Who Loved These Knight Moves?

Who Loved These Knight Moves?

| 35 | Opening Theory

When we analyzed "An Opening Line For Masters" last week, I chose GM Igor Zaitsev as our opening guide for a reason. It is difficult to name another chess player who introduced that many absolutely paradoxical opening novelties.

Today I want to talk about a truly unique penchant of GM Zaitsev: he really likes to play Nb5 or Ng5 for White. Moreover, if he does play one of these two moves, you have to be very careful to not lose right away!

Take for example the Benko Gambit. This opening is always popular amongst club players since for a minimal material investment (just a pawn) it promises a long strategic initiative -- and even more important, you don't need to memorize too many variations since Black pretty much follows the same setup against the majority of the lines White can play.

GM Igor Zaitsev via armchess

Now look what can happen in the Zaitsev variation of the Benko after White plays a weird-looking Nb5 move:

We analyzed this dangerous opening weapon here. Now compare this line to another Zaitsev variation; this time it happens in the ultra solid Caro-Kann defense:

If you think that such an opening disaster can happen only to a beginner, check a database. You'll see that many masters didn't make it past move 10, like in the next game:

One more Zaitsev variation where White plays a surprising move Ng5!? happens in the Open Variation of Ruy Lopez. Here is a fine attack by Judit Polgar:

Now you can see how dangerous it is when Zaitsev plays Nb5 or Ng5. Can you imagine what happens if he plays both moves in the same game?

Black's position is already quite bad due to the numerous threats (Qh5, Qf3, Nxf7, etc). Look at a bunch of short games where Black was not able to deal with the dangerous knight duo:

Since GM Zaitsev is the real "Mr.Ng5 and Nb5," only he decides when it is dangerous to play Ng5 and Nb5 and when it is not. Look at the Smyslov variation of the Ruy Lopez:

For decades it was one of the most popular variations of the Rui Lopez. Black wants to regroup his pieces by playing Re8 and Bf8, so he prevents the Ng5 move, which hits the vulnerable f7-square.

Enter GM Zaitsev, who introduced his variation where Black doesn't play h6 because the dangerous-looking move Ng5 is not that dangerous! Slowly the Smyslov variation almost disappeared from the top tournaments in favor of the Zaitsev variation.

I hope you enjoyed these examples of the limitless creativity of GM Igor Zaitsev and also learned how dangerous the knight jumps to b5 and g5 can be in the openings!

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