Sunday, 20 December 2015

Alekhine-Chatard Attack coverage completeed

I have finally got around to covering all of the main variations of the Alekhine-Chatard Attack against the French Defence.

My opinion of the accepted lines of the gambit (6...Bxg5 7.hxg5 Qxg5) have changed quite a lot since examining the lines more closely.  I don't think the old main line, played by Alexander Alekhine against Fahrni, Mannheim 1914, with 8.Nh3 Qe7 9.Nf4, is very convincing.  I think Black can get quite a solid position with 9...Nc6 followed by ...g6, ...Nb6, ...Bd7 and ...0-0-0.  The move-order is quite important; if 9...g6 at once, then 10.Bd3 is quite dangerous for Black, threatening sacrifices on g6.  The lines with White sacrificing a knight on d5 after 10.Qg4 Nxd4 can easily burn out to a draw.  At club level most players won't play accurately, of course, but even so, I am not sure about White's practical chances.

But I believe that 9.Qg4 looks quite promising for White, attacking g7 immediately and planning to follow up with Nf3-g5 in most cases.  8.Nb5!?, which has been discussed briefly at the and also mentioned by John Watson, also looks quite promising.  The modern move 8.Qd3 aims for long-term positional compensation rather than a quick attack, but also appears to give White at least sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn.  The compensation persists even if Black engineers a queen trade with 8...Qg6 9.Qxg6 fxg6 (White can also consider 9.Qd2).

One common motif in the declined variations is that Black wants to get in ...c7-c5, undermining White's d4-pawn, without allowing White to get in Nc3-b5-d6.  Thus, ...a6 is often played, but I don't trust the immediate 6...a6 7.Qg4 for Black, despite its popularity.  6...c5 7.Bxe7 leaves Black with a choice between 7...Qxe7 8.Nb5, often involving an exchange sacrifice on a8, and 7...Kxe7, which gives up castling rights but aims for long-term queenside counterplay.  I think the 6...c5 line is better for White, but Black is not without chances.

Black's best declining moves are 6...Nc6 (which leads to positions with just a slight edge for White, and chances for both sides), 6...0-0, and 6...h6.  The last two give Black good chances of theoretical equality, though White often gets a slight "pull" in the middlegame.  In both cases, the positions tend to be double-edged with the kings castled on opposite sides of the board.

John Watson has recently written about some of these lines at Chesspublishing (though to see his full analysis requires a subscription).  In his latest update he says 6...h6 "seems to be more reliable than the others" and gives 7.Be3 an exclamation mark, rather than the exchange of bishops with 7.Bxe7.  He is a stronger player than I, but my investigations suggest that there is a strong case for his position.

I suspect that the Alekhine-Chatard with 6.h4 is not as likely to give White a theoretical advantage with best play as the standard 6.Bxe7, but it is a decent try for advantage, as well as increasing the payoff if Black goes wrong- White can sometimes pull off a quick attack and win very quickly.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Alekhine-Chatard Attack coverage underway

I've been busy recently, but started coverage of the Alekhine-Chatard Attack in the French Defence, 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.h4!?.

I find that the 3.Nc3 lines of the French Defence often lead to crazy and rich positions, although of course 3.Nc3 is one of the main lines, and many of the variations are quite theory-heavy.  The various attempts to steer play into a sort of pseudo Blackmar-Diemer Gambit with 3.Be3 and 3.c4 are not convincing, although there is a subvariation of 3.Nc3, 3...Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.f3!?, which aims to transpose into a line of the Blackmar-Diemer (Euwe Defence) which probably gives White full compensation for the pawn.

The Alekhine-Chatard Attack is one of the soundest gambits that I've looked at so far; indeed French Defence guru John Watson considers that it is holding up well at high levels.  I've been a fan of this gambit for many years, and recall having quite a few nice wins with it as a junior in the late-1990s.

I have only got around to covering 6...c5 and 6...0-0 so far, but am trialing out a new way of displaying the coverage (sort of like a article but with the games still presented as replayable java games via ChessBase).

The coverage is here:
My overall assessments seem to broadly agree with Watson's comments on 6...c5 and also 6...Nc6, which I cover briefly as a sideline, although of course Watson will have gone into far more detail.

