The Fabulous 00s: Week 2 USCL Opening of the Week (OOTW)


In a GM matchup from round 2, we have Pascal Charbonneau (NY) tangling with GM Gregory Serper (SEA) in my favorite variation, the Sicilian Kan.  Surprisingly, Serper goes wrong early and Charbonneau won convincingly.  This sharp Sicilian Kan is this week’s Opening of the Week (OOTW) and we can learn a lot about move orders, nuances, and getting past the opening for black!

The raw game score:

Charbonneau (NY)-Serper (SEA)   Sicilian Kan

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.0-0 d6 7.c4 Be7 8.Nc3 0-0 9.Qe2 Re8?! 10.Kh1 b6 11.f4 Bb7 12.Bd2
This rather primitive set-up is the favorite set-up across all rating ranges when I play ICC blitz. Therefore, black should be ready for it.

12…Qc7? Oops!  An unfortunate choice that sends black down the drain.

Just to show that the Kan poses problems in quick play, here is a quick digression M. Ginsburg – D. Gurevich, G/30 Champs., Milwaukee, WI, 2002.
1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 b6 3. Nc3 Bb7 4. e4 d6 5. d4 cxd4 6. Nxd4 Nf6 7. Bd3 e6 8. O-O Nbd7 9. Qe2 a6 10. b3 Be7 11. Bb2 O-O 12. Rad1 Re8 13. f4 Bf8? 14. e5!

Oops! Black has forgotten about this possibility in a turn of events eerily similar to the current game we are analyzing.

14…dxe5 15. fxe5 Bc5 16. Na4!

White is winning.
16… Nxe5 17. Qxe5 Bd6 18. Qe2 Qc7 19. Rxf6 Bxh2+ 20. Kh1 Qg3 21. Rxf7!  The easiest. 21… Kxf7 22. Qh5+ Ke7 23. Qxh2 Qxh2+ 24. Kxh2 1-0 Dmitry didn’t have a chance after his miscue on move 13.

In another digression, just to show the Kan can create the pre-conditions for an upset, here is the great GM Dzindzihashvili taking too many chances and fumbling the ball against a young, inexperienced player in Chicago 1979.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Nf6 6. O-O d6 7. c4 g6?! 8. Nc3 Bg7 9. Bg5 Nbd7 10. Kh1 b6 11. f4 Qc7 12. f5 gxf5 13. exf5 e5 14. Ne6! fxe6 15. fxe6 O-O 16. e7! Bb7 17. exf8=Q+ and white went on to win, M. Ginsburg – R. Dzindzihashvili, Chicago Masters/Experts 1979.

A final digression showing the dangers, with apologies to Viktor Korchnoi who clearly wasn’t fully awake that day,

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Bc5 6. Nb3 Ba7 7. c4 Nc6 8. O-O Qh4? 9. N1d2 Nge7 10. c5!  Yuck! 10…Ne5 11. Be2 b6 12. f4 N5c6 13. Nc4 bxc5 14. g3 Qh6 15. f5 Qf6 16. fxe6 Qxe6 17. Nd6+ Kf8 18. Bc4 1-0 Calvo-Korchnoi, Havana Olympiad 1966.

But fear not, Kan supporters.  This cagey opening can, and should, live!
Returning to Charbonneau-Serper, white strikes with the obvious but pleasing

13.e5! Nfd7 14.f5! … and White is completely winning already.  A very depressing opening tableau for black.

14…Nxe5 15.fxe6 Bf6 16.Nd5 Bxd5 17.cxd5 Nxd3 18.Qxd3 fxe6 19.Nxe6 Qf7 20.Qg3 Ra7 21.Bc3 Nd7 22.Qxd6 Qe7 23.Qg3 Bxc3 24.bxc3 Nc5 25.Rae1 Nxe6 26.Rxe6 Qd8 27.Qe3 Rae7 28.Qxb6 Qxb6 29.Rxb6 Rc7 30.d6 Rf7 31.Kg1 a5 32.c4 Rxf1+ 33.Kxf1 Kf7 34.c5 Ke6 35.Rb7 Kd5 36.Rc7 Black resigns 1-0

So what happened?  Serper didn’t react properly to Charbonneau’s common club-player plan of Bd2 and e5 (often with Rae1 thrown in).  The trick is that Bd2 tangles white’s minor pieces up on the d-file and black has to be ready to find tactical chances to exploit that tangle.

Let’s explore this a little bit more.   First, we take as already on the board black’s 9th move which looks a little fancy (delaying queenside development), but is OK.  White has just played 12. Bc1-d2 with obvious intentions.

Position after White's 12th move in Charbonneau-Serper

Position after White's 12th move in Charbonneau-Serper

Here, as we know, Serper played 12…Qc7? which loses for tactical reasons.

