Or perhaps I should have named this post “How to Make a Draw Among Friends?”
The ongoing tournament in Ivory Coast, part of the Grand Chess Tour, saw the game Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi in Round 1. It featured the Gothenburg Variation of the Najdorf.
A line with rich history and alas, no future. Introduced in Round 14 of the Gothenburg Interzonal in 1955 by the Argentinian trio of Najdorf, Pilnik and Panno in the games against the Soviet players Keres, Spassky and Geller, respectively, it was handsomely met by the spectacular move 13 Bb5! (first played by Geller, as the story goes) and it resulted in the Argentinian fiasco with three beautiful wins for the Soviets.
It was considered that the line was refuted by this move, but three years later, citing sources from a Soviet magazine, 15-year old Bobby Fischer improved with the incredible 13…Rh7! in the crucial game against Gligoric in the last round of yet another Interzonal (in Portoroz) to secure qualification for the Candidates Tournament in 1959. (Another story goes that Fischer actually asked Gligoric about this line at some point earlier in the tournament – while swimming – and Gligoric said he didn’t know much about it.)
Fischer’s move is considered best even nowadays and the analyses have shown that this line ends in a draw. This has been known for a very long time.
However, another thing has also been known for a very long time. And that is the fact that the move 11 Qh5! (instead of the flashy sacrifice 11 Ne6) leads to an advantage for White, thus basically refuting the Gothenburg Variation.
Here’re the details (note that I’m using lichess for this one as chess.com has been having some issues with the game viewer):
Please bear in mind that by “refutation” I don’t necessarily mean a lost position for Black, but rather a prospectless position at the end of the line, making the whole variation unappealing to play. Similarly, you can take a look at another refutation here.
It is quite apparent that both Karjakin and Nepomniachtchi played this “game” in order to make a spectacular draw, as I am pretty sure that both knew the best way how to play against the Gothenburg Variation.
Some time ago Carlsen brought up the subject of these kind of “games” and it gave rise to some controversy with the accused Karjakin and Mamedyarov denying vehemently. But if you have been in the business for long enough, you learn to detect these things and understand what is happening under the surface.
Circumstances aside, bringing up the forgotten page from chess history, the Gothenburg Variation, is something I appreciate, so thanks to both players for that. After all, they could have played the Exchange Slav instead…
Bobby Fischer said that a turning point in his career came when he realised that he can play for a win with Black too, even against the strongest players.
I assume that this realisation must have happened during the period 1960-1963, because at that time he was still playing 1…e5. Fischer had relatively short draws in the Cordell Variation of the Ruy Lopez where he didn’t get chances at all in the Buenos Aires tournament and the Leipzig Olympiad in 1960. Even though his last two 1 e4 e5 games are from 1963, more or less from that period onwards he switched completely to the Najdorf. From the mid-60 he also incorporated the Alekhine Defence, but he never returned to 1…e5.
Nowadays there is no elite player whose repertoire does not include the 1…e5 move (barring the honourable Frenchman with 2 surnames and Nepo). After 1…e5 all of them play the Berlin Defence.
The World Champion is not an exception. He built his solidity around the Berlin and it has served him well for a very long time.
Then something happened during the preparation for the match with Caruana. Whether he thought that he should play different type of positions against this particular Challenger, or he wanted to change his approach with Black generally, or perhaps something else, Carlsen decided to adopt the Sveshnikov Sicilian as his main defence against 1 e4.
An interesting decision, the Sveshnikov. Kasparov used it several times as an alternative to his Najdorf in the early 00s and Gelfand made it his main opening in his World Championship match against Anand in 2012. Both did rather well. Still, generally speaking, it was considered that the opening lost a great deal of its former glory thanks to the line 11 c4:
This line stabilises the centre and largely kills Black’s dynamic counterplay. This change of character wasn’t to the liking of many Sveshnikov players and slowly the opening gave way to the eternally dynamic Najdorf.
So when Carlsen adopted the Sveshnikov, the first question I asked myself was, what does he have in mind against 11 c4? We are still waiting for the answer, as the only time so far this was played against him was in the blitz game with Nepomniachtchi, where the Russian was late for the game (!) so Carlsen accepted a draw after 11…b4 12 Nc2 a5 13 g3.
