Attack against e4 – The Latvian Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5!

This aggressive opening with Black could be your next surprise weapon – highly recommended for a must win game.

The Latvian is one of the most aggressive sound openings out there, but it is underused and largely unknown. If you’ve ever considered it before – you may have run it past an engine. They give it roughly a +1 after 3.Nxe5 (my engine lands on 1.17, meaning that it thinks White is even more than a pawn up, for nothing).

This alone may put you off reading any further – and if it does please do stop now. This opening is not for the faint-hearted. 2…f5 is basically an unmistakable statement that you intend to sack a lot of pieces for checkmate. If its stats you want, I’ve played this in Bristol league and tournament games about once a season for the last 4 years and I’ve won all 4 games – admittedly three against slightly lower rated opponents but one of them against a top coach.

It’s not played at the top level but there are a few masters and even world champions who dabble – even the great Bobby Fischer lost to it. Okay so Fischer was 11 at the time – but this game does show important attacking themes. Black benefits from the f-file being open quickly, and the bishop on d6 (staring at h2) is very typical for Latvian attacks. Because Black played f5 so early, White had no chance to calmly claim or block the centre, which means those nice diagonals are open for bishops.

Let’s see how the bishops can quickly triumph if White is greedy:

Aside: What’s a pawn worth?

Is an extra pawn going to win you the game? For Grandmasters maybe yes. It also may be the case in simple positions – one open file, obvious squares to contest, the player a pawn up can comfortably force trades and win with a pawn breakthrough. Again, simple positions. But if you are a long way off an endgame, forget about the material. It’s never just about the material, and in the Latvian gambit material is pretty much out the window.

move2

Back to move 2 – why f5?

First of all we must see the method behind the madness of f5. You should have a reason for every move you make, and it turns out f5 has many.
With e4 and Nf3 White is saying: “I’m going to castle kingside as soon as possible, distract you with defending e5, and have a comfortable life”
So what do we say in return? “Don’t get too comfy. Take my e-pawn, by all means; I’ll take yours. Or take my f-pawn and I’ll attack your only developed piece (with pawn e4 to e5). Castle kingside if you like, but I’ll quickly get a rook on the open f-file”

More strategically – you are opening the f-file for your own rook and threaten quick development by castling kingside. White can’t just let you do this, they must find something else to call an advantage.

After 2…f5!? we have several continuations. I’m not going to go into huge detail – I want to make you aware of the types of positions you get, and if you like what you see you can learn more about it on thechesswebsite.com, buy the book by Tony Kosten, or get a board out and try it yourself.

The main thing I want to tell you is that the engines have this one wrong. Well not totally wrong, but despite the evaluations a human playing White will have some major difficulty against the Latvian – unless of course they know it in great depth, which I would suggest is unlikely.

More to the point – the natural 3.Nxe5 is nothing to be scared of. The move to be mildly concerned about is 3.d4. But I will recommend a solid way to play in that case. Most of the time players will not play 3.d4 – and I’m talking about everyone below say 1900.

Why is this not played a lot?

There are some very simple answers here. It is sharp, a little bit wacky, difficult to play for both sides, and computers don’t think much of it. But the main reason I think is more psychological: Amateur players shy away from openings where they could lose quickly. Maybe it is fear of embarrassment, maybe it is the sunk cost of travelling to a venue to play a game of chess. But I’m here to convince you that is exactly the reason why you should consider these sorts of openings; because your opponent will have those same tendencies, and often will choose the safer (worse) option.

Let’s get down to some moves; so Black has two pawns en-prise – but the problem for White is they only have one move, not two. Either capture is okay for Black:

3. exf5

exf5

3…e4 4.Qe2 Qe7 5.Nd4 Nc6

and if they take our knight we take with the d-pawn, so that we recapture the f-pawn eventually and the other bishop settles on d6. They may try to hang on to the pawn but it’s not worth it.

6. Qh5+ Kd8

messy

and you can easily attack that pawn with d5, Qf6, Ne7 etc. G4 will lead to interesting games but Black should be better with the big centre and chances to make White’s queen look foolish.

3. Nxe5

Nxe5

3…Qf6
An alternative – for the real gambiteers, which I play on occasion – is 3…Nc6! 4.Qh5+ g6 5.Nxg6 Nf6! 6.Qh4 Rg8 7.Nxf8 Rg4! The engine still doesn’t love it but just look at the position below. Is White going to be loving life if they haven’t seen this before? We have rook takes e4 check coming (how many openings can say that?) with some awkward defence in store for White.

g6 line

Incidentally, Paul Keres dealt with 5.Nxc6 beautifully in this miniature.

