Two Opening Questions

Two Opening Questions

IM Silman
Dec 7, 2009, 12:00 AM |
20 | Opening Theory

Two Opening Questions

No-Name asked:

A recent book by GM Glenn Flear advocates playing against the exchange Queen’s gambit thus: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Bb4 (Which my mentor GM Hans Berliner says is bad) when he only covers White responses 6.Nf3, 6.e3, 6.Qc2, 6.Qb3, 6.Rc1, and 6.Qa4. However I have won all my games played so far playing 6.a3 Bxc3 7.bxc3 when 7...c5 transposes into Botvinnik - Kotov Groningen 1946, where in IM Watson’s book, Mastering the Chess Openings, he gives 7...c5 an exclamation mark. However something overlooked I think by Botvinnik, Watson, et al is that Lasker felt a King Bishop is slightly better than a Queen Bishop and therefore giving back a Bishop for Knight leaves one that advantage and I think is not a concession but rather a tactical deflection eliminating both the Queen (after 8.Bxf6 Qxf6) as a defender of the weak d5 pawn as well as the Knight. Then I follow up with the idea of a Bishop to g2 and Knight to f4 (similar to how Karpov goes against weak queen pawns), try to trade off minor pieces and if the Queen pawn gets isolated pile up with Rook(s) and Queen to attack d5. Do you like this innovative idea of 8.Bxf6 as an improvement over Botbinnik’s 8.f3 or Taimanov’s 8.e3?


Dear No-Name,

After reading your letter, my first thought was, “I have absolutely no idea what this guy is talking about!”


However, then I noticed your reference to Botbinnik (last sentence) and I was overjoyed that someone actually knew who this obscure but highly interesting man was! As the story goes, in 1940 a very tall boy (approximately 15 years of age), covered in hair and looking more ape than human, was found hiding in a huge grain bin in a remote Russian village. The town’s people were more than a bit freaked out, but after shaving the kid’s whole body and, over time, teaching him to speak Russian, they accepted him as one of their own. The man that found him was an avid chess player and a big fan of the great Botvinnik. Since the child was found in a grain bin, he was named Botbinnik. He too took up chess and the move 8.f3 is his legacy to the game.


Because you mentioned Botbinnik (modern scientists have theorized that he suffered from hypertrichosis, and this does indeed make a lot of sense), I decided to reread your letter and after my eyes unfogged, it finally made sense (kind of). My thoughts after the second reading: “Why is this guy making me think? Doesn’t he know that I prefer autopilot questions, which allow me to make easy autopilot answers? Now I’m going to be forced to work, ponder, and agonize. Arrrgghh … how rude! How unfair!”


I briefly thought about deleting No-Name’s question and moving on to something easier (“Mr. Silman, is chesss spelled with a double ‘s’ or a triple ‘s’?” – Dear Mr. Pink Russian Kangaroo, the answer is double), but then I realized that I’d be letting down the many players who had often pondered the very same theoretical question that Mr. No-Name is posing. So, I tossed back a drink and got to work.


First off, the M.Botvinnik - A.Kotov game comes from a very different order of moves, and, as can be seen, White got blasted off the board in 24 moves:


M.Botvinnik - A.Kotov, Staunton Memorial 1946

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 d5 6.cxd5 exd5 7.Bg5 c5 8.f3 (a horrible move) 8…h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.e3 O-O 11.Ne2 Re8 12.Kf2 Qe7 13.Qd2 Nd7 14.Nf4 Nf6 15.Bd3 Bd7 16.h3 Qd6 17.Rhb1 b6 18.Bf1 Re7 19.a4 Rae8 20.Re1 c4 21.g4 g5 22.Ne2 Rxe3 23.Ng3 Qxg3+ 24.Kxg3 Ne4+, 0-1.


Next up, Lasker’s pronouncement about the K-Bishop being superior to the Q-Bishop. Really? Perhaps he did say this, but I’ve never seen any allusion to such a comment until you made it here. I would be very grateful if you (or any other reader) could give me the source and page number. However, even if Lasker did say it, that doesn’t mean it’s correct. And, naturally, it’s simply not correct in many positions (all-encompassing rules don’t work very well in chess – that’s what makes the game hard and interesting).


Be that as it may, let’s say Lasker said this, and that it’s always 100% true in every possible situation, and that the Earth really is 6,000 years old, and that the Elephant Gambit wins by force. All that has no bearing on the setup you are seeking after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Bb4 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 c5 8.Bxf6 Qxf6. You now say: “Then I follow up with the idea of a Bishop to g2 and Knight to f4 (similar to how Karpov goes against weak queen pawns), try to trade off minor pieces and if the Queen pawn gets isolated pile up with Rook(s) and Queen to attack d5.”



Wow! That’s actually quite impressive! You are envisioning an effective setup against the structure before you, while also showing a deep knowledge of Karpov’s techniques and my own theory of how isolated d-pawns need to be handled. I don’t know your name, and I don’t know your rating, but you certainly possess an impressive chess education.


However, you’re muddling a couple of things. First, you are striving to create a lovely barrage of White pieces against the target on d5. Bravo! But you also seem intent on trading those same pieces (following my own anti-iso ideas), even though that kind of isolated pawn situation might never arise. Perhaps you were showing different ideas vs. different possible Black structures, but I wish you had clarified these things. As it stands, I’m not sure what Black setup you are alluding to, nor what sequence of moves you’re offering to reach the desired position. 


Since you only gave me ideas (advanced ideas at that), but didn’t give me workable moves after 8.Bxf6 Qxf6, I am forced to imagine the follow up you had in mind. I apologize if I completely screw it up, but I’m quite old and my mindreading skills have greatly diminished over the years.


