Blog Post 18-03-2013 The Big Clamp

Tue, 2013-03-19 14:33 -- IM Max Illingworth

Blog Post 18-03-2013
The Big Clamp
Having covered the World Champions and some recent tournaments in my latest blog posts, I want to show an Anti-Sicilian system – the Big Clamp – that is not especially common but which poses Black fresh problems compared to the main lines and is fairly easy to understand – White wants space and lots of it! If you are an inexperienced player then this opening setup may be a bit too advanced, and in that case I would suggest an opening leading to more open and sharp positions, like the Open Sicilian, Alapin or Morra Gambit. Even then it still doesn’t hurt to learn something about openings you don’t intend to play and at a higher level it’s actually important to be able to play a wide range of openings and positions well.
The pawn structure that defines the Big Clamp is: c3/d3/e4/f4 – which gives White a solid stake in the centre and the possibility of expanding this centre with an eventual d4:
The Big Clamp Structure

1.e4 c5 2.d3 -- 3.f4 -- 4.c3

If Black counterattacks in the centre with ...d5, White will take more central space with e5, often followed by d4, as follows:

The Big Clamp Structure II

 1.e4 c5 2.d3 -- 3.f4 -- 4.c3 d5 5.e5 -- 6.d4

Black’s problem in the latter structure is that he is short of space, and if he doesn’t find a way to create counterplay White’s position will get better and better until Black is crushed. Objectively the Big Clamp shouldn’t give White an advantage (or else everyone would play 1.e4 in the Candidates) but it does give White the chance to reach middlegame positions he will know better than the opponent, provided he has closely studied the games of a specialist in the variation. That’s exactly what we will do here – look at the games of Luke McShane with this system – he’s managed to score some very good wins indeed with the Big Clamp.

To begin, let’s see how McShane managed to beat the strong theoretician Ivan Cheparinov in a mere 20 moves! That’s shorter than a lot of theoretical variations!

[White "McShane, Luke J"] [Black "Cheparinov, Ivan"] [Result "1-0"][ECO "B21"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]

1. e4 c5 2. d3 {This is the most obvious move order for reaching a Big Clamp,
though we'll see that 2.f4 is also a plausible move order.} Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3
{In this game White actually doesn't play c3, preerring instead to keep the
option of Nc3 which would reach a Closed Sicilian type of position.} Bg7 5. Be2
(5. g3 d6 6. Bg2 Nf6 7. O-O O-O {is another way to play the position, but
McShane has generally preferred to put the bishop on e2 and develop the
kingside as fast as possible.}) 5... d6 6. O-O Nf6 7. Qe1 {With this move
White prepares an idea well known from the Grand Prix Attack - Qh4, f5, Bh6,
Ng5 and checkmate Black's king! And that's pretty much what White does in this
game.} O-O 8. Qh4 c4 {White sometimes has to watch out for this move in the
Clamp, but normally it doesn't harm White as long as he's kept his pawn on c2,
to meet cxd3 with cxd3 keeping that basic Clamp formation.} (8... b5 {is
probably better, but after} 9. Kh1 Rb8 10. f5 gxf5 11. Bh6 {White does get an
attack for the pawn, though whether it is enough is another question. Of
course White can play more simply with 10.Nbd2 instead.}) 9. Kh1 cxd3 10. cxd3
Bg4 (10... d5 11. e5 Ng4 {was probably better, trying to disrupt White's
kingside attack by playing ...d4 and ...Nh6-f5.}) 11. Nc3 Bxf3 12. Bxf3 Qb6 {
Black treats the position just like it's a Closed Sicilian, but this is no
Closed Sicilian! The d4-square might seem a bit weak but White has the bishop
pair and attacking chances on the kingside to compensate for that.} 13. Bd1 {
This nice manoeuvre prepares both Rf3 and f5. Also 13...Nd4 could be well met
by 14.Qf2 pinning the knight.} Qa6 14. Rf3 Rfc8 {Moving pieces away from the
defence of the king isn't a good idea when White's about to attack on the
kingside, but already Black's position was a bit uncomfortable and the same
ideas as in the game would remain quite dangerous. Black's problem is that he
can't get any play against White's rock solid central formation - with the
centre fairly closed it's a lot easier for White to attack on the flnak.} 15.
Rh3 (15. f5 {was also very strong.}) 15... h5 (15... h6 {shows why 15.Rh3 was
inaccurate; now} 16. f5 {is met by} g5 {closing the kingside.}) 16. f5 {Now
Black's kingside is ripped apart, and with moves like Rg3 and Bg5 coming it's
already hard to find an adequate defence.} Ne5 17. Bg5 Kf8 18. fxg6 fxg6 {This
recapture has weakened the light squares terribly, so Luke takes full
advantage.} 19. Bb3 {White has a totally dominating position - Black's pieces
look very silly, his king is weak and ideas such as Rf3, Rd1 and Nd5 will
crash through in the centre.} Nxd3 20. Rf3 {Black resigned as the threat of
Bxf6 followed by Rxf6 wins a lot of material or checkmates and} Ke8 21. Bxf6
exf6 22. Rxf6 Bxf6 23. Qxf6 {with threats of Nd5 and Ba4 is still crushing.}

