The Man Who Wouldn't Castle
knightmagic (1641) - bencikm (1725), ChessCube Game 2011 (1 hour each for whole game)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3
White is intending to make use of the very sharp English Attack, which usually starts with 6.Be3. However, this move order is also playable since it prevents …Ng4 (as is often seen after 6.Be3 Ng4, a line that has an enormous body of theory).
6…e5 7.Nb3 Be7
7…Be6 is seen more often (it offers a bit more flexibility since a quick …Nbd7 might follow when the c8-Bishop hasn’t been blocked). Play can easily transpose if Black follows with …Be7, which he often does.
If you play the Najdorf, you should be fully prepared to meet 6.f3 since it’s one of White’s most popular lines. While you can often get by with a small amount of theory if you play calm positional systems which rely more on understanding than concrete variations, it’s suicide to play the massively theoretical/tactical Najdorf (where many lines exist that will snuff Black if he doesn’t know what he’s doing) without putting in some serious memorization.
Black has various ways to handle the position after 8.Be3. One is 8…Be6 9.Qd2 (main line theory) and now 9…0-0 (most popular), 9…Nbd7, and even the strange looking 9…h5!? are all perfectly playable.
I should mention that (instead of 8…Be6) Black has also tried the immediate 8…h5!? in some games. A quick word about this advance of the h-pawn (here or after 8…Be6 9.Qd2 h5): it has nothing to do with attacking White on the kingside! Black’s idea is that white’s f2-f3 is all about an eventual pawn expansion on the kingside via g2-g4-g5, kicking the Knight and also beginning a kingside attack. The point of black’s …h5 should now be clear: he stops White’s g2-g4 idea, and also keeps a firm grip on d5 by ensuring that his f6-Knight (a defender of d5) won’t be chased away.
Here’s an early success for the …h5 idea, against a very strong opponent:
A. Morozevich (2755) – M.Sadler (2625) [B90], Reykjavik 1999
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Be7 9.Qd2 h5 10.Be2 Nbd7 11.0-0 Rc8 12.a4 g6 13.a5 h4 14.Nc1 Qc7 15.Rd1 Kf8 16.Bf1 Kg7 17.Bf2 Rcd8 18.Qe1 Rde8 19.Rd2 Rh7 20.Qd1 Kg8 21.Nd3 d5! 22.exd5 Bf5! 23.Ra4 e4! 24.Nxe4 Bxe4 25.fxe4 Bd6 26.e5 Nxe5 27.Nxe5 Rxe5 28.Rc4 Qxa5! 29.Bd4 Rf5 30.Rc8+ Kg7 31.c3 Rhh5 32.b4 Qa3 33.Bc4 Rf4 34.Bb3 Rhf5 35.Bf2 Ne4 36.Bd4+ f6 37.Re2 Qxb3, 0-1.
White intended to play 9.Qd2 (it’s a natural follow-up to Be3), so he ignores what his opponent did and tosses out the Queen move. However, black’s 8th move was a mistake which White could have punished by 9.a4! (Also strong was the immediate 9.Nd5!, threatening Bb6, 9…Nbd7 10.Nxe7 Qxe7 11.Qd2) 9…b4 (9…bxa4 10.Nxa4 also leaves black’s queenside full of holes) 10.Nd5 and black’s queenside has been weakened (10…Nbd7 11.Nxe7 Kxe7 12.a5 Qc7 13.Qd2 looks bad for Black). Note that 10…Nxd5?? isn’t possible due to 10.Qxd5 when Black suffers a decisive material loss.
Of course 9…b4?? 10.Nd5! leaves b4 hanging while also threatening Bb6.
White can still try and take advantage of black’s mistaken advance of his b-pawn: 10.a4! b4 11.Nd5 Bxd5 12.exd5 0-0 13.g4 Nbd7 14.g5 Nh5 15.0-0-0 with a clear advantage.
We’ve now transposed into the game Nunn – Sadler, London 1993, which went: 11.a4! b4 (11...bxa4 is probably better: 12.Rxa4 Nb6 13.Rxa6 Rxa6 14.Bxa6 0-0 when Black has some compensation for the sacrificed pawn, S. Karjakin - Bu Xiangzhi, Sanjin Hotel Cup 2005) 12.Nd5 Bxd5 13.exd5 Qc7 (13…Nb6? 14.a5! Nbxd5 15.g5 Nxe3 16.gxf6 Nxf1 17.fxe7 Nxd2 18.exd8=Q+ Rxd8 19.Kxd2 and White has an extra piece. However, perhaps Black can improve with 13…h6!? 14.0-0-0 Nb6 15.Bxb6 Qxb6 16.h4 though, in my opinion, White still has an edge) 14.g5 Nh5 15.0-0-0 Nf4 16.h4 and White was in charge.
