Archive for the ‘Rare Pawn Structures’ Category

The Fabulous 70s: Trying to Make the Early Bishop Move Work

January 5, 2008

In the 1970s, I spent a lot of time (with some help from future IM Steve Odendahl) trying to make this work:

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bb4!?


Position after 5…Bb4!? – the so-called “Pin Variation”.

I was particularly interested in 6. e5 Nd5 7. Qg4 g5!? with bizarre complications. Unfortunately the computer shows this is not very good (details shortly). Interestingly, the computer (Rybka in this case; sometimes I use Fritz) does have a good answer for the response advocated by theory: 6. e5 Nd5 7. Bd2. After 7…Nxc3 8. bxc3 Be7 9. Qg4, the computer plays 9….g6 (not 9…O-O?! 10. Bh6 and black has insufficient compensation for the exchange) and has some cleverness in store – see below. The situation is very sharp with white hoping to prove attacking chances outweigh the damaged structure. ICC tests are ongoing.

In the meantime let’s see some analysis.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bb4

Variation “Zero” (an early ‘digression’ sideline): 6. Nb5!? Note I don’t write 6. Ndb5 because the c-knight is pinned!


Position after 6. Nb5!? – an early digression.

Before we get into the main move, 6. e5, first we have to look at 6. Nb5!? – an interesting try. Very safe but rather static for black then is 6…O-O 7. a3 Bxc3+ 8. Nxc3 d5 9. Bd3 (or 9. exd5 exd5 10. Bd3 Re8+ 11. Ne2 Nc6 with equality) 9…d4 10. Ne2 Nc6 11. O-O e5 with an equal game. For more dynamism, my ICC blitz reaction move, 7…Ba5!? is riskier but playable and better to play for a win. It just looks nicer to keep this bishop. For example, 8. b4 Bb6 9. e5 Ne8 and it’s not clear what white has, since 10. Bd3? a6! 11. Nd6 Nxd6 12. exd6 Qf6! is good for black (although white won a minor league game, S. Schubert-T. Geissler, Bochum 1992, after some bad blunders by black later).

Black can also immediately grab but it’s risky: 6…Nxe4?! 7. Qg4! Nxc3 8. bxc3 Bf8 9. Qg3! and white has more than enough compensation.

Conclusion: on 6. Nb5!? black should play 6…O-O and then on 7. a3 he can decide to go simple with 7…Bxc3+ or go complex with 7…Ba5. In both cases, he is fine.

Variation Zero-2: An Even Rarer Early Digression Sideline. 6. Bd3. White is not hoping for anything special; he just wants to avoid black’s preparation after 6. e5. IM Bobby83 likes to play this on ICC. More on this move later.

Let’s go ahead now and look at the main move, 6. e5.

6. e5 Nd5 A preliminary comment. This position does not look so bad for black. Therefore, I predict a revisiting of black’s chances in over the board play as, inevitably, strong players resuscitate forgotten lines with computers. White has some major tries now.

The first thing to notice is that

A. 7. a3 gives nothing: 8…Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 Qc7 9. Nb5 Qxe5+ 10. Qe2 Qxe2+ (note that 10..Qf6 is playable too) and black has no problems; in fact agreed drawn at this point in 1/2-1/2 Alzate,D (2419)-Pazos,P (2363)/Medellin 2000. A possible humorous and realistic continuation is 11. Bxe2 a6 12. c4 axb5 13. cxd5 exd5 with a fantastic rare pawn formation and of course… equality since black’s ruined formation gives him no real chances despite the pawns to the plus.


Position after 13…exd5. The rare “Expanded Pawn Square” formation. It’s equal!

B. Let’s try 7. Qg4. The best reply is 7…g6 -there is insufficient compensation after 7…O-O?! 8. Bh6 g6 9. Bxf8, as has been shown many times, although some points were scored from the black side in early (For example, Julian Hodgson) due to surprise value. And, unfortunately, my 70’s funkiness of 7…g5?!! (TN) is met by 8. Ndb5! and black has a bad game after 8…Nc6 9. Qxg5! Qxg5 10. Bxg5 O-O 11. Bd2 and white keeps an edge.

Let’s go back to 7. Qg4 g6. White has three common responses; the first one being the least important.

B0. 8. a3 – slow. Black’s best reponse is 8…Bxc3+ 9. bxc3 Qc7! 10. Qg3 (what else?) and now black can play 10…Nxc3 11. Bd2 Ne4! or 11. Bd3 Nc6! in both cases with an OK game. For example, 11. Bd3 Nc6 12. Nxc6 Qxc6 13. Bh6 b6! 14. O-O Bb7 with equal chances. Previously, the weak 10…a6? (Czerniak-Van Scheltinga, Helsinki 1952, 1-0 was played). Black also has the somewhat weaker 10…Qxc3+?! 11. Qxc3 Nxc3 12. Bd2 and now 12…Ne4! is correct with a very small white edge and not 12…Nd5? 13. Nb5 and white was on top and won convincingly in Toth-Blasko Fuzesabony 1994.

