Scotch game for Black: 4...Bc5, Part 2 , 5.Be3

Mar 19, 2018, 7:41 PM |

Here we are with Part 2 and the main move against 4...Bc5.

My initial goal was to make a simple guide for novices. It is quite obvious that I failed miserably. From the material I gathered, I found it impossible to exclude something. Everything was so interesting and I know very well that chess players are always thirsty for knowledge. For those of you that are not interested in all this info(and I can't blame you), there is the Plans and Ideas Section, the theory section and the non-theory section. Plans and Ideas Section attempts to make you understand the position so that you don't find the opening moves incomprehensible, Theory Section examines , guess what , theory and Non-Theory Section examines some straightforward systems that can be played with common sense. If you choose one of the non-theoretical systems then all you need to know from Theory Section is a)6.Nb5 and/or b)6.Nb5 9...g5 subsections.

   If you decide to read everything then good luck! You are going to need it.

                                                        Diagram 1.

A  principled and very challenging move. White develops his bishop and keeps the centralised knight well protected. But that's not all, he also disrupts Black's normal development and significantly reduces Black's options. If  Black decides to follow opening principles a nasty surprise awaits him.
Diagram 2.
Of course the same happens if Black plays 5...Nge7 and that means we just lost 2 important candidates.
Exchange everything on d4 , might be the second thing you will think.In fact it is encountered a lot in club level B-class and C-class  games but no one can seriously recommend it. It offers White a long lasting initiative and even if Black manages to equalise it is a dry equality with minimum winning chances.
Diagram 3.
Very good games and much more instructive than any opening. But we are not here for boring middlegame and endgame positions. We are here for exciting opening moves.
And Black just lost one more candidate. What remains?
Diagram 4.
Somewhere here we all realise the obvious.After 5.Be3 Black must move either his bishop or his queen.
5...Bb6 seems quite a normal move and indeed it is.This will be the first move we will examine.
Diagram 5.
Knowing your classics certainly helps a lot. Many believe that in the era of engines, players like Lasker and Rubinstein are irrelevant but the games of these players often have a crystal clear logic that is the foundation of good chess.
Check what happened in a game played more than 70 years after Rubinstein's game.
Diagram 6.
These 2 games give you an idea. The good thing with 5...Bb6 is that it invites simple chess and doesn't have much theory. In most cases, a little simple thinking will easily get you out of the opening unharmed. We will examine  Rubinstein's Nge7 approach, instead of Lasker's Nf6 approach that is slightly more difficult to play. 
Diagram 7.
That's the critical position and the most interesting from the theoretical point of view. Black has 4 possible continuations and we will examine all of them since they will help us understand some important elements of the position.
The most critical line and if you want to avoid memorisation and engine preparation you must avoid it. The problem is not so much that it needs memorisation, the problem is that it's an invitation to uncharted and highly unexplored complications(only 2 games have been played). The reason I am mentioning it is that it demonstrates an important idea(...Ne5-...d5) that you need to know.  
Diagram 8.
A simple move that intends to do what 8...Ne5 tries to do(chase away Bc4 and play d5) but avoids complications.
Diagram 9.

Every exchange in chess is important and this one is not an exception. The exchange of knights allows Black to play his bishop to e6(after ...d6) and not only counter Bc4 but also control d5 better. It also vacates c6 for the other knight. This is an idea that hasn't been tried a lot. First, there is no reason for such an early exchange and second, there is no clear way for Black to equalise unless he follows with 9...d6 which practically transposes to the next option. Still, it is an important idea that you must know.
Diagram 10.

The simpler and the most played.Black  doesn't abandon the ...d5 plan, he only delays it,  waiting for a better timing(investing a tempo for better timing is always a good idea).8...d6 is very flexible as Black can mix all the ideas already mentioned(...Na5-d5,...Ne5-d5,...Nxd4-Be6,) plus a couple important new ones(...Ne5-Ng4, ...f5).
Diagram 11.
Let's see a few more interesting setups from white:
Diagram 12.
 Diagram 13.

