Hard Candy

Hard Candy

| 113 | Opening Theory

            Many years ago, when I was a young IM hunting for GM norms I participated in one of countless European Swiss tournaments.  In the middle of the tournament I was playing a very attractive girl (not shown).  Well, “attractive girl” is definitely an understatement.  She was beautiful.  I would rather go for a date with her, but alas we had to play a tournament game.  And she wasn’t just a girl.  Having won a major open tournament with a historic performance not long before we played our game, she was a real killer.  But the real problem was, I simply couldn’t play the game.  I completely forgot all the opening theory and couldn’t calculate variations for two moves ahead - there was only a thick fog in my head. I absolutely couldn’t concentrate on the game since all I could see was her angelic face.

After first ten moves I already had a slightly worse position even though I was playing White. I was preparing for the worst.  Then, suddenly, a saving idea came to my mind.

I offered her a draw! (Ok, the “Sofia rules” followers, you can send me your hate mail for my draw offer before move 30).  Make no mistake, I knew for sure what she would say and yet, it was a great relief when I heard her response.  Even though she purred : “I want to play”, I actually heard “ You are a dead man!”  I am sure that the desire to stay alive is the basic instinct of any human being even though Sharon Stone would disagree.  Therefore, my plan worked to perfection: I could calculate variations, I could think again, I was back!  Eventually I won the game, but needless to say, I didn’t have the nerve to ask her for a date.

You might ask what this story has to do with tactics and traps in openings?  Well, some openings are very venomous despite their innocent appearance.  In fact, I noticed that many vicious opening traps and combinations happen in the most innocent looking openings! Here is a good example:





This is a starting position of the Berlin variation which is extremely popular these days thanks to the Kasparov-Kramnik match (London, 2000). What would you do if you faced this position in your game?  You might go for the main line:

Kasparov tried to break the "Berlin Wall" no less than four times in his match vs. Kramnik and yet all for games ended in a draw. It tells me that no matter how much the official theory loves White's position (the King's Side pawn majority, spatial advantage, Black King lost his right to castle, etc), we cannot underestimate Black's defensive resources. Let me put it this way: if Kasparov couldn't win one single game out of four in the World Championship match (that implies a thorough preparation of his whole team with a computer's help), the chances are you won't win it too. But let's try a different approach.
This line is well known and can be found in any opening book.  The conclusion is simple: Black has no troubles whatsoever and the game is equal. Maybe so, but as we already know, sometimes the most innocent lines have some wicked surprises, especially if our opponent is lulled by the line's harmless appearance.
It looks like the only thing Black needs to do, before he claims at least an equal position, is to play 10...b6 to develop the Bc8. This is our first quiz today. What happens in this case?
This tactical shot is just the tip of the iceberg. In order to understand the true potential of White's attack, let me show you the next game. It was played in the Russian Championship 1957. White was IM Nezhmetdinov (famous for his fierce attacks) and Black was NM Kotkov.  Of course masters usually don't blunder such textbook tactics like Bxh7+ and so Black played 10... g6 to prevent it.
Black managed to avoid this trap as well and played 16...f5 to overprotect the key f6 square, so the game continued:
Who could expect that such a dull line would lead to some serious fireworks!?
                                                                    to be continued.....

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