Opening surveys in CBM 134

3/1/2010 – The Albin Countergambit does not have a particularly good reputation, but since it is not an opening you have to face very often as White, a lot of players do not know how to achieve a safe advantage against it. This is above all the case after the main move 5.g3 when the switch to 5...Nge7 (from the previoulsy more usual 5...Bg4) means that it is no longer so clear how White can point to any opening advantage. Simple solutions are wanted and they are provided by GM Dorian Rogozenco with his repertoire for White based on the move 5.Nbd2. Here is the complete article, one of 12 in CBM 134. Read Rogozenco: Albin with 5.Nbd2.

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The Albin Counter-Gambit

by Dorian Rogozenco

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 d4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Nbd2

In the Albin Counter-Gambit Black sacrifices a pawn in order to gain more space on the board and disturb the normal development of White's pieces. His plan is either to create quick pressure in the centre and on the kingside with Be6 (or Bg4), Qd7 and 0-0-0, or to regain the pawn quickly with Ng8-e7-g6. The good results with the Albin Counter-Gambit achieved by Morozevich and Kasimdzhanov show that even strong GMs can face difficulties with White. The purpose of this article is to present a system against the Albin Counter-Gambit.

Let's have a closer look at White's plan. 5.Nbd2 is a very flexible move, which doesn't reveal White's intentions yet. First of all he protects the pawn on c4 (in case of Bc8-e6) and the knight on f3 (for the case of Bc8-g4). However, White's main idea in the system being presented is to attack quickly the pawn on d4! In fact with 5.Nbd2 it is White who tries to create quick pressure on Black's position and this is exactly what this system is all about - White plays very concretely against the black pawn on d4.

Before starting with variations, I have to mention one more thing. Since White's plan is Nd2-b3, he usually needs to play a2-a3 in order to prevent a check from b4. Besides, the move a3 prepares b2-b4. The ideal for White is to play a3, b4, Nb3 and Bb2, after which the d4-pawn inevitably falls. Black tries to prevent this (usually by counterattacking the pawns on c4 or e5). However, the point is that when White plays a2-a3, we reach positions that in practice arise often via a slightly different move order: first 5.a3 and then 6.Nbd2. From the point of view of the system we are presenting, there is almost no difference between these two moves (5.a3 and 5.Nbd2). In our case the independent value of 5.Nbd2 can be seen in Variation C, where White tries to save time on a2-a3.

After 5.Nbd2 Black has three main continuations: A) 5...Bg4, B) 5...Be6 and C) 5...Nge7. Alternatives are weaker, see Sorokin,M - Cunha,E 1-0.

A) 5...Bg4

Although this sortie doesn't look very logical after White's previous move, it represents the most popular choice in practice. Black's point is that after 6.h3 he takes on f3, gives a check with the bishop on b4 and then plays Qe7, achieving normal development and regaining the pawn.

6.a3

Now White is ready to play h2-h3. If Black continues 6...Qd7, preparing to castle long, then the move 7.b4 is strong, anticipating Black's plan and at the same time creating quick threats against the d4-pawn.

In the event of 6...Qe7, 6...a5 and 6...Nge7 White plays 7.h3. Then Black faces an unpleasant choice. If he takes on f3 and regains the pawn e5 White will enjoy a pleasant edge thanks to his bishop pair. He can then develop either with e2-e3 or g2-g3.

In case that Black retreats the bishop to e6 (going to h5 is weaker), White attacks the pawn on d4 immediately with 8.Nb3. The play is similar to Variation B), only with the pawn on h3 instead of h2, which makes little difference. For concrete details see Nielsen,P - Rasmussen,K 1-0 and Burg,T - Pruijssers,R 1-0.

B) 5...Be6

Again Black wants to develop quickly his queenside.

6.a3

Just like in Variation A, White takes control over the b4-square and prepares either Nd2-b3, or b2-b4.

6...Nge7

Black is ready to attack the e5-pawn. In such situations White must hurry up and be the first one to attack the d4-pawn. The same is true if Black plays 6...a5.

