The Modern Defense with an early a6!? is a tricky beast. I first tried it versus William Costigan (one of the Costigan brothers) in the 1970’s. I next had success versus Patrick Wolff in the 1980’s (although that game transposed into a strange Pirc, because black after some delay placed his KN on f6). It’s always had pleasant memories.
In this installment, first off we have a battle from Copenhagen, Denmark (Politiken Cup, 2000). The opening choice proves perfect against an impatient and over-aggressive handler of the white pieces.
NM Jorgen Hvenekilde – IM Mark Ginsburg
Politiken Cup 2000, Round 5 Modern Defense
1. d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Be3 a6!? This move is approved in GM Tiger Hillarp-Person’s “Tiger’s Modern” treatise on the Modern Defense.
Here is Tiger pictured at the Rilton Cup, January 1994 (cover of Swedish Schacknytt chess magazine). I apologize for the Photo Editor effects that I applied.
After this psychedelic tidbit, let’s get back to the merits of the opening. I like the snake-like pawn structure. It is challenged in modern times by a quick f2-f4 and e4-e5, but even that treatment is probably not the final word. This sytem for black, as ex-CIS chess commentators like to say, “has the right to exist”.
5. Qd2 b5 6. O-O-O Bb7 7. f3 The wing thrust 7. h4!? is interesting.
7…Nd7 8. g4?! The developing 8. Nh3!? comes into consideration. I don’t like these early, non-developing, pawn moves.
8…c5 9. Nge2 Rc8 10. h4 b4! Clearly white has played inaccurately because already black is more comfortable.
11. Nb1 Ngf6!? The cat and mouse maneuver 11…Qa5!? 12. a3 Qc7!? is interesting. The text prepares a speculative sacrifice.
12…Nxe4! Having said “A”, black has to say “B”. The situation is quite unclear but in practical play black’s chances must be rated more highly.
13. fxe4 Bxe4 14. Rh2 Bxc2! 15. Re1?? A gross blunder. White must play 15. Qxc2 cxd4 16. Nxd4 Rxc2+ 17. Rxc2 with counter-chances.
15…Be4?? A blunder in reply. Black wins with the obvious 15…cxd4 16. Nxd4 Ba4+ 17. Nc3 bxc3 18. bxc3 Qa5. I must have overlooked something very simple at this stage.
16. d5! Of course. White prevents the opening of the c-file and should turn the tables.
16…Qa5 17. Ng3 Bf3 18. Bh6? 18. Bf4! is correct with a big plus.
18…Be5 19. Rxe5! dxe5 White’s counter-sacrifice clarifies the situation and it’s about equal.
20. Be2? Yet another blunder. 20. d6! is OK for white and so is 20. hxg6 hxg6 21. Bg5.
20…Bxe2 21.Rxe2 Qxa2 Now black is simply winning.
22. Ne4 Qc4+ 23. Kd1 If 23. Qc2 Qxc2+ 24. Kxc2, black has the crushing 24…Rg8! and wins.
23… f5! 24. gxf5 gxf5 25. Ng5 Rg8! A perfect square. White has no moves left.
26. Rf2 Nf6 27. Qe2 Qxd5+ 28. Nd2 c4 29. Rxf5 c3 30. bxc3 bxc3
Moving ahead a few years, here’s an exciting Modern Defense Game from the North American Open, December 2003, Las Vegas. This game was featured in the online games collection ChessGames.com as a “Game of the Week” and drew a lot of commentary.
1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 a6!? 5. a4?! White has fallen into an opening trap with this reflexive reaction. Correct is to ignore black with 5. Be2.
5…Bg4 Now black has no problems at all.
6. Be3 Nc6 7. Be2 e5 8. d5 Ben Finegold played 8. dxe5 and got nothing vs me in Belgium, 1989, and a draw was quickly agreed. It’s really handy that the move pair …a6 and a2-a4 are in for black, because the important b5 square is denied to white’s minor pieces. This is a very important point.
8…Bxf3 9. Bxf3 Nce7 In Svidler-Manion, NY 1995, black played 8….Nce7 and on 9. h3 he played 9…Bd7?! (he could have played 9….Bxf3(!)). Svidler won that game. My 8th move gets rid of the WN immediately. Often times, when black breaks with f7-f5, he has to worry about a knight leap Nf3-g5 so there is definitely something to be said for getting rid of the horse.
10. Be2 f5 11. f3 Bh6! Positionally well motivated to get this bishop onto an active diagonal.
12. Bf2 Nf6 13. O-O O-O 14. a5 Nh5 15. Re1 Kh8 16. b4 Ng8 17. Rb1 Nf4 18. Bf1 Nf6 19. Be3 White’s play looks slow but it has purpose. The game is very double-edged.