Theory aside (for this I invite you to join my newsletter using the yellow box on the right, since soon enough I will send a theoretical overview of Carlsen’s treatment of the Sveshnikov), I am very curious about the psychological implications of the use of this line of the Sicilian.
Let’s start with what Carlsen has said himself. He was quite open saying that he liked playing the position where he felt Black had easier play. This concerns primarily the 7 Nd5 line, played very often against him since the match with Caruana. In his own words, the engine gives an advantage to White, but when preparation ends then it is easier for Black to play who often has excellent compensation for the often-lost h5-pawn in view of an attack. His careful study of these positions has helped him understand the dynamics much better than his opponents – after the match he’s beaten van Foreest, Navara and Karjakin with only Caruana drawing.
Dynamism is present in the whole Sveshnikov, but at various degrees. If the above-mentioned line with 11 c4 lowers it to the minimum, the lines where White takes 9 Bxf6 gxf6 are one of the most dynamic ones in the whole theory of chess openings, while the positions after 9 Nd5 Be7 10 Bxf6 Bxf6 are somewhere in the middle. The level of dynamism is determined by White’s choice of lines, meaning that Carlsen is prepared for a different type of battle in each game he plays the Sveshnikov.
Does Carlsen’s newly-found liking for the dynamics mark a new phase in the development of the World Champion? Carlsen’s results in 2019 show that it appears that he has found his reliable mainstay opening against 1 e4 that, and this is crucial, allows him to play for a win with Black against any opponent.
Just like Fischer and Kasparov before him with the Najdorf, Carlsen may be equally successful with the Sveshnikov. It won’t be much about the actual theory and preparation, but more about the understanding of the inherent dynamics of these positions that will determine the outcome of his future games. So far, Carlsen seems to be ahead of the others in this aspect.
Still, nowadays the moat is always narrow as people learn to catch up very quickly. They will learn to understand the dynamics and Carlsen’s advantage may disappear. To quickly adapt and change is a vital advantage in today’s game. But that time still hasn’t arrived for Carlsen and, besides, he can adapt too.
While I don’t think this played a major role in his choosing of the opening, compared to the Najdorf, the Sveshnikov has one important advantage – it is more practical. If on White’s move 2 the possibilities are the same, after 2 Nf3 d6 White has quite a lot of sensible ways to avoid the Najdorf: 3 Bb5+, 3 Bc4, 3 c3 (not to mention the other, less critical ones) and even after 3 d4 cd there is 4 Qd4 and 4 Nd4 Nf6 5 f3. White also has the move-order 2 Nc3 with various ideas based on g3 and Nge2 while keeping the option to play d4, in addition to the Grand Prix Attack.
In the Sveshnikov these options are very limited. There is 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bb5 (as the Grand Prix is considered harmless after 2… Nc6) and after 2 Nf3 Nc6 only two options remain – the Rossolimo 3 Bb5 and 3 Nc3. This fact that White doesn’t have too many ways of avoiding the Sveshnikov may be very important in practice.
Carlsen’s choice of the Sveshnikov is definitely good news for the chess public. We already saw some and will definitely see more exciting games with the World Champion being aggressive with Black. The only danger lies in the possibility that people stop playing 1 e4 against him, but then again, as they say, you can run, but you cannot hide…
The Najdorf. The ultimate desire for many, a common-place occurrence for others. I have a feeling that when it comes to the Najdorf there are two possible feelings about it: you either love it or you’re petrified of it.
I have always fallen into the first category. The reason is that I’ve played it since I was a kid and the main reason for the fear of the second category, the mind-boggling amount of theory, didn’t bother me because I learned it as I was growing up and that knowledge built itself inside me.
I have been approached way too many times with lamentations of “I would like to play the Najdorf, but there’s so much theory, I cannot study all that.” And I understood them, starting to learn the Najdorf from scratch is not a task for the faint-hearted.
