Your Questions Answered By Andrew Martin

Your Questions Answered By Andrew Martin

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International Master Andrew Martin from England presents a regular series of articles to answer any questions that readers have about the game of chess. 

If you want to ask Andrew a question, then send an email to and next time your question could be featured!  Please include your real name and your member name, but you can ask to remain anonymous if you wish!

Now it's over to Andrew for this week's questions and answers... member Wesso Hello, I am new to chess but I have a question about the Ruy Lopez, specifically about move 3. Bb5.  If black moves a6 threatening the bishop should the bishop retreat to a4 or take the knight forcing black to double pawns on the c file?  Piece wise black would be up since the bishop is more valuable but positionally isn’t black weakened considerably?  Is this correct?  In not, what is the idea with Bb5?  To destroy black's queenside pawn structure?  I'd appreciate some clarification on this move.  Thank you.

Dear Wesso, The Ruy Lopez is an opening of sustained pressure. White tries to keep a small, nagging edge throughout the opening stages and translate that into something more tangible in the middle game. The choice between 4 Ba4 and 4 Bxc6 is a question of taste. The vast majority of strong players prefer 4 Ba4 because it keeps the tension and makes it more difficult for Black to equalize, but you have to know a great deal if you play this move and in practice Grandmasters occasionally prefer 4 Bxc6.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0–0 Bd6 One of several decent defensive systems for Black. Endgames favour White thanks to his kingside pawn majority, so Black usually stays in the middlegame and tries to activate his Bishops. Whilst 5...Bd6 seems to DEACTIVATE the Bishop, Black is anticipating d2-d4, when the Bishop comes to life.

6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4 f6 8.b3 Ne7 9.Ba3 Bg4 10.Bxd6 Bxf3!?N Carlsen's new move,prepared for this game. [Previously played was 10...Qxd6]

11.Bc5 Qxd4 12.Bxd4 Rd8! 13.Bc5 [13.Bxf6 gxf6 14.gxf3 Ng6! aiming for active squares on f4 or h4. 15.Nc3 (15.Kh1 Nh4 16.f4 Rg8 17.Nc3 Rd2) 15...Nh4=]

13...Bxe4 14.Re1 Rd7! 15.Nc3 Bd5 A tactical sequence doubtlessly worked out at home.

16.Rad1 Kd8 17.Bxe7+ Rxe7 18.Rxe7 Kxe7 19.Nxd5+ cxd5 20.Rxd5 ½–½  Interesting novelty, dull game. Black just has too many good possibilities after 4 Bxc6.  



Robert Steen  Dear Andrew, In a recent tournament my opponent played the move 7...Nc6 after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 in the Najdorf. I found only about 10 games in my database with this move, so I got to wondering, why 7...Nc6 is so rare. In a number of other lines after 6...e5, Nc6 is played, e.g. 6...e5 7.Nf3 Be7 8.Bc4 O-O 9.O-O Be6 10.Bb3 Nc6, and 9...Bg4 10.a4 Nc6. I thought the answer to this question might shed some light on the ideas these lines. Your insights would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Robert, It’s very difficult to say why this hasn't been played more often, other than a whim of fashion or through simply being overlooked! Sometimes decent variations simply languish in the shadows, waiting to be discovered. For instance, how about the following game...

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 a6 Transposing

8.Bc4 Be7 9.0–0 0–0 10.Qe2 h6 11.a4 Be6 12.Rfd1 Rc8 13.Ba2 Qc7 14.h3 [14.Nd5 Bxd5 15.exd5 Nb4 16.Bb3 a5 17.Qb5 Nd7 18.c3 Na6 19.Bc2 f5 is not at all clear.]

