Victor Bologan: The Berlin Wall explained

by Nisha Mohota
11/18/2015 – As you can see in yesterday's European Team Championship report, it was raining Berlins in Reykjavik. For IM Nisha Mohota that used to be a problem: "I never understood what went on in these ‘boring’ positions." That all changed when she got hold of a Fritztrainer by GM Victor Bologan. Now she understands the ideas and plans – and has also generally become a better player!

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Victor Bologan: The Berlin Wall


Anything we do not understand is boring to us. Whenever I would see live games of top players playing the Berlin, I would turn off the transmission or change to a different game! The reason: I never understood what went on in those ‘boring’ positions! During the Anand-Carlsen World Championship matches, I would sit in front of my computer before the start of their games and hope that they do not fight out a Berlin! I remember staring blankly at the games when they were in progress – after all I could not afford to miss watching those important games!

Then, one day, I chanced upon Victor Bologan’s ChessBase DVD: The Berlin Wall, and I immediately grabbed it! This was an opportunity to learn the intricacies of an opening which had puzzled me since the Kasparov-Kramnik World Championship match of 2000!

Bologan starts the videos by first making us familiar with the very popular anti-Berlin ideas, but what interested me most were his recommendations in the main lines of the Berlin.

The starting position of the main line of the Berlin Wall. Here the Moldovian GM recommends
a setup with Bd7 and Kc8, and mentions that it is the most aggressive line of play for Black.

There are ways for White to stop Black’s preferred system. In his notes, Bologan gives one such line as playable for both sides.

By playing 9.Rd1, White can force the Black monarch to stay on e8. The minus is that the d1 square is desired for the other rook. This is the price White has to pay for forcing the enemy king to e8. Recently, in the European Team Championship, 2015, Bologan used this knowledge to win against Leko with the white pieces, and it is very nice to see how beautifully he regroups the white rooks later. You can see the game annotated by Sagar Shah.

This opening is mostly about typical plans. In general, I was more keen on learning the ideas rather than the moves in the Berlin main line, as they were forever a mystery to me! Knowledge of different situations for both sides can help handle different move orders.

A common idea for White is to regroup the c3 knight and improve its position.
Black can then seize the chance to play c5 and then transfer the bishop to the more active c6 square.

The Berlin is deceptive! If you are expecting a dull, slow, and positional ending like in the Exchange Ruy Lopez, you will be taken by a complete surprise! The white pawn on e5, instead of e4 as in the Ruy Lopez Exchange variation, forces White to completely change his strategy. The e-pawn in Berlin is vulnerable to the black king and it gives Black the f5 and d5 squares for his pieces, especially his king, in the pure king and pawn ending. This is why White tries to play a queenless middlegame in Berlin rather than pure pawn ending.

White managed to create a strong play with his next move. Can you spot it?

Bologan played 18.g3 here. His intention was to play f4-f5, which is a very important opening idea. Normally White has an advantage if he manages to achieve it. In the above game, White even sacrificed a pawn and managed to get a good edge!

If Black does not defend the position carefully now he will quickly get into trouble. What should he do?

The defensive resource Black has in the above position is 16...f5, after which the position is equal. Bologan points out that people think that Berlin is very peaceful and without much tactics. But this is untrue.

This position was reached in Karjakin-Carlsen, Norway, 2014. An idea Black must be familiar with is 16...h6. After 17.Nxf7 Re8, the knight on f7 is trapped. Although the game was objectively equal after 18.f4, such ideas can give a psychological edge to Black!

Bologan is very experienced with both colours in the Berlin, and due to this, we are greatly benefited. He gives his own examples and teaches from personal experience. He does not restrict teaching only the opening to us: through the Berlin, he trains us to become better players!

How to develop Black’s pieces? Find the setup best for him.

Victor says that psychologically it was not easy to make the next move, 21...g6 with the Bh6 idea, as White has the bishop on b2. However, 22.e6 only looks dangerous, and after 22...Rh7 Black is doing fine.