19…fxe4 20. g3 g5!? Speculative. But otherwise the white bishop arrives unimpeded on h3 and black will be suffering.
21. fxe4 Qd7 22. gxf4! It is correct to accept this sacrifice.
22…gxf4 23. Bf2? But now white goes wrong. Correct is 23. Bc1! and the impassive computer rates black’s compensation as insufficient. I had missed this retreat during the game.
This is exactly the variation I expected; the pawn wedge really ties white up since 23. Qxf3? Ng4 is impossible. Black can calmly bring pieces over and the attack is too strong. So white’s 23rd was really the big turning point. This game is a good example of how a human can drastically over-rate chances.
24. Kh1 Qg4 25. Qd3 Qh5 26. Nd1 Ng4 27. h3 Rf7 28. c4 Rg8 With every piece participating, black piles on for a mating attack.
29. Rb2 Nxf2+ 30. Rxf2 Rfg7 31. Rxf3 Rg1+ 32. Kh2 Qg6 White resigned.
There is no stopping one of the dual mate threats, for example the primitive 33…Qg2+ 34. Bxg2 R8xg2 mate or the clearance 33…Rh1+ 34. Kxh1 Qg1 mate.
The next game is along the same lines, except I don’t need a speculative piece sacrifice – instead I make a pseudo-sacrifice of the exchange in a situation where I have all the positional trumps. It shows exactly why this system is a perplexing good weapon — if white just drifts along, black can achieve his strategic aims and expand all over the board.
1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Be3 a6 5. Be2 b5 6. Qd2 Bb7 7. f3 Nd7!?
Preparing …c7-c5. Again, I refer readers to GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson’s interesting book “Tiger’s Modern” for more details on this provocative treatment. It’s ideal in situations where only a win will do as black.
8. Nh3 c5 9. Nd1?! Clearly, once a move like this occurs black has no problems. But it’s another thing entirely to win a chess game – further progress is needed.
9…cxd4 10. Bxd4 Ngf6 11. O-O O-O 12. a4 Bc6 13. a5 Qc7 14. Bd3 Rfe8 15. Kh1 Qb7 16. Ndf2 e5! Exactly right. Black achieves the lion’s share of the center.
17. Be3 Rad8 18. Bg5 Nc5 19. Ng4 White forces black to play a good move.
19…Nxg4! An obvious “sacrifice” to increase my advantage. White plays to give back the exchange; personally I would have tried to hold onto it just to put up some kind of fight.
20. Bxd8 Nxh2?! Stronger is 20…Rxd8 21. fxg4 d5! with initiative.
21. Bb6? Very bad. White had to play 21. Kxh2 Rxd8 22. Qe3 and hunker down.
21…Nxf1 22. Bxf1 Na4 23. Be3 Nxb2 24. Rb1 Na4 25. Qxd6 Qd7 26. Qb4 Bf8 27. Qe1 Nc5 28. Rd1 Qc7 29. Qf2 Ne6 30. Qh4? White should have kept the a5 pawn with 30. Bb6 but it was a very bad position after 30..Qb7.
30…Qxa5 White is material down with a worse position as well.
31. Nf2 h5! 32. g4 Qc3 33. Rd3 Qe1
White could have given up here. It’s horrific. Look at the f4 square beckoning to black’s knight.
34. Qh3 Nf4 35. Bxf4 exf4 36. Qg2 Bc5 With both sides in time trouble, black’s moves come very easily and he develops a crushing initiative.
37. Nh3 hxg4 38. Nxf4 gxf3 39. Qh3 Qxe4 In time trouble, black misses the mating move 39..Qf2! and finis.
40. Nxg6 Qxg6 With the time control made, white resigned.
Finally here is a World Open 2005 game vs Felix Movilla.
Felix Movilla (2301) – IM Mark Ginsburg World Open 2005
1. d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. h3?! c5 4. c3 cxd4 5. cxd4 Qb6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. e5 d6 Possible is 7… f6 8. Nc3 (8. exf6 Nxf6 9. Nc3 d5 10. Be2 Ne4 11. O-O Be6) 8…fxe5 9. dxe5 Nxe5 10. Be2 e6 11. O-O Ne7 and black stands well. Also possible is 7… Nh6!? 8. Na3 O-O 9. Nc4 Qc7 10. Bf4 d5 11. exd6 exd6 12. Bxd6 Re8+ 13. Be2 Qd8 with interesting play.