14...Bxa2 15.Rxa2 Nb4 16.Raa1 Qc4 17.Rd2 Rfe8 18.Kf1 Qc6 19.a5 Nxe4 20.Nxe4 Qxe4 21.Ra4 d5 22.c3 d4 23.cxd4 Rc1+ 24.Ne1 Qc6 25.b3 e4 26.Rb2 Rxe1+ 27.Qxe1 Nd3 28.Qd2 Nxb2 29.Qxb2 Bg5 30.Kg1 Qd5 31.Qc3 Bd8 32.Qc4 Qd6 33.Ra1 Bc7 34.g3 Qd7 35.Kg2 Re7 36.Qc5 Bd6 37.Qd5 Qe6 38.Qxe6 Rxe6 39.d5 Re8 40.Rc1 f5 41.Bb6 Kf7 42.h4 g5 43.hxg5 hxg5 44.Bc5 Be5 45.Rh1 Kg6 46.Rd1 Rb8 47.f3 exf3+ 48.Kxf3 g4+ 49.Kg2 Rd8 50.b4 Kf6 51.Kf2 f4 52.gxf4 Bxf4 53.d6 Kf5 54.Rd5+ Ke4 55.Rd4+ Kf5 56.Rd5+ Ke6 57.Rd4 g3+ 58.Kg2 Be5 59.Rh4 Bxd6 60.Bxd6 Kxd6 61.Rh6+ Kc7 62.Kxg3 Rd4 63.Rh7+ Kc6 64.Rh6+ Kc7 65.b5 axb5 66.Rb6 Rd5 67.Kf4 b4 68.Rxb4 Rxa5 69.Ke4 Rc5 70.Kd4 Rc1 71.Kd5 Rc2 72.Kd4 Rc6 73.Kd5 Rc1 74.Kd4 Kc6 75.Rc4+ ½–½  I think 7...Nc6 is a tough move, which we may well see more of in the future. member Gimly  Andrew, As an English major, I have a hard time asking you this question since I’ve run across this term numerous times in my life.  In games that I’ve studied, as well as games you annotate on this site, I see constant references to themes, or moves that are thematic.  What is the general theme regarding a chess game, or how do games create themes for themselves?  Is the theme derived from the whole game?  Are they dictated by a players opening decisions, or by their plans in the middle game?  Any insights here, and any good examples of games revolving around a clear cut theme?  If anything in chess is clear cut!  Thanks.

Dear Sir, A thematic game is instructive and will focus on an overall idea. The choice of opening variation generally sends a game in a given direction and play develops naturally from the positions that arise. This is why it is so important to understand the ideas behind the chess openings and not just rely on the ability to remember moves. The coming game is easy to annotate.  In the traditional King's Indian style, Black wins with a crushing Kingside attack.

1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 Nf6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.b4 a5 10.bxa5 Perhaps 10 Ba3! is better. One example went 10...axb4 11 Bxb4 Nd7 12 a4 Bh6 13 Nd2 f5 14 a5 Nf6 15 c5 Bxd2 16 Qxd2 fxe4 17 cxd6 cxd6 18 Nb5 Nf5 19 Ra3 Kh8 20 g4! Ne7 21 h3 Ne8 22 f4! Golod-Socko Cappelle Le Grande 1999 With 22 f4 White is on the brink of opening up the Black King.

10...Rxa5 11.Nd2 c5 12.Nb3 Ra6! A key square for the Black Rook, holding both d6 and the advance of White's a pawn.

13.a4 Ne8 14.Qc2 f5‚ Black's thematic aim in a position of this type is a Kingside attack. He carries the aim out in this game with power and precision.

15.f3 Maybe the losing move already. Difficult to imagine but White should keep things more fluid with, say, 15 Bg5! Bf6 16 Bd2 f4 17 Nb5 That way Black would have less to bite on. Of course this illustrates the fine line that White is treading. [15.Bg5 Bf6 16.Bd2 f4]

15...f4 16.Bd2 h5 17.Rfb1 g5 18.Nb5 Ng6‚ 19.Bc3 g4 20.Qd2 Nh4 21.Kh1 Rf6 Black's attack develops thematically.

22.Ba5 b6 23.Bc3 Rg6 24.a5 24 fxg4 hxg4 25 Qd3 Qg5! was horrible for White too.

24...Nxg2!! Count the pieces defending White's King. Is it any wonder that Black's attack succeeds?.

25.fxg4 See the mate after 25 Kxg2 e.g. 25...gxf3+ 26 Kxf3 Bg4+ 27 Kf2 Qh4+ 28 Kg1 Bxe2+ 29 Kh1 Bf3+ 30 Qg2 Bxg2+ 31 Kg1 Bxe4+ 32 Kf1 Bd3 0–1 And that will be less painful than the game!!

25...Ne3 26.axb6 Nxg4 27.Rxa6?? White is still much worse after either 27 Bf3 or 27 Qe1,but this is catastrophic!