Other than 11.a4, we have one more very important transposition here via 11.0-0-0 0-0 when we’ve managed to forget the sins of the incorrect move order and enter one of the English Attack’s main lines: 12.g5 b4 (12…Nh5 has also been played in many games) 13.Ne2 Ne8 (13…Nh5? 14.Ng3 favors White) 14.f4 a5 15.f5 a4 and, from this very exciting position, the theory continues to go on and on and on.
Here’s one example of what can occur:
S. Karjakin (2660) – V. Anand (2792), Wijk aan Zee 2006
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Be7 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 Nbd7 11.g4 b5 12.g5 b4 13.Ne2 Ne8 14.f4 a5 15.f5 a4 16.Nbd4 (16.Kb1 and 16.fxe6 have also occurred in many games) 16...exd4 17.Nxd4 b3 (17…Bxa2? failed in the game Talla - Jakubowski, Czech Team Ch. 2006) 18.Kb1 (18.cxb3 failed to give White anything in a couple games) 18...bxc2+ 19.Nxc2 Bb3 20.axb3 axb3 21.Na3 Ne5 (21…d5? has also been tried without success) 22.h4 (22.Qg2) 22…Ra5 23.Qc3? (23.Qg2 led to a draw in the game Leko Vallejo Pons, Monaco 2005) 23...Qa8 24.Bg2 Nc7 25.Qxc7 Rc8 26.Qxe7 Nc4 27.g6 hxg6 28.fxg6 Nxa3+ 29.bxa3 Rxa3 30.gxf7+ Kh7 31.f8=N+ Rxf8 32.Qxf8 Ra1+ 33.Kb2 Ra2+ 34.Kc3 Qa5+ 35.Kd3 Qb5+ 36.Kd4 Ra4+ 37.Kc3 Qc4+, 0-1.
Bencikm: “Idea Knight to c4 attacking Queen and Bishop.”
After a badly played opening by both sides, Black is the first to get on track.
Bencikm: “12...Nc4 13.Nxc4 and then what? Instead 12…Qc7, all pieces are now developed. Time to start an attack. I guess my King’s safety is OK.”
Black’s playing quite well now, but poor White still isn’t sure how to deal with the position. A clear case of too much opening for that particular player – White played a very sharp, highly theoretical line without knowing anything about it, and without having a real feel for it. He would have done much better if he had tried an opening that was within his range. Remember: just because the world’s top grandmasters play it doesn’t mean you should! The top guys are professionals that spend hours and hours every day honing their openings and mastering the resulting positions. Most people can’t do that, and this kind of opening in particular demands some serious work!
On the other hand, a stronger player would have butchered black’s handling of this system. However, Mr. Bencikm seems to have a far better feel for the resulting middlegame positions than White does. Nevertheless, if he wants to continue to play the Najdorf, he has to either make an effort to get on top of all the main lines, or understand that he’ll butcher the opening in a lot of games, but intends to fix each badly played system after each game (a reasonable approach!).
White continues to flounder – leaving your King in the center as a firefight heats up in an open position is rarely a wise thing to do. He had to try 13.g5 Nh5 14.0-0-0 when his army is primed and ready to fight. A sample: 14…b4 15.Bxb6 Qxb6 16.Nd5 Qxa5 (White’s better after 16…Bxd5 17.Qxd5 Rc8 18.Nc4) 17.Nxe7 Qc5 (17…Qxa2? 18.Qxb4 is bad for Black – 18…Qa1+ 19.Kd2 Qa2 20.Ke1) 18.Nd5 Bxd5 19.Qxd5 Qxd5 20.Rxd7 Ke7 21.Bc4 Rhc8 22.b3, =.
Bencikm: “I think this is an interesting move.”
Well, I don’t think it’s very interesting, but it is a good, solid move that guarantees a clear advantage for Black. If you wanted “interesting”, then you would have tried 13…b4 14.Ne2 d5! 15.g5 Nfd7 and black’s swinging with both fists.