After the main line 3..Qf6 we have 4. d4 d6 5.Nc4 and we recapture the pawn with fxe4; White stops us playing d5 with Nc3, but here’s one key move you’ll have to get comfortable with: Qg6. It seems strange to move the queen again, but we are okay – the knight comes to f6, we renew the threat of d5, and we can develop with Bd6, Bf5 or Bg4, castle and if needed tuck the queen back again with Qf7 and we are sitting pretty.

So after 6..Qg6 it is the start of the ‘main line proper’ – which is way too much to go into now, but Tony Kosten covers pretty much all the possible 7th moves for White:

mainline

Instead of capturing, White can of course ignore both pawns and develop:

3. Bc4

fxe4! 4.Nxe5 and either d5 or Qg5. Again things are going to get messy here. D5 is the most natural – but we do have to be comfortable with this line: 5. Qh5+ g6 6. Nxg6 Nf6! 7. Qe5+ Be7 8. Nxh8 dxc4 – and we are an exchange down but the knight is looking trapped – if White isn’t active then we can even walk the king over and take it.

Nxh8line

I don’t actually see Bc4 very often – but I’ll give a line that tempts White even more: 4..Nf6! Let these two games from Joseph Blackburne sway you. It’s the same opponent, who first tries to land a knight on f7, and then tries with the bishop – and gets pretty well crushed both times!

As I say, Bc4 is not too common. Among players who are unfamiliar with the Latvian, I believe the most common response will be:

3. d3

And this is just a different game. White tries to ignore the gambit and decides to save the light-squared bishop for defence. As Black we just continue with normal moves (Nf6, d6, Be7, 0-0) and plan on meeting exf5 with Bxf5.

The real test for you is when White decides to fight fire with fire, and opens up an attack on your e-pawn, with:

3. d4!

It’s a fairly decent move for White – but you’ll be okay if you memorise a few things:

  • Take the pawn that you threatened: 3..fxe4.
  • If they play Nxe5 and Bg5 then you’ll have to hold tight with Nf6 and Be7
  • Play either d5 or if you can’t then play d6 and kick the knight.
  • Remember the Latvian bishop – Bd6. For example in this game from Keres he plays d5 in response to Bc4, and his own bishop lands on d6. You don’t mind the knight staying on e5 – but you may have to get creative like Keres’ Kf8 and Kg7 to avoid tricks.

Conclusion

So – if you’ve read this far you hopefully view this opening as being worth a shot. With a bit of study, this is an awesome surprise weapon in your arsenal against 1.e4 and is a lot of fun to play.

Round 5 of a congress against the tournament leader who is half a point ahead of you? My advice is f5, Bd6, sack a rook and win the tournament in a blaze of glory.

I’ll leave you with none other than Boris Spassky employing the main line with great effect:


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of The Bristol Chess Times and is a regular league and tournament player

Sometimes everything just flows – Bristol Chess Times on Twitch

So its 22:13 on a Tuesday and I’ve just finished live streaming the first Bristol Chess Times stream on Twitch.  If you don’t know what Twitch is then don’t worry, ill explain more about our live TV channel another time.  The most important thing is i’ve just played a beautiful game of Chess…

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 22.23.57

It always seems to be the casual, non-thinking kind of games when everything just works.  As I sat here chatting away to the unknown masses watching online (Ahem – ok more like one man and his dog but hey everyone has to start somewhere) the game drifted into one of my favourite sidelines of Larsen’s Opening.  A 21 move masterpiece involving massive material imbalances?  Don’t mind if I do!

Its late and I won’t analyse it for you.  Just enjoy it for the simplicity of late night blitz conjuring up something magical.

 

I’ll be tweeting out the schedule for the live streams when we get the setup just right but in the meantime please do follow us or watch the live streams by visiting twitch.tv/bristolchesstimes

Until next time.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

You can’t calculate what you can’t see

I was playing online blitz early in the morning this week when my opponent fell into a well known mating trap on move 8.  The mating pattern is very pretty and always satisfying but it also occurred to me that it appeared to be one of those positions that everyone seems to fall into.  Bemused at why this would be the case I decided to look at some statistics and noticed that despite being a relatively rare line, every time I had had the position my opponent had walked into the trap.  I’ve talked about the difference between amateur and professional players before and this sequence is another lovely example.

The line in question stems from the Chigorin Defence of the Queens Gambit Declined.  After 7…Nxe5 it first appears that black is losing a knight.  However, it doesn’t take too much calculation to spot the checkmate threat on d1 should white decide to snaffle the knight on e5.