27...Nf2# 0–1  Thus themes develop out of choice and the positions that arise from choices made. member Roger76  Dear Mr. Martin, I was hit with a black response to the KP Gambit I had never seen before and cannot find an adequate refutation. It involves a black bishop move at e7. 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 Be7.  I see no way to prevent a devastating 4…Bh4. Anything I try for white wrecks the kingside and displaces the king, so the purpose for white to open the F file is thwarted.  My computer actually recommends 4. d4. Then follows: 4…Bh4+ 5. Nxh4 Qh4+ 6. Ke2  which looks HORRIBLE! White’s king side is wrecked. What do you suggest?  Is 3….Be7 a refutation of the KP gambit?

Hi Roger,3...Be7 is no refutation, but as White, you should be prepared to move your King. The idea of ....Be7-h4+ involves a loss of time and White uses that time to take the centre. In practice, GM's rarely give the check on h4 because they value time so much.

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Be7 4.Bc4 Nf6 [Interesting that Hebden rejects the check. Why is this? 4...Bh4+ 5.Kf1 d5 (5...d6 6.d4 Bg4 7.Bxf4 Qf6 8.Be3 Ne7 9.Nbd2 h6 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Nxf3 Nd7 12.Kg1 Bg3 13.Qd2; 5...Bf6 6.d4 g5 7.h4 g4 8.Ne5) 6.Bxd5 Nf6 7.Bb3 Bg4 8.d3± 0–0 9.Nc3 Nh5 10.Nd5  A very messy position. Instinct tells Hebden that development is more important than sidelining the Bishop on h4. It's a judgement call.]

5.e5 Ng4 6.d4 d5 7.exd6 Bh4+ [7...Qxd6 8.0–0 0–0 9.Nc3 c6 10.Ne2 Ne3 11.Bxe3 fxe3 12.Qd3 Na6 13.Qxe3 Nb4 14.Qb3 Be6 15.Ne5]

8.Kf1 0–0 9.Bxf4 cxd6 10.Nxh4 Qxh4 11.Qd2 Nc6 12.Nc3 Re8 13.Nb5 Be6 14.Bxe6 Rxe6 15.d5 Rf6 16.Kg1 Nce5 17.Rf1 Nc4 18.Qd4 a6 [18...g5 19.Bg3 Rxf1+ 20.Kxf1 Nge3+ 21.Kf2 Qxd4 22.Nxd4 Nxd5 23.b3 Nd2 24.Nf5 Ne4+ 25.Kf3 Ndc3 26.Nxd6 Nxd6 27.Bxd6 Nxa2 28.Ra1 Nc3 29.Be5 Nb5 30.c4 f6 31.Ra5 fxe5 32.Rxb5 Rf8+ 33.Ke3 b6 34.Rxe5±]

19.Nc3 Rc8 20.h3 Nh6 21.b3 Na3 22.Qb4 b5 23.Rf3 Nxc2 24.Qe4 b4 25.Bxd6 Qxe4 26.Nxe4 Rxf3 27.gxf3 Nf5 28.Kf2 Nce3 29.Bxb4 Nxd5 30.Bd2 Nfe7 31.Rc1 Rxc1 32.Bxc1 Nb4 33.Bd2 Nec6 [33...Nxa2 34.Nc5 a5 35.Bxa5 Nc1 36.Bd2 Na2 37.b4 Nd5 38.b5 Kf8 39.Ba5 Ke7 40.b6 Nab4 41.Bxb4 Nxb4 42.b7 Nc6 43.Na6]

34.a3 Nc2 35.a4 Kf8 36.Nc5 N2b4 37.Bxb4 Nxb4 38.Ke3 Nd5+ 39.Kd4 Nc7 40.Nb7 Ne6+ 41.Kd5 Ke7 42.Nc5 Nf4+ 43.Kc6 Nxh3 44.b4 Ng5 45.b5 axb5 46.a5 Nxf3 47.a6 Nd4+ 48.Kd5 1–0  Quite a game!



Anonymous  Dear Andrew.  Thank you for your fascinating columns at  My question is this:  Is it better to play the man or the board?  Should I alter my own play depending on what I know about my opponent?  If my opponent likes a certain style of play, should I try to avoid that kind of game, or stick to what I like myself?  Also, do you have any tips for how to play against significantly stronger players and weaker players? Many thanks!

Dear Sir/Madam  My advice is as follows: Always remain true to your style. Stick to the type of chess you are good at. Concentrate on YOUR STRENGTHS, not the weaknesses of the opponent. Against stronger players take risks, attack, disrupt them from their standard technical wins. Against weaker players avoid risk and complications. They will make mistakes before you do!

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