Bencikm: “Time control for this game was 1 hour each, my opponent played g5 quite quickly. I doubt this is a good move.”
White’s either desperate, or he thinks that playing an aggressive move means he’s attacking (which is, of course, simply not the case). Here the advance of the g-pawn frees black’s h8-Rook (the Rook thanks you!) and leaves the h5-pawn hanging out to dry. As the old Vulcan saying goes: “A King in the middle won’t breed like a tribble, cause it will be dead due to losing its head.”
To be fair, white’s position is already quite unsavory, but trying to attack when you’re off balance almost always makes things far worse. Instead of white’s choice, I would have tried 14.a3 (this tightens white’s position and gives Black the chance to go wrong) and now:
* 14…Na4 15.Nd5! (worse is 15.Nxa4 bxa4) 15…Bxd5 16.exd5 Nxb2 17.Nc6 (for the price of a mere pawn, white’s Knight gets access to the powerful c6 outpost) 17…Na4 18.c4 and suddenly it’s a complicated free for all with both sides trying to smack down the other!
* 14…Rd8!, intending …d5, is a serious alternative
* 14…0-0-0? is a bad idea due to 15.0-0-0 (I think this is stronger than the attractive 15.Bxb5 axb5 16.Nxb5 Nc4 17.Nxc7 Nxd2 18.Nxe6 Nxf3+ 19.Ke2 fxe6 20.Nc6 – white’s happy here, of course [after all, he was suffering a few seconds ago], but he will be overjoyed with the change of events if he finally gets his King to safety by castling!) 15…d5? (White would still be better with other moves, but it would still be a game.) 16.Bxb5! and White is suddenly winning!
Bencikm: “Free pawn, yes?”
No, not quite – the price you pay is that you’re giving up a bit of your initiative (as it turns out, this is no big deal). Black actually has many mouthwatering choices here (including your 15…Rxh5, which is an excellent move), and though I personally love to eat pawns, I would have ignored h5 and instead been looking for some way to eat white’s King.
Here are some short/lazy examples of all the cool stuff going on in this position (I’ll ignore good moves that aren’t cool):
* 15…0-0-0!? (intending …d5) 16.Bxb5 (yaaahooooo!!!) 16…axb5 17.Nxb5 Qc5 18.Na7+ Kd7 19.b4 Qc7 20.N7c6 Nc4 21.Nxc4 Kxc6 22.b5+ Kb7 (22…Kd7 23.Nxe5+) 23.Na5+ Ka8 24.Nc6 d5 25.Nxe7 (25.Nxd8 Rxd8 and white’s dead) 25…Qxe7 26.Qa5+ Qa7 27.Qxa7+ Kxa7.
* 15...b4 16.Nd1 (16.Nd5 Nbxd5 17.exd5 Nxd5 is hopeless for White) 16...d5 17.h6 gxh6 18.Bxf6 Bxf6 19.Qxb4 Be7 (Black has other good moves too) 20.Qc3 Qxc3+ 21.bxc3 and now both 21…h5 and 21…Kd7 followed by …Kc7 have to be analyzed (black’s better in both cases).
* 15…d5 is the move I would most like to work: 16.Bxf6 Bxf6 17.exd5 0-0-0 (17…Rd8 18.Nc6 Rxd5 19.Nxd5 Nxd5 20.Nb4 Nxb4 21.Qxb4 Qxc2 22.Rd1 and white’s okay. Noooo!) 18.Nc6 Nxd5 19.Nxd8 Rxd8 20.Nxd5 Bxd5 21.Qe3 Qe7 (21…e4 22.fxe4 Qe7 23.Bh3+ Kb7 24.Bg2 [24.0-0-0?? runs into 24…Bg5] and though Black has an initiative, white’s defenses have somehow held) 22.a4! Bh4+ 23.Rxh4 Qxh4+ 24.Qf2 and it’s only equal.
* 15…Nxh5!? 16.0-0-0 (16.Bxe7 Kxe7 helps Black because the e7-square is, in this position, the best home for black’s King) 16…Bxg5 17.Qxg5 f6 18.Qd2 Ke7 19.Ne2 Rad8 and Black has an extra pawn, the threat of …d6-d5, and an all around good position (which equals a clear advantage).