Indeed after white allows 7…Nxe5, black has equalised and discretion is the better part of valour for white with recommended moves such as Be2 or Nbd2.  However, in the four times I have had this position arise in my games, all four times I have delivered checkmate on d1 on move 8.  Now we can argue that these games are online and amongst amateur players but I do find it fascinating the confidence with which the black knight is snaffled on e5.  Sometimes the white player plays the mistake instantly, sometimes they think for a long while and still play the move. Why is this?

It is a common mantra amongst chess professionals and coaches that good players know when to start burning time in complex calculation.  Knowing when to invest time is a key skill. However, as well as knowing when to spend time calculating you also have to know what to calculate.  If you don’t see a threat or are blind to its existence then you will not calculate and obviously miss the risk resulting in losing to checkmate on move 8. The position in our line we are analysing, I believe, is a very good example of a position that the amateur mind struggles with.  There are a number of factors at play in the position, one or all of which could contribute to this very common mistake.  Lets list them out:

  • A queen less early middle game – Only two pieces are developed by either side and the queens have left the board.  Why would white necessarily be on the look out for mating threats against his own king?  Indeed, he or she has to calculate the knight capture doesn’t lose material (and it doesn’t) but an actual mate threat is not on whites radar;
  • The threat only arises from a vacated square – The checkmate is only possible by white releasing the power of the bishop onto d1 by vacating f3. Threats occurring by vacating squares are intrinsically harder to visualise when calculating;
  • The knight capture wins material – Whats not to like about winning material?! Greed is a powerful bias;
  • Its easy for white to believe black blundered – Until a move earlier the knight on f3 was pinned.  Following the exchange of queens this is no longer the case but it is easy to see how white would think black had miscalculated and blundered by grabbing the e5 pawn by telling themselves that black thought the f3 knight was pinned;
  • The capture on e5 creates nice threats on blacks king – As well as all of the above points, the white pieces start to build a lovely threat on f7 against blacks king.  Its easy to see how white could spend time calculating future threats and attacking options while simultaneously missing threats against his own king.

Having read the above list now lets look at the position side by side with the board flipped. Try looking at each board position and then running through the kind of thought process that white would be walking through.  I don’t know about you, but I actually think the threat is harder to see from the white side of the board because the position for white seems so appealing.

The same position from both white and blacks perspective.  Hard to believe that a mate in 1 threat exists and how the board can appear  so different from either side.

To be fair, I don’t know how many of the above factors contribute to the blunder 8. Nxe5 but it is highly likely some of them play a significant role (NB – Not a lot of people know that I am professionally trained in the analysis and evaluation of human error in complex environments.  A story for another time…).

Here we have a tempting position for white with many positive features such as material gain and kingside attacks combining with a very subtle, hard to see, totally unexpected terminal threat. A nasty combination for the amateur chess player to comprehend which seems to be the chess equivalent of all that glitters is not gold and bring me nicely to the title of this blog post.

You can’t calculate what you can’t see.

In our example, the amateur white player can calculate for as long as he or she likes but if they do not recognise the danger of checkmate then they will simply run analysis on the safety of their developed pieces and the opportunities for future attacks. Many stronger rated players could often laugh and scoff at such a blunder as 8.Nxe5 but I believe this would be unfair.  Human chess players (amateur and professional alike) are not computers. They do not calculate everything.  They only choose to calculate what stories they tell themselves.

“She’s just blundered that knight.  Surely she cannot take my pawn on e5?”

“If I take it then f7 looks weak”

“Queens are off.  There are no real threats at the moment.  I don’t see how he is gaining the piece back it must be a blunder”

“My f3 knight is no longer pinned!”

If your internal dialogue is spinning stories with a different narrative to the reality of the position on the board then the amateur player is in trouble.   In my games 100% of amateur players blundered and walked into checkmate on move 8.  Of the 9 Master Games in the database I looked at 0% of professionals did. Indeed the skill set  to remain completely objective when looking at any position is likely one of the key defining characteristics of weak vs. strong players.

I just loved this example as it seems to fall into that rare category of positions that really seems to befuddle the amateur mind.

Until next time…


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beating the boredom in the French Exchange

Several years ago I was an avid French Defence player.  For several seasons in the league and congresses my default move against the kings pawn was to push 1…e6.  Its a great opening with dozens of fascinating variations and different plans and systems.  In the world of amateur chess thou there was just one problem.  No one would let me play these lines.  Instead, anyone below 2000 would make me play the exchange variation, my dreams of exciting double edged positions that I was familiar with dashed by move three.  If only there was a way to avoid the symmetry, avoid the exchanges, avoid the tedium of the exchange positions at amateur level.  Lets give it a go…

The propensity of amateur players to default to the French Exchange variation basically killed my love of (what actually is) a great opening.  Sadly I would estimate easily 50% of my games in the French were exchange variations. Now before any readers jump on me and say “hey Jon, the french exchange is a great opening you just don’t play it like Anatoly Karpov“, I know that.  Thats my point.

