Opening surveys in CBM 135

4/15/2010 – The Najdorf with 6.Bg5 has become popular again. Plans which for years have shown no success are being tried out again and, lo and behold, they are suddenly playable. And so even 6...Nbd7 is being put to the test once more. The innovation occurs straight after what has been considered the best reply, 7.Bc4. Black now replies 7...Qb6! and after 8.Bb3 e6 the Nd7 is frequently exchanged for the Bb3 – with comfortable play for Black. Alexey Kuzmin examines this setup in detail, but also thoroughly investigates the alternative 7.f4. CBM 135 contains another twelve openings articles. Read Kuzmin: Najdorf 6.Bg5 Nbd7.

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Rich resources for counterplay with a rare move

by Alexey Kuzmin

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 Nbd7!?

This is an extremely rare move at grandmaster level, and has a rather dubious reputation, which is undeserved. In my view, Black has some highly original resources, offering good counterplay. White has two logical possibilities: 7.f4 and 7.Bc4.

A) The variation 7.f4

White invites his opponent to return to normal lines by means of 7...e6. However, Black has other resources.

7…Qc7

White has two sensible continuations: 8.Qe2 and the significantly more popular 8.Qf3.

A1) 8.Qe2 e5!?

Black exploits the fact that after 9.Nf5 h6 White would be forced to part with his dark-squared bishop.

9.Nf5 h6 10.Bxf6 Nxf6. As shown by the game Radjabov,T - Ivanchuk,V ½-½/Bazna 2009, Black does not have the slightest problem. 

A2) 8.Qf3 h6!

Not the most popular continuation. However, at this precise moment, Black has the chance to exploit a tactical resource.

9.Bh4 g5!

10.fxg5 hxg5 11.Bxg5 Qc5 and Black has sufficient compensation, Narmontas,M - Bogner,S ½-½/Antalya 2009.

B) The variation 7.Bc4

For more than 50 years, this has been considered the main response to 6...Nbd7. Back in the 1950s, it was used successfully by Bronstein, Tal, Spassky, Nezhmetdinov... 

Undoubtedly, the development of the bishop to c4 underlines the negative side of Black's last move; now after e7-e6, he will have to reckon the whole time with the possibility of a sacrifice on e6. Instead of the most frequently played 7...Qa5, we continue with...

7...Qb6!

8.Bb3

The most natural reply. The gambit continuation 8.Qd2 Qxb2, hardly ever seen in practice, deserves some consideration. However, in comparison with the well-known 6…e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2, we see that, in the present case, Black has a better version. White cannot damage his opponent's pawn structure with Bxf6, whilst Black has additional resources, connected with the development of his light-squared bishop.

8...e6

In MegaBase I found only seven games which reached this position, but the Najdorf contains two related variations: 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Nbd7 8.Bc4 Qb6 and 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 Nbd7 8.Bg5 Nc5. I should point out that many of the games I refer to below reached this position by transposition. Black intends to play ...Be7 and ...Nc5 (in that order, so as to avoid the undesirable spoiling of his pawn formation after Bxf6 gxf6), solidly defending the square e6, and then to complete his development by Qc7, b5 etc.

One can identify four plans for White:

B1) The plan with long castling -

9.Qd2 Be7 10.0-0-0 Nc5

This was seen in Shirov,A - Dominguez Perez,L ½-½/Corus A Wijk aan Zee 2010.

B2) The plan with the immediate push of the f-pawn -

9.f4 Be7 10.f5 Nc5

Kurnosov,I - Areshchenko,A ½-½.

B3) The plan with the exchange on f6, followed by pushing the f-pawn -

9.Bxf6 Nxf6 10.f4

This exchange requires some explanation. White intends to attack the e6 square by advancing his f-pawn, and Black plans to meet this by the move ...Nc5. White therefore prevents the latter, by taking on f6, before Black has played ...Be7.

The resulting position is analysed in the game Naiditsch,A - Sjugirov,S 1-0/Moscow 2009, where Black chose the continuation 10...e5. The interesting alternative 10...Be7 should be noted here, and this possibility is considered in the notes to the game.

B4) The plan with short castling -

9.0-0 Be7

Now the planned advance of the f-pawn can be prepared either by 10.Be3 Nc5 11.f4, Bok,B - Burg,T ½-½/Venlo 2009, or 10.Kh1 Nc5 11.f4 - Conquest,S - Bischoff,K ½-½/Pulvermuehle 2004.

At this point in time, it is hard to draw any clear conclusions about the new ideas in the variations 7.f4 Qc7 and 7.Bc4 Qb6 after 6…Nbd7, but the analysis, and the so far limited practical experience, suggest that Black has rich resources for counterplay.


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