However. When I stopped to think a little about it, I realised that a lot in the Najdorf is based on good understanding. And that understanding mostly revolves around the d5-square and what should be done about it. When I pushed the concept a bit further I realised that with the help of modern theory there is a chance for not-too-theoretical repertoire to be created.
My main goal with this repertoire was to provide the student with a feeling for the Najdorf positions. Once you have that feeling then even a surprise in the opening will not be enough to disturb you or prevent you from finding a good antidote. I provided ample textual explanations of the critical positions and the chapters with model games and typical strategic and tactical motifs were aimed exactly at this.
The second goal was of course the theoretical knowledge. The Najdorf is theoretical, there is no going around it. I tried to present the basic theoretical knowledge necessary for the student to be able to play the Najdorf. I concentrated on the modern lines, the ones that are most popular today, with enough information on the traditional variations that are less trendy nowadays.
The repertoire consists of the following chapters: Introduction, The Positional 6 Be2, The Sozin 6 Bc4, The English Attack 6 Be3, The Aggressive 6 Bg5, The 6 f4 Line, The Fianchetto 6 g3, The Modern 6 h3, Odds and Ends and also the afore-mentioned chapters Model Games and Strategy and Tactics. The theoretically heaviest ones (meaning with the most forcing lines requiring memorisation) are The Sozin and the Aggressive 6 Bg5.
Wherever possible (or practical) I proposed the typical Najdorf move 6…e5 as a reply to White’s 6th move attempts. Theoretically speaking Black is in fantastic shape in these lines so there was no reason not to take advantage of it!
I think that the main advantage of this repertoire, and this aspect took a lot of hard work, was that I succeeded to narrow down the theory to a manageable level. A lot of secondary variations were explained in textual terms rather than lines – from my experience of working with students I discovered that they remember better when things are described with words rather than with moves.
The books I used to learn the Najdorf from, The Sicilian Defence by Lepeshkin (in Russian), Najdorf for the Tournament Player, The Complete Najdorf: Modern Lines and The Complete Najdorf: 6 Bg5, all by John Nunn, were hefty tomes. I never found them difficult and always enjoyed working with them, but to be honest, had I had the resources available now, I would have definitely chosen the much more efficient ways provided by modern technology.
My effort to provide a concise yet profound Najdorf repertoire and to give a chance to everybody to try this wonderful opening is now before you to judge. I can only hope I did a good job.
By Alex Colovic
What is the barest minimum a club player needs to know in order to play an opening?
Chessable’s course The London System: Essential Theory by IM John Bartholomew and FM Daniel Barrish aims to answer that question. Taking one of the most popular opening systems for White they attempted to create a repertoire that doesn’t require much memorisation and follows the “keep it simple” principle.
The London System as an opening has the major upside of White playing more or less the same moves against pretty much everything. It has however the downside of allowing Black to react in pretty much any way he likes.
The authors grouped the material based on Black’s set-ups. There are seven theoretical chapters, one chapter with model games and one chapter with tactics. The theoretical chapters are: …d5 without …c5, …d5 with …c5, Queen’s Indian Defence Setups (this basically means when Black fianchettoes the c8 bishop, as plans with and without …d5 are included here), King’s Indian Fianchetto Setups, Benoni Setups, the Dutch and Odds and Ends.
The London has the reputation of being a positional opening, but the authors took a different approach, trying to go for aggressive set-ups whenever possible. For example, against the Kingside Fianchetto set-ups for Black they recommend the move 3 Nc3 (after 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6) and if Black plays 3…Bg7 they transpose to the Pirc by 4 e4. In this Pirc with a bishop already on f4 they go for the natural Qd2, 0-0-0 plan with kingside attack.
So the London can become a Pirc. It can also become other openings, as the authors do not remain contained in the typical Bf4, c3, e3 frame. In the Odds and Ends they also look at the Philidor Defence (via 1 d4 d6 2 e4 Nf6 3 Nc3 e5), some Benoni setups enter into Benko Gambit territory and so on. The London is so much more than only London.
But if it is so much more, how is the club player supposed to remember all that?