Unless you plan on playing like a Super GM then the French Exchange variation is boring at amateur levels as piece after piece is removed from the board and hands are quickly shaken.

Well my experience in the French has always rankled me and having written a piece several weeks ago on avoiding symmetry in another bane of the amateur chess scene, I got round to asking myself why I should simply accept the symmetry in the French Exchange.  Having dabbled with the the nf6 Scandinavian recently I initially toyed with the idea of ignoring the capture 3. exe5 and playing Icelandic Gambit style with 3. Nf6.

Note to self:  The French Exchange is not the Icelandic Gambit!

I quickly came to the conclusion that this move is rubbish! The best that can be said is that it gives white a pawn.  Lets move on.

The Scandi-French Exchange?!

However, contemplating the Scandinavian did make me ask the question why not simply capture with the queen on move 3 instead of the e pawn?

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5?!

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 22.11.40

“Why does everyone recapture with the e-pawn?” he says…

In theory it shouldn’t be terrible as its a bit like a Scandinavian defence and if John Bartholomew says its ok to retreat a queen to d8 then who am I to argue?!

A quick look at the statistics in the database shows I’m not completely insane:

  • Played 911 times
  • White scores 54%

The numbers are encouraging and straight away could we be looking at a way to mix up the position and avoid the symmetry and exchanges so associated with the French Exchange?

The obvious follow up for White is 4. Nc3 (as played in 614 games). Instead of retreating the Queen though we do have an interesting resource of 4…Bb4 (as played in 719 games – I suspect we are in transposition territory here but thats encouraging as it means we are moving further away from the French Exchange right?!).

From this position there are a range of moves available but two in particular stand out and cause me concerns for the player of the black pieces:

#1 – 5. Nf3: Played in 465 games and scoring 61%

Or

#2 – 5. Qg4: Played in 56 games and scoring 67%

#1 – 5.Nf3

For the sake of this article I am not going to explore the myriad of move options available to white in the nf3 lines.  As I am sure you can appreciate, if the white player so wishes they can just start to play normal developing moves such as Bd3, 0 – 0 whilst there appears to be some favourable statistics for Black if they fianchetto their Queen’s bishop with an early b6.  I have included one line that demonstrates a potential route that hopefully highlights how far removed from the “traditional” symmetry of a French Exchange this position is:

1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5?! 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 b6 7. 0-0-0 Bxc3 8. bxc3 Bb7

A different kind of position to the usual French Exchange and both players have plans ahead.

#2 – 5. Qg4

But what we really need to look at in detail is 4. Qg4.  With this move scoring an impressive 67% is our early queen manoeuvre already busted?  I’ve faced early Qg4’s in the past against other lines in the French and its never that fun.  White’s threat is the g7 square, whilst preventing development of the g8 knight.  Hmmm. There is however a remarkable, hard to see, unintuitive move (in my opinion) that suddenly holds this position together for Black.

5…nc6!

5…Nc6 miraculous defends the h8 rook by threatening the d4 pawn!  

Defend the kingside by developing on the queenside obviously!  Now if White takes on g7 then the d4 pawn drops and the rook on h8 is also defended.  All for the added benefit of developing a new piece.  As you can tell, I like this move.

White spends a tempo defending d4 with 6.Nf3 followed by 6…Ne7.  In the database I found 10 games in this position and the computer evaluation is unbelievably close to 0.00.

White has tried:

  • 7.Bd2 – 6 games (-0.20 evaluation)
  • 7.Qxg7 – 4 games (0.00 evaluation)
  • 7. a3 – 0 games (but seems reasonable to me – 0.00 evaluation)

As with the 4.Nf3 lines, I am not going to explore every variation in this article but again it seems to me that Black finds themselves in an equal position, lots of play on the board and with some opportunities to complicate by giving up the g7 pawn.  It certainly feels like we are a long way from the French Exchange that the player of the White pieces wanted to take us into.

Conclusion

There is obviously a lot more detailed analysis to be conducted on this “Scandi-French Exchange” but on first glance I like what I see, particularly for the amateur player.  A quick Google revealed that none other than Hikaru Nakamura has been known to try it in blitz. To be fair he is one of the best blitz players on the planet so he could probably play anything but hey, I take it as an endorcement.

I’m sure there must be some weakness to this treatment of the French Exchange but initial review suggests its likely to be that White is not really threatened and follows simple, easy  development and both players get a playable game.  The move 5…nc6 seems to remove the sting from whites most trying response of 4. Qg4, which is a relief.