8. Nc3 dxe5 9. dxe5 Nxe5 10. Nxe5 White can also play 10. Bb5+ Bd7 11. Bxd7+ Nxd7 12. O-O Bxc3 13. bxc3 Ngf6 14. Ba3 Ne4 15. Rb1 Qc6 16. Re1 Nec5 and black is holding.
10… Bxe5 11. Bb5+ Kf8 12. Qe2 Bxc3+ Black can try to keep this bishop with 12… Qc7 13. O-O Kg7 14. Be3 (14. Nd5 Qd6 15. Rd1 Nf6 leads nowhere for white) 14… Nf6 and black is OK.
13. bxc3 Be6 14. Be3 Qc7 15. O-O h5 16. Bd4 Nf6 17. Bd3 h4 18. f4? More sensible is 18. Qe3 Nd5 (18… Rh5 19. Bxg6 Nd5 20.Qe4 Rh6 21. Bf5 Bxf5 22. Qxf5 Qc6 23. Rfe1) 19. Qf3 Rh5 20. Bxg6 Rg5 21. Be4 Rd8 with a sharp game.
18… Rd8 19. Rab1?! 19. Rad1 looks more to the point.
19… b6 20. Rb5 Rxd4! A very nice positional exchange sacrifice. Black can also play 20… Rh5 21. Re5 Bc8 22. a4 but the text poses a lot of problems.
21. cxd4 Qc3
22. f5 It’s already hard to give advice. 22. Rd1 Qxd4+ 23. Qf2 Qxf2+ 24. Kxf2 Kg7 25. Bb1 Rc8 26. Re5 Rc4 is very good for black.
22… gxf5 23. Re5 Qxd4+ 24. Rf2?? Losing – the proverbial ‘sacrificial shock’. However 24. Qe3 Qxe3+ 25. Rxe3 Rh5 26. Ref3 Rg5 27. Bxf5 Bxa2 28. Ra1 Bd5 29. Rf2 a5 30. Rb1 a4 31. Rxb6 a3 32. Ra6 a2 is complete torture as well and black should convert this position.
24… Ne4! 25. Rxe4 fxe4 26. Bxe4 Rg8 27. Kh1 Rg5 28. Bd3 Re5 29. Qf1 Re3 30. Bg6 f6 31. Qc1 Qe5 32. Rf1 Bxh3?! It’s not often that there is the luxury of two winning captures. Here Black had 32… Rxh3+! 33. gxh3 Bd5+ mating , but the more prosaic and weaker text wins as well.
If you are wondering about my enjoyment of Modern structures, it all harkens back to the “Pawn Diamond” game I had against future GM Patrick Wolff way back in 1983. It bears a quick look:
1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4 Nc6 5. Be3 Nf6
Well, with the black knight committed to f6, it’s really a Pirc now. Still, the game gets really crazy.
6. Be2 O-O 7. Nf3 a6 8. Qd2 b5 9. a3 Bb7 10. f5 b4 11. axb4 Nxb4 12. fxg6
hxg6 13. Ng5 e5! It’s always correct to act in the center when the opponent is acting on the wings. White’s structure is very loose now.
14. d5 c6 15. Na4 a5 16. c3 cxd5 17. Bb6 Qe7
18. cxb4 Bh6! White gets into a very nasty pin and it turns out black gets overwhelming compensation for the lost piece. The problem in the opening basically is that white played too much on the wings and black stayed central.
19. h4 Nxe4 20. Qd3 axb4 21. Nxe4 dxe4 22. Qh3
Kg7 23. O-O f5 The very rare ‘pawn diamond’ starts to be formed. There is very little to do constructively that white can undertake, especially in practical play where advancing pawn phalanxes take on a life of their own.
24. h5 Rac8 25. hxg6 Qg5 26. Qh5 Qxg6 27. Rad1
Rf6 28. Qxg6+ Kxg6 29. Bb5 e3 30. Rfe1 f4 31. b3 Bg5! Every piece gains maximum activity This is reminiscent of the J. Shahade game, above.
32. Bc4 Bh4 33. Re2 d5! The d-pawn is immune because white has a back-rank problem.
34. Bb5 d4 And there it is. The stuff of legends. The pawn diamond. Does anyone have access to a structural search; in how many other games has this occurred? White, of course, is dead – the diamond is worth at least 2 minor pieces.
35. Bc5 f3 It’s craven to break up the diamond and cash in, but at some point the game does have to be won.
36. gxf3 Bxf3 37. Rf1 Kh5! It’s pleasing to have the king help out too.
38. Ra2 Rg8+ 39. Kh2 Bg3+ 40. Kh3 Bf2 0-1