The authors solve this question by keeping the length of the lines up to approximately 10 moves. The longest variation I noticed was 17 moves long and it is the only forcing line in the repertoire. Naturally, keeping the lines short means that many things need to be left out, for example in the Philidor the line is 9 moves long and at that point theory only begins, but that is the point of the whole repertoire – it is supposed to be Essential and not In Depth.
Having learned the lines in this repertoire the club players can be confident when meeting any Black set-up against the London System. They will know how to develop their pieces and what their middlegame plans are. And that is all they need to know in order to obtain a good position before they start enjoying the process of playing.
One of the best things that happened with the rise of chess engines is that it is almost impossible to find a bad book on openings nowadays.
Every author knows all too well that his lines will be checked in great detail by his readers, who often will be equipped with better hardware than himself. This means that the level of quality of today’s books has risen as a result of the authors’ conscientiousness.
With the World Championship match under way it is no surprise that the repertoire of both participants is under the microscope of the chess public. The Challenger’s success with the Petroff Defence has been beyond all expectations, so it is only logical to try to emulate his choices.
IM Christof Sielecki has done just that. In his latest work for Chessable, he devised a repertoire based on Caruana’s choices facing 1 e4.
It is very interesting for me to see what other people think about lines where I have also done some work. Since I have also prepared and played 1…e5 (and the Petroff, for that matter!) I was curious to see what Christof had to offer in the repertore.
The first thing I discovered was a move I didn’t know existed. This was already a good sign – after all if a GM doesn’t know of an existence of a move, then certainly less experienced opposition has even less chances of knowing it! The discovery lay in the Central Gambit: after 1 e4 e5 2 d4 ed 3 c3, I have always considered the move 3…d5 to be the easiest and best way to deal with the gambit. That is what I had prepared, analysed and played. Christof acknowledges the strength of the move, but suggests another one: 3…Qe7 and goes on to prove that in fact Black is better in all the lines.
That was already an important discovery early on!
The second thing that struck me was the author’s honesty. In the King’s Gambit, after 1 e4 e5 2 f4 ef 3 Bc4 he gives the line 3…Qh4 4 Kf1 d6 and readily admits that he only adjusted some analysis already given by other authors – in this case GM Jan Gustafsson (in his DVD) and Nikolaos Ntirlis (in his book). He backs his decision with the logic that if something is good you simply recommend it, even if you haven’t come up with it yourself. No need to reinvent the wheel.
He did the same for the line with 3 Nf3, recommending the Schallopp Defence 3…Nf6, again basing his choice on analysis by other authors. All this suggests that Christof is up to date with the latest theoretical developments and published material and he was able to filter and adapt them best for his students’ needs.
One of the good things about playing the Petroff Defence is that it is practical. You get your opening only after 2 moves, which means that White’s deviations are only on move 2. Against all these deviations, as we’ve seen with the King’s and Central Gambit, the suggested lines are well-covered and explained. I liked the fact that against the Vienna after 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 he recommended the line with 3…d5, leading to easy development for Black.
Since the repertoire is based on Caruana’s games, against the Bishop’s Opening the author follows the game Carlsen-Caruana from this year’s Norway Chess tournament. He offers an interesting improvement over Caruana’s play based on a correspondence game from 2016. I had a brief look and it appears that Black is indeed OK there.
I found it somewhat surprising that the choice after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 was the move 3…Nc6, giving White the option of the Four Knights and the Scotch. I have always considered the move 3…Bb4 to be the more practical choice as it cuts down on the theory you are required to know after the above-mentioned openings.
Still, the suggested line after the Four Knights is the move 4…Bc5 (a bit more dynamic than the traditional 4…Bb4 or the simplifying 4…Nd4) while in the Scotch the author recommends the latest wrinkle after 1 e4 e4 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 ed 5 Nd4 Bb4 6 Nc6 bc 7 Bd3 0-0 8 0-0 d5 9 ed Bg4!?, a move very recently employed by a lot of top players.
The core of the repertoire is of course the Petroff, and here he follows the reliable paths. It was interesting that against 3 d4 Ne4 4 de d5 5 Nbd2 he prefers to follow Caruana’s game with Grischuk from the last round of the Candidates tournament in Berlin, where he played 5…Nd2, rather than his later game with Vitiugov from Grenke where he introduced the stunning 5…Qd7. I assume this was done because the former move is easier to play conceptually.