B1. 8. Qg3 which looks and is slow – but not quite as slow as 8. a3, since it does guard e5.

B2. 8. Bd2 – more logical.

Let’s go through each of these in turn.

Variation B1, 8. Qg3


Position after 8. Qg3.

B1. 8. Qg3 Nc6! This is correct and not 8…Nxc3? 9. bxc3 Be7 10. Bh6 and white has an edge. If 9. Ndb5?! O-O 10. Bh6 a6! 11. Bxf8 Qxf8 and black is getting huge compensation, for example 12. Nd6 f6! 13. Nxc8 Rxc8 14. exf6? Nd4! and black is way on top.

So white should play the more sensible 9. Nxc6 and we reach an important position. 9….dxc6 is OK, but kind of boring, after 10. Bd2 Qa5 11. Be2 Nxc3 12. bxc3 Be7 13. O-O O-O. More dynamic is 9…bxc6!?, for example 10. Bc4 Qa5 11. Bd2 Ba6! with balanced play. Or, 10. Bh6? Qa5! and black is just better: 11. Bd2 (crawling retreat) 11…O-O with an edge, or 11. Kd2? craziness, refuted by 11…Qc5! and the threat of 12…Nxc3 coupled by 13…Qd4+ next will win for black.

Conclusion in Variation B1: 8. Qg3 is harmless and is defused by 8….Nc6!

Variation B2, 8. Bd2


Position after 8. Bd2.

Let’s look at Variation B2, 8. Bd2. Black should play 8…O-O and now there is a large branch. Let’s see some lines.

B20. 9. Qg3 Nc6! transposes to variation B1 and black is happy.

B21. 9. a3?! Bxc3+ 10. bxc3 f5! gives white a bad structure.

The crazy looking but not bad

B22. 9. h4!? is met by the calm 9…d6! 10. h5 dxe5 11. hxg6 fxg6 12. Nf3 Bxc3 13. bxc3 Nc6 14. Bd3 Qf6 and black has sufficient defensive chances. Black also has an alternate defense: 9. h4 Nc6!? 10. Nxc6 dxc6 11. h5 Qc7!? to guard laterally.

On the developing move

B23. 9. Bd3!?, black is advised to play 9…d6! 10. exd6 (or the slow 10. Nf3 Nc6 with equal chances) and then play 10…e5! – looks fine. For example, 11. Nf5 Bxf5 12. Bxf5 Bxc3 13. bxc3 Qxd6 and white has nothing. Chigorin would enjoy his knights here.

A trap to avoid: On 9. Bd3, not 9…Qa5 10. O-O Nxc3 11. a3!! Nxe2+ 12. Qxe2 Bxd2 13. Nb3 and white has an edge! – a fantastic tactical shot.

Another possibility: the weird

B24. 9. Bc4?! is met by the simple two-step 9…d6 10. Nde2 Nxc3 11. Nxc3 d5! – for example, 12. Be2 Nc6 13. f4 f6! and black is doing well. Similarly, 12. Bb3 Nc6 13. O-O-O Qc7 14. f4 Nd4! and black is again fine. On the other hand, the frisky 10…dxe5 11. O-O-O Nc6 12. Bh6 f5 13. Qg3! is dangerous. It’s important to leave white with a bad structure and very few attacking chances.

Finally, we have to consider the primitive capture that displaces white’s own king to weaken only temporarily black’s pawns.

B25. 9. Nxd5?! Bxd2+ 10. Kxd2 exd5. As you might imagine, black has no problems. For example, 11. Qf4 Nc6 = or 11. Bd3 d6 12. Qf4 dxe5 13. Qxe5 Nd7 =.

Conclusion: in variation B2, 8. Bd2 O-O, black has to be very alert because there are numerous attacking tries, each with specific defensive responses. No easy day at the office, but black has enough resources.

In the next post, I will look at Variation C, the main line, which is 7. Bd2.

My original 1970’s notes on 6. e5 Nd5 7. Qg4 g5?! are on tiny pieces of Hotel Lombard (New York City) stationery! This is a good illustration of pre-computer work, very disheveled.

The only organized pre-computer person I saw was backgammon and poker-player IM Elliott Winslow. His notes were in micro-small handwriting with a fine-tip pen – incredibly precise and legible even in tiny (I would say 6 pt. font) writing. He would put incredible margin notes into ECO’s and Informants. What a diligent worker! I wonder how many important TNs came from his writings (one cannot say ‘scribblings’).

Similarly, others have tried another audacious early bishop maneuver to get active on the c5-f2 diagonal and dispense with the “Kan” preventative …a7-a6:

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Bc5!?