A crushing example, isn’t it? However the Big Clamp isn’t normally such an attacking style – generally White aims to slowly squeeze his opponent, first establishing a space advantage in the centre with a d4 break (after developing all his pieces, of course) and then steadily increasing his space advantage and improving his piece placement until Black runs out of room and positionally collapses.

Of course, to be successful with an opening one also needs to understand the typical endgames that can arise from the variation. The following game by McShane is a slow manoeuvring game so I won’t annotate it but it’s a model example of how to play for a win from a marginally better position. Incidentally if Black doesn’t play …e5 at some point, White might take even more space with a well-timed e5. Also you’ll see that White’s king is quite well placed in the centre because the queens are off the board and the position is more strategic in nature.

(2) McShane,Luke J (2629) - Sedlak,Nikola (2521) [B21]
Bundesliga 0405 Germany (9.1), 30.01.2005

1.e4 c5 2.f4 d5 3.d3 Nc6 4.Nf3 dxe4 5.dxe4 Qxd1+ 6.Kxd1 Bg4 7.Be3 0–0–0+ 8.Nbd2 e5 9.fxe5 Nxe5 10.Be2 Nxf3 11.gxf3 Be6 12.Bd3 Nf6 13.Ke2 Nd7 14.f4 g6 15.Rag1 Re8 16.Rg3 Bd6 17.b3 f6 18.h4 Bc7 19.Rhg1 a6 20.a4 Bf7 21.Ra1 Re7 22.Kf2 Rhe8 23.a5 Nb8 24.Rf3 Nd7 25.Ra4 Be6 26.Rg3 Kb8 27.Rg1 Bf7 28.Re1 Bg8 29.Nf3 Bf7 30.Rb1 Kc8 31.Nd2 Bd6 32.Re1 Bc7 33.Bf1 Bg8 34.Bg2 Kb8 35.Bh3 Be6 36.Bxe6 Rxe6 37.Rg1 Rc6 38.Kf3 Nf8 39.Nc4 Ne6 40.Rd1 Kc8 41.Raa1 Rd8 42.Rxd8+ Kxd8 43.Rd1+ Ke7 44.Rd5 Bb8 45.f5 gxf5 46.exf5 Nd4+ 47.Bxd4 cxd4 48.Rxd4 Rc5 49.Ke4 h5 50.b4 Rb5 51.c3 Bg3 52.Rd1 Kf8 53.Rh1 Bf2 54.Rf1 Bg3 55.Rg1 Bh2 56.Rg6 Kf7 57.Rh6 Kg7 58.Rg6+ Kf7 59.Rg2 Bb8 60.Rd2 Bg3 61.Rd7+ Kg8 62.Nb6 Re5+ 63.Kd3 Bxh4 64.Nd5 Kf8 65.c4 Rxf5 66.Rxb7 Bf2 67.Ke4 Re5+ 68.Kf3 Bd4 69.Nxf6 Re3+ 70.Kf4 Rc3 71.Nd7+ Ke8 72.c5 Kd8 73.Nb6 Be3+ 74.Ke4 Bg1 75.Rg7 Rc1 76.Kd5 h4 77.Rh7 Bf2 78.Kc6 Ke8 79.Kb7 Rb1 80.c6