Since 5...Bb6 6...Nge7 has been employed by Rubinstein, Adams and Beliavsky, I am quite sure there must be something against 7.Qd2 but whatever that is, I don't know it.Looking in books didn't help either as no one mentions something. The position probably is objectively ok for Black, still, there is no doubt in my mind that from a practical point of view, White is much better and Black's position difficult to play. The lines are there for you to try to find something if you want(fire up the engines guys).
So we need an alternative to 5...Bb6 and we already said that we must move either the bishop or the queen, we have to try a queen move.
5...Qe7 doesn't seem to do much except protecting the bishop and the queen might very well prove vulnerable there. No good player ever played it and that is good enough reason to reject it.
5...Qh4 is not completely unreasonable but if Black wants to play this move he better do it on move earlier.The reason is that with the addition of Bc5, White has the very annoying Nf5 which practically forces Black to move his Bishop again, usually fo b4, losing a tempo over the main line. Let's see the main line in the 4...Qh4 line to understand what I am talking about. 
Diagram 14.
A very well known theoretical position that is very difficult to assess and play. Black has a pawn and better pawn structure but White has the 2 bishops better development and a clear target: The Black King. Playing this type of positions demands a lot of preparation so we will stay away.
5...Qf6 is the only move that remains and it is, thankfully, the best move in the position. It is easy to understand why. White has no good knight moves and he almost always responds with 6.c3, strengthening his Nd4. And that is the move that Black wants to provoke as Nb1 loses its natural square. I think you are able to understand how important that is. It's the one little detail that allows Black to fight for equality and it's so important, that Black doesn't hesitate to lose a tempo in some lines, just to provoke that move.
Diagram 15.
Black plays the 5...Bb6 line a tempo down and the position is playable only because c3 has been provoked. 
Let's go back to our line.
Diagram 16.
Before we take a look at theory let's first try to understand the position with some games. 
Without a doubt , the dominant piece of the position is the Black queen. She will, single-handedly, lead her army to victory or doom them to defeat. Almost everything that happens on the board has to do with her. Both sides will try to exploit the position of the queen. White will try to exploit the drawbacks and Black the advantages.
But is the queen well placed or badly placed?This is what we will try to answer.
One of  Black's problems is that Qf6 blocks f-pawn which is valuable in the fight for the centre, sometimes by attacking e4 with ...f5 and sometimes by controlling e5 with ...f6. The solution to that problem is a quick Qg6.
Qg6 creates a whole new set of threats and options.It attacks e4 and g2, controls g4 and enables a quick d5 since it might be followed by Bh3 forcing White to do something about it.For example:
Diagram 17.
In the above game, Black used f-pawn to support Ne5 and create a useful retreating square for the queen on f7. In the next game, the f-pawn is used for attacking reasons.
 Diagram 18.
As you can see the queen is leading the attacks against the enemy king. Her presence on k-side creates all short of attacking possibilities and crazy opening lines.
Diagram 19.
2 squares are closely related to the position of the queen on g6, one is e4 and the other is g4. No surprise with e4, but g4? What's so important with that square? Black uses g4 for mainly 2 reasons. First ...Bg4 to exchange bishops, and second, ...Ng4 to attack Be3 but g4 can prove important in many more ways.
Diagram 20.
The next game might be even more characteristic.
Diagram 21.
But the position of the queen on g6 is not without drawbacks. The queen can be attacked and often Black loses valuable time trying to find a safe square.
Diagram 22.
In many cases, White sacrifices the pawn on e4 to gain additional time attacking the queen. The resulting lines are very risky for Black and he must know his homework.
Diagram 23.
Another important element of the position is the weakness of c7. With the black queen away from d8, Black has no easy ways to defend that pawn. Several complicated lines start with  Nb5. In this case, the roles might change as it is white the one who loses time winning a pawn and Black the one who tries to exploit it.
 Diagram 24.
From the rest of the pieces, if we attempted to find the most important ones, then the white light-squared bishop and the Black knights are the ones we would choose. Nc6 often has great options after jumping to e5 and Ne7 has also good options if Black eliminates e4(Nd5 and Nf5 become available). 
Diagram 25.
Diagram 26.
 White many times supports e4 with f3 and accepts an isolated e4 pawn instead of allowing Black to activate both his knights(but that denies him the important f4-advance and reduces his control over e5). 
Diagram 27.
These are pretty much the most important things to know about the position. It's time for theory:
a) 6.Nb5
 Diagram 28.

b)6.Nb5 ,9...g5
Diagram 29

c1)6.Bc4 Ne5 7.Be2, 11...Bb6
Diagram 30.

c2)7.Bc4 Ne5 8.Be2, 11...d5
 Diagram 31.
c3)7.Bc4 Ne5 8.Be2, 11...f5
 Diagram 32.

d)7.Bc4 Ne5 8.Bb3
 Diagram 33.
 Diagram 34.
 Diagram 35.

Diagram 36.

The Moscow Variation  (6...d6)
An interesting and flexible move that was first played by Philipp Hirschfeld(No 4 in the world) in 1866, in a match in Moscow, and was repeated  73 years later, by Salo Flohr(No 6 in the world) again in Moscow. Quite a coincidence, no?
The move sacrifices the quick d5 option but enables a few interesting other options. We will see a few games that demonstrate these interesting ideas.
Diagram 37.
From the theoretical point of view, Flohr's game was much more interesting.
 Diagram 38.
One of the modern ideas of the move is that Black can quickly castle long.
 Diagram 39.
 Diagram 40.
Another idea is that once Nb5 is neutralised or eliminated, Black can play ...Qg6 and ...Nf6 or even...Qe5 and ...Nf6!
 Diagram 41.
 Diagram 42.

Finally, delaying the development of Ng8 might even allow a good Nh6(quite a rare idea). 
 Diagram 43.
The  SAS (Speelman-Agdenstein-Shirov) system.
 Diagram 44.
Quite a surprising move that one can call weird and maybe even unprincipled. But it's neither of all these. Black's plan is quite simple: He will develop his bishop and castle long. It really can't be simpler than that. It is so simple as an idea that it makes you wonder why it was not discovered earlier(maybe because it is unprincipled?). Speelman was the first that played it but the system quickly found a place in the arsenal of top players(Adams, Grischuk, Mamedyarov, Sargissian, Short, Sokolov, Ganguly, Nunn, Agdenstein, Ni Hua, Howell etc.) after "Fire on the board" Shirov employed it. Perhaps Agdenstein was the one that indirectly contributed the most for the popularity of the system since his win against the rising star of world chess  Alexei Shirov, in just 19 moves was probably what attracted the most attention to the move. 6...b6 turned to something like a cult and Shirov himself became a "believer".    
 Diagram 45.
Quite an impressive game and it's not the only one.
 Diagram 46.
Diagram 47.
 Diagram 48.
 ...b6 system can be played after 6.c3 or after 6.c3 Nge7 7.Bc4/7.Be2. Good players have used it mainly against  6.c3 Nge7 7.Bc4  probably because this is the most played line and 7...b6 is a good way to sidestep theory and play chess.
If you feel creative and adventurous that's the system you need.  A small advice though, study as many games as possible before you play it(I might devote later a post just to post all the important games of this system).Once you do, there will be only one question to answer:
Are you a believer?