How To Play The Najdorf Against The Adams Attack

How To Play The Najdorf Against The Adams Attack

| 19 | Opening Theory

In Playing Against The Najdorf: The Adams Attack, we saw how an obscure small move (6.h3) was developed as an answer to another small move (5...a6 -- the Najdorf), which had, paradoxically, become the most popular opening in chess.

The so-called "Adams Attack"- - despite Bobby Fischer's use of it in a few games -- remained an unusual sideline for quite a long time, until 2008 when both Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura showed White's great attacking chances against the most principled defensive setup.

Suddenly 6.h3, while hardly becoming the main move against the Najdorf, became quite popular.

Black has used several ways to combat White's system -- each going through periods of time when it was the most topical.

1: The ...e6 and ...d5 counterattack

There is an ancient principle in chess that an attack (or pawn push) on the wing should be met by a counterattack in the center. So what is more logical than meeting 6.h3 with 6...e6 7.g4 d5, opening up the center and disputing control over the exact square (d5), which White is aiming at?

This method of play has been used practically since the earliest times of the Adams Attack. Black has generally achieved reasonable results, and it remains the most solid response to 6.h3. At various times, annotators have made statements such as "Black equalizes immediately."

However, it is generally found that White has good chances to maintain a small advantage in the resulting open position, with little risk. The fianchettoed bishop provides some pressure on the queenside and Black must carefully neutralize White's activity.

2: 6...e5 followed by enforcing ...d5

Another principled answer to 6.h3 involved carrying out ...d5 in conjunction with ...e5, after 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 Be6 8.g4 d5.

It was logical to foil White's plan by carrying out ...d5 before control over that square could be established. However, this was discredited after a simultaneous exhibition game by Bobby Fischer.

As usual, the games of Fischer -- even exhibition games -- had a strong effect on theory, so this line was hardly played for many years. But as some players later realized, the early ...d5 advance was not necessarily at fault; what was at fault was Black's acquiescence of a prospectless ending with 10...Nxc3.

Fischer won in typical, effortless, simultaneous exhibition style. However, masters eventually realized that 10...Bb4 was a far more critical variation.

IM Michael Brooks used this variation to score an upset victory with the black pieces.

But a couple of years later, Gata Kamsky managed to get the better of it with the white pieces against Sam Shankland.

via wikipedia

Although all questions have not been answered, the variation has since rarely been adopted by strong players.

3: ...e6 combined with ...Nfd7

While ...e6 and ...d5 will probably always be a pretty reasonable answer to 6.h3, it is understandable that many Najdorf players were not satisfied with it -- in particular, because it offered less in the way of winning chances. A more dynamic way of playing, where Black tried to reach a good Scheveningen was devised; this involved an early ...Nfd7.

By the early ...Nfd7, Black anticipated White's g4-g5, while also prepared various annoyances using the d8-h4 diagonal -- for instance, f2-f4 before castling could be met by a check on h4, ...g5 began to come into consideration, and if White castled early on, ...h5 could be played sometimes.

This was first used at a high level by Veselin Topalov, against Lenier Dominguez in an early 2009 game, and it seemed to reach its height of popularity around 2011.

White has used various responses. Early on, castling queenside (as in the above game) was common. Black seemed to handle this OK. White has also used systems with g4-g5 and h3-h4, playing a Keres Attack with a tempo less (but a variation of the Keres Attack that is considered dubious for Black).

More recently, White has preferred systems with kingside castling.

4: The system with 6...e5 and 7...h5!?

Currently the simple, mechanical prevention of the g2-g4 advance is quite popular -- in this as well as in other variations of the Najdorf (such as 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5!?).

Players have recognized that the weakness of g5 as well, as the "sticking out" position of the h-pawn is not as bad as it seems. In a way, it appears to be a validation of 6.h3 though.

Part of the point of Black's play is in pointing to the bad location of the e2-knight. If it goes to g3 it can be restricted with ...g6 or attacked by ...h4. This has even led some players to experiment with alternative retreats of the knight, such as 6.h3 e5 7.Nb3 or 7.Nf3.

Nevertheless, the weaknesses created by ...h5 are real, and White has used two methods of meeting this system: either playing 8.Bg5, followed by exchanging on f6 and occupying the d5 square, or playing 8.g3, going into an "improved" 6.g3 system, where Black is committed to the possibly weakening ...h5 move.

Naturally, these specific lines are not the only ways to meet 6.h3; for example, transposing to a type of Dragon by 6...g6 is popular; 6...Nc6 7.g4 Qb6!? has been seen; and there are a variety of alternative approaches to both 6...e6 and 6...e5.

However, the above lines are some of the more popular counters in recent years. 

In the Adams Attack, we see a paradoxical corner of chess. Could it be that the ultimate truth is that the Najdorf is the best opening? The number of people who would claim that is not insignificant.

How strange it would be if that obscure little pawn move, 5...a6, would be the absolute best move! And how strange it would be if the little pawn move on the other side of the board, 6.h3, were the best answer!  

However, chess possibly has a deeper logic that we have not yet fully uncovered.


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