Blog Post 27-05-2013 - Old Wine in New Bottles

Wed, 2013-05-29 10:04 -- IM Max Illingworth

Question: What is the oldest opening tabiya (theoretical position) in chess, aside from the initial position?
Answer: If you read last week’s post you will know the answer: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Qe7, which is pretty much forgotten today but remains unrefuted – Black allows White to play d4 and achieve a slight space advantage, but in returns obtains a solid d6/e5 central pawn structure and possibilities for counterplay against White’s centre.

Recently I’ve found that these sorts of old, forgotten lines can be as dangerous as a theoretical novelty in a trendy line, as most players these days don’t remember old lines or haven’t even studied them, meaning their understanding of the positions will be inferior to their understanding of modern battlegrounds. Additionally these old games often contain ideas that can be applied to the main lines of today.

To start with I want to show another game of Greco’s, which provides some explanation of why White often avoids rushing with d4 in the Italian Game or Spanish in favour of the more restrained d3 these days:

[Event "Europe"]
[Site "Europe"]

[White "NN"] [Black "Greco, Gioacchino"]
[Result "0-1"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 (3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. O-O Re8 {is a
trendy variation today, keeping the option of playing the solid ...d6 or the
Marshall-like ...d5 depending on what White plays. Note the similarity with
Greco's play in this game.}) 3... Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 (4... d6 {is a good
alternative if Black wishes to avoid the Max Lange Gambit, and after} 5. c3 Nf6
6. d4 Bb6 {Black can aim to put White's centre under pressure with ...0-0, ...
Bg4 and ...Re8. If White ever releases the central tension with d5 he turns
the b6-bishop into a very powerful piece on the a7-g1 diagonal.}) 5. Re1 {With
this move White wants to play a quick c3 and d4 without allowing the
dissolution of his centre, but as we'll see occupying the centre isn't
necessarily the same as controlling it.} (5. d4 {is the Max Lange Gambit,
which has gone through some spurts of popularity but the computer shelved it
to the dustbin with} Bxd4 6. Nxd4 Nxd4 7. f4 d6 8. fxe5 dxe5 9. Bg5 Qe7 10. Na3
{and now the incredible} Rg8 $3 {, with the point that taking on f6 will open
the g-file, but if White does not capture the f6-knight his strategy is a
failure and meanwhile Black will castle queenside with a good game. However
it's been a few years since this gambit was trendy and if Black doesn't know
this move, the chances of him finding it over the board are very low.}) (5. d3
d6 6. Bg5 {will be showcased in the next game.}) 5... O-O (5... Ng4 {
practically forces} 6. Rf1 {but then Black doesn't really have a better move
than ...Nf6.}) 6. c3 Re8 ({Black missed a chance to play the 'Fork Trick' with
} 6... Nxe4 7. Rxe4 ({The superior} 7. d4 {still favours Black after} exd4 8.
cxd4 Bb4 9. Rxe4 d5 10. Bxd5 Qxd5 {and White has an IQP without any of the
activity normally associated with it.}) 7... d5 8. Bxd5 Qxd5 {followed by ...
e4 with an already gigantic initiative.}) 7. d4 {Occupying the centre is
critical and leads to great complications.} (7. b4 Bf8 {highlights another
idea behind ...Re8 - the bishop can sometime tuck itself away from danger on
f8.}) 7... exd4 8. e5 (8. cxd4 d5 $1 {is a strong tactical resource, when} 9.
dxc5 (9. Bxd5 Nxd5 10. dxc5 Ndb4 {with ideas of ...Nd3 and ...Nxc5 gives Black
enough counterplay.}) 9... dxc4 10. Qxd8 Nxd8 11. Nc3 Ne6 12. Be3 Nd7 13. Nd2
Ndxc5 14. Nxc4 b6 {is unbalanced but roughly equal.}) 8... Ng4 (8... d5 {is a
fairly standard retort to e5 by White in the Italian Game, when} 9. Bb5 Ne4 10.
Bxc6 bxc6 11. cxd4 Bb6 {would be close to equal, but Black has the easy plan
of ...Bg4 to increase the pressure on d4 or even ...c5 to exchange White's
central majority.}) 9. Bg5 (9. cxd4 Nxd4 $1 10. Nxd4 Qh4 {is the crucial
tactical point. As a quick puzzle, how would you meet} 11. Nf3 {?}) 9... Nxf2
$1 {Once again the vulnerability of the f2-square proves significant. White in
turn decides to aim at Black's weakest link.} 10. Qb3 $1 dxc3 {Incredible
stuff from Greco - he sacrifices his queen as with ...cxb2 he's going to try
and make a new one! Now White messes up and in this highly sharp position a
couple of mistakes are enough to lose.} 11. Bxd8 (11. Nxc3 {was equivalent,
when because of the threats to the f7-pawn and queen, Black should take a
perpetual with} Nh3+ 12. Kh1 (12. Kf1 Nxg5 13. Nxg5 Qxg5 14. Bxf7+ Kf8 15. Bxe8
Qf4+ 16. Ke2 Nd4+ {is a long but instructive variation showing why White can't
bring his king into the open.}) 12... Nf2+ 13. Kg1 Nh3+ {.}) 11... cxb2 {If
White takes this b2-pawn, he loses his queen to ...Nd3.} 12. Nc3 (12. Bxf7+ Kh8
13. Nc3 {could lead to something like} bxa1=Q 14. Rxa1 Ng4+ 15. Kh1 Rxd8 16.
Qc4 d6 {and Black has enough compensation for the queen, e.g.} 17. e6 Nf2+ 18.
Kg1 Nd3+ 19. Kf1 Nde5 20. Nxe5 Nxe5 21. Qb3 Nxf7 22. e7 Bf5 23. exd8=Q+ Nxd8 {
and the two bishops and three pawns are no worse than the queen.}) 12... Nd1+
13. Kf1 (13. Kh1 Nf2+ 14. Kg1 d5 15. Rab1 dxc4 16. Qxc4 Nd3+ 17. Kh1 Rxd8 {is
still outrageously complicated but after} 18. Ng5 Be6 19. Nxe6 fxe6 20. Qxe6+
Kh8 {Black does seem to be taking control of the position, the b2-pawn in
particular tying up White's pieces.}) 13... bxa1=Q 14. Rxd1 {Confused by the
complications, White blunders.} (14. Bxf7+ Kh8 15. Rxd1 {was correct, when}
Qxd1+ 16. Qxd1 Rxd8 17. Nd5 {gives White enough play with his very active
pieces to maintain the balance. The engine gives 0.00 in case you were
wondering.}) 14... Qxd1+ 15. Nxd1 Nxd8 {Now Black is up a lot of material and
has consolidated his position, so the win is only a matter of time. White
chose to give up instead.} 0-1 