Position after the cheeky 4…Bc5!? – The Basman-Sale Variation

We’ll have to discuss this one too because the two tries are thematically linked.

Watch this space for the discussion. For now, simply notice that forcing variations are great in blitz. The chances are high that a rare variation will catch the opposition by surprise, even if they are dubious. Which of the two lines above is ‘superior’ objectively? Hard to say. It might turn out to be the Pin Variation. That’s one of the things we will figure out as the discussion grows. Does this (4…Bc5) have a name? News bulletin as of January 12, 2008: according to chessmanitoba, this is called the Basman-Sale variation (see comments).
Readers: send in any games that are interesting with the Pin Variation or the Early Bc5 Bishop Sortie lines.

Once in a Lifetime Structures: Pawn Diamonds and Pawn Boxes

November 21, 2007

Sometimes a structure, a certain arrangement of pieces or pawns, occurs on the chessboard so outlandish, so absurd, so … je ne sais quoi…. it’s apparent it’s not going to happen again – at least to the player who created it.  Oh by way check out this nice companion blog from the UK while we are on the subject.

The Tale of the Pawn Diamond

The Pawn Diamond is one of those inimitable structures. Another related ‘situation’ (of wacky material imbalance) occurred in the 80s in my game against NM Alan Williams (Bar Point Chess Club, NYC) where I had 3 Queens and a Rook versus a Queen and 2 Rooks for many moves, but that’s a different story (the Williams game for some time was a record holder in Tim Krabbe’s world records compendium). But here we are talking about structures – pieces or pawns’ placements relative to one another. So I would say the Pawn Diamond is my strangest absolute structure. It’s so powerful!

Let’s see it. Or, in Lord of the Rings terms, “All shall see it and despair.”

Patrick Wolff – IM Mark Ginsburg NY Open 1983

1. e4 Young Patrick was quite tardy for the game which did not help him when the game got complicated.

1…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 another Pirc/Modern game that worked out very well with a sacrifice; versus J. Shahade Las Vegas National Open 2003.

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. At this point, Inna Izrailov walked past and gawked in amazement.


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

Well. I can definitely say I never got a Pawn Diamond again – yet.


I have to show you one more – perpetrated on me by future GM Ilya Gurevich – the humorous Pawn Box. In a weird cosmic coincidence, both Patrick and Ilya at the time were strong New England juniors. Remember, it takes two to create these structures so credit must be given to their uncompromising styles.

The Saga of the Pawn Box

IM M. Ginsburg – I. Gurevich, World Open 1985. King’s Indian, Bayonet Attack

If there was ever a time to beat Ilya, this was it. He was young and up and coming and got a not very good opening after my good prep in the Bayonet Attack King’s Indian. But then… the pawn box! Let’s see it.

1.c4 g6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.O-O
Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.b4 Nh5 10.c5!
A very under-rated system. White jettisons the two bishops, clears the g7-a1 diagonal, and is very quick on the queenside. And the best thing of all? His king never gets mated in this line – no crushing pawn storms. Nowadays, of course, Kramnik and Van Wely have popularized 10. Re1.

10…Nf4 11.Bxf4 exf4 12.Rc1 h6 13.a4 g5 14.cxd6 cxd6 15.h3 White has a very comfortable game.


15…Ng6 16.Nb5 Qe7 17.Re1 Rd8 18.Rc7 Rd7 19.Qc2 Rxc7 20.Qxc7 Qxc7 21.Nxc7 Oh yes. White has gotten the queens off, has initiative, and stands better.

21…Rb8 22.Nb5 Bd7! 23.Nxd6 Bf8! An ingenious resource. However, I thought I still had things under control.

24.e5 Bxd6 25.exd6 Bxa4 26.Nd4 Bd7 27.Bg4! A winning shot, so I thought – to gain f5 for my knight.

27…Bxg4 28.hxg4 Rd8 29.Nf5 Nh4!! I never saw this coming – the very essence of black’s defensive concept. Black deforms his structure maximally to gain enough activity to draw. This conforms to the Russian maxim, “all rook endings are drawn.” At the time, I was shocked that young Ilya was escaping. And so he did after the remaining moves…

30.Nxh4 gxh4 31.Re7 Rxd6 32.Rxb7 a6 33.Ra7 Kg7
34.Kh2 Kg6 35.Kh3 f6!
Establishing the amazing pawn box! Of course, white’s next move destroys it (nibbles it), but at least we had it on the board for a half-move. The most aesthetic thing about the box is that the move 35…f6! is actually useful, sheltering the black king from checks and preparing to eat the morsel on d5.


36.Kxh4 Rxd5 37.Kh3 Rd4 1/2-1/2


I would ask readers here, too, is there a structural search to show how many prior games had Ye Olde Boxe?