So, here we go into the rabbit hole: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Bb4 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 c5 (7…Nbd7 8.e3 c5 9.Bd3 Qa5 10.Ne2 cxd4 11.exd4 b6 12.Bf4 Ba6 13.a4 Bc4 14.Bd6 Qa6 15.Bxc4 dxc4 16.O-O O-O-O 17.Ng3 Nf8 18.Be7 Rd7 19.Bxf6 gxf6 20.Qf3 Qb7 21.Qxf6 Ng6 22.a5 b5 23.Rfe1 Rg8 24.Rab1 Qd5 25.f3 Kb8 26.Ne4 Ka8 27.g3 Rc8 28.Qa6 Rb8 29.Kg2 Rc7 30.Nc5 Rxc5 31.dxc5 Nh4+ 32.gxh4 Rg8+ 33.Kf2 Qxc5+ 34.Re3 Re8 35.Qh6, 1-0, M.Cebalo – B.Kovacevic, Croatia 2005.) 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 I will guess that you intended 9.g3 to be your move (everything I do will be designed for White to reach No-Name’s proposed setup – I’ll be avoiding Nf3 since he clearly stated his desire to bring this Knight to f4). There would follow: 9…Nc6 (threatening d4) 10.e3 (10.dxc5 Qxc3+ seems somewhat unpleasant) 10…0-0 (10…h5!? 11.Bg2 Bg4 is kind of interesting in an insane sort of way) 11.Bg2 Re8 12.Ne2 (remember, I’m trying to stay within No-Name’s prescribed setup. Also note that 12.Bxd5? cxd4 13.cxd4 Nxd4 isn’t what White had in mind) when 12...Bg4 has to be very comfortable for Black. For example: 13.0-0 Rac8 (even 13…cxd4 14.cxd4 Nxd4 15.Qxd4 Bxe2 16.Qxf6 gxf6 17.Rfb1 b6 18.Bxd5 Rad8 is adequate for equality) 14.Bxd5 Rcd8 and white’s position is under serious pressure, or 14.Rb1 b6 (also playable is 14…cxd4 15.cxd4 Nxd4 [15…b6! is probably black’s most accurate choice] 16.Qxd4 Bxe2 17.Qxf6 gxf6 18.Rfe1 Ba6 19.Bxd5 b6) 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.h3 Bf5 17.Rb7 Be4 18.Nf4 Bxg2 19.Kxg2 d4, =.



Obviously Black has lots of dynamic compensation for his slight structural problems. The mistake Mr. No-Name made is that he understood his ideal setup very well, but he discounted his opponent’s ideas and plusses.


James Dong asked:

What do you think of the wing gambit (1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4!?) in the French Defense? Is it sound? What are the pros and cons of this gambit? Thanks so much!!


Dear Mr. Dong,

IM John Watson, in his magnificent book, PLAY THE FRENCH (3rd Edition) had this to say: “This is the French Wing Gambit, trying to win the center by diverting black’s c-pawn. It has never attracted much attention from strong players and in my opinion it is suspect.”


I must admit that I know very little about the French Defense, while Watson is one of the world’s greatest experts, so it would be madness for me to challenge his view. In fact, if I have a question about the French, I usually give Watson a quick call, while if he wants to know something about the Accelerated Dragon, he’ll ask John Donaldson or myself.


However, though he’s no doubt correct in his view that this gambit is “suspect,” I have long held a secret fascination for it. This is because White not only creates attacking chances on the kingside, but also gets a bit of a Benko Gambit kind of thing going on the queenside. In other words, it has some positional justification on top of its dynamic hopes.


Sadly, you are now asking me to risk destroying my positive fantasies about this line in favor of the search for truth. Okay, as long as you understand one thing: since the French Wing Gambit has both positional and dynamic pizzazz, I think it’s a great choice for amateurs who have had trouble against the French Defense and find themselves drawn to this particular system. In other words, no matter what I discover here, if you like this line then please keep playing it!


Grandmasters invariably meet 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4 with 4…cxb4, 4…b6, 4…c4, or 4…d4 (played by both Korchnoi and Schmittdiel). However, let’s focus on the most principled and popular response: 4…cxb4 5.a3


5.d4 has also been played, but we’ll stick to the main line.




Again, Black has other good moves: 5…bxa3, 5…d4, 5…Nh6 have all been played by grandmasters.


6.axb4 Bxb4 7.c3 Be7 8.d4 f6


Damn Black! Why can’t he leave my imposing center alone?


9.Bd3 fxe5 10.dxe5


Black’s also won a lot of games after 10.Nxe5 Nf6. The game Reindermann – Glek, Groningen 1992 is depressing for fans of the gambit: 11.Bg5 Nxe5 12.dxe5 Ne4 13.Bxe7 Qxe7 14.Bxe4 dxe4 15.Qd4 0-0 16.Qxe4 Bd7 17.Qe3 Bb5 and White is screwed (not surprisingly, he went down fast and hard).


10…Qc7 and now white has held his own (statistically) with both 11.Bf4 and 11.Qe2, though I have to admit that I would prefer to be Black. However, let’s finish on a happy note for White:


11.Bf4 Nh6 12.O-O O-O 13.Bxh6 gxh6 14.Re1 Rf7 15.Qd2?! (15.Na3 with Nb5 aspirations seems playable – why not get the rest of your stuff out?) 15…Bf8 (15…Rxf3 would scare me. Black missed the boat here) 16.Na3 Bg7 17.Nb5 Qb8 18.Qe3 Re7 19.Ra4 (suddenly Black is doomed!) 19…a6 20.Nd6 Nxe5 21.Nxe5 Qxd6 22.Rg4 Kh8 23.Qf4 Qc7 24.Re3 h5 25.Rxg7, 1-0, J.Dovzik – F.Vrana, Pardubice 1996.



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