In terms of our objectives of avoiding symmetry and exchanges:

  • The e file remains closed (a common problem in the French Exchange)
  • The position is unsymmetrical with different plans available to both players
  • Amateur (sub-2000) players will be out of their (very small) French Exchange book

Finally I will leave you with an entertaining 18 move game that I found in this line (admittedly through transposition) from the Pardubice Czech Open in 2007 which shows some of the bite in this line for black.

Lovely stuff!


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

 

 

 

 

Seeking asymmetry in an anti-London system

The London System has a reputation for being solid and unexciting.  It can be a very frustrating system to play against as black because white can just adopt a series of system like moves and they will achieve a playable game, in a familiar position. Regular readers will know that I have tried to find ways to combat the London via the move order 2…Bf5 and then using principles from Chigorin’s defence. But what happens if white just decides to continue with their normal set up?  Lets take a look.

I suppose you could say that this article is the third entry in my exploration of fighting the London system using principles from Chigorin’s defence.  For those readers not familiar, my original anti-london article is here, whilst an addendum to the Nc3 lines can be found here.

In these prior articles, my approach to the London had been based on 2…Bf5 and 3. c4.  The move c4 has been recommended by numerous authors in the London system against 2…Bf5 and it was the d4, c4 pawn formation that originally inspired my thinking around an early Nc6 and e5 i.e. Chigorin’s defence.

However, there is an obvious draw back.

Despite 3. c4 being the objectively best response, white is not obliged to play it! Instead, the white player can simply continue to adopt the “classic” London set up as shown below.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 22.19.48

The “Classic” London System setup where the first 6 or so moves can be bashed out and help the Black player with any problems they might have sleeping.

As anyone who has ever faced the London will testify, it is this setup that gives the system its reputation. Rock solid with opportunities to launch kingside attacks if Black ever threatens to exchange off the f4 bishop by exchanging on g3 and opening the h file. If my proposed approach to combating the London with 2…Bf5 was going to work then I would need to find a line that created an asymmetrical structure and a presented a playable plan for Black.

Avoiding symmetry by copying whites moves?

So lets begin.  Obviously when searching for an asymmetrical position the best thing to do is mirror several of whites moves in the early opening (sigh – I know but trust me there really is little else to do that doesn’t give white an edge). The opening line is as follows 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Bf5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 e6 5. Bd3

Its the move 5.Bd3 that irritated me for so long in this position as it just results in swopping off of pieces and leading to symmetrical pawn structures. That was until I noticed the remarkable statistics in my database for the move 5…Ne7. Played in 13 games it scores a lowly 38% for white with a computer evaluation of +0.28.  Surely a move worth exploring further.

There are two moves here for white, either 6. 0-0 or 6. c3 (continuing with the usual London setup).  Lets look at 6. c3 first.

Line #1 6. c3

If white continues to follow the London system by rote then black can unbalance the position with a plan built around an f6, g5 spike, hitting the bishop before castling queenside.

Black clears the way for queenside castling and also has the nice option of a kingside pawn storm with h5 coming.  Not something white is typically used to in the London system.

Admittedly, white could play 8.h4 here to prevent 8…g5 but that leads to 8…Bd6 when the usual white plan of falling back to g3 and then opening the h-file after the exchange on g3 is not available.  The best move then is 9. Bxd6 Qxd6 10. Nd2 and black again castles long.

If white plays to deny the g5 spike then Black can exchange the black bishops and has a choice of recapturing with the c pawn, f5 knight or even queen (as shown) and castling long.  

Lets be clear.  As was often the case in my previous articles on the London, I do not claim a refutation to white in this position.  Rather I like the asymmetrical nature of the position and the ability of this setup to run counter to many of the usual plans that white tries to adopt.  In the final position of this line, the computer evaluation is -0.29 to Black.  Equality.

Line #2 6. 0-0

We have seen that if white tries to stick rigidly to the usual London structure then we can achieve an asymmetrical position and nice attacking chances on the kingside with f6 and g5.  Now lets see if that approach works after whites other most logical move, 6. 0-0.

Again in this line we use the f6, g5 threat to create an asymmetrical position and begin a kingside attack. Objectively the computer evaluation is +0.57 to white but I like Blacks options.  In the two variations explored above we see how in both lines black’s plan remains the same – Castle long and Kingside attack.

Conclusion

It took me a while but I am greatly encouraged by this line for black in our 2…Bf5 anti-London system. Whilst objectively c4 is a good response by white (indeed we see it reappear in the 6. 0-0 lines), our approach of Ne7, f6 and g5 give us a wide of options and a clear plan to reach an interesting and asymmetrical position should the white player insist on sticking to their “classic” London structure.

