Rubinstein Four Knights Reversed; Schliemann
Considerations
Maybe I should apologize for my incessant use of twopart titles, but I
often find it congenial here to treat one topic in the main text and a second,
not necessarily related topic in the linked games. Particularly when I've
recently been laboring on some analysis or other, I like to share it here even
if it doesn't always relate closely to the previously advertised theme of the
column. And such indeed is the case now, the subject of my investigations being
a theoretical problem that arose recently in the play of some schoolage
players of my acquaintance (the analysis presented here is, of course, aimed at
more advanced players).
In my role as a volunteer chess coach of school children aged 611, I've
discovered that minds innocent of chess wisdom are nevertheless capable of
posing some surprisingly difficult chess problems. A line of the Three Knights
Game has been coming up in our scholastic chess team practices and presents a
notsoeasy question for chess theory, or at least, for my understanding of it
Many chess kids like to open with the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.
Nc3, but here the reply 3...Nf6 is far from universal. It's always
nice when 3...Bc5? is played, because it gives me a chance to
demonstrate the fork trick, 4. Nxe5 and so forth, in my postgame
comments. But 3...Bb4 is also highly favored by chess kids, and it isn't
a simple matter for White to establish an advantage against it.
Leading to a roughly balanced system of the Vienna game is 4. Bc4 Nf6 5.
d3. This and the similarly boring Italian with d2d3 are frequent
visitors in scholastic chess events, but I like my kids to play more incisively
than that. So I've encouraged them to meet 3...Bb4 with 4. Nd5,
the theoretically optimal reply. The books give the commonsensical 4...Ba5
5. Bc4 Nf6 6. OO Nxe4 (7...d6 8. d6 and White will play Bg5) 7. Re1
f5 and now 8. b4!
Position after 8. b4
Quite good for White is 8...Nxb4 9. Nxe5. And after 8...Bxb4 9.
Nxb4 Nxb4 10. Nxe5 White advantageously threatens both 12. d3 and 12. Qh5+.
If 12...Qf6, then 12. Bb2. Similar is 12...Qh4 13. g3 Bb2. (Readers interested
in chess coaching should not assume that I expect my chess kids to master such
specific variations; I just show them the moves and point out the key ideas.)
But instead of theory's 4...Ba5, the chess kids like to play
4...Nf6. After all, they've been taught to develop their pieces! This is
not such an easy move for White to meet.
Position after 4...Nf6
It's a little strange that this position, arising from plausible play after
only the fourth move of the Open Game, isn't currently considered in the
literature. Maybe at one time it was, and I would check the Handbuch des
Schachspiels, 1916 edition (Karl Schlecther, ed.), except that the only
pages I have of that work are those relevant to the Italian Game. The position
is, in fact, a Rubinstein Defense to the Four Knights, with colors reversed.
Here "Black," with pale pieces, has an extra tempo.
But how to use it? White can probably obtain some advantage with 5. Bc4
and even the adventuresome 5. c3!?, but I will consider here only
the direct 5. Nxb4, which makes the most sense to me and which I believe
leads to an advantage for White. After 5...Nxb4 White has 6.
Nxe4, 6. d4 and 6. c3.
I. 6. Nxe4 Nxe4 (6...Qe7?! 7. d4 d6 8. a3 leads to trouble) 7. d3
(7. Qe2 Nxc7+ 8. Kd1 Nxa1 9. Qxe4 Qe7 favors Black, because his advantage
in time more than makes up for the slight material deficit he may suffer after
his a1 knight is finally captured) 7...d6 8. dxe4 (8. Nxf7 Nxf2)
8...dxe5.
Position after 8...dxe5
White has a little advantage in his two bishops, but it's hard to see how
he'll be able to make much progress.
II. 6. d4 exd4 (6...Nxe4 7. dxe5 favors White) 7. e5 (7. Nxd4?
Nxe4 8. Qe2 OO) 7...Qe7 8. Qe2 Nfd5 (too frisky is 8...Ng4 9. h3 d3 10.
cxd6 Qc5 11. hxg5 Nc7+ 12. Kd1 Nxa1 13. b3 and White has excellent play for his
material deficit, for example, 13...Qd5 14. Bb2 Nxb3 15. axb3 Qxb3+ 16. Kc1)
9. a3 (9. Bg5? Qc5) 9...Nc6 10. Bg5 Qc5(10...Qe6?! 11. OOO h6
12. Bh4 b6 13. Nxd4 Nxd4 14. Rxd4 Bb7 15. Qe4 and Black is in a bad way).
Position after 10...Qc5
Black's queen is deployed somewhat awkwardly, but his game seems playable
enough. If 11. Qc4, then 11...d6.
