Some moves that are dismissed by experienced players as “obviously bad” moves that beginners would make, turn out to be very good, and sometimes crop up in the games of the world’s elite.
Very inexperienced players sometimes begin games like this: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+. They may play 3. Bb5 because they overvalue the significance of giving check or perhaps because the move struck them as active and aggressive. If those players continue to study and learn, they’ll learn that moves like 3. Bb5+ are typically a waste of time. Black will play the useful move 3…c6, driving the bishop away while increasing his control over the center. Over time, moves like 3. Bb5 can even become invisible to players; they won’t even be considered as possible candidates. That turns out to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. There are plenty of examples where moves of this sort are playable or even advantageous for the side that seems to be losing a tempo.
Take the position arising in the Ruy Lopez, one of the oldest openings, after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6:
White can and sometimes does play 4. Bxc6, but 4. Ba4 is far more popular. It is reasonable to ask why that is true, because Black can follow up with 4…b5, forcing 5. Bb3. Why not just play 3. Bc4? The bishop ends up on the a2-g8 diagonal anyway, so it appears as if White is giving Black two free moves on the queenside to gain space and to possibly fianchetto the queen’s bishop.
The reasoning is logical, but as is probably clear, given the popularity of the Ruy Lopez, White is not harmed by the inclusion of …a6 and …b5. The most stable way to meet the Italian game is with 3…Bc5, when a very old main line runs 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. cxd4 Bb4+ 7. Bd2 Bxd2+ 8. Nbxd2 d5, with equality. White could also try 6. e5, but Black has the nice counter 6…d5!
Black has already achieved equality.
By contrast, in the Ruy Lopez, after 3…a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 playing the same way won’t work for Black: 5…Bc5 6. c3 Nf6 7. d4 exd4 8. e5 (see diagram below) gives White a big advantage, as this time 8…d5?? doesn’t attack White’s bishop.
Other openings illustrate the same theme. In the Grand Prix Attack after 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 (2…Nc6 is better, but only if the player who is Black is ready to play an Open Sicilian variation other than the Najdorf, or is willing to meet 3. Nf3 with 3…e5) 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7:
For a long time, White used to play 5. Bc4 just about automatically. White’s plan is to castle, play d3, Qe1, f5 and try to checkmate Black. Black has a number of good counters, one of which is to put the kingside knight on e7 and play …d5. For example 5…Nc6 6. 0-0 e6 7. d3 Nge7 8. Qe1 0-0 9. f5 d5.
Frustrated by this plan, White found an ingenious tweak: 5. Bb5+ Bd7 6. Bc4!
In some sense White has lost a tempo, but it’s not a sense that’s relevant to a proper evaluation of the position. Black’s extra move, 5. …Bd7, can create problems, as the Black queen will no longer support the d7-d5 advance in the center. This idea defanged one of Black’s main defensive ideas, and forced Black to find some new defensive methods.
A recent game featuring Vladimir Kramnik, the former World Champion, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, was quite interesting. Kramnik had White against Rainer Buhmann, a German grandmaster, in the Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund in July. The game began 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Be7 7. Be3 b6 8. Qd2 0-0 9. h4 Nc6:
Kramnik now played the surprising 10. Bb5. After 10…Qc7 11. 0-0-0 a6 Kramnik retreated the bishop to d3.
A natural question would be to wonder why Kramnik didn’t play 10. Bd3 or 10. 0-0-0 followed by 11. Bd3. The latter is dealt with easily enough: Black would meet 10. 0-0-0 with 10…c4, and the bishop won’t get to d3. The problem with 10. Bd3 is subtler, but one possible answer is that Black could have played 10…f5 (which is analogous to what happened in the game), and after 11. g4 cxd4 12. Bxd4 fxg4 13. Ng5 g6 14. Nxe6 Nxd4 15. Nxd4 Bxh4 Black would have been nearly winning:
By contrast, after the game continuation of 10. Bb5 Qc7 11. 0-0-0 a6 12. Bd3 Kramnik answered 12…f5 with 13. g4. The game could then have continued 13…cxd4 14. Bxd4 fxg4? 15. Ng5, which would have given White a winning advantage:
Castling queenside made a huge difference for White, and Black’s “free” move of …a6 didn’t do much to help him. Here is the complete game, which actually ended in a draw:
Another ultra-modern finesse arises in the London System, which has recently become more popular among elite players. After 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bf4 d5 4. e3 c5 5. c3 Nc6 6. Nbd2 Bd6 7. Bg3 0-0:
The move 8. Bd3 used to be automatic, save for people occasionally playing 8.Ne5. But lately 8. Bb5 has become all the rage, with the salient point of meeting 8…a6 not with an exchange on c6 but with the surprising 9. Bd3. It might seem that the idea is to make Black’s a-pawn a target, and there may be a line where that is the case. The main point is a bit subtler. After 9…b6 10. e4 Bb7 – the same way Black would play with the pawn on a7 – White has 11. exd5.
