Openings surveys in CBM 136

by ChessBase
6/21/2010 – After 6...c5 in the Vienna Variation of the Orthodox Queen's Gambit, theory frequently stretches far into the middlegame. But recently 6...h6 has come into contention – Kramnik, Aronian and Ivanchuk have all tried it. If this alternative turns out to be reliable, Black will have an elegant option to simply avoid the thicket of variations after the main move. Evgeny Postny has looked into the subject and provided us with thorough analysis of top games. His conclusion is cautious, since the idea is still fresh. But in the next issue of CBM there will be fresh annotated games with 6...h6. Read: Postny: Vienna with 6...h6.

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Vienna variation with an early ...h6

by Evgeny Postny

The theme of the current survey is the variation 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.e4 Bb4 6.Bg5 h6

The so called Vienna variation has been a frequent guest in top tournaments during the last decades. The main continuation 6...c5 has been played in thousands of games and analysed for dozens of moves forward. Many of the lines are well known for their forced sequences of moves and often lead to a theoretical draw. However, recently White managed to spot some fresh ideas and pose some problems to the second player. The encounter Kramnik-Naiditsch from the Dortmund supertournament 2009 is just one example to point out. Therefore the previously considered side line 6...h6 came to the front of the stage. It is curious that the initiator of the current theoretical discussion is the former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik himself, who employed this variation in two key encounters in the Tal memorial supertournament in November 2009. Two draws with black pieces against Aronian and Ivanchuk were just enough for Vladimir to keep the first place, even though he had to pass through some tense moments in these battles. It didn't take much time for other top grandmasters to catch up with the new idea and follow the same line. Already in the current year several top grandmasters have adopted the 6...h6 line as Black, with satisfactory results. It is enough to mention Aronian, Ivanchuk and Movsesian.

Now, let's ponder a bit about the position. Black's last move forces White to part with his dark-squared bishop as 7.Bh4? is obviously bad in view of 7...g5 followed by 8...Nxe4. Therefore 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 is forced. Then White regains the pawn on c4 and enjoys the strong pawn centre. These are the grounds that previously made the move 6...h6 be considered as a dubious one. So, what are Black's trumps in this position? First of all, the pair of bishops should not be underestimated. Secondly, his position has no weaknesses. Black is going to undermine white's central pawn by c7-c5, which will clearly emphasise the absence of the dark-squared bishop. In general, White's play in this variation has to be aggressive and concrete. Should Black manage to complete his development smoothly, he can look forward optimistically.

So, after the aforementioned 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 White's main reply is 8.Bxc4, but let's examine first some options with the check on a4 included.

A) 8.Qa4+ Nc6 9.Bxc4

This appeared in the game Ftacnik,L - Mirzoev,A ½-½, White forced the move 8...Nc6, so now Black can't play c7-c5. On the other hand, the queen on a4 is somewhat misplaced and Black can emphasise this by the immediate 9...Bd7! with a good game.

B) 8.e5 Qd8 9.Qa4+ Nc6 10.Bxc4

This version of the same idea saw the light in the above-mentioned encounter Ivanchuk-Kramnik. There followed 10...Bd7 11.Qc2 Na5?! 12.Bd3 c5 and later on Kramnik was under pressure, mainly because of the misplaced knight. In a more recent game Delchev,A - Ragger,M ½-½ the young Austrian grandmaster came up with the positionally sound 11...Ne7! and equalised fairly easily. This brings us to the conclusion, that the check on a4 is harmless for Black.

Now we will proceed to the main line where White doesn't include the check on a4.

C) 8.Bxc4

Black's next two moves are obvious - to castle and to undermine the white centre by c7-c5.

After 8...c5 9.e5 Qd8 Aronian tried to avoid the capture on d4 by 10.d5, but after 10...exd5 11.Bxd5 0-0

White's edge is only marginal as in the encounter Aronian,L - Kramnik,V ½-½.

So, White's most recent try is 9.0-0.

Here Black can choose between castling and the capture on d4.

He should take into account that the immediate 9...cxd4 gives White the additional possibility 10.Nb5. After the forced sequence 10...Qe7 11.Qxd4 0-0 12.Nxa7 Bc5 13.Nxc8 Rxc8 we get the following position:

White won a pawn by force. However, Black's chances for a draw here are very high thanks to the presence of opposite coloured bishops. Still, the defence wasn't a piece of cake for Black in the very recent game Lysyj,I - Movsesian,S ½-½.

If Black wants to avoid the 10.Nb5 line, then he can start with 9...0-0 (instead of 9...cxd4). There follows 10.e5 Qd8:

This order of moves prevents the 10.Nb5 idea, on the other hand gives White some other possibilities. Now the first player has to decide, what to do with the d4-pawn. He has several options to consider.

11.Qe2 which appeared in the encounter Kramnik,V - Ivanchuk,V ½-½ is very much in the spirit of the position. White is going to bring one of his rooks to d1, the knight to e4 and try to create threats against the black king which clearly lacks defenders so far. The resulting position is very complicated and needs more practical material. To my mind Black's defensive resources are sufficient.

The alternatives such as 11.a3 and 11.d5 appeared in old classical games and have some potential as well.

Another top level recent encounter Grischuk,A - Aronian,L ½-½ reached a very similar position with a slightly different order of moves. After 9.0-0 cxd4 10.e5 Qd8 11.Ne4 0-0 12.Qe2 Bd7

Grischuk put the other rook on d1 and then adopted a more positional plan, seizing more space on the queenside by a3-b4 and not hurrying up with the recapture of the d4-pawn. On the way to a peaceful result Aronian had to work quite hard, but as analysis shows, his position wasn't worse.

Conclusion: So far it's difficult to come to a hard and fast verdict on this line, since the theoretical dispute is just in it's prime. The big percentage of drawish results point rather more to the high level of both sides, than indicating a clear evaluation of the whole line. According to the recent top encounters, the line where White gives up the d4-pawn and plays for a kingside initiative, is the most ambitious one. In my opinion, it should not yield White an advantage against precise defence. I think that White should also pay attention to some side lines such as 11.d5 like in the old game Gligoric-Karaklajic. There are still a lot of relatively unexplored sub-lines and I expect the theoretical discussion to continue.

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