III. 6. c3! Nc6 7. d4
Position after 7. d4
The position is identical to a key position of the Ponziani (1.e4 e5 2. Nf3
Nc6 3. c3 Nf6 4. d4), except that White's queen knight and Black's king bishop
are missing. This difference favors White, because his queen knight is a
problem piece in the Ponziani, while Black's king bishop is active there.
IIIa. 7...Nxe4 (identical is 7...d5 8. Nxe5! Nxe5 9. dxe5 Nxe4 10.
Bd3, but that way, White also has the option of 10. Be3) 8. Bd3! d5
(somewhat similar is 8...f5 9. Nxe5! Nxe5 10. dxe5) 9. Nxe5! Nxe5 10.
dxe5 OO 11. OO
Position after 11 OO
His two bishops and kingside pawn majority offer White a very promising
game. An eventual c3c4 in certain situations, to undermine the knight, is part
of his armament.
IIIb. 7...exd4 8. e5 Qe7 (8...Nd5 9. Qb3 is good for
White) 9. cxd4 d6 10. Bb5 Bd7 11. OO dxe5 (11...Nd5 12.
Bg5 greatly favors White) 12. dxe5 Nxe5 13. Bxd7 Nfxd7 (13...Nexd7? 14.
Re1 Ne4 15. Bg5! and both 15...Qe6 16. Qd4 and 15...f6 16. Qa4 lead to a White
win) 14. Nxe5 Nxe5 15. Re1.
Position after 15. Re1
As punishment for his extra pawn, Black is under great pressure on the
efile. Necessary is 15...Rd8 but then 16. Qe2 (16. Qa4+ c6 17.
Bf4 f6 18. Qxa7 OO 19. Qe3 offers White a definite, but smaller, advantage)
16...Kf8 (forced) 17. Bf4 f6 (17...Nc6 18. Qxe7 Nxe7 19. Bxc7
favors White because of his vastly more active rooks) 18. Bxe5 Qxe5 19. Qc2
Qa5 20. Qb3! and Black is severely handicapped by the absence of his king
rook. If 20...Qb6 then 21. Rad1. Or 20...Qc5 21. Qxb7 Rd2
and White can calmly play 22. Rf1, threatening Rac1.
IIIc. 7...d6! Of course. The player on the wrong side of the two
bishops should generally avoid opening the position.
Position after 7...d6
Black has no obvious problems with his development and White's center is
temporarily under pressure, but still it's not easy for the second player.
White has the two bishops, and his advantage in space is significant.
IIIc1. A direct attempt to weaken Black's pawn structure is 8.
dxe5 but 8...Nxe5! keeps Black's difficulties to a manageable
minimum (worse is 8...dxe5 9. Qxd8+ and White is good after 9...Kxd8 10. Bb5
Re8 11. Bxc6 bxc6 12. Bg5 or 9...Nxd8 10. Nxe5 Nxe4 11. Bb5+) 9. Nxe5 dxe5
10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 11. Bg5 Be6 12. f4 h6 13. Bxf6+ gxf6.
Position after 13...gxf6
Black's hpawn is a longterm weakness, but he has the better bishop and his
position looks playable enough to me.
IIIc2. 8. Bd3 is a little passive but may be sufficient for
advantage. 8...Bg4 9. Be3 OO 10. h3 (10. OO? d5! equalizes completely,
but 10. d5 Ne7 11. h3 offers White some advantage) 10...Bxf3 (10...Bd7
11. OO with advantage to White) 11. Qxf3 exd4!? (11...Qe7 12. d5 Nb8
13. c4 a5 14. b3 Nbd7 15. OO Nc5 16. Bc2 is good for White, who intends a2a3,
b3b4) 12. cxd4 (12. Bxd4 Ne5!) 12...Re8 13. OO Qe7 14. Rc1 Nxe4 15.
Bb5
Position after 15. Bb5
Black can't prevent White from regaining the pawn on c6, after which White
will have good play against Black's backward cpawn. For instance, 15...Rb8
16. b3 and soon Bxc6.
IIIc3. Most active and probably best is 8. Bb5 Bd7 9. Bg5!