I had a recent game as White in the Alekhine-Chatard Attack but unfortunately lost the game score.  I managed to crash through on the h-file by putting rooks on h1 and h6 and a queen on h4, and breaking through on h7, and Black's counterattack ended up being a tempo too slow.  (If I remember rightly, Black met 6.h4 with 6...c5 7.Bxe7 Kxe7, and later moved the king over to the kingside to guard h7).

Meanwhile I've recently received my copy of Smerdon's Scandinavian.  It is refreshing to see a grandmaster frequently using and being enthusiastic about a line that is objectively of marginal soundness.  I'll be looking at his Caro-Kann transposition lines (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.d4, involving an early ...g6) with some interest since I didn't look at those when I last covered the line.  Of course White should avoid 4.dxc6?! Nxc6 in that variation; I remember a few games when I tried that greedy variation as White at the local chess club just to see if it was really as bad as its reputation, and inevitably I got crushed every time.

Smerdon also recommends the Vienna Defence (1.e4 d5 2.d4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 Bf5) against the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, and is quite dismissive of White's chances.  Personally I always thought 4...exf3 5.Nxf3 Bf5 was a more serious test of the gambit, but I'll be looking at his lines more closely shortly to see if he's found any major improvements for Black over what I know of.

Monday, 19 October 2015

A nice exchange sac in the Albin Counter-Gambit

I had a nice win (albeit in a simultaneous) with an exchange sac in the Albin.  This game is a good example of how White can go wrong despite playing a succession of "natural" moves.  Of course, White can do better.  5.a3 is the most popular response in my experience, but the move-order trick 5.Nbd2 may be more accurate as it takes the sting out of 5...Nge7 and 5...Bf5.  After 5.a3, I opted to put the bishop on f5.  I think it was 7.Qa4 where White started to go a bit astray; 5.a3 is nonetheless a very reasonable try for advantage and 7.Nb3 or the immediate 7.b4 would have maintained good chances of an advantage out of the opening.

"Real life" has been slowing progress down on my gambiteering site in recent months, but I'm still preparing new content for it.

The trick is that Black follows up with ...Nb2+ and picks up the queen on a4; the exchange sacrifice was to kill White's coverage of the important b2-square.  Were it not for this sneaky tactic, White may have been able to get away with Bb2xd4.

I note that I missed quite a deep "computer move" in this game: 11...Nd7!, intending 12...Nc5 with the idea of 13...Nd3+.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A win as Black in the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit

The next lot of openings articles will focus on anti-French gambits and another revisit of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit.  It may take a couple of weeks though as I have a lot of other stuff going on.

I had a recent game as Black where I unexpectedly faced the BDG.  I managed to win the game with the extra pawn, but as usual at club level, there were some mutual errors along the way.  I tried out the von Popiel Attack with 1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 about 10-11 years ago, but soon replaced 4.Bg5 with the standard 4.f3.  White does get some compensation for the pawn but less chances of a quick attack developing in my opinion.  Indeed, early in the game, I was the first to go on the attack.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

A look at the Latvian Gambit

Since the opening has many devoted aficionados, I don't think my site would be complete without some coverage of the Latvian Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5).

I've done a fair amount of research on the line, most notably various threads at the forum.  "AMM", in particular, posted some fine analysis here:
Stefan Bucker had a good analysis on the gambit at but his articles went behind a paywall (and the site isn't looking healthy at present anyway).

I don't trust the gambit, but I can see why it is popular.  Like the similarly dubious Englund Gambit (1.d4 e5), it has the merit of leading to unusual positions in many of the variations.  The Svedenborg Variation (3.Bc4 fxe4 4.Nxe5 d5) often leads to considerable chaos with reasonable chances for Black.  The main line involves a surprisingly strong exchange sacrifice:  5.Qh5+ g6 6.Nxg6 hxg6 7.Qxh8 Kf7.  For this reason, I think White should avoid 3.Bc4, but it will be a natural reaction of many players who have not studied the line.

The variation with 3.exf5 e4 is probably theoretically better for White, especially in the case of 4.Ng1!?, where White argues that in this reversed King's Gambit, but Black can be satisfied with the attacking chances.  3.d4 is slightly better for White with accurate play, but Black has to watch out for a couple of dangerous piece sacs following 3...fxe4 4.Nxe5.