Since I mentioned the possibility of Black allowing an e5 advance, let’s see an example of that in practice:

[White "McShane, Luke J"][Black "Lutz, Christopher"] [Result "1-0"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]

{This game shows how you can play the Clamp with a 2.f4 move order, although 2.
..d5 is an annoying reply from a theoretical point of view.}

 1. e4 c5 2. f4 d5 3. d3 (3. exd5 {should be met not by 3...Qxd5 but} Nf6 4. c4 e6 5. dxe6 Bxe6 {
which gives Black very good compensation for a pawn because White has weakened
his position with c4 and f4, and he also has a good lead in development and
the initiative.}) (3. e5 {might seem a standard reaction to set up that Clamp
formation I mentioned earlier, but here it's not so great because Black can
develop his light-squared bishop actively:} Nc6 4. Nf3 Bg4 {and I already
prefer Black's position.}) 3... Nc6 4. Nf3 g6 5. Be2 Bg7 6. c3 {One advantage
of this c3 move as opposed to Nc3 is that the g7-bishop's long diagonal is
blocked, and also if White can get in e5 and d4 the g7-bishop can become a
very passive and weak piece. That explains Black's next move, but as we'll see
the g7-bishop will still be a bit misplaced in the resulting pawn structure.}
dxe4 7. dxe4 Qxd1+ 8. Bxd1 Nf6 (8... e5 {looks natural, but after} 9. fxe5 Nxe5
10. Nxe5 Bxe5 11. O-O {I prefer White because of his lead in development, and
also} Ne7 12. Ba4+ Bd7 13. Bxd7+ Kxd7 14. Rxf7 {is a trick worth remembering.})
9. e5 Nd5 10. Bb3 Nc7 11. Be3 b6 12. Nbd2 {Black's knight has been kicked to
the dodgy c7-square and White has a space advantage with active pieces. While
the computer says the position is equal, engines tend not to underestimate
these strategic queenless middlegames and it's a lot more fun to be White. The
rest of the game contains some errors from both sides but is still quite
instructive.} Be6 13. Bc2 Nd5 14. Kf2 Bh6 15. g3 O-O-O 16. Rhe1 Kc7 17. Ne4
Nxe3 18. Rxe3 Na5 19. b3 Bf5 20. Re2 Rhf8 21. Rae1 Nc6 22. a3 Bc8 23. b4 cxb4
24. cxb4 Ba6 25. Re3 Nd4 26. Nxd4 Rxd4 27. Bb3 Kb8 28. Kg1 Bb7 29. h4 a6 30.
R1e2 Ka7 31. Kh2 f6 32. exf6 exf6 33. Nc3 Rc8 34. Be6 Rc7 35. Bh3 g5 36. Re7
Rdc4 37. Rxc7 Rxc7 38. fxg5 fxg5 39. hxg5 Bxg5 40. Ne4 Bc1 41. a4 Re7 42. Bg2
Ba3 43. b5 Re5 44. Ra2 Be7 45. Nf2 axb5 46. axb5+ Kb8 47. Rb2 Bf6 48. Rb4 Be7
49. Rb2 Bd6 50. Nh3 Ba3 51. Rb3 Re2 52. Nf4 Ra2 53. Rd3 Bc1 54. Rd8+ Bc8 55.
Nd5 Ba3 56. Nxb6 Rc2 57. Rh8 Bd6 58. Rxh7 Rc3 59. Rg7 Be5 60. Rg8 Bd6 61. Bc6
Rc2+ 62. Kh1 1-0  

If the early exchange of queens doesn’t appeal to you, then you might consider meeting …d5 with exd5, reaching a more open position. While this is not a Big Clamp in itself, it’s useful to know how to play when the opponent tries to get us out of our system.