In 25 games with 8. Bd3 rather than 8. Bb5 a6 9. Bd3 no one has bothered to play this because Black is absolutely fine after …Qxd5. In the version where Black is forced to play …a6, however, 11…Qxd5 isn’t very good because of 12. Nc4!, threatening to take on b6. That is the point. Here is an example of what can happen after 8. Bb5:
These odd finesses are not just in variations featuring Bb5. Here’s a funny example that’s been known for some time that had a high-level test in a blitz match between Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk earlier this week: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 Ng4 7. Bg5 h6 8. Bc1!? Nf6 9. Bc4.
Of course, White could have played 6. Bc4 and reached almost the same position. The one important difference is the placement of Black’s pawn on h6. One line where this difference is in White’s favor would be 9…e6 10. Bb3 b5 11. 0-0 Be7 12. Qf3 Qc7 13. Qg3.
When the nearly identical position arises through a normal Fischer-Sozin Variation move order (6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 b5 8. 0-0 Be7 9. Qf3 Qc7 10. Qg3) Black can and should castle. White can and does play 11.Bh6, and it’s still an open question whether White’s initiative can be sustained after 11…Ne8 12. Rad1 Bd7, etc. In the version with Black’s pawn on h6, however, this line is obviously unavailable to Black, as after 13…0-0?? 14. Bxh6 gives White the initiative plus a pawn. The game between Carlsen and Grischuk ended in a draw:
Carlsen, Magnus vs. Grischuk, Alexander
chess.com SF Blitz 5m+2spm 2016 |chess.com INT |Round 6 |23 Aug 2016 |ECO: B90 |1/2-1/2
1. e4c52. Nf3d63. d4cxd44. Nxd4Nf65. Nc3a66. Be3
( 6. Bc4e67. Bb3b58. O-OBe79. Qf3Qc710. Qg3O-O11. Bh6Ne812. Rad1Bd7is one of the main
lines in the 6.Bc4 system. )
6... Ng47. Bg5h68. Bc1Nf69. Bc4e610. Bb3Be7
( 10... b511. O-OBe712. Qf3Qc713. Qg3, in contrast to the similar
line given in the note to White's 6th move, favors White, because the
otherwise desirable 13... O-O??loses the h-pawn in this version for no
compensation at all. 14. Bxh6 )
There are other examples in other openings, but it is clear that sometimes a seemingly pointless move that loses a tempo is in reality a brilliant way to obtain an otherwise unavailable benefit.
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
After 9 days of intense chess battles at the last leg of the World Chess Grand Prix series 2017 in Palma de Mallorca, the two winners of the series were finally determined: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan, overall 340 points in the series) and Alexander Grischuk (Russia, 336,4 points). They qualified for the Candidates Tournament – the next part of the World Chess Championship cycle, which leads up to the Championship match.
The sole leader of the Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix Levon Aronian made a quick draw with Evgeny Tomashevsky today, inviting the group of rivals to join him at the top. But same as in the previous rounds all games on the top boards finished peacefully and not a single player came close to catching up with him.
After seven rounds Aronian is in the lead with 4,5 points. A group of 8 players is half a point behind, including Vachier-Lagrave. In order to qualify for the Candidates, the Frenchman needs to win at least one more game. Boris Gelfand defeated Alexander Riazantsev, Pavel Eljanov won against Jon Ludvig Hammer, while Teimour Rajabov outplayed Li Chao. After the victory the Azerbaijani Grandmaster still hopes to qualify, but in that case has to win both games.
Javier Ochoa, Honorary FIDE Vice President and President of the Spanish Chess Federation, made the first symbolic move to start the fourth round, which turned out to be the most exciting round of the tournament so far, with six decisive games out of nine.
In the Third Round of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca games between the four leaders, Vachier-Lagrave-Aronian and Rajabov-Giri, finished in a draw. Peter Svidler joined the group of leaders by beating Jon-Ludvig Hammer in the third round.
The world’s best chess players and chess establishment came together in Bellver Castle to celebrate the opening of the final leg of the FIDE 2017 World Chess Grand Prix Palma de Mallorca – a prestigious qualifier for the World Chess Candidates Tournament.
Katerina Lagno, one of the strongest Russian women-grandmasters won the historic Moscow Blitz Tournament, beating her fellow Russian Olympic team members Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Olga Girya.
After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players