Most of all, I like the fact that this approach results in whites key attacking plan of exchanging on g3 to open the h file before launching a kingside attack being unavailable.

The London system is not going away anytime soon in amateur circles.  I hope that this article (and my earlier ones) have helped inspire you to tackle this solid white system in a new way straight from move 2.  Do let us know at the Bristol Chess Times if you trial our approach and if you have anymore thoughts on the “theory”.

Good Luck!


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

 

How not to play the Icelandic Gambit

Sometimes you play a game, irrespective of the result, that reminds you why you love chess. Ive been playing the nf6 Scandinavian for about 18 months but have yet to play the exciting Icelandic Gambit over the board. Fortunately I found myself facing an open minded opponent who was more than wiling to dive into complications.  I found the game very instructional from a psychological as well as theoretical perspective.  Lets take a look.

icelandgambit

Would the Icelandic Gambit offer an exciting tactical mess of a game?  Yes.  If Black knew how to play it…

The game was Board 6 of the Horfield (my team) vs. Clifton match of Division 1 of the Bristol & District Chess League. My opponent was Anton Muller who has virtually the same grade as myself (and attacking mentality).  My thanks to him for the game and permission to share.

So a great escape that highlighted all the great human elements of chess.  Throughout the game the plans and stories that I told myself led to inferior positions as I misplayed the opening and drifted into an inferior middle game.  However, in the end it was clock that was my friend not the position and the old adage of the person who makes the penultimate mistake wins.

Perhaps the most instructive lesson for me was the psychology of realising your position is busted but still has dynamic potential.  In my opinion the move 25.Nxf2 was probably the best move I played in the game and yet it actually results in a +5.00 swing to my opponent in the evaluation.

With regards to the opening, if you are interested in the Icelandic gambit then I hope this example game helps you learn how not to play the 6. Bd2 lines.  I feel I should have played Nc6 early on when he offered a queen swop and after recapturing then I would have had an immediate threat on c2.  it just didn’t feel very gambit like.

My thanks (and apologies) to my opponent for the game.  Fortunately the match result was 3 – 3 so everyone saved face in the end.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

The Beast from the East Opening

So the “Beast from the East” arctic blast has struck the UK and in typical British fashion everything has ground to a halt, including the 71st Bristol Chess Championship Congress this weekend (we will reschedule).  With a lot of chess players in the South West (and across the country) suddenly finding themselves with some spare time I thought I would write an article trying to find an opening worthy of the name “The Beast from the East”.  An opening that slows everything down, is boring and generally leaves you feeling cold.  But then I thought I have written enough articles about the London System lately (ba-dum tush!) so lets actually try to find something new!

A quick search online reveals a number of openings with suitable frosty titles such as “The Baltic Defence” (1.d4 d5 2. c4 Bf5), “The Finnish Variation of the Caro Kann” (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 h6), The Icelandic Gambit (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.c4 e6!?), multiple Moscow variations and my personal favourite the so called “Siberian Trap” in the Smith Morra Gambit” (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bc4 Qc7 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Qe2 Ng4! 9.h3?? (or 9.Bb3??) Nd4!)

siberiantrap

The Siberian Trap variation of the Smith Morra Gambit is just plain nasty!

Finally after digging a little deeper I did actually find the “Arctic Defence” to the Reti which starts with the dubious 1. Nf3 f6?!

arctic

The Arctic Defence does indeed leave me feeling cold towards Black’s chances.

I found one humorous game in the chess.com forums (thank you for posting ZBicyclist in 2010) between two amateur players that highlights some flaws with this approach and ends with Black being checkmated with a pawn on move 11, hmmm.

oopps

The Arctic was quickly conquered in this game. Ouch!

Unimpressed with the “Arctic Defence” what can we do to find an opening suitable for the title The Beast from the East?  I started to think that it would have the following characteristics:

  • It would ruin everyones plans.
  • It would be very slow.
  • It would land and then just sit there.

With my criteria set, I started looking for something remotely playable that adhered to the above rules and had some reasonable statistics with it.  Ladies and Gentlemen! I give you my candidate for “The Beast from the East” Opening:

1.d4 a6 2. e4 d6 3. Nf3 h6 (frosty!) 4. Nc3 Nd7 5. Bc4 e6 6. 0-0

bfte

The Beast from the East Opening

‘The Beast from the East” creeps in with little opportunity for fast travel but white must be careful not to skid on the Black Ice (see what i did there?!) of the incoming 6…b5 and 7…c5 as the cold Queenside front pushes forward.

Is this opening as good as its powerful name suggests?  Or is it just a minor inconvenience that will be forgotten by the end of the weekend?  I leave it up to you to decide.

