Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pawn Formations Part 6: Dealing with that Darn Dutch Defense

Now that I got your attention with the lead in photo. I search google images for Elias Stein (1748-1812), the Dutch Chess Master who recommended 1…f4 as the best response to 1.d4. This picture came up in the first page of searches oddly enough. No relation whatsoever to Mr. Stein… but it sure was different, no?

Elias Stein was around during the days of Francois Philidor and probably frequented the CafĂ© de la Regence in Paris. He wrote that “ If the opponent opens by pushing the queen’s pawn two squares, you cannot do better than to push the king’s bishop pawn two squares.”

Other than 1..d5, it’s an alternative that immediate contests White’s quest to dominate both central squares. I like the line that immediately plays 2.g3 but even the flexible 2.c4 can transpose. After Black plays 2…Nf6 3. C4 brings us to the main line of all the major branches. It’s Black’s third move that determines the course. If he begins the finachetto with 3…g6 it follows a Leningrad Dutch. If 3…e6 is played we are going down the classical Dutch which unfolds into other realms ( like the Stonewall).

The reason I like the 2.g3 line is that with 1..f5, Black concedes his c8-Bishop’s best square to challenge the center. White playing for immediate control of the long diagonal challenges the light squares.

The critical Line so far: 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 and now 3…g6 for Black enters the Leningrad Dutch. Black plays a type of King’s Indian with the f5 push. The challenge is the weakness on e6. White actually has some flexibility with the fourth move. 4.c4 is theprinciple move but will sometimes hold off and develop the King’s knight and castle first before bringing this pawn forward. 4. Nh3 is a valid line with the intent of going to f4 blocking Black’s f-pawn. The general theme is to build pressure on e4, nothing unusual in this d4- games. However, with the King side finachetto, White can really delay the e2-e4 push and take his time to develop towards the Queen side. Getting the Queen bishop on the other long diagonal is the best way to contest the Black pieces.
With 3…e6, again 4.c4 is the principle line but can delay it until after the Kingside is developed. Though, playing 4.c4 is my choice as I would rather face the Stonewall variation (4…d4) with the option of exchanging cxd5. If Black plays 4…d6 we enter the main line of the Classical Dutch. There are similar themes with building pressure for e4. In the classical line, White can play to gain space on the Queen side. In the Stonewall, with 4…d5 5.cxd5, this sets up similar themes of minority attacks for White. With the pawn on f5 however, White has a little more of a hard time mustering up a king side attack as in the QGD-Exchange variation.

It just so happened that I was barely prepared to play this opening this past week at the club. I lost due to a strategy error. For some reason I was fearless and allowed my opponent to gain a nice outposted knight on c4.

I know, go ahead and beat me up… I already did. I did walk away with my class A player remarking that I played the strongest continuation to his variation of the Dutch that he decided he was not going to play it again at the Club because of it! So there, even when I lose, I inflict some level of intimidation. Go figure. I’ve been working on improving my strategy all week at using the mentor tools. Good stuff.

Bring on the World:

I am hitting the road this week and heading to the World open. If you are there look for me in the U1800 section. This will be my year to win… right? ( Everyone says that) I just hope to have a strong performance and play some decent chess. I am looking forward to this. If you are there and in my section, be prepared and read my blog… I want a good challenge or I will OWN you!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pawn Formations Part 5: QGA, Some hair brained Ideas

The line I am looking at against the Queen’s Gambit accepted is the Classical variation with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4. e3

For the most part, Black will not try to defend the pawn on c4 and , instead, play 4…e6. If Black plays to support the pawn with 4…b5 White responds with 5.a4 c6 6.b3 and he can prepare to occupy the center with e4.

Occupying the center with e4 seems to be the main theme throughout this opening. If given the chance this usually gives white a strong center. Black’s sharpest responses are those that challenge the center starting with …c5 and pushing White to an IQP. White can usually enter these IQP positions with an initiative.

Following the main line classical, 4…e6 5. Bxc4 c5 6. 0-0 ( I looked at the Furman Variation with 6.Qd2 which plans for dxc5 without prompting the queen exchange on d1 but Black can easily find the correct play). 6..a6 is the typical response. Black can play 6…Nc6 but its not as flexible because in some variation the b8 knight is better off on d7.