(5) McShane,Luke J (2614) - Rotstein,Arkadij (2528) [B20]
FRA-chT Top 16 GpB Cannes (7), 03.04.2005

1.e4 c5 2.d3 Nc6 3.g3 d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.Nf3 b6 6.Bg2 Bb7 7.0–0 Nf6 8.Bg5 e6 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nbd2 Be7 11.Re1 Qd7 12.Nc4 b5 13.Ne3 0–0 14.Qe2 Rfd8 15.Rad1 Nd4 16.Nxd4 cxd4 17.Bxb7 Qxb7 18.Nf5 Kh8 19.Nxe7 Qxe7 20.Qh5 Rac8 21.Rd2 Rc5 22.Qh4 Rd7 23.Re4 Qd8 24.Qh6 f5 25.Rh4 Qg8 26.Re2 Qg7 27.Qf4 Qf6 28.Rh6 Qg7 29.Rh5 Qf6 30.g4 Rdd5 31.Kf1 Kg7 32.g5 Qd8 33.Rh6 Rd7 34.Qh4 Qg8 35.f3 Kh8 36.Rg2 Rcc7 37.g6 fxg6 38.Rhxg6 Qf7 39.Qe4 Re7 40.Qxd4+


We haven’t seen an example of the f4/e5/d4/c3 vs. c5/d5 pawn structure yet, so we should look at an example of that. A lot of club players can tell when they have the advantage but don’t know how to build it up to decisive proportions so for this game I’ll concentrate on the middlegame.

[White "McShane, Luke J"][Black "Khalifman, Alexander"][Result "1-0"]

1. e4 c5 2. d3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. f4 d6 6. Nf3 e6 7. O-O Nge7 8. c3 O-O
9. Be3 Rb8 {Black wants to play ...b5-b4 like he often does in the Closed
SIcilian to get a queenside initiative, but let me reiterate: this is no
Closed Sicilian but the Big Clamp!} 10. d4 {White immediately establishes his
clamp centre, although} (10. Bf2 {and}) (10. Nbd2 {are more patient and
equivalent alternatives.}) 10... b6 11. Bf2 a5 (11... f5 {is an idea in some
Clamp positions to try and take control of the central light squares, but here
it doesn't work because after} 12. exf5 gxf5 13. Re1 {the e6-pawn is weak, and
12...Nxf5 allows 13.d5.}) 12. Re1 Ba6 13. a3 Qd7 14. Nbd2 Rfc8 15. Nf1 cxd4 16.
cxd4 {Black is a bit intimidated by White's strong centre and might have to
watch out for d5 at some point, so he plays ...d5 first.} d5 17. e5 {In this
position I already prefer White because of his extra space and the clear plan
of attacking the kingside with g4 and eventually f5 or possibly h4-h5 first.
The attack is slow but if White can keep control on the queenside the speed of
the attack won't matter so much. However Black's next move is a serious
positional mistake.} Bxf1 {The bishop on a6 was well placed in controlling
some squares in White's camp, but it also covered the b5 square which can't be
defended by a pawn. From this point Luke plays the game splendidly.} 18. Bxf1 {
Another problem for Black is that without a light squared bishop, his kingside
pawns (all on light squares) will be a lot easier to attack when White gets in
f5. But first White has to win the battle for the queenside.} b5 19. b3 {Black
was intending ...a4 followed by ...Na5 to secure an outpost on c4 for the
black knight.} Na7 20. Re2 {This is a great move, not so much covering the
second rank as clearing the e1-square for a Be1 or Ne1-d3-c5 manoeuvre.} h5 (
20... b4 {may have been better, though after} 21. axb4 axb4 22. Be1 Nb5 23. Qd3
{White keeps control of the position and an advantage. Note that 23.Bxb4 would
have been met by 23...Nxd4 24.Qxd4 Nc6 regaining the material with a
positional advantage.}) 21. Rea2 Nf5 22. Qe1 Qc7 23. Bd3 {White has
reorganised his position and taken control of the queenside, so he is ready to
play h3 and g4 to make inroads on the kingside. Also with Black's pieces
mostly positioned on the queenside he will struggle to defend his king. The
e5-pawn does a great job of cramping Black so he can't easily switch from the
queenside to the kingside.} a4 {This only closes the queenside and leaves the
b5-pawn as a second weakness, but Black's position was already very difficult.}
24. b4 Rb6 25. Rc2 Qxc2 {Black tries a queen sacrifice, but it's not enough
for him to hold and McShane converts his material advantage to a win.} 26. Bxc2
Rxc2 27. Rc1 Rbc6 28. Rxc2 Rxc2 29. Qa1 Bf8 30. h3 Nc8 31. Qf1 Rc3 32. Ng5 Na7
33. Qa1 Rc2 34. Qb1 Rc3 35. Qb2 Rc4 36. Nf3 Nc8 37. Kg2 Na7 38. g4 {The
previous moves were not perfect but now White is definitely winning.} hxg4 39.
hxg4 Nh6 40. Kg3 {The h6-knight only compounds Black's problems as it has
absolutely no scope and even runs the risk of being trapped.} Be7 41. Be3 f5
42. exf6 Bxf6 43. f5 Nf7 44. fxg6 Nd6 45. Qh2 Rc7 46. Bf4 Nac8 47. Kh3 Rc6 48.
Kg2 1-0