In the mean time.  Wrap up warm, chuck another log on the fire and lets get the boards up.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

An Anti-London System based on Chigorin’s Defence: Part 2

A few weeks a go I published an article highlighting the idea of fighting the London System using principles derived from Chigorin’s Defence.  Given the prevalence of the London system in amateur circles and its reputation for being stodgy, I wanted to try to showcase a line that was more tactical and open in nature. The article proved very popular and promoted a lot of conversation, particularly around the 4. Nc3 lines.  Today we revisit this line to update our analysis and build upon this blossoming approach to fighting the London.

First of all, if you haven’t read my first article on this anti-London system then I strongly recommend that you do as it introduces the wider system and the four major lines of 4. Nf3, 4. e3, 4. cxd or 4.Nc3 and their respective merits. The rest of this article will not make much sense otherwise…

It was the 4. Nc3 lines that caused the most conversation online. IM Frendzas from Greece rightly questioned and then found a much superior line in the Nc3 variation that I had overlooked in the first article.  Lets take a look.

1.d4 d5 2. Bf4 Bf5 3. c4 Nc6 4. Nc3 e5?! 5. cxd5 Nb4

AL1

IM Frendzas puts our initial choice of 5…Nb4 in jeopardy

Previously I had suggested 6. e4 for white with a messy position but IM Frendzas found a nice alternative leading to a clear advantage for white, 6. Bxe5!

AL2a

“Go ahead, I don’t care about the c2 square!”

At first it seems astonishing that white can play this and voluntarily leave his king in the centre but as we will see, whites king is more than safe and ends up running to the queenside.

6…Nc2+ 7. Kd2 Nxa1 8. e4!

AL3

Black has won a rook and forced whites king to the centre yet unbelievably is in an inferior position

As IM Frendzas points out:

  • white has two pawns and a massive centre for the rook;
  • The knight on a1 is ultimately doomed;
  • The white king can run to the queenside (probably being the one to gobble the a1 knight)
  • Black is sorely lacking good squares to develop his pieces too.

Having debated the merits of the above position (the computer agrees too, giving an evaluation of between +0.7 and +0.9 for white) its hard to find much pleasure in the position for Black, no matter how great it initially looks.  The initial recommendation of 5…Nb4 doesn’t seem to be holding up  in the Nc3 lines so we need to find an alternative if our anti-London system is to survive past its infancy.

Line #4a – 4. Nc3 e5 5. cxd5

Having looked extensively at 5…Nb4 its too good for white.  Our subsequent discussions and analysis shows that the best line for black in this variation is likely to involve accepting weak pawns with the interesting move 5…exf4

AL4

Black accepts weak pawns to remove whites annoying black squared bishop

This leads to the almost forced line of 6. dxc6 bxc6 7. Qd2 Bd6 8. g3!

AL5

Black retains the bishop pair and has a clear plan of development

The position is unusual (something we wanted to achieve in our anti-London philosophy) and whites black squared bishop is no more.  The computer evaluation of this position gives us +0.3 so it would seem to give a playable position for black.

Conclusion

So our anti-London Chigorin system is still alive and kicking albeit with a necessary re-evaluation of the tricky Nc3 lines.  My thanks to everyone who has commented and contributed thus far but especially to IM Frendzas for his insight and analysis. So what is next?

Well despite almost all theory and top masters agreeing that after 2…Nf5 whites best response is 3.c4, I have still received a lot of comments from London players wanting to stick to their system with c3, e3 and the traditional London structure.  It seems that a third article may be required to look at blacks options in the event of the player of the white pieces proving particularly reticent to push the c pawn two squares.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Using chess.com explorer to prioritise opening study

For most of us in the amateur club scene we regularly purchase books or trawl YouTube for the latest “Win with Black with the Bonecrusher Opening” (editors note – This is not a real opening). Many club players spend ages reading and nodding along with the main line of their new opening only to discover that hardly anyone plays it against them.  Thus the big dirty secret of amateur chess emerges – the frequency of mainline theory is far far lower in amateur chess circles. Often the lines covered as an afterthought at the back of opening books, DVDs and YouTube under the “Other sidelines’ title are the very lines that we encounter most often. Lets look at how we can overcome this problem using a great feature on chess.com called MyGames Explorer.

For a while now I have been interested in the differences between professional and amateur chess players with regards to opening choices.  Fortunately, chess.com contains a lovely feature that does just that! Lets first look at what this feature is and where to find it and then we will look at an example using the Nf6 Scandinavian.

Looking at My Games with the chess.com opening explorer

When logged into chess.com go to “Explorer” in the navigation:

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The Explorer option is underneath the weird blue and white icon with an arrow on it…

You will see the following page:

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 09.34.00

The main Explorer page on chess.com.