6...f6 7.exf6 leaves Black with insufficient compensation, while 6...Qd7 is answered by 7.b4, Damaso,R - Cordovil,J 1-0.

7.Nb3!

When Black prepares Ne7-g6, 7.b4 is too slow. Black answers 7...Ng6 and the advanced queenside pawns can represent additional targets for him later on.

Now the pawn on d4 is under attack and Black must take a decision: either to protect it with 7...Nf5, or exchange it for the c4-pawn - 7...Bxc4.

B1) 7...Nf5

Although the knight is unstable on f5, such a defence makes a lot of sense, because it puts under question White's entire plan of bringing so quickly the knight to b3. This is especially true because Black has a clear way to underline the shaky position of the knight b3 by playing ...a7-a5-a4 (notice that such an advance usually favours Black also from the strategical point of view). A move like g2-g4 is answered by ...Nf5-h4 and Black achieves counterplay.

8.g3!?

The pawn on c4 can remain unprotected and it looks like White also doesn't care about Black's plan to advance the a-pawn. But concrete variations show that 8...Bxc4 9.e4 leads to White's advantage, while 8...a5 is answered with 9.Bh3 a4 10.Bxf5 Bxf5 and White is right in time to take the central pawn - 11.Nbxd4, after which Black doesn't have sufficient compensation for two pawns.

The move 8.g3 still must be tested in practice, for analysis see Ivanisevic,I - Khenkin,I 1-0.

B2) 7...Bxc4 8.Nbxd4 Qd5

8...Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qd5 10.Qc2 is pretty similar to the main line.

9.Qc2!

This important tactical trick allows White to keep control in the centre. The threat is 10.e4. After 9...Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Qxd4 11.e3 White regains the piece and remains with an advantage thanks to his bishop pair. See Ivanisevic,I - Khenkin,I 1-0.

C) 5...Nge7 6.Nb3 Nf5

6...Ng6 leaves White with a choice between 7.a3, transposing to Chatalbashev,B - Czakon,J 0-1 and 7.Nbxd4, Brunner,N - Feygin,M ½-½, in both cases with advantage.

7.e4!

Another important resource in the entire variation. Black cannot keep the status quo in the centre and faces an unpleasant choice.

The most natural reaction 7...dxe3 leads after 8.Qxd8+ followed by 9.fxe3 to a very good endgame for White:

Although the pawns on the e-file are doubled and isolated, they control important squares, which secure White a better placement of the pieces. It is important that Black is not able to restore material equality. White's advantage here is out of question, but even so Black's catastrophic score in practice is rather astonishing - White has won almost all the games from the diagram position. See Maksimenko,A - Antoniewski,R 1-0.

Therefore instead of exchanging the queens Black should rather try to complicate matters with 7...Nh4 8.Nfxd4 Nxe5:

This position was reached in Brunner,N - Feygin,M ½-½. White is a healthy pawn up, but Black's knights produce some discomfort in White's camp. The knights can be supported by bishops (Bc8-g4 and Bf8-b4+) and by the c-pawn (...c7-c5) for the creation of further threats. With accurate play White can manage to neutralise his opponent's initiative and drive away the knights, which, by the way, don't have any stable squares.

In the aforementioned game White played 9.f3 and was in possession of a slight advantage for the entire game.

However, White has at his disposal a stronger possibility - 9.c5!. This move closes the diagonal for his opponent's bishop, opens a diagonal for his own bishop, makes the knight more stable on d4 and it gains an advantage in space. Quite a lot for a single move. White's chances are preferable, see the above-mentioned game Brunner,N - Feygin,M ½-½.

The conclusion: 5.Nbd2 is an ambitious, strategically clear system to meet the Albin Counter-Gambit. White plans to attack quickly the black pawn on d4 and try to avoid creating weaknesses in his own position. In some of the variations presented there is still little practical material and basically no established theory; nevertheless the analysis show that Black faces difficulties and my conclusion is that White achieves an advantage everywhere.


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