To conclude this opening survey, here are two more games by McShane. The first shows an alternative approach for White in playing c4 rather than c3 and d4, though the game eventually ends in a draw.

(6) McShane,Luke J (2625) - Zhang Zhong (2608) [B20]
Sanjin Hotel Cup 2nd Tiayuan (1), 09.07.2005

1.e4  c5 2.d3 Nc6 3.g3 Nf6 4.f4 d5 5.e5 Nd7 6.Nf3 e6 7.c4 Nb6 8.Be3 Be7 9.Nbd2 0–0 10.Be2 d4 11.Bf2 Nd7 12.0–0 f6 13.exf6 Nxf6 14.h3 Bd6 15.Nh4 g6 16.Be1 Qc7 17.Kg2 Bd7 18.Bg4 Ne7 19.Ne4 Nxe4 20.dxe4 e5 21.Bxd7 Qxd7 22.Bd2 Rf7 23.Qg4 Qc6 24.fxe5 Bxe5 25.Rxf7 Kxf7 26.Rf1+ Kg8 27.Bg5 Re8 28.Bxe7 Rxe7 29.Nf5 Re8 30.Nh6+ Kg7 31.Rf7+ Kh8 32.Rd7 Qa4 33.Nf7+ Kg8 34.Nh6+ Kh8 35.Nf7+ Kg8 36.Nh6+ Kh8


In the final game Luke wins with the help of a very sneaky tactical trick against one of the very best Dutch players, Loek Van Wely who is the second seed in the upcoming Doeberl Cup.

(7) McShane,Luke J (2620) - Van Wely,Loek (2655) [B21]
Staunton Memorial 7th London (3), 10.08.2009

 1.e4 c5 2.d3 g6 3.f4 Bg7 4.Nf3 d5 5.Be2 Nc6 6.0–0 Nf6 7.e5 Ng4 8.c3 d4 9.Ng5 Nh6 10.Bf3 dxc3 11.bxc3 Nd4 12.cxd4 Qxd4+ 13.Rf2 Qxa1 14.Rb2 Nf5 15.Nc3 Nd4 16.Nge4 Nxf3+ 17.gxf3 b6 18.Qc2 0–0 19.Rb1 Qxb1 20.Qxb1 Rd8 21.Kg2 h6 22.Be3 Be6 23.Nf2 f6 24.Ne2 Kh7 25.d4 Bc4 26.Qc2 cxd4 27.Nxd4 Rac8 28.Qa4 fxe5 29.fxe5 a5 30.Nc6 b5 31.Qxa5 Rd7 32.Qa6 Rf8 33.f4 g5 34.fxg5 Bd5+ 35.Kg1 hxg5 36.Nb4 Bf3 37.Qxb5 Rdd8 38.h3 Rf5 39.Nbd3 Be2 40.Qb1 Kh8 41.Nc1 Rxe5 42.Nxe2 Rxe3 43.Qb6


Unfortunately I’ve published more Van Wely losses than wins in this blog, but I’ll balance the ‘blog record’ in my Doeberl Cup report!

Returning to the Big Clamp, we can see that McShane is very strong in this system and White’s main ideas are: secure a space advantage with d4, meeting …d5 with e5; the favourable queenless middlegame with a central space advantage; a kingside attack with Qe1-h4 and f5; and finally White can develop his king’s bishop to e2 or g2 depending on Black’s reply and one’s personal preference. Good luck in your attempts to clamp the Sicilianistas McShane style!