At the top of the Explorer page are two dropdown menus. Change the first dropdown from “Master Games” to “My Games”.  And you will get a full breakdown of statistics for all your games.  The second dropdown menu allows you to view your games with black or white.

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With MyGames and black selected I can start to look at the opening statistics of different lines that my opponents play against me online.

Now you know where to find this great feature, lets start to use it to understand how amateur chess players differ from professional and thus aid ourselves in directing our study efforts.

Comparing Profesional to Amateur Opening Statistics – An example

Ive been playing the Nf6 Scandinavian for almost 18 months and like most players who want to learn a new opening I bought a book and started playing loads of blitz games.  I highly recommend Smerdon’s Scandinavian by GM David Smerdon if you are interested in this opening, it really is one of the best opening books I have ever read. One feature I love (which is sadly missing from most opening books) is a diagram outlining the likelihood of facing each line out of every 100 games.

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 09.46.22

The diagram (editors note – taken from Amazon’s preview feature, I don’t know why its grey and blue?!) at the start of Smerdon’s Scandinavian showing the likelihood of each line occurring. A wonderful feature for all opening books.

Im not going to dwell on Scandinavian opening theory in this article.  What I want to look at is the percentages of common lines occurring amongst professional / strong players according to GM Smerdon:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. d4 – 47% 
  • 3. c4 – 19%
  • 3. Bb5+ – 17%
  • 3. Nf3 – 11%
  • 3. Nc3 – 10%
  • All other lines – 6%

This all looks nice and normal right?  It would seem that I would be sensible to prioritise looking at d4, c4 and Bb5 lines as part of my study. Now lets compare these statistics to my own experience in online games against 1300 – 1900 rated opposition.  The MyGames Explorer feature on chess.com shows me that I have played 340 games of (admittedly blitz) in the Nf6 Scandinavian and my opponents have responded in the following way:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. Nc3 – 26%
  • 3. c4 – 18%
  • 3. d4 – 17%
  • 3. Nf3 – 13%
  • 3. Others – 8%
  • All other lines – 18%

Comparing the predicted occurrence of a line in the book to amateur occurrence shows some interesting insight:

  • The d4 mainline occurs a whopping 30% less of the time compared to predicted theory.
  • The third best line for white, Bb5, is not even on the radar of most amateurs with a measly 7 occurrences from 340 games or 2% of the time.
  • The fifth most common line at professional level, Nc3, is the most popular line at amateur level occurring 2.5 times more often.
  • Almost 20% of players don’t take on d5 on move 2 (compared to 6% of professionals).  A response widely regarded by theory as leading to inferior positions for white.
  • The propensity of greed (i.e. keep the d5 pawn) amongst professionals and amateurs is about the same (editors note – this is a joke before anyone kicks off!)

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 09.59.47

Amateur chess players seem to demonstrate an annoying obsession with 3. Nc3…

To back these numbers up in over the board play, in the last 18 months I have played the Nf6 Scandinavian 12 times with the following breakdown of white responses:

1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6:

  • 3. Nf3 – 25%
  • 3. d4 – 25%
  • 3. Bb5 – 25%
  • 3. Nc3 – 25%

Admittedly 12 games is not a large sample size but the percentages are certainly close to the amateur statistics observed online (with the exception of Bb5).

This is not the first time I have spoken about the differences between amateur and professionals in their opening choices. My article from last summer comparing responses to Larsen’s Opening has become one of the most popular blogs I have written and highlighted stark differences again. To me it is becoming clear that there is a demand at the amateur chess scene for opening statistics for the club level player to help prioritise which lines to study, especially given how time poor your average club player is with regards to study. This is exactly the gap that I see chess.com’s MyGames Explorer filling.

 

Conclusion

Whilst we all recognise that below 2000 ELO, opening study is unlikely to yield big changes in rating compared to studying tactics and endgames, we can’t get around the fact that we all love playing with our opening repertoires. Using the My Games Explorer has the potential to identify differences that we didn’t even know existed and allow us to plug valuable gaps in our knowledge at the amateur level.

I remain fascinated by the differences in move choice between amateur and professional levels and am certain that many publishers and producers of opening content could benefit from thinking about and recognising these differences.  In my opinion, we can’t ignore the fact that when it comes to amateur chess the sideline is the new mainline.

The MyGames explorer on chess.com could prove an invaluable tool to the average club player in terms of prioritising which lines to study or atleast which lines to have a response too. For example, I am now very comfortable with my response to 3. Nc3 in the Scandinavian scoring a respectable 53% with black. No I’m not telling you what it is, I need some secrets!

Thank you for reading and do let me know if you discover any other interesting differences in your own opening repertoires and if that changes which lines you study.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.