf4+ 37.Kg1 Ne3, 0-1, Padron Garcia Padron – Bent Larsen [A36], Las Palmas 1981) 10.Be3 a6 11.d4 cxd4 12.Nxd4 Nxd4 13.Bxd4 Rc8 14.Qd3 Be6 15.b3 Nd7 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.f4 f6 18.Kh2 Nc5 19.Qe3 Qc7 20.Nd5 Bxd5 21.exd5 b5 22.cxb5 axb5 23.b4 Na4 24.Rac1 Qd7 25.Rc6 Ra8 26.Rfc1 Ra7 27.R1c2 Rb8 28.h4 Rab7 29.Bh3 f5 30.Qd4+ Kf7 31.h5 Qd8 32.g4 Qh8 33.Qe3 fxg4 34.Qe6+ Kg7 35.Rc8 gxh3 36.Rxh8 Rxh8 37.hxg6 hxg6 38.f5 gxf5 39.Rc1 Rh6 40.Rg1+, 1-0, A. Kosten (2501) - Chabanon (2411) [A36], French Team Ch. 2006.

8...Ne8 is very popular. The idea of 8…Ne8 is to free the f7-pawn (meaning that f2-f4 can be met by …f5) and also recycle this Knight to d4 via e8-c7-e6-d4.

1.c4 g6 2.Nc3 Bg7 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 0-0 5.d3 c5 6.e4 Nc6 7.Nge2 d6 8.0-0 Ne8 (Freeing the g7-Bishop, which now helps to stop d3-d4, and also intending to completely annex d4 with the maneuver …Ne8-c7-e6-d4. Another point of …Ne8 is that f2-f4 can now be met by …f7-f5) 9.Be3 (giving White the option of meeting black’s …Ne8-c7 with d3-d4) 9…Nd4 (Stopping the d3-d4 push in its tracks!) 10.Rb1 a5 11.a3 a4 12.f4 Bd7 13.Bf2 Nc7 14.Nxd4 cxd4 15.Nd5 Na6 16.g4 e6 17.Nb4 Nc5 18.Nc2 e5 19.Bg3 [19.f5 is strongly met by 19…b5!] 19...f5 20.exf5 gxf5 21.Bd5+ Kh8 22.g5 e4 23.Nb4 Rc8 24.Bf2 exd3 25.Nxd3 Ne4 26.Nb4 Nxf2 27.Rxf2 b5 28.cxb5 Bxb5 29.Rf3 Re8 30.Rh3 Be2 31.Qxa4 Bg4 32.Rg3 Re3 33.Kh1 Qe7 34.Qa6 Re8 35.Qb7 Re1+ 36.Rxe1 Qxe1+ 37.Rg1 Qe3 38.Qc6 Rf8 39.Qc2 Qxf4 40.Nd3 Qxg5 41.h3 Qe3 42.hxg4 Qh3+ 43.Qh2 Qxd3 44.g5 f4, 1/2-1/2, P. Eljanov (2658) – T. Radjabov (2729) [A36], 22nd European Club Cup 2006.


glob said: “This can’t be good. I can now exchange the somewhat bothering Knight on f6, or gain time to play …f5 myself. Personally, I would have played as white 9.f4!? or 9.h3 a6 10.Be3 b5 which we later analyzed to be roughly equal for both sides.

The main line is 9.h3 a6 10.a4:

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.e4 d6 6.Nge2 c5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d3 a6 9.h3 Rb8 10.a4 Ne8 (10…Bd7 is a good alternative) 11.Be3 Nd4 (11…Nc7 12.d4 cxd4 13.Nxd4 Ne6 has proved to be a reliable way to play for Black) 12.Rb1 Nc7 13.b4 Nce6 (13…Nxe2+ 14.Nxe2 cxb4 15.Bb6 Bd7 16.Rxb4 e5 17.Nc3 Qc8 18.a5 Ne6 19.Nd5 Re8 20.Rb1 was a total disaster for Black in Donald Byrne – B. Zuckerman, USA 1970.) 14.bxc5 Nxe2+ 15.Nxe2 dxc5 16.f4 Nd4 17.e5 f6 18.Nxd4 cxd4 19.exf6 Bxf6 20.Bd2 Bf5 21.Qb3 h5 22.Rfe1 Kh8 23.a5 Qd7 24.Kh2 Rfe8 25.Qa3 e5 26.Rb6 Bd8 27.Bc6 Qxc6 28.Rxc6 bxc6 29.Bb4 Bc7 30.Bd6 Bxd6 31.Qxd6 exf4 32.Qxd4+ Kg8 33.Rxe8+ Rxe8 34.gxf4 h4 35.Qd6 Re2+ 36.Kg1 Bxh3 37.Qxg6+, 1-0, A. Kosten (2530) – M. Bijaoui (2363) [A36], Montpellier 2006.