(9. Qd3 OO 10. OO exd4 11. cxd4 Qe8 12. Rfe1 Nb4 is not much trouble for
Black, and neither is 9. OO exd4 10. cxd4 Nxe4 11. Re1 d5 12. Qb3 OO 13. Qxd4
Nf6).
Position after 9. Bg5
Black is under pressure. 9...h6 (9...exd4 10. cxd4 h6 11. Bxf6 Qxf6
12. OO OO 13. Rc1 and White has a significant advantage in space)
10. Bxf6 Qxf6 11. d5 Nb8 12. Qb3! and White has the advantage.
Position after 12. Qb3
If 12...c6, then 13. Bd3 (or even 13. Ba6!? Nxa6 14. Qxb7 Ke7
15. Qxa6 cxd5 16. exd5 Rhb8 17. Qe2 and Black lacks full compensation for his
pawn) 13...b6 14. OO OO 15. a4. And if 12...b6, the 13.
Qc4.
The conclusion of my investigations is that after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.
Nc3 Bb4 4. Nd5 Nf6, White can obtain a definite advantage with 5.Nxb4
Nxb4 6. c3! Nc6 7. d4. I invite the reader's comments upon the
foregoing variations, which are included in the zipped file linked below.
I now turn to the topic that I advertised in last month's "Hard
Chess," the Schliemann Defense to the Ruy. I have advocated this defense
before in this space, expressing my view that it's a
legitimate try for dynamic play. Black's third move, indeed, implicitly asserts
that White's bishop is misplaced on b5! This claim is most clearly borne out
after 4. d4 fxe4 5. Nxe5 Nxe5 6. dxe5 c6, when any retreat of the bishop
exposes White to the check from a5 and the loss of his epawn (White's best
idea is to sack the piece with 7. Nc3 leading, like many other lines of
the Schliemann, to a difficult game where both sides have winning chances).
The main line of the Schiemann is 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. Nc3!
fxe4 5. Nxe4 d5! 6. Nxe5! dxe4 7. Nxc6 Qg5! (Black again points to the
"misplacement" of the bishop) 8. Qe2 Nf6 9. f4 Qxf4 10. Ne5+ c6
11. d4 Qh4+ 12. g3 Qh3 13. Bc4 Be6 14. Bg5 (14. Bf4 is a major
alternative) 14...OOO 15. OOO Bd6.
Position after 15...Bd6
White's advantage is chiefly made up of his beautifully centralized knight.
Black's king position is a little airy, and a queenside attack, possibly
involving the sacrifice of the knight on c6, looms if Black can't get something
going. On the other hand, Black is nicely developed, and White's kingside is
brittle. A key question will be whether Black's isolated, passed epawn is
strong or weak. This can become a debate about the e and fpawns together if
White exchanges on f6. If White doesn't exchange the Black's knight, its
natural square is d5. White's eventual push d4d5 may not be a big problem if
Black is prepared to answer with c6c5. A question for White is whether to push
his cpawn to c4, which gains space but leaves the dpawn somewhat weak.
I will not treat further the diagrammed position, mostly because I am currently
contesting it in my ongoing
game against David Burris in the final section of the 13th
U.S. championship. I don't want to play here the role of my
very strong opponent's devoted research assistant. Instead,
I will treat a derivative idea that arises when White, instead
of 10. Ne5+ in the line given above, plays 10. d4.
Ever since the immortal game FisherMatulovic, Herceg Novi blitz,
1970, it has been believed that 10...Qd6 is the required
reply. Matulovic attempted transposition into the main line
with 10...Qh4+ 11. g3 Qh3 but ran into 12. Bg5!?
and was rolled off the board.
Position after 12. Bg5
But recent analysis by Ivanov and Kulagin in their indispensible work,
Play the Schliemann Defense, Olbrich 1994, suggests that
Fischer's piece sacrifice is good for no more than a draw and, as Fisher chose
to play it, even leads to advantage for Black. I present my own commentary on
the FisherMatulovic game, with generous quotations of Ivanov's and Kulagin's
analysis but also with some additions and improvements, in the first game
linked below.
A curious echo of that game arose in my own practice when an opponent
selected, in the main line instead of 13. Bc4, the move 13. Bg5?!!
Position after 13. Bg5
Maybe White thought he was playing Fischer's line; I don't know. But the
move presents some interesting problems that I treat in GuehnMorss, NAPZM62,
linked below.
Game 1: FischerMatulovic, Herceg Novi
blitz, 1970
Game 2: GuehnMorss, NAPZM62
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Next Month: The Queen's Gambit Point Machine
