Let’s Bughouse! Playing Against the Sicilian, Part 2
Last week’s post focused on the lines starting 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. e5! d6 4. Bc4 e6 5. exd6 Bxd6. However, since none of those moves are forcing, we can’t stop there. Not only is black’s other 5th move response 5… Qxd6, but she’s also not required to play 3…d6 or even 2…Nc6.
Let’s get started!
(The tl;dr version? Black’s weakness in Sicilian lines continues to be the b8-h2 diagonal, while white has to be aware of the threat of N@f4 and attacks along the light squares.)
I'm also hoping there's a way others can preview this so I can get rid of typos (thanks @ChessMN16) before making the post live. Does anyone know a way to do this? Anyway...
Lines Beginning with 5… Qxd6
Just as bishops stuck in pawn chains become tall pawns, the queen in this position acts much like a laser-bishop. White can play the position much like the 5… Bxd6 lines and end up with a good game. A few points:
The N@h5 drop isn’t as immediate an attack, because the bishop defends g7. However, N@h5 covers f4 and also attacks f6, which is weaker in this line. It’s still a good move.
Because the queen is on d6, immediately getting a knight to b5, instead of re-routing the light-squared bishop there, tends to be more useful, as is getting a knight to e4 (which also pressures f6).
From black’s perspective, Qd6 is a good centralizing move. While the queen is currently hemmed in, sometimes she can sidestep to the a8-h1 diagonal and desperado her way into a successful attack. She’s also a good defender, because she controls more squares. Giving the black king an escape square on d8 (a basic defensive theme) can slow down white's attack by a move or two, giving black the chance to counterpunch.
Black can also get positional pressure by establishing control on d4. If white can be goaded into trading off her kingside defenders, her position can collapse quickly.
With a line like 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. e5! d6 4. Bb4 e6 5. exd6 Qxd6 6. d3 (if a knight’s already been traded) Nf6 (to develop and contest e4) 7. Nc3 (heading for b5, threatening N@e4) Nd4 (pressuring and contesting b5):
After 13. Nxd4 Qxg2, white will need to defend accurately. Even 14. B@f3 isn’t as stopping as you might imagine, with piece flow.
Position after 14. B@f3 Nxf3+ 15. Qxf3 Qxf3 16. Nxf3 N@g2+ 17. Kd1 18. p@e2+
Taking the e2 pawn opens black up to N@f4+, which if queens are traded on the other board, is typically deadly, as well as diagonal drops starting on g4. (There's also B@g4 for white, intending N@e4). Not taking the e2 pawn is unpalatable as well. Bb4+ is a stalling move for black that gives an additional escape square, and sequences like 18. Kd2 B@f4+ 19. p@e3 Nxe3 20. fxe3 Bxe3+ also lure the king out into the open.
In general, if the king can move to d1/d8, and the e2/e7 square is adequately protected against a pawn-drop check, you don’t have to worry overmuch about Nxg2/g7+ attacks. If not, as in this case, it’s best to evaluate the lines.
Black can also use the d4 pawn as a launching post for direct attacks on f2 via N@g4 and p@e3.
Position after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. e5! d6 4. Bc4 e6 5. exd6 Qxd6 6. d3 Nf6 7. Nc3 Nd4. 8. Nxd4 cxd4 9. Nb5 Qc6
Position after 10. N@c7 Kd8 11. Nxa8 p@e3
White has no immediate mate, while black threatens f2 for an attack along the dark squares, as well as an attack along the light squares with B@h3, or simply Qxf1+ followed by Q@h1 or p@g2. White’s kingside is too denuded. The frustration of having to defend when a rook and pawn mates has also ruined many a game.
And if black finds time to play Be7 while maintaining threats…
When playing these lines, white should be aware that after N@c7+, she should check both boards to see what’s likely to trade. The tempo spent to capture the a8 rook isn’t always worth it, and if white protects her kingside instead, the knight can aid in a king hunt instead of being trapped in the corner. Black can’t secure her king and move the rook with one move.
Also, establishing a knight on e4, or dropping a bishop/pawn on g3 are good positional choices. They continue to pressure d6, while also protecting f2; B@g3 protects f4 and h4; and the extra pieces near the kingside increase the safety of castling short.
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6
As pointed out earlier, this is the opening. Black’s moves aren’t forced. At all. In order to deal with the possibility of e5, sometimes black will play this. White can get a good game by playing 3. e5! anyway. Most of the time this will transpose to the lines we’ve already covered, because after 3… dxe5 4. Nxe5 white has a direct attack on f7.
I’d like to discuss it, though, because of a psychological trap that can arise after 4…Qd5?.
This is lunacy. While the queen move protects f7, N@c7+ wins the queen outright and, after Kd8, threatens Nxf7+ for forks everywhere. However, this is also the 5th move of the game. White may not have a knight yet, and she’ll oftentimes sit.
If black coordinates well with her partner, playing keep away on the other board can eat up enough time that white will find herself down 20 seconds, that her partner’s position is now wrecked, or both.
Even if white will get a knight with the next move on her partner’s board, there’s the “Sit until 10, then low flow” strategy. Black’s partner waits until he has 10 seconds left, then moves. Because N@c7+ check doesn’t lead to forced mate without a lot more pieces, and because (even with premove) it’s faster to shuffle around pieces already on the board than it is to plan for drops you might not get, black has chances to flag.
After losing 10 games in a row to Señor Spazmaster Super-Caffeinated Ultra Plus XTreme™, it’s surprising how frustrated people will get.
One night—it was 2 or 3 in the morning—I kept getting myself into bad positions. We’d sit until 10, then I’d flag my opponent. After my team won many of these in a row, my partner’s opponent started resigning games on move 1. Autorematch for all four was set, so this happened 5 times before our opponent’s ended the partnership.
I don’t approve of ratings manipulation, so I asked the resigner what was going on. The response:
“[My partner] has been swearing at me nonstop for the last 15 minutes, so I figured you deserved his rating points more than he did.”
Bughouse is a team game. It’s important to keep it classy.
Also important is being able to increase pressure, even without piece drops available. In this line, white can use the threat of N@c7+ to advance a direct attack on f7. Create multiple threats, and don’t sit unless you must.
[UPDATE: I've been thinking about this, and 6...Qe4+ is more complicated than I thought. I updated the board above with some ideas, and may revisit in the future. Concrete considerations and positional themes...how much material is too much to sacrifice?]
Next time, we’ll look at 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. e5! p@e4, as well as white’s Accelerated Attack (hopefully).