In the Main Line the author again follows Caruana with 6…Bd6, a move he single-handedly revived. Theory is well-established there and Black doesn’t have problems.
In the currently most popular line with 5 Nc3 the author proposes a very interesting improvement over Caruana’s play in his game with Carlsen from this year’s Sinquefield Cup where Carlsen introduced the rarely played 8 Bc4.
Theoretically speaking the Petroff is one of the most solid openings and in spite of its reputation it is not boring at all. The authors shows many exciting and aggressive lines for Black which can make for a very entertaining time spent behind the Black pieces. The Petroff is also a highly theoretical opening, so as long as all is well with the student’s memory, this opening can serve a player for a lifetime.
The full course is available on Chessable and you can also check out the free promo just in case you need to see what’s in store first.
The third and final part of my repertoire based on the QGD is out and this concludes the whole series. This means that now there is a video course to complement the analysis for “everything except 1 e4.”
This part is divided in 4 chapters, The London System, the Trompowsky, The Rest and the Catalan. Theoretically speaking the London and the Catalan are the most important ones; the Tromp without a knight on f6 (1 d4 d5 2 Bg5) isn’t very threatening, while The Rest deals with obviously the rest plus the innovations of some of the world’s most original players Jobava and Rapport (mainly 1 d4 d5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Bf4).
The London System and the Catalan are among the most popular openings today, so it is crucial to be well-prepared against them. Even though the book was published last year, I re-checked everything and I can confirm that I am still perfectly happy with my proposed lines.
As theory doesn’t stand still I also made sure to provide updates where it was required. These were added to the analysis and also feature on the video.
The main update concerns the Catalan, as the line suggested in the repertoire (4…dc 5 Bg2 Bd7) has become one of the most popular choices against it. Last year at the FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi Maxim Rodshtein introduced the very strong novelty 10 Qc2 in the main line. He obtained very promising positions in his match against Hovhannisyan and even won the match thanks to that novelty. Since Black was suffering there I had to find an antidote and hopefully I managed to do so.
Recording the video was again a process that gave me both pleasure and anxiety. There is something about being in front of a camera and while I cannot call my videos “a performance” there is something of a thrill in the fact that quite a lot of people will be watching you. That same fact gave me also a lot of anxiety, a result of my desire to provide the best quality for the audience. In fact I would appreciate some feedback on it, so thanks for your time if you decide to give one.
You probably know by now that I created a repertoire for Black based on the QGD for the chess-learning site Chessable. The links to the repertoire can be found on the right under My Chessable Books.
The video format is becoming increasingly popular. In spite of my reservations about it, I also joined the hype and decided to upgrade my course with a corresponding video course. The first part of it, on the QGD, has already been published and it is receiving excellent reviews. There is also link to it on the right, just below the first banner.
Recording video is a tough process. I already have some experience with it and I can honestly say that I now understand the film stars when they say how difficult filming is. Not that I feel like a film star, but I do not have re-takes of my recordings, which means that when you watch a clip bear in mind that it was recorded in one take – me sitting there and talking for hours.
Yesterday Chessable released the second part of the full repertoire where I discuss the Reti, the KIA, the Nimzo-Larsen 1 b3, the Bird’s Opening and the other various first moves.
Some time passed since the publication of the repertoire, so for this course I wanted to provide updates of several important variations. These are all included in both the video and the files. I think my suggested shortcuts and improvements will make the student’s task much easier when learning the intricacies of the Reti Opening.
From what students tell me, the video format is very good for internalising the material. This is probably due to the fact that the student both watches the chess board and listens to the audio explanations, thus being exposed to the same material twice and at the same time. I hope I managed to continue in the same vein as with the first part on the QGD and this video course with the updates makes your repertoire even better and of higher quality.
I invite you to take a look at my latest video course here.
Daniil Dubov is one of the more original thinkers in modern chess. If you look at it at face value it is very easy to be original, just do something nobody has done before. The trick is to be original and good at the same time.