After 6…a6 I was faced with several choices as White on how to proceed. A lot of White’s choices allows Black the b5 pawn advance ( Nc3, Qe2 for instance) and a preventive move with the Bishop to Bb3 ( still supports the strong diagonal) or Bd3 to support the advance of e4 still doesn’t stop the advance of Black’s Queen side pawns. 7.e4 intends to advance to e5 but Black can still muster a counter attack on the Queenside. That is why I will look at the old main line 7.a4 as it puts a stake on b5 and slows Black’s Queenside advance.

White will play Qc2, Rfd1 and Nc3 to complete development and support e4. Black will play to exchange on d4 and put his energy on that square more so than on e5. White can get control of e5 and the center .

Atypical continuation is as follows.

7. a4 Nc6 8. Qe2cxd4 9. Rd1 Be7 10. exd4 O-O 11. Nc3 Nb4 12. Ne5 Bd7 13. Bg5 Rc8 14. Bb3 Be8

By Move 15, White enters an IQP with an initiative on the Kingside while Black position is solid.

Here is a game by Kramnik using this 7.a4 line:

My next post will be the last in this series of Pawn formations. I am looking at White’s themes against the Dutch. Hope you all enjoy this.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pawn Formations part 4: Carlsbad Formation (QGD-Exchange)

Test Driving the formations:
Before I get into a discussion of the pawn formations of the Exchange variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, I would like to tell you about my recent experience over the board. I decided to test drive my opening preparation at the Somerville Open this past weekend. First and foremost, when I say “opening preparation”, I am not advocating rote memorization. Since I play 1.d4, I expect to play closed positional games. This means understanding typical positions that come out of my openings. Fundamental to understanding the position, is the pawn structure. Knowing the essence of the pawn structure helps guide me to a more positive experience in the middle game.

Now, I’ll cut to the chase. I tied for first place in my section. Had I won my last game, I would have cleared first place altogether. I was able to play both the Samisch and the Rubinstein with favorable results. I discovered some minor tweaks that are needed in these lines as well as my Black repertoire. My tactics were sharp as I do a daily dose of 25 puzzles. The endgame is where I will need to put some polish before the World Open in 2 weeks. So look out.

Back to our regularly scheduled program on the QGD-Exchanged variation:

To address the traditional QGD player, I decided on the exchange variation as it immediately sets up the Carlsbad Pawn formation ( After, 1.d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 with e3 to follow):

In this formation, White has a choice of plans: to prepare the advance e2-e4 (usually by f3), or to play the minority attack. White has weaknesses on c4, and sometimes e4. Black will try to use the e4 post and create a King side attack.

Characteristic of a minority attack is to advance the queenside pawns followed by pieces to create structural weaknesses for Black. When White advances his b-pawn to b4, this leaves a distinctive hole on c4 begging for a Black Knight to come and perch. Black would then strive to: a) exchange the light-squared bishops, and b) attempt to place a Knight on c4 via b6 or d6 (or both). White would, of course, try to counter those plans. Black, by playing a6 to prevent b5, has some problems as well. It weakens the square b6 directly and c5 indirectl, given that if black proceeds with b6 (to strengthen c5), then the a6-pawn could come under assault.
For a good tutorial on Minority Attack basics I recommending reading this Blog post :

Though I seem to have the opportunity to play the minority attack on occasion, I find the lines developing the Nge2 to be more favorable to pawn formations I’ve been studying and prepares for the supporting move of f3 to allow e3-e4. With the following continuation after 5.Bg5, c6 ( here Black can choose the natural Be7), 6.Qc2 Be7 7.e3, Nbd7 8.Bd3 0-0 9. Nge2.

This allows for a choice of castling long and launching an all out attack in the center. I am looking into several games with this line.

Here is a game by Alekhine who was one of the first practitioners of this variation:

With the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, I am still deciding my best approach on this. I hope to cover this next time.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Pawn Formations Part 3: The Grunfeld

Ernst Grunfeld introduce this defense against none other than Alexander Alekhine in Vienna in 1922. Oddly enough, Grunfeld was known more for his classical style ( Tarrasch-Steinitz school of chess) which tended to stay on the side of avoiding complex variations. Thus, when he deployed this defense against 1.d4, he challenged one of the Hypermodern proponents from the start.

Hat tip to RC_Wood from for providing this game with annotations.