9...Ng4 10.Bd2? 

glob said: “Letting the Knight exchange for the Bishop was probably better. White gains in effect a central pawn to support his d4 advance. With the text move, simply a tempo is lost.” 

This is a poor move since it blocks the white Queens contact with the d3-pawn. I don’t like giving up white’s dark-squared Bishop, so 10.Bc1 is probably best when 10…a6 11.h3 Nf6 12.a4 transposes back into the position after 9.h3 a6 10.a4. 

10...f5 11.h3 Nge5 12.Be3 fxe4 13.dxe4 Be6

glob said: “13...Nxc4?? 14.Qd5+.

Things haven’t gone well for White, and he now stands much worse. Black has completely outplayed him!


glob said: “I liked my position quite a lot. Black can build threats against h3 and the Bg7 is quite strong. My Queen is a bit passive still, but after …Qd7 I feared f4, so I had to act quickly.” 


glob said: “14...Qd7 15.f4 Nf7 16.g4 and Black is in trouble.” 


glob said: “15.Kh1 to keep the fianchetto Bishop simply looses a tempo, since after 15...Qd7 white must still play 16.Bxf3 a) 16.h4 Bh3; b) 16.g4 Bxg4 17.hxg4 Qxg4 18.Nf4 (18.Qd5+ e6) 18...Qh4+ 19.Nh3 Bxc3.

15...Rxf3 16.Kg2

glob said: “At this point I was ahead in time (ca. 50 mins vs. 70 mins left on the clock). I felt I had the better position and was looking for a way to exploit this. I analyzed the text move and three alternatives as far as possible, but probably went for the wrong alternative.


glob said: “Was the move that came to my mind first. It was daring, aggressive but unfortunately did not win the game for me. 16...Qf8 was probably best. I discarded it quickly as too slow and I wanted my Queen to support the Bishop but looking back at it, it seems that it was probably best, since white can hardly move a piece without hanging something; 16...Bxh3+ 17.Kxh3 (17.Kxf3? Ne5+ 18.Kf4 Bh6#) 17...Qd7+ 18.Kg2 and the King returns to safety; 16...Ne5 17.Bf4 Rxc3 18.Nxc3 Qd7 did not look like enough compensation for the quality.” 

Mr. glob gave his 16…Qd7 a dubious mark, but it’s by far the best move in the position. On the other hand, I don’t like his 16…Qf8 at all since 17.Rc1 holds body and soul together. 16…Qf8 is far too soft, while 16…Qd7 keeps White off balance since he’s forced to deal with the threat against h3.

I should add that glob’s assessment of his analysis of 16…Ne5 17.Bf4 Rxc3 18.Nxc3 Qd7 “did not look like enough compensation” is wrong. After the further 19.Rh1 Nxc4 20.Rc1 Ne5 gives Black enough compensation (two Bishops and a pawn for the Exchange), but nothing more.


This loses. Like it or not, White had to swallow his pride and defend h3 with the disgusting but necessary 17.Rh1! Rbf8 when black’s obviously better, but it’s still a far cry from a dead win.

17…Bxh3 18.Bf4 Qg4+??

