The Campbell Report
Hard Chess
with USCF Senior Master Mark Morss

October 1999
In My Laboratory; More about the Two Knights Modern

This month I welcome the reader into my chess laboratory, and I invite him or her to work with me while I make progress (or fail to make it) in analyzing a line of the Evans Gambit. I then come back to the Two Knights Defense, Modern Variation, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. e5, which I considered in last month's column, supplying two more of my games in that line.

But first some old business.

After putting up my notes to Clark-Morss in last-month's column, which concerned the Kaidanz Variation, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. e5 d5 6. Bb5 Ne4 7. Nxd5 Bc5 8. Nxc6 Bxf7+ 9. Kf1 Qh4, I discovered in my copy of Chess Mail's MegaCorr database the 1989 postal game Bartolik-Malinin, which sheds a little further light on this line (though Bartolik sadly failed to discover Clark's innovation, and went quickly down to defeat). Strangely, the game as it appears in MegaCorr is extensively annotated by someone whose name is not given, but whose notes are almost entirely quoted, verbatim and without clear attribution, from an earlier set of notes that I wrote to the game Clark-Morss. Judging from the game references, my borrower's notes appeared in Chess Mail. My original notes were first published, copyrighted, in Dark Horse News, a Columbus chess publication now defunct, in October 1993, and became available magnetically when I put them up some years ago on the Compuserve Chess Forum. That is how they came into the Chess Mail commentator's posession, and he does indeed mention my name ("R. Morss" - sic) and the existence of my notes. Perhaps I lost the copyright of my words when I posted them on Compuserve, but I must confess, it is disconcerting to encounter my own words and chess variations quoted back to me at length by another commentator, as if they were his own. In any case, I include in the zip file below the Bartolik-Malinin game, including some notes that are not redundant with the material that I've already supplied in this line. In doing so, I have borrowed some of the ideas of my borrower, which I hope he will not object to.

Let me now invite the reader to sit beside me while we engage in a little research. I want to play 3...Bc5 in response to the Italian, for two reasons. First, I've made public here some of my thinking about 3...Nf6, and I don't want people to be able to play the Italian assuming that I will always play the Two Knights. Also, 3...Bc5 is a good move that gives winning chances in many of White's more popular tries, for example, the Moeller Attack and the Evans Gambit. So let's start with the Evans, and since we should always begin our research with a survey of established theory, let's pull down our copy of Harding and Cafferty's laudable work, Play the Evans Gambit, Cadogan 1997. We can keep ECO-3 and some other recent works beside us, to be sure we don't overlook anything.

I think Black's Evans Gambit winning chances are greatest in the older, more materialistic lines, so let's see what they have to say about the most materialistic of all, the Compromised Defense, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. d4 exd4 7. O-O dxc3 8. Qb3 Qf6 9. e5 Qg6 10. Nxc3 Nge7 11. Ba3.

Diagram 1
Position after 11. Ba3

This position was heavily contested during the last century, but the more recent judgement, strongly supported by Harding and Cafferty, is that Black is in trouble. Even so, wouldn't it be nice to find a line where Black can successfully defend his big material advantage?

In the diagram, I was first tempted by Lasker's 11...Bxc3 12. Qxc3 b6. The ideas of great players of the past always deserve a serious look. According to Harding and Cafferty, Lasker ultimately came to believe that 13. Rfd1 Bb7 14. Rac1 is unfavorable for Black. Let me just say that I've spent some time analyzing 14...Rd8 and 14...Rc8, but it's very hard to figure out how Black can get castled without allowing White to smash through on the c- and d-files.

Since playing with our king in the center doesn't appeal to us, let us turn to Black's more widely accepted idea in the diagram, 11...O-O, when White's best seems to be 12. Rad1. Now scanning through Harding and Cafferty, we find a number of not-very-pleasant continuations for Black, but something attracts my interest: they say that 12...Rd8 was recommended by Chigorin. Well, that is something! We may surmise from Chigorin's almost always having played 6. O-O in preference to 6. d4 that he believed the Compromised Defense was good for Black, and here we have his recommendation for further play. Evidently Chigorin's idea is to try to get in an early ...d6.

So what do Harding and Cafferty say? They say White is better after 13. Bxe7 Nxe7 14. Qa3 Nc6 15. Nd5 Re8 16. Bb5.

Diagram 2
Position after 16. Bb5

From this postition, Harding and Cafferty play 16...Bb6 and... wait a minute! Instead of that, why doesn't Black just play 16...d6 in the diagram, with the point that 17. Bxc6 bxc6 is perfectly good for him? Ah well, it must be that 17. Nd4 is strong, with 17...Bd7 18. Nxc6 bxc6 19. Qxa5 cxb5 20. Qxc7 Qe6 21. exd6 and Black is in hot water. But instead of 18...bxc6 Black could try 18...Bxc6 and now what? Well, 19. exd6 Bxd5 20. Rxd5 Qe4 21. d7 Red8 22. Rfd1 Bb6 and though White's d-pawn looks pretty fearsome, it's hard to see how he's going to make progress with it. But he also has the more straightforward 19. Qxa5 Bxb5 (19...Rxe5 20. Bc4 and I doubt that Black's pawns are a match for White's piece) 20. Qxb5 c6 21. Qb4 cxd5 22. exd6 Rad8 23. Rxd5 b6 24. d7 and I don't like the look of this position for Black. So I guess that tells us why 16...d6 is not so hot.

O.K., let's go back to Harding and Cafferty's treatment of the previous diagram. They give 16...Bb6.

Diagram 3
Position after 16...Bb6

And from this position, they follow up with 17. Nxb6 cxb6 18. Rd6 Re6 19. Rfd1 with advantage to White, who will get around to Bc4 soon enough. Well, I don't know about that. Instead of the funny-looking 18...Re6, couldn't black just play 18...Qh5, with the idea of winning the e-pawn? For example 19. Re1 Nxe5 20. Kh1 f6 and Black looks good to me. So maybe we have our improvement on established theory?

Well, not so fast. Let's check the previous diagram. Instead of Harding and Cafferty's line, it looks like White has a much better idea in 17. Bxc6 bxc6 18. Ne7+ Rxe7 19. Qxe7 and Black is busted. So much for that improvement!

Fine, so let's back up again and consider the position in the first diagram. We started with the idea that Black might not have to play 16...Bb6. So what about 16...Qe6, defending the e7 square which, as we just learned, is an invasion route for White?

Diagram 4
Position after 16...Qe6

Here we may have something! If 17. Bxc6, then 17... dxc6 18. Nf4 Qh6 19. Qxa5 Qxf4 20. Qxc7 Bg4 and Black is golden. Can White get anywhere with 17. Qa4? It doesn't look like it, since Black can just force a closely related idea 17...a6 18. Bxc6 dxc6 19. Nf4 Qh6. Well, it looks like Chigorin knew what he was talking about after all, and we seem to have our improvement on established theory. Great work, let's save it to disk and pop open some bottles of Newcastle Brown!

Hmm. Hmmmmm. Good ale, but remember how, from the first diagram, 16...d6 was so strongly met by 17. Nd4? Could it be that instead of Harding and Cafferty's 16. Bb5, White should play 16. Nd4 right away? Let's return to our researches.

Diagram 5
Position after 16. Nd4

Here maybe Black can play the forcing 16...Qe4, and after 17. Nxc6 dxc6 18. Ne7+ Kh8 he seems to be safe