Quiet Play can Frustrate Hypermodern Defense

Jul 14, 2012, 12:00 AM |
13 | Opening Theory

If I were asked to summarize hypermodern defense in a single sentence, it would be “Black sacrifices space for speed, planning to use his superior development to counter-attack the center White erects in response.” At least this seems a reasonable digest of Black’s philosophy in most hypermodern defenses. An example par excellence being the King’s Indian Defense:

Notably, the vulnerability of e4 is critical from the beginning. For example, in the Classical Variation, Black plays 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 without a twinge of concern about his e-pawn (currently attacked twice and defended only once) because he knows 7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Nxe5?! is well met by 9…Nxe4. This is not a minor point, for Black depends on a closed center in the resulting play to allow him to safely storm White’s K-side. For example:

If Black’s setup is underpinned by the idea that he will eventually attack White’s center with superior force, it is sensible to ask “What happens if White doesn’t give Black a target?” There is no law that says White must use his time to claim the entire center immediately. He can play for a more solid formation and put the burden of proof on Black, who may well find he cannot use his temporary development advantage to any effect because he has no targets.

I investigate this approach for White in my new book: Fight the King’s Indian, Grünfeld, and Dutch Defenses with Zuka, a Stand-alone Cohesive Chess Opening for White. The book describes a system compatible with most 1.d4 repertoires that can be used against the various K-side flank defenses. Some sample introductory chapters are available here.

Against …g6, I suggest White grab a mid-sized chunk of central space and then switch to development so he will be prepared for central play. This is quite a cunning notion---White delays the resolution of central tension to catch up on development, leaving Black without compensation for his lack of space and central control.

For example, consider the line shown below:

(I have used this move order for convenience; depending on how White wishes to meet the Grünfeld, a different move order may be necessary.)

Black can no longer blithely play …e5 because White’s e-pawn is not on e4. White intends to complete his development with Qc2 and 0-0. This setup might look modest, but White has a clear advantage in central control and Black has yet to demonstrate any compensation for his lack of space. In particular, Black has to be concerned that White will open the d-file and push his c-pawn. Not only does this give the first player powerful potential outposts on d5, d6, and b6, but it opens the a2-g8 diagonal. This last point can upset Black’s entire setup because …f5 may simply be out of the question once this avenue to Black’s King is available.

The above line amounts to a reversed version of a standard line played by French Defense players against the KIA, except, of course, White has an extra move here. The first player is favored in all variations. Zuka contains complete analysis of this line, which is too large to publish here.

(The French Defense line in question is interesting in its own right. From a practical standpoint, it is difficult for Black to play because he has to know exactly when to push his c-pawn. He is theoretically equal (or maybe a little better!), but in OTB play he tends to do worse. This is why the extra move is so useful in the above line: it makes it much easier for White to play c5 with advantage.)

Instead, this article looks at another common way Black responds to quiet play against …g6: transposing to a Benoni:

We have arrived at an exact copy of a major tabiya in the Classical Variation of the Modern Benoni, except White’s pawn is on e3 instead of e4. If you do not play the Benoni, this might strike you as good news for Black. It seems White is a move behind a book opening.

In reality, it is quite vexing for the second player! Why? It is another example of Black depending on an attackable e-pawn. In the “normal” version of this Benoni line, Black can play the dangerous 9…b5!?, when 10.Bxb5 Nxe4 11.Nxe4 allows 11…Qa5+ with a sharp game. Here, though, White’s pawn is on e3, so this critical expedient doesn’t work.

To give an idea of how good White’s position actually is, many very strong players have been willing to play it with their Bishop played to the inferior e2-square instead. This includes GM Morozevich who beat reigning world champion Krammik with it at the 2007 World Championship Tournament. (Depending on White’s repertoire choices and Black’s move order, Be2 may be necessary, but the Bishop is better placed on d3.)

In practice, Black has tended to flounder about trying to play normal Benoni moves, like …a6, …Nbd7, and …Re8. This leaves him very poorly off because White has time to neutralize Black’s Q-side initiative, leaving the second player a dismal future. Let’s look at a master-level example. It is not the cleanest game in the world, but exhibits the sort of infelicities common to OTB play in unfamiliar territory.

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