In the game, Alekhine takes on the exchange variation throwing everything including an early h4 pawn march. You see an early Bg5 which was later developed by Taimanov. He throws in a Bb5+ line made popular in the 1990’s. Alekhine’s folly seemed to be in not playing e4 early.

The main line for the Grunfeld Defense’s Exchange Variation follows: 1.d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 ( to immediately challenge e4) 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7

The position above reaches the main branching lines of either the Modern 7.Nf3 or the classical 7.Bc4. Other minor variations include 7.Bb5+ 7. Be3 7.Bg5, 7Qa5+ . This post will focus mainly on the Classical variation with 7.Bc4.

In my repertoire, with Rubinstein variation against the Nimzo-Indian and the Samisch against the KID, picking the classical in the exchange variation of the Grunfeld made the most sense since similar themes arise. The King knight typically goes to e2 but this time with the eye on f4, Castling King side is the only option, and the Queen Bishop will also go to e3 but can be played to g5 ( Taimanov variation).

The Queen rook will want most likely be used to support the c-file as Black will attack on the Queen side. White will have the initiative on the b-file in the end game but the weakness is centered around the c3 pawn. The pawn move to f3 comes about if the Black bishop moves to g4 or to prevent it in some cases.

After White plays 7.Bc4, Black has three main replies following the choices of either continuing with development or put pressure on d4. On 7…0-0, this keeps the development rush going, White plays Ne2 this is the main line continuation. The minor line with 7…b6 is a little slow and White can begin an attack on the Kingside with h4. 7…c5 makes a direct attack on the d4 square and white needs to support this with Ne2 followed by Be3 as Balck can build up forces on this immediately.

With the main line following 7..0-0 8.Ne2, Black needs to keep the pressure on d4 and white needs to respond according. Black has three main choices, 8…Qd7, 8…b6 or 8…Nc6. With the last one being the most energetic, White needs to keep the pressure balanced. Following 8…Nc6 9.0-0 is important 9…e5 10. Be3 Qe7 11.f3 Rd8 12.Rc1 gets us to a typical position in the grunfeld with dynamics on both sides:

White needs to be cautious of not advancing the pawn to d5 too soon as Black will attack the Bishop with …Na5 where typically the bishop goes to the more aggressive square of d5. The Bishop is on a good diagonal ( a2-g8) for a king side attack if he can muster the troops.

If Black plays 8..b6, White can immediately begin a King side assault with h4. If Black follows with Nc6 , white will play Bd5 almost immediately if he can. If Black plays the 8…Qd7 first, white has time to castle. After 8…Qd7 9.0-0 b6 then white can actually begin an assault with the e4-e5 push. With the Bishop on c4 ( a2-g8 diagonal), the troops will rally to Nf4, Qg4 h4 and h5 if allowed, making for a strong attack.

Similarities and differences within the repertoire so far:

It helps limit the breadth of opening variations to study if you can find similarities with certain groups. With the Samisch, Rubinstein and Grunfeld variations I reviewed in this past three posts, the similarities can be seen in early piece placement and d5-e4 pawn chain formations. But I have to caution about following “rote” systems of piece placements as the three variations covered are all very dynamic openings not meant for “safe” piece placement until you reach the middle game. Rather, knowing the nuances is critical and will help broaden my understanding of this complex game.

For instance, look at White’s King Bishop in all three opening variations. In the Grunfeld Exchange mainline, there is no doubt that the best placement for the King’s bishop is on c4 which is created after cxd5. This can not be achieved in either NI-Rubinstein or KID-Samish. In fact, the King’s Bishop becomes more of an awkward piece with Ne2 played early delaying the development of the king side.

Another factor to consider is when Black plays b6. The Fischer variation of the Rubinstein in the Nimzo-Indian is the most critical challenge ( in my opinion) and white needs to play energetically to save the king side. In the Grunfeld, this is more innocuous which usually allows white to grab some King side attacking initiative.

The last point I will bring up is White’s advance of the d-pawn to d5. We see this as a space grabbing move for the KID and NI variations discussed. This closes the center allowing for some careful piece maneuvering. The Black pawn on d6 could become an endgame liability so the middle game requires the right balance of piece migration and wing attacks. However, once the d-pawn is removed like in the Grunfeld, the position is not as closed. Both bishops are present for both sides. Quick precision and initiative take precedent over positional maneuvering.

I’m fired up! Next post I will look at the QGD orthodox and QGA.