To exploit the tangle on the d-file after e4-e5, there are two black methods – placing a rook on d8 (after Qc7), or using the queen herself from d8.  Black can’t do the first method here, since he’s already played the slow 9…Re8.  So he needs to let the queen sit on d8 a little while longer to hold up e5.  After looking at this second method, we’ll return to the game a bit earlier and indicate how black can use the first method with a more crafty move order.

Let’s see it. 12…Nbd7! The first point is after the natural build-up 13. Rae1, black has the surprising 13…Nf8! and white’s e5 is definitely not playable. So white has to resort to slow methods and black has time to mobilize his whole army – the dream of the Hedgehog player who seeks to punch later in the middlegame.   But what about the immediate 13. e5!? which certainly looks dangerous? This is critical, but black can hold.

12…Nbd7! 13. e5!?  dxe5 14. fxe5 Nc5! There is no time for half-measures.  This is a solid defense.  Interestingly, there is another sharp defense here, 14…Bc5!? — after the plausible 14…Bc5!? 15. exf6?! Bxd4 16. fxg7 f5! black is all right.  However, after the accurate 15. Nf3! black has problems.

15. exf6 Bxf6 16. Rxf6! I think it’s very plausible to think that aggressive Charbonneau would steer for this apparently devastating attack.   Besides, on any other white move, black simply regains the piece with a very good game.  However, black has resources here.

Which way to take back?

Which way to take back?

Position after 16. Rxf6! – Analysis

The key for black is psychological – don’t lose your head when it appears your king is getting ripped apart!  Objectively black is all right.  The correct recapture is 16…Qxf6!.  No points for 16…gxf6? 17. Qg4+ Kh8 18. Bxh7!! and the king IS getting ripped apart; white wins elegantly after 18…Kxh7 19. Rf1!! f5 20. Nxf5! – what a pleasure it is for white to play all these moves! – and black has no defense.

So we have on the analysis board 16…Qxf6!

After this, black can look forward to what former WC Boris Spassky valued most highly; piece activity.  His coordinated activity saves him after, for example, 17. Nf3 Nxd3 18. Qxd3 Rac8 or 17. Nb3 Nxd3 18. Qxd3 e5!.  In many variations, this mobile e-pawn generates plenty of play.  Overall, chances are balanced in this sharp fight of two minors against the rook.

Let’s see a nice sample variation on the analysis board.

16…Qxf6! 17. Nf3 Nxd3 18. Qxd3 Rac8 19. Rf1 Qf5! – a very pretty defensive resource.

Nice defense!

Nice defense!

After 20. Qe2 Qc2! black is hassling white big-time, and after 20. Qxf5 exf5 21. b3 Rcd8 you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to observe all black’s pieces are running on all cylinders with level chances.

Conclusion:  Serper’s slow 9…Re8 is indeed playable but he needed to be alert after white’s 12th and find this narrow road.

Let’s go back and try to set up black’s other method to deal with e4-e5, by placing a rook on d8.  How to arrange this before white blows up the center?   Here’s how to do it for all you Kan explorers in the audience:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.0-0 d6 7.c4 Be7 8.Nc3 b6 (no castles just yet) 9. f4 Bb7 10. Bd2 Nbd7 11. Qe2 Qc7 12. Rae1 and we reach a key moment.

Black has to be careful

Black has to be careful

As any good beginner’s book will tell you, be extra-careful when your king is not yet castled.  Thus the principle idea of Ra8-d8, while good strategically here, is bad tactically.  12…Rad8? 13. Nd5! (the punishment) 13…exd5 14. exd5 Nc5 15. Bc2! and white is totally winning.  Black wants to play Rd8, to hold up the e5 advance, but has to get the move order right.  Thus correct here is the apparently dangerous 12…O-O! first.  Let’s see it.  The testing line to calculate, of course, is the e4-e5 push.  With white’s king on g1, and not yet on h1, black has additional tactical possibilities.  And this, in fact, is what justifies 12…O-O!.

12…O-O! 13. e5?! dxe5 14. fxe5 Bc5! Threatening d4 WITH CHECK  and this is the saving nuance. 15. Rf4 What else? No going back now. White is already hoisted by his own petard.

15…Nxe5! A common tactical trick when there’s a d-file tangle.  Kan players must always keep this trick in mind. 16. Qxe5 Qxe5 17. Rxe5 Rad8! and white is caught in a set of lethal pins, since 18. Rxc5 bxc5 does not help!  Seattle wins the game and the match!

Going back, 12…O-O 13. Kh1 allows black to realize his principle idea with 13…Rad8! and the game is level!

Conclusion:  black can achieve the R to d8 “method” to hold up e4-e5 in this white setup but must be wary of move-order tricks and traps.

Overall conclusion:  the Sicilian Kan lives!

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