The Reliable Petroff

by Davide Nastasio
10/4/2018 – How do you choose an opening for Black against 1.e4? One idea is to watch the games of the most influential players and discover how you feel about their main choices. But in general, having a number of games at our fingertips to use as a foundation for knowing the opening is a must for every serious player. The Petroff has been considered a safe and solid way to play for equality, but as we will see in this review, it can become quite a sharp weapon to add to one's own repertoire. This can be ideal for the weekend tournament warrior, as well as for club players. The collection of games given with this review will help the reader make an informed choice, discovering the manoeuvres, ideas and risky lines available in the Petroff.

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The Reliable Petroff 

During the summer, at the swimming pool, my favourite reading was the book: "Applying logic in chess" by Erik Kislik.

The book is about the author's opinions on how one should progress in chess, and improve. One of the points he reiterates throughout the book is the need to watch as many games as possible. Good annotated games like we find in, say, Megabase 2018.

This system of watching the games is also applied to learning a new opening. In fact, Carsten Hansen the author of "The Full English Opening" endorses Kislik's wisdom when, in the foreword of his book, tells the story of how he won a book on the World Championship between Karpov and Korchnoi, and he used Korchnoi as role model, to learn to play 1.c4.

Once his summer vacation from school began, Carsten Hansen recounts: "In the next two weeks, I skimmed through decades' worth of Danish chess magazines and played over hundreds of games with 1.c4".

This system worked for him. At the next  tournament  he won with 7 out of 7.

Carsten Hansen

Now let's come to the Petroff, also known as Russian Defense. It has been used by many champions in the past. Artur Yusupov comes to mind, but also other big names like: Karpov, Kramnik, Gelfand, Kasimdzhanov, and many others.

Artur Yusupov is nowadays mainly a trainer

As an appetizer, and following the advice of Kislik as proven by Hansen, I'd like to share some of the games played by these champions, which will surely help the fence-sitters to give the Petroff a try! I'd like to mention Karpov, who has played both sides of the Petroff, and the games included have shown a theoretical battle between him and Portisch in a historical period in which one had to find the novelty or improvement by himself, without chess engine help. Also, pay attention to the game Morozevich vs Gelfand where we can see a dance of bishops.


Click on a game in the game list to switch

Master Class Vol.6: Anatoly Karpov

On this DVD a team of experts looks closely at the secrets of Karpov's games. In more than 7 hours of video, the authors examine four essential aspects of Karpov's superb play.

In modern times, we have Caruana, who has also had very good results with this opening.


GM Fernandez starts the DVD at a fast pace! He begins right away to present some lines, and positions he will treat during the 4½ hours of theory. But he acknowledges that not everyone learns in the same way, so he didn't use only games or theory to teach this opening, but a mix of different approaches, to be sure something will stick in that moment of need — such as when we are playing a tournament game, and our brain freezes because we don't remember how to continue!

In fact, Fernandez noticed many DVDs and books omit teaching pawn structures, while he thinks they are fundamental for understanding how to play an opening.

He begins by showing a symmetrical structure which arises after the following moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Be7 7. O-O Nd6 8.Re1 O-O 9. Nbd2 Re8 10. Nf1 c6


Then he gives a clear outline of what Black's plan should be in this position. He also calls the variation with 7...Nd6 his pet line, dedicating two videos to it.

Then he passes to another structure after the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Nc3 Nxc3 6. dxc3


Always in the introductory video, Fernandez immediately tackles the fact that White is not obliged to enter the Petroff! After 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 he recommends Nc6, which is the Four Knights. But in this DVD he also explains 3...Bb4


I'll address more fully this issue later in the review, for those tournament players like me who need a repertoire for Black which covers everything.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 is covered with nearly one hour of videos.