The problems are the simple 3.Nc3, which I think generally leaves Black a pawn down for just half a pawn's worth of compensation, and of course the main line, 3.Nxe5.  3...Nc6 4.Qh5+ and 3...Nf6 4.Bc4 are not looking too good, although 3...Nc6 might be worth a try in blitz games, since it generally leads to positions with insufficient compensation for an exchange.

3...Qf6 is probably best but it has a few problems.  I don't like Black's position after 4.d4 d6 5.Nc4 fxe4 6.Be2 or 6.Nc3, although it is just about playable.  After 4.Nc4 fxe4 5.Nc3, the 5...Qf7 line leads to dangerous attacking chances for White after 6.Ne3 and 7.d3, so I suggest that aficionados of the black side should rather try 5...Qg6.  In general I think this is the hardest line for Black to face psychologically since it tends to be White who gets most of the attacking chances.   

Is the Latvian Gambit refuted?  It depends on how strong your definition of "refuted" is.  I don't think it loses by force, but White certainly has a choice of ways to get a significantly greater-than-normal advantage out of the opening, and there are a few variations where I really wouldn't be happy with Black's position.

The illustrative games and analysis are here.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Evans Gambit coverage completed, some words on the Declined

After a long "hiatus" I have finally completed the section on the Evans Gambit, including a good look at the Evans Gambit Declined: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bb6.

I think Mihail Marin was right to give the Evans a lot of respect in his book Beating the Open Games: Black has no simple way to decline the gambit and reach equality, or to accept the gambit, return the pawn and reach equality.  Until the early 21st century, it was considered for a long time that 4...Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5 6.d4 exd4 7.0-0 Nge7 was the fix, but Nigel Short demonstrated in his games that 7.Qb3 is harder to crack.  Of course, Black has theoretical equality, but typically White ends up with good compensation for a pawn, typically what White wants out of this opening.

In the Evans Gambit Declined, it seems that 5.b5, Captain Evans's original idea, with the idea of picking up the e5-pawn, is alright, but not a serious try for advantage, if White meets 5...Na5 with the clumsy-looking 6.Bd3.  6.Nxe5 is tactically flawed because White ends up with two pieces attacked following 6...Nh6 7.d4 (otherwise 7...Bd4 forks the knight on e5 and rook on a1) 7...d6.

Therefore White generally plays 5.a4 with the threat of trapping Black's bishop on b6 with a4-a5, and so Black usually pushes the a7-pawn to give the bishop an escape hatch on a7.  My investigations of 5.a4 support the consensus view that 5...a5 is inferior because White can kick the c6-knight away from covering d4 by playing 6.b5, and then get a strong centre with a subsequent d2-d4.

5...a6 is the strongest response to 5.a4.  6.Bb2, with the idea of playing b4-b5 and not falling into tactical trouble on the a-file because the a1-rook is defended by the bishop on b2, does not appear to promise White much.
The most aggressive way to continue is 6.Nc3 intending 7.Nd5, although given that Black equalises comfortably following 6...Nf6 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Nd4, I suggest that White should defer the knight intrusion for another move, with 7.0-0, which makes it rather harder for Black to reach equality.  Black can generally grab the e4-pawn in these lines, but if so, White gets good compensation.

The most reliable route to a slight advantage is a slow build-up reminiscent of the closed lines of the Giuoco Piano, with 6.c3 followed by d3, Nbd2 and 0-0.  This is pretty risk-free and denies Black much in the way of counterplay, but may not appeal to some fans of this gambit, so I have devoted considerable coverage to both 6.Nc3 and 6.c3.

I think the biggest issue with the Evans Gambit is not the opening itself, but rather the fact that Black can avoid it with the Two Knights Defence, 3...Nf6.   Most in keeping with the aggression associated with the Evans are the 4.Ng5 lines (see here and here) and the 4.d4 lines (see here and here).  If any of these are suitable for you, then I can certainly recommend the Evans Gambit.  There's also the argument, if it works fairly well for Nigel Short at grandmaster level, it can't be bad at club level.

Evans Declined overview
In-depth coverage (illustrative games and analysis)

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A couple of recent games in the Sicilian Najdorf

I've had a significant operation recently and been recovering, so haven't had much time to concentrate on chess (though I did get the coverage of the King's Gambit completed earlier).

I have a couple of deeply annotated games in the Sicilian Najdorf with 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3 d6 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 that I played recently.