The next game I want to show illustrates a model method of meeting one of White’s popular approaches in the d3 Italian and Ruy Lopez – where White plays an early Bg5, a la Carlsen. Back in the 19th century the Russian master Chigorin already demonstrated a stylish way to meet this bishop deployment:

[White "Knorre, Victor"] [Black "Chigorin, Mikhail"]
[Result "0-1"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. Bg5 {Question: What
would you do here as Black?} h6 {Putting the question to the bishop can't
really hurt Black here.} ({Some of you may have rushed to castle with} 6... O-O
{but that runs into} 7. Nc3 {when the threat of Nd5 and Nxf6 could lay ruin to
the Black king's pawn cover! If Black tries to break the pin with} h6 8. Bh4 g5
{as in the game, he runs into} 9. Nxg5 $1 hxg5 10. Bxg5 {when White will use
the pin to eventually win the f6-knight with Nd5, Qf3 and so on.}) 7. Bh4 g5 {
Black can get away with 'weakening' his kingside pawn structure because he
hasn't committed his king. He can always castle queenside at some point to
evacuate the kingside battlefield, or do what Chigorin did...} 8. Bg3 h5 $1 {
This hack is not just gutsy but also very strong. White needs to find a series
of only moves just to survive.} 9. Nxg5 h4 10. Nxf7 hxg3 {It's hard to resist
this queen sacrifice which gives Black a tremendous attack in return, but
maybe the simple move was good!} (10... Qe7 {is less beautiful but perhaps
even stronger:} 11. Nxh8 hxg3 12. Bf7+ (12. hxg3 Qh7 {is similar.}) 12... Kd8
13. hxg3 Qf8 {when Black continues his (very strong!) attack with ...Qxh8 and .
..Ng4.}) 11. Nxd8 Bg4 12. Qd2 Nd4 {If you want a challenge, try and find
White's only move to survive. White wasn't up to the task.} 13. Nc3 Nf3+ 14.
gxf3 Bxf3 {And friends, we have a beautiful mating finish! Black threatens ...
gxh2 checkmate, and if White plays hxg3 he runs into Rh1 checkmate. Well done
if you found the continuation 13.h3! Ne2 14.Qxe2! which allows White to
struggle an exchange down (but with a pawn or two as compensation). But not 14.
Kh1 because of 14...Rxh3!! 15.gxh3 Bf3 checkmate!} 0-1 

After that game you may need to take a breather, but now that we have developed a basic understanding of the pawn structures in the Italian Game we can better appreciate why the modern main line of the Italian is 3…Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3. In the following game, British GM David Howell makes White’s attacking scheme look easy:

[White "Howell, David"] [Black "Ashton, A."]
[Result "1-0"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 (4. Ng5 {is definitely the critical move
here but I covered this in detail on the blog about 18 months ago.}) 4... Bc5
5. c3 {With this move White wants to play what Andrew Soltis once called the
'Pseudo Lopez' with Bb3, h3, Nbd2-f1-g3, 0-0, Re1, Bc2 and d4. Despite its
subtle appearance this has turned into a fairly dangerous attacking system
with a large body of theory.} a6 {As White usually wants to play d4 at some
point to take control of the centre, Black creates an escape route for his
bishop in anticipation of this.} (5... d6 {should be met with} 6. Bb3 {, as if
the bishop stays on c4 too long, Black will play ...Na5 to exchange White's
'Italian' bishop for the knight.}) 6. Bb3 Ba7 7. h3 {This is basically a
waiting move which also has the advantage of stopping ...Ng4 or ...Bg4 by
Black.} d6 (7... O-O 8. Bg5 {is what White is hoping for, when Black can't
easily break the pin now that he's castled.}) 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. Nf1 (9. O-O {is
also completely fine, but then White has to play Re1 before he can play Nf1-g3
to manoeuvre his knight for the kingside attack. With the game continuation
White delays castling to try and save a tempo or two (on Re1 for instance).})
9... d5 10. Qe2 {White keeps the e4-pawn defended, in very similar fashion to
the 3...Bc5 4.c3 Qe7 line in fact! However this version is a lot better in
comparison as Black doesn't have his d5-pawn shored up with ...c6 and White
has a pawn on c3 instead of a knight, stopping ...Nd4 from ever being a
problem.} dxe4 11. dxe4 {The exchange on e4 opens up the beautiful a2-g8
diagonal for White's light-squared bishop, but otherwise Black would have been
under a bit of pressure on d5.} Qe7 {This move walks into White's plan of Ng3
and Nh4-f5 to swing his knights toward Black's king but isn't a mistake per se.
} 12. Ng3 h6 {But this move has a major flaw - it imperceptibly weakens the
g6-square, giving White the chance to start his kingside attack with gain of
time.} (12... Be6 {is noted by Emms as being a better continuation, when} 13.
Nh4 Bxb3 14. axb3 Qe6 15. b4 g6 {stops an invasion on f5, and then the
position is equal despite the slight weakness of Black's kingside dark squares.
}) 13. Nh4 {What is White's threat? Yep it's Ng6 winning the exchange thanks
to the absolute pin on the f7-pawn!} Kh7 (13... Be6 14. Ngf5 Qd7 15. Qf3 {
doesn't halt White's strong attack - he's threatening Nxh6 winning a pawn
thanks to the weakness of the f6-knight, and it's very hard to see a defence
to that.}) 14. Nhf5 Qe8 15. Qf3 {It's only move fifteen but already Black's
position could be hopeless. White already has most of his pieces involved in
the kingside attack while Black only has a knight and few pawns aiding the
defence. Black tries to cover himself but only digs his own grave.} Ng8 (15...
Bxf5 16. Qxf5+ Kh8 17. Bxh6 {would still pick up a clear pawn, while keeping
all White's positional advantages.}) 16. Nxg7 {This tactic is decisive.} Kxg7
17. Nh5+ {Black gave up as he can't avoid checkmate with} (17. Nh5+ Kh8 (17...
Kg6 18. Qg3+ Kxh5 19. Bd1+ Bg4 20. Qxg4#) 18. Qg3 Bxf2+ 19. Kxf2 Bg4 20. Qxg4
f6 21. Qg7# {.}) 1-0 

I found this game very instructive and inspiring when I was first learning to play these d3/e4 vs. d5/e5 pawn structures and I hope it’s had a similar influence on you.
These three games should give you a good feel for the ‘Pianissimo’ lines of the Giuoco Piano, but even these quiet-looking games can liven up very quickly as we’ve seen!

Here’s a summary of the material:
• White can’t avoid the move d3 without walking into a …Nxe4 and …d5 fork trick.

• When Re1/…Re8 is played, the f2(f7) square is weakened as a result and sometimes there are ways to exploit this tactically.

• The Bg5/…Bg4 pin is a lot more effective after the opponent has castled. Otherwise White may play h3 and g4 (…h6 and …g5) to break the pin, with active play on the kingside.

• The Pseudo Lopez approach should be taken seriously – if White can control the f5-square with his knights he will usually have a strong attack. Black should try to take the sting out of White’s attacking scheme with exchanges or a counter-attack in the centre (if possible).
Happy hunting in the Italian waters!