Fernandez does a good job at pointing out the variations we MUST know, and study, for example after the moves: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4  d5 6. Bd3 Be7 7. O-O Nc6 8. c4 Nb4 9. Be2 O-O 10. Nc3 Bf5


He dedicated an entire section to this line and wants to make sure you know it. Yes, this one is a huge difference with a book. From his words, I could understand I need to stop and watch games with this line and eventually play them, even if it does not come up in my own games, because his body language showed me the importance.

Fernandez covers also the latest fashionable trends, because we surely will find some of these lines employed against us, like the one which occurs after the moves:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Bd3 (or 5.Nc3)


The line with 5.Bd3 had as main proponents Morozevich, Topalov and Anand in the past, and now the main player is Andreikin. Here we present some of their games to show the ideas in this line (the games can be found annotated in Megabase 2018). Pay attention to the pawn structures which arise:


Click on a game in the game list to switch

By the way, some players can have the wrong idea that the Petroff is a drawish boring opening. Nothing is further from the truth, White can play the Cochrane Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7


Such gambit is considered dubious, but watching some games played in such fashion can surely dispel the wrong idea which would portray the Petroff as a dull drawish opening. On Megabase 2018, one can find around 900 games played with the Cochrane Gambit, some quite recent, like the following played by top players.


To reiterate the main points: the lion's share of the video series is composed of 4½ hours of theory! The interactive part is 1½ hours, and commented games are covered in one hour. If one wants truly to learn a new opening, a seven-hour course should be within everyone's time commitment, especially those who work, have a family, and another thousand things going on.

Pro and Con

While the majority of players will play 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3, many will play something else to avoid the Petroff. In fact, Tiviakov made a video series for White players on the Bishop Opening, which immediately avoids the Petroff. But of course, White, especially if prepared, could also play the King's Gambit, on which another prolific author, GM Williams, has many dedicated series.

To help prepare against some gambits, White can play something like the King's Gambit just mentioned. We have a DVD by Andrew Martin: Meeting the Gambits after 1.e4, Vol. 1, which is a good work everyone should study for the amount of insight and knowledge given to neutralize a gambit.

Martin explains how to meet the King's Gambit by countering in the centre with 1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5


...or just accepting it with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4


But there's another ChessBase author — Sam Collins — who has made a DVD on the Open Games with Bc5 for Black, which can be used against the Italian opening, the Four Knights, King's Gambit, etc., covering the openings White can play in order to avoid the Petroff.

Collins against the King's Gambit recommends: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5


It is not within the scope of this review to show games for those systems. The idea is to let the reader know ChessBase has covered all the needs of those players who wants to play the Petroff, and be prepared if White doesn't want to play the Petroff.

I found it positive that Fernandez said clearly he is not teaching the Petroff because every position gives equality or advantage to Black. Far from it. He is teaching the pawn structures one should know, with the plans and ideas behind them. The student will have to make it work, through personal study or practice. I like this down-to-earth approach because I cannot bear those who try to sell me an opening as the final solution to all my problems. It is more professional to tell me: these are the ideas, the plans, study it for a year, and see if it works in your tournament games. If it doesn't, well, I'm sure another author will teach me another opening. If it works, I do have a new weapon in my opening repertoire.

Final thoughts

I don't want to sugar coat it: the Petroff is an opening with a lot of theory. But to be well-prepared is the duty of every chess player. Once we didn't have the wealth of tools we have today, so there are no excuses for not learning a new opening which can broaden our horizons and make us gain rating points.

I believe this DVD is for everyone serious about learning the Petroff/Russian Defence, at every level. Yes, you read it right, every level! From beginner to future World Champion. In fact, Anand would have benefited from such DVD if it existed when he was a young GM. At the time he was rated around 2550 — watch what happened to him:


Good luck with the Petroff in your own games!

The Reliable Petroff

The Petroff (or Russian) Defence which is characterised by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 has been popular at the highest levels for many years and enjoys the reputation of being an extremely solid defence.


Davide is a novel chess aficionado who has made chess his spiritual tool of improvement and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."


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