I love challenges! So I was very excited when Victor gave me a challenge!

“If you find the next White move then it means that you have some talent also!”
This statement of the Moldovian GM was good motivation for me!

It was a feel-good factor to spot the next move 36.Re1 after which White has an edge.

I found the twin diagrams highly amusing! In both of them, the Black monarch is blocking the bishop and marching forward to c6 and d6 respectively!

Can you spot what Bologan thinks is “one of the nicest ideas for Black in the Berlin”?

Black has an important idea here which we should have in our arsenal: he disturbs the white pawn chain with b5 and can then grab all the three white pawns!

The DVD contains thirty-nine high-quality video lessons, which includes interactive test positions wherein Bologan gives a complete repertoire for Black. It is an interesting tool for the viewers who want to make life difficult for White by playing the invincible Berlin. Although the videos are mostly aimed at the black players, anyone who wants to play the Berlin as White will find it equally useful. Victor stresses that it is not an opening for a draw, it needs very complex understanding and if we know the ideas well then we can easily outplay our opponents with black!

The best way to improve our game is by studying top-level chess. The general ideas we acquire by watching the videos will make us more interested in the games of strong players, most of whom play this opening with both colours. I will not claim that I now know everything about the Berlin, but I can confidently say that I am better placed to understand the ideas and games of top players like Carlsen, Anand, Aronian, Nakamura and Kramnik. Our author confidently says: “if you will carefully study this DVD then for sure your strength will grow!” I am not sure whether I will play this opening with either colour, but this product is definitely a tool for me to become a better player!

Victor Bologan: The Berlin Wall

Languages: English
ISBN: 978-3-86681-496-7
Delivery: Download, Post
Level: Tournament player, Professional
Price: €29.90 or €25.13 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU) $27.06 (without VAT)

"The Berlin Wall, also known as the Berlin Defense, is one of the most solid and frequently played openings of the 21st century, and compared to the real Berlin Wall, there’s almost no chance of it falling. Introduced into serious practice during the WCC match between Kasparov and Kramnik in London in 2000, it heralded a change in chess from the dynamic and romantic style of the 20th century towards a more pragmatic, solid, resourceful and forward-looking approach. Kramnik won the match and the Berlin Defense became extremely popular.

The DVD is divided into two parts. In the first section, we look at what happens when White avoids the endgame in the “Anti-Berlin” systems, while the second section deals with the Berlin ending. Lately, White has been playing Anti-Berlin setups much more frequently — as they cannot find anything in the main Berlin. In a way, this alone is a testament to its power! The endgame should be treated as serious, complex setting with lots of possibilities, including many tactical tricks.

It goes without saying that studying the Berlin Defense will improve your understanding of the endgame dramatically. The course also includes a number of exercises aimed at improving your practical skills in the Berlin. The DVD caters for a wide range of audiences that ranges from beginners right through to highly skilled players. Add the Berlin Wall into your repertoire and pass the headache of “what to play against it?” to your opponent!

  • Video running time: 4 hours 07 min(English)
  • With interactive training including video feedback
  • Exclusive database with over 50 essential games plus analysis of variations by Bologan
  • Including CB 12 Reader

Victor Bologan is a pupil of the top Moldavan trainer Vecheslav Chebanenko. For many years Bologan has been the number one in Moldova and has represented his country in eight Chess Olympiads. His greatest successes were in 2003 when he, first of all, won the Aeroflot Open and then the famous Dortmund Tournament, ahead of Kramnik and Anand. The Moldovan has extensive experience as a trainer and has also published his first books.

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Nisha Mohota became India’s youngest WIM in 1995 and India’s fourth WGM in 2003. Since February 2011 she has been a full IM – her highest ever Elo rating was 2416. She has represented India in 25 countries, playing for India in the 2004, 2008 and 2010 Olympiads. Her first love, chess, helps her continue her other passion: writing, photography and travelling.


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