Note the fairly unusual move-order.  This move-order probably won't be right for most players: it works well if you're happy to play the White side of the Morra Gambit or the ...d6 lines of the Open Sicilian (while side-stepping lines like the Kan, Taimanov and Lowenthal).  The main issue with it is that after 3...a6, 4.c3 is probably best, leading to a Morra, since after 4.Nxd4, after a subsequent ...e7-e5, White doesn't have the b5-square available for the knight on d4, and that after 3...d6 (as played in these games), 4.c3 Nf6 is awkward since 5.e5 (probably best) is now met by 5...dxe5, rather than a transposition into normal c3-Sicilian lines.

These two games highlight the downside of getting involved in these sort of highly theoretical tactical lines- at club level most of us don't really know what we're doing!  But they do tend to produce pretty interesting games.

Of course, 6.Bg5 is one of the most "theoretical" responses to the Najdorf and there are plenty of ways of playing the Open Sicilian with White that are not as theoretical, though constructing a full Open Sicilian repertoire that both avoids heavy theory and maintains good attacking chances is quite tricky- some compromises will be needed one way or another against certain lines.  For those who are interested, Michael Goeller at his Kenilworthian blog, back in January 2010, suggested a relatively aggressive and low-theory approach, mostly involving early f2-f4 advances, but also see the comments section at the end of the article for an illustration of the challenges involved.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

King's Gambit coverage completed

It's been somewhat quiet on here recently, but I've managed to get the King's Gambit coverage at my site completed:

This includes coverage of the three most important ways of declining the gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5, 2...d5, and 2...Nc6.  Until a few months ago I had not really examined 2...Bc5 and so didn't really know what I was doing when I had it a few times from the White side.

Some comments on individual lines

The line 2...d5 3.exd5 e4 appears to be slightly better than I had previously thought.  Some of Boris Alterman's ideas, e.g. in the lines 4.d3 Nf6 5.dxe4 Nxe4 6.Be3 Bd6!?, and 6.Nf3 c6!?, appear to offer Black reasonable practical chances, although I agree with John Shaw that White should be able to get an advantage with accurate play in all lines.  White also appears to be slightly better against 3...c6, so Black's objectively best follow-up to 2...d5 is 3.exd5 exf4, which usually leads to a Modern Defence (2...exf4 3.Nf3 d5) but without allowing 3.Bc4 d5 4.Bxd5.  My latest examinations of that line suggest that Black might be able to equalise with accurate play but I find the positions more appealing for White than after 3.Nf3 d5.

2...exf4 3.Bc4
The most critical test of 3.Bc4 remains 3...Nc6.  The most critical line runs 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Nge2 f3 7.gxf3 d5 8.exd5 Nxd5 9.0-0 Nxc3 10.bxc3 Bd6.

White has the inferior pawn structure and an exposed king, but has plenty of open lines for the bishops and rooks.  As White I would be tempted to play Kh1 and Rg1 and make use of the half-open g-file, but it is questionable whether White can make much of this.  Probably objectively best is Stefan Bucker's suggestion 11.Qd2 intending to encourage a queen exchange with Qg5, and thus making White's exposed king less of a problem,  My analysis then runs 11...0-0 12.Qg5 Qxg5+ 13.Bxg5 Bf5 14.Bb3 Na5 15.Ng3 Nxb3 16.axb3.  The queenless middlegame gives approximately equal chances and the rival pawn majorities ensure that there is plenty of play left.  In view of this, I disagree with John Shaw's claim that 3...Nc6 is a refutation of 3.Bc4, but I think that the resulting positions are generally easier for Black to play than for White.

The assessment of this line lies somewhere in the grey area between "=" and "+=" and White tends to get most of the attacking chances, although it is probably Black's best way of getting a fairly closed position with level material against the King's Gambit.  If Black's aim is rather just to reach dynamically equal positions with level material then the Modern Defence is a better bet, and if Black has a problem with 3.Bc4 d5 4.Bxd5 then there is 2...d5 3.exd5 exf4.

There is one line recommended by Mihail Marin which has left me wondering:
3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bc4 Nc6 6.d3 Bg4 7.Na4 0-0 8.Nxc5 dxc5 9.0-0 Qd6 10.f5 Nd4 11.a4 a6 12.c3 b5 13.cxd4 Bxf3

Fedorov-Marin, Eforie Nord 2000 continued with 14.Qxf3 bxc4 here and the game was soon agreed drawn, but why not 14.Bxf7+ followed by 15.Rxf3?  I have to admit that Fritz spotted this before I did.  It looks quite promising for White.