Overzealous. The simple 18…Bxc3 does the trick since 19.Nxc3 Bg4+ picks up the Queen, and 19.Qd5+ (19.Rc1 Bd4 threatening …Qg4 mate; 19.Rh1 Nd4+ 20.Ke3 Bxa1 and now 21.Qxa1 Nc2+ is game over) 19…Be6 20.Qd3 Bxa1 21.Rxa1 g5 leaves Black with an extra piece since 22.Bxg5 Ne5+ forks white’s Queen and King. In fact, after 18…Bxc3 I can’t see how White avoids a decisive loss of material. Perhaps his best is 19.Ke3 Bxa1 20.Qxa1 Bxf1 21.Qxf1 when White is an Exchange and a pawn down and can quietly resign.


glob said: “I calculated that up to here, this was the only way for White and now thought that with …Bxf1 and …g5 coming up I should definitely regain the material with a good position. Somehow I became too ambitious at this point and probably took the wrong turn.


glob said: “19...Bxf1 20.Qxf1 g5 21.Bxd6 exd6 22.Rd1 Nd4 and Black is at least equal in terms of material and still has the initiative.” 

The line you gave with 19...Bxf1 20.Qxf1 g5 21.Bxd6 exd6 22.Rd1 Nd4 is flawed. First off, 23.f3 doesn’t leave Black with much of anything.

Second, 22…Nd4 is a mistake. Instead, 22…Rf8! is far stronger: 23.f3 Bd4+ and White will lose material: 24.Nxd4 cxd4+ 25.Rxd4 (25.Ke2 Qxg3 26.Nd5 Ne5 27.Ne7+ Kh8 28.Nf5 Qh2+ 29.Ke1 [29.Qf2 d3+ 30.Ke1 Qf4] 29…Qf4 30.Nxd4 g4 and white’s busted) 25…Nxd4 26.fxg4 Rxf1 27.Kxd4 Kf7 with excellent winning chances for Black.

Third, 22.Rd1 is bad. Instead, 22.f3! keeps White in the game (though Black, as you stated, has the initiative). 

Finally, 21.Bxd6 can be improved upon by 21.f3 gxf4+ 22.gxf4 Bd4+ 23.Kd2 Bxc3+ 24.Kxc3 Qg7+ 25.Kc2 Nb4+ 26.Kb1 b5 (26…Nc6 27.Kc2) 27.cxb5 Rxb5 28.Qg1 Qxg1+ 29.Nxg1 and White should hold the draw.

20.Kd2 Bxf1 21.Qxf1 Qf3 22.Nxd4 cxd4 23.Nd1??

White wins after 23.Nd5 e6 24.Qe2 Qxe2+ 25.Kxe2 exd5 26.cxd5 Ne5 27.Bxe5 dxe5 28.Rc1 h5! (28…Rf8 29.Rc7 Rf7 30.d6 Kg7 31.d7, 1-0.) 29.Rc7 (29.f4!? exf4 30.gxf4 Rf8 31.Kd3) 29…Rf8 30.Re7! (30.Rxb7 Rf7 31.Rb8+ isn’t bad, but 31.Rxf7?? is very, very bad since 31…Kxf7 turns the tables due to …g5 followed by …h4 when black’s pawns are faster than white’s.) 30…d3+ 31.Kxd3 Rxf2 32.d6! Kf8 33.Rxe5 and black’s run out of ideas.

23...e5 24.Bg5 h6 

glob said: “24...Qh5 25.f4 h6 was apparently more precise as somebody pointed out after the game. I was too afraid of f4, I guess.

25.Bxh6 Qh5 26.Be3, 1/2-1/2.

glob said: “At this point, my opponent offered a draw. Our team was about to win anyway, so the decision was all up to me. Since it was my first serious game after 7 years or more, I decided it would be nice to avoid a loss in the first round, especially since I estimate my own ability much lower than that of my opponent. Furthermore, soon White will be able to get the knight back into the game and will still be a pawn up. I only checked this final position with the computer right after the game and got supported in my opinion, since it ranks white half a pawn better.

~ Lessons From This Game ~

* The Botvinnik System leads to an interesting game which offers mutual chances. The side that knows this opening’s ideas better will usually come out on top.

* When you have the initiative in a sharp, dangerous position, the correct move is usually also sharp. A quiet move that doesn’t have much to do with the soul of the position often gives the defender just enough time to set his house in order.

* There is no shame in botching an extremely complex tactical minefield. Grandmasters blow such positions all the time, and you will too!

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