So I failed to dine on enemy King – a true pity! However, black’s better with 15…0-0-0, 15…b4, 15…Nxh5, and 15…Rxh5 (15…d5 appears to be equal). I honestly don’t know what’s best! However, if I decided that enemy King wasn’t on the menu (and it doesn’t seem to be), I would have gone for the h5-pawn after all!
This is a total crash and burn. He had to try 16.Rxh5 Nxh5 17.0-0-0 Kf8 (defending g7 and intending to chop on g5 followed by …Nf4) 18.Be3 Rc8 and Black, with an extra pawn and the better position, has a huge advantage.
A good move, but 16...d5! (intending to punish white’s central King) was crushing: 17.exd5 (17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.exd5 Bh4+ and white’s getting slaughtered.) 17...Nbxd5 18.Nxd5 Bxd5 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Qxd5 Qxa5+ 21.Qd2 (21.c3 Rd8 22.Qc6+ Kf8 is hopeless for White) and now 21…b4 22.0-0-0 (too late, but there’s nothing better) 22…Rd8 23.Bd3 Qxa2 wins: 24.Qxb4 Be7 (avoiding 24…Bg5+?? 25.Rxg5 Rxg5 26.Bb5+ axb5 27.Qxb5+ Ke7 28.Qc5+, =) 25.Qb6? (25.Qc3 is better, but with an attack and material, the outcome isn’t in doubt) 25…Rh6 26.Qf2 Qa1+ 27.Kd2 Rxd3+! 28.Kxd3 Qxb2 – I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not white’s “warrior King” has any chance of surviving.
Way too placid for the needs of this sharp position! Instead, it was more logical to play 17...d5! with a forecast of dark clouds, pain, pain, and more pain for White.
White freaks out and throws the game away. For some unknown reason, he just refuses to castle! Of course, the correct move was 18.0-0-0!, which would have kept him in the game: 18...Rdh8 (18...d5 19.Bxb5 Bb4 20.Bxa6+ Kb8 21.Nb5 Bxd2+ 22.Rxd2 d4 23.Nxc7 Kxc7 24.Bg5 Ra8 25.Bxf6 Rxa6 26.b4 Nc4 27.Nxc4 Bxc4 28.Bg7 Rxa2 29.Rdg2 and though Black has the initiative, white’s holding on.) 19.Bxb5 axb5 20.Nxb5 Nc4 21.Nxc4 Qxc4 22.Qa5! and suddenly the worm has turned!
22...Kd7 (22...Rh2 23.Qa6+ Kd7 24.Rxd6+ Ke8 25.Qa8+ Bc8 26.Nc7+ Kf8 [26…Qxc7 27.Rc6] 27.Qxc8+ Kg7 28.Ne8+ Rxe8 29.Qxc4 game over.) 23.Qa7+ Ke8 24.Qb8+ Qc8 25.Nxd6+ Bxd6 26.Qxd6 Nd7 27.Rxg6 Rh1 28.Rxe6+ fxe6 29.Qxe6+ Kf8 30.Bc5+ Kg7 31.Qe7+ Kg8 (31…Kg6, which leads to a fascinating 5 pawns and vulnerable King vs. Rook position after 32.Bg1 Nf6 33.Qxe5, is the way to go) 32.Qe6+ Kg7 draw.
Now it’s all over.
19.Ne2 at least made an effort to hold onto his stuff, but it wouldn’t have changed the result: 19...b4 20.Nb3 d5 and white’s going to experience a bumpy ride.
19...Nxd5 is even stronger: 20.exd5 Bh4+ 21.Ke2 Qf2+ 22.Kd1 Qxg1 0-1.
20.exd5 Qxg1 21.0-0-0
This proves that White did indeed know how to castle.
I love this kind of move – Black swaps Queens and, by doing so, ends all complications and, due to his huge material plus, makes the winning process easy.
22.Nc6 Nxd5 23.Nxd8 Bxd8 24.Kb1 Qxd2 25.Rxd2 Rh1 26.Rd1 Ne3, 0-1.
LESSONS AND OBSERVATIONS
* CASTLE! Please, castle!
* Many positions are literally filled with fascinating ideas and variations, if you make the effort to look for them.
* Just because Fischer or Kasparov or Anand win with a certain opening doesn’t mean it’s right for you!
* If you adopt a labor intensive opening, make sure you have the time and energy to put in the labor!