The ubiquitous bayonet

by Jonathan Speelman
8/21/2022 – Pushing the g-pawn early in the game has become so common that when GM Jon Speelman watches Shakhriyar Mamedyarov play, he feels tempted to bet with himself when ‘the bayonet’ will be deployed. This week’s thematic column features a couple of classics (by Paul Keres and Alexei Shirov), an example from Mamedyarov’s practice and a remarkable win by Richard Pert from the British Championship. | Photo: Niki Riga

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Pushing the knight’s pawn

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

When I was getting established as a chess player all those years ago, I became known for pushing my rook’s pawns more than other people. This was probably partly an homage to Bent Larsen, whose best-games book I read and reread as a kid — but I also just liked it. Decades later, when our lord and master AlphaZero espoused this with such enthusiasm and artistry I was delighted.

Alexei ShirovThe other big push of the knight’s pawn was much less common in my own games and in general. Of course, it was common in the Yugoslav Attack against the Dragon, and there was the Benko Gambit — well away from both kings. But an early g2-g4 was extremely rare until Paul Keres introduced it against the Sicilian Scheveningen, and then decades later Alexei Shirov [pictured], after working with Alex Shabalov, launched it against the Semi-Slav.

Today it’s become so common that when I watch Shakhriyar Mamedyarov play, I’m almost tempted to bet with myself when the bayonet will be deployed. It features in lines of the Queen’s Gambit Declined and in some English/Reti types of position. And against the Sicilian, they nowadays sometimes play g4 before a black knight has even considered grazing the pastures on f6.

In the games analysed below, I’m looking at a selection of games with an early g2-g4, and I finish with an example from the British Championship of Black playing 3...g7-g5: an idea which totally discombobulated his opponent.  

We begin with the stem game of the Keres Attack against the Scheveningen, followed by the stem game of g4 against the Semi-Slav. I had to have at least one example by Mamedyarov and have added one, albeit just a blitz game. To finish, Richard Pert’s game from the British.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

And Action! - How to crown positional play by tactics

There are few names which, like that of Alexei Shirov, can be associated with fantastically imaginative and tactically influenced play. Now the Latvian grandmaster is presenting a DVD on precisely that element of the game of chess. And one that is completely based on his own games.


Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.