Dubov is one of the rare breed of very talented and strong young players who is also quite original. I am primarily speaking of his opening ideas, who cannot but catch your attention.
In my newsletter (use the friendly yellow box on the right to subscribe if you wish) I already noted some of his new ideas in the Grunfeld (he is a Grunfeld player with Black) and here I would like to draw your attention to his latest novelties. Currently he is playing the Russian Superfinal (just finished today), where in spite of the good start and leading the tournament he lost the rhythm and dropped to a minus score in the end. Curiously enough, he first won 2 games with Black before losing the next 3 with the same colour.
I am sure he will learn to deal with the pressure of being a leader, but in the meantime we can look at and perhaps pick up some of his ideas from the tournament.
In Round 2 Dubov introduced a true novelty on move 8 (it hasn’t even been played in games between computers or online!):
Even though he didn’t win the game this looks like an interesting way to steer the game clear of the usual paths. Black can probably neutralise this novelty, but that is difficult to do during the game as a GM as strong as Oparin failed to do so.
In Round 5 Dubov played a shocker (at least for me) on move 6!
Objectively speaking, Vitiugov reacted very well to Dubov’s 6 Nd2 and obtained a good position. But perhaps White’s play can be improved upon?
In Round 7 playing White against Fedoseev, Dubov continued in similar vein with the already-established aggressive treatment in the trendy …a6 lines in the QGD. Only this time the move e4 turned out to be a new one.
It is my impression that these lines with …a6 in the QGD work better when the White knight is already on f3!
Dubov’s ideas are very interesting and exciting, sometimes even shocking, so I always make sure to take a look at this games, wherever he plays. I would suggest doing the same if you are looking for ways to spice up your opening play, you won’t regret it!
It was hard work, but eventually I think it was worth it. In more than 8 hours of video I go through every single line of my proposed repertoire and explain all the subtleties of the move orders and typical plans and ideas. I paid particular attention to the tactical motifs I didn’t mention in the comments and also to the so-called problem moves that the readers found difficult while studying the repertoire on the platform.
The course consists of an Overview, which you can see on my YouTube Channel, and 5 videos, one for every chapter of the book. These are The Exchange Variation, the Main Line 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bh4, the Main Line 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bf6, the Main Line 5 Bf4 and the 5th Various moves by White.
What I liked about the recording of the videos is that we managed to do it in a really professional manner. I would like to thank David (the Chessable CEO) for his dedication and attention to detail – if it wasn’t for his professionalism the final product wouldn’t have looked that good!
I have limited experience when it comes to recording, but I also cannot deny that I liked the process. It was tough, yes, we filmed more than 8 hours of video in a day and a half, but there was something special being seated in front of a camera and addressing an invisible audience that I knew was listening and paying attention!
I already wrote that the repertoire is based on my own analysis and preparation. In the videos I tried to add a new dimension by providing explanations that I didn’t include in my written commentary. My readers have also played a big role in improving the repertoire as during the course of its use they have come up with various questions and I hope that my answers helped clarify their doubts.
Chessable is launching the video course today and you can even see a whole chapter as a free sample. The chapter on the Main Line 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bf6 is 1 hour and 20 minutes long – please take a look and see the work we’d done:
More than 10 years ago I was really looking forward to May and spring. It meant going to Cuba to play the Capablanca Memorial.
I played in Cuba in 2005 and 2007. I freely admit that big part of the Cuban attraction lay in the exotic nightlife and the great fun to be had in the surreal atmosphere of Havana. What great times they were!
This year’s Capablanca Memorial has again an open tournament and a double-round robin elite event alongside. While browsing through the games I noticed this very interesting idea in the Rossolimo Sicilian. It was played by my friend GM Yuri Gonzalez.
Ideas come easily in surroundings that are susceptible to their creation. For me Cuba was an attack on all my senses and understanding of how things should be done. It took me some time to get used to it, but once I did, it was just going with the flow. Here’s an exciting game from 2005, played after meeting Ozyris the previous night.
Thinking of Cuba always makes me smile. For me it was indeed Cuba Libre, in all possible senses. And I suppose spring will always remind me of Cuba.