Opening surveys in CBM 133

12/20/2009 – When Magnus Carlsen convincingly outplayed that well known openings connoisseur Peter Leko in the very first round of the tournament in Nanjing, the world of chess pricked up its ears, because the Norwegian had done so with a Scotch, an opening which in modern times has been associated above all with the name of Garry Kasparov, who is now known to be Carlsen's trainer. This game spurred Igor Stohl on to take an extremely close look at the variation employed. Here is the complete article, one of a total of 12 on the DVD of CBM 133. Stohl: Scotch with 10.f4

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Reviving another pawn sacrifice in the Scotch with 10.f4!?

by Igor Stohl

The Scotch became a topical opening after long years of semi-neglect mainly due to Garry Kasparov. In the final part of the K-K epic in 1990, when he was having problems getting sufficiently desirable and attractive positions from the Ruy Lopez, he suddenly surprised his challenger with 3.d4. Scoring 1.5/2 greatly helped him in winning the match; even afterwards the Scotch remained an integral part of his repertoire. In his overall record, wins outnumber draws and as befits a champion, he soon had followers. Strong GMs like Radjabov, Rublevsky, Pavasovic, etc. began developing the theory of this old, but not antiquated opening on their own.

In his practice, Kasparov was especially incisive against the 4...Nf6 line, which was also Karpov's preference (incidentally it appeared also in the only Scotch Kasparov had to face with Black, against Radjabov in Linares 2004). Against the other main move, 4...Bc5, Kasparov's pet line was 5.Nxc6 Qf6 6.Qd2 dxc6 7.Nc3. However, here his quest for an advantage was less successful. As even the subsequent attempts with 6.Qf3 could hardly promise White anything, the attention of the chess world again shifted in the favour of 5.Be3. And although Kasparov ended his professional career in March 2005, his recent cooperation with Magnus Carlsen reflects this shift. In their preparation for Nanjing 2009, the dynamic duo took up this line and enriched a previously-known pawn sacrifice (played already by Chigorin in 1880!) with some fresh analysis and new content. This allowed Carlsen to start the event with an impressive win and will be the topic of our article.

Its initial position arises after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Be3 Qf6 6.c3 Nge7 7.Bc4 Ne5 8.Be2 Qg6 9.0-0 d6 10.f4!?  

The notes to the key game Carlsen,M - Leko,P 1-0 deal shortly also with earlier deviations in the previous moves. Some ground has already been covered by other authors in the past. For example, 6.Nb5 was featured in an article by Postny in CBM 113, 7.g3 was analysed by Lukacs and Hazai in CBM 114, therefore I have tried to concentrate on the most recent developments. The annotations feature also the currently state-of-the-art ways to deal with the main alternatives to 10.f4!?, namely 10.f3 and 10.Kh1.

Now accepting the pawn is considered practically forced, with 10...Ng4 11.Bc1 being rather dubious. Although 10...Bh3!? as in Crespo,R - Ramirez,A ½-½ does perhaps provide some food for thought, we'll further deal with the definitely standard reaction 10...Qxe4 11.Bf2.

Here the knight moves give White a chance to win the queen. Although Black formally had sufficient material equivalent after both 11...N5c6 (see Dembo,Y - Mancini,M 1-0) and 11...Nd7 in Steingrimsson,H - Lukacs,P 1-0, he is clearly struggling to coordinate his forces and White can claim a distinct advantage.

Therefore the main continuation is undoubtedly 11...Bxd4 12.cxd4 and now Black's knight is again at a crossroads.

12...N5c6? 13.Nc3 is inferior, as the desirable d5 advance will win a tempo.

The retreat 12...Nd7 is very rare, mainly because it doesn't further Black's development. On the other hand, Black wants to establish a firm hold on the d5-square, in the game Merlini,D - Andresen,T ½-½ he managed to hold the balance after a short tactical scuffle. Despite this, it's clear he is the one who has to fight for equality, the notes suggest some possible alternatives/improvements for White.

All this brings us to the main move, which is clearly 12...N5g6.

Here White started out with the direct 13.Nc3 Qxf4 14.Nb5 0-0 15.Nxc7 Rb8. Although in the beginning he had good results, gradually the tide started to turn and Black found his way. Thus neither 16.Nb5 (as in Gelfand,B - Beliavsky,A 1-0), nor 16.d5 can promise him an advantage; quite on the contrary he must play with care to hold the balance. In the latter case Black can even choose between 16...Qg5 (Markus,R - Hernandez Molina,D 0-1) and 16...b6!? (Morozevich,A - Balashov,Y 1-0).

Carlsen undoutedly knew all this and preferred the more restrained approach with 13.g3!, which in turn gives Black a difficult choice.

A) The natural reaction 13...0-0 14.Nc3 Qf5 15.d5 leads to an interesting position, in which Black has serious problems coordinating his minor pieces, which get in each others way. Moreover, White has a space advantage and all this gives him serious long-term compensation for the pawn.

Here the direct attempts to free Black's position by advancing the c-pawn after 15...Rd8 failed in both Slugin,S - Bykov,A 1-0 and Dembo,Y - Stefanova,A 1-0.

Slower play with 15...a6 16.Re1 also doesn't fully solve Black's needs and left him struggling both in Carlsen,M - Leko,P 1-0 and the more recent example Ganguly,S - Acs,P ½-½.

B) However, Black does have an alternative earlier on, namely the active sortie 13...Bh3!?, which after 14.Bf3 Qf5 15.Re1 d5 (15...c6!? as in Namyslo,H - Gutsche,D ½-½ also deserves attention) 16.Qb3 0-0 17.Nc3 leads to another position important for this line. White is going to regain the pawn, it's up to Black to choose the best way to give it back.

After 17...c6 18.Qxb7 White can possibly claim a slight advantage in Hoefer,H - Berkley,S ½-½, although until now all known games from this position ended peacefully.

However, Black's latest try seems more impressive, with 17...Bg4! he improves the position of his bishop before playing c6. In Nakamura,H - Grischuk,A ½-½ White found nothing better than to quickly bail out with 18.Bxd5. Thus the conclusion seems to be that if White doesn't come up with anything against the crafty zwischenzug 17...Bg4!, the whole 10.f4!? line doesn't present a serious danger for Black.

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