The sideline 4...Nc6 intending 5.Bc4 Bg4 looks like it may improve slightly over the main line for Black, but White has the option of changing plans with 5.Bb5, whereupon Black's best seems to be to sacrifice a pawn for compensation with 5...Nge7 6.Na4 Bg4 7.fxe5 0-0 8.exd6 Bxd6.

White can avoid all of this with 4.c3, which works well unless Black finds 4...Bb6!  The line appears to offer equal chances in a double-edged position after 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bg4 7.Be3, with the idea of h2-h3 and meeting ...Bg4xf3 with the daring g2xf3, hoping to use the impressive pawn centre to compensate for long-term issues with king safety.  4.c3 thus remains playable but less likely to provide a theoretical edge for White than 4.Nc3.

Friday, 20 February 2015

An outing in Lev Gutman's line of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit

My next update to my Gambiteers Guild site will hopefully result in a near-complete coverage of the King's Gambit, as I am currently examining the Falkbeer Counter-Gambit and the Declined, with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5.  It appears that Boris Alterman in his gambit series has come up with some interesting ideas for Black in the "true" Falkbeer (with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4) which, though not bringing Black close to full equality, ensure that the line is worth taking more seriously than I thought.

Indeed, a few months ago I had quite an embarrassing loss as White in that variation where I played 4.d3 Nf6 5.dxe4 Nxe4 6.Nf3, the most critical response, but then lost my way.

But while my site continues to get updated slowly, in the meantime I will discuss some of my own practical encounters.

Remarkably, Lev Gutman's recommendation against the critical Ziegler Defence to the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 exf3 5.Nxf3 c6 6.Bc4 Bf5 7.Bg5 e6 8.Nh4!? Bg6 9.Nxg6 hxg6 10.Qd3) still hasn't been tested according to the database.  But I managed to reach it via transposition in a very recent game of my own.  Although I lost the game, I felt that I had decent chances out of the opening.

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Bc4 Bf5 5. f3 exf3 6. Nxf3 e6 7. Bg5 Nf6 8.
Nh4 Bg6 9. Nxg6 hxg6 10. Qd3 Be7 11. O-O-O Nbd7 12. h4 

12...Nb6 13. Bb3 Nbd5 14. Ne2 b5 15. Rhf1 a5 16. c4 bxc4 17. Bxc4 O-O 18. Nf4 Nxf4 19. Bxf4 Nd5 20. Be5 Bf6
21. g4 Bxh4 22. Rh1 Bg5+ 23. Kb1 Ne3 24. Rdg1 Nxc4 25. Qh3 f6 26. Qh7+ Kf7 27.
Bxf6 Bxf6 28. Rh6 Qxd4 29. Qxg6+ Ke7 30. Rh3 Qxb2# 0-1

The move-order from the Caro-Kann was pretty unusual- normally Black plays 4...Nf6 and then 5.f3 exf3 6.Nxf3 is a straight transposition to the Ziegler Defence.  With the move-order 4...Bf5 5.f3 exf3 6.Nxf3 e6, Black can consider meeting 7.Bg5 with 7...Be7!?, which appears to be completely unexplored.  My preliminary suggestion is 8.Qd2 intending 9.0-0-0, and if 8...Bxg5 9.Nxg5.

With the retreat 14.Ne2 I began to go astray, but the computer suggests that 14.Kb1 would have given White decent compensation for the pawn, and after 14...b5 (the problem with 14.Ne2 is rather 14...Ng4) 15.Nf4 White would also have been doing fine.  The final straw was the wildly over-optimistic 25.Qh3?, when I failed to realise that Black could simply create a secure escape hatch for the king with 25...f6.  The idea of Qd3-h3 works for White in some lines following the natural recapture with 25.Qxc4.  I also missed a "shot" with 24.Bxe6!.

An interesting fighting game and not particularly discouraging for White's cause, despite the loss.  However, I still believe that the most critical line of the Blackmar-Diemer complex is the Gunderam Defence with 1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 exf3 5.Nxf3 Bf5, rather than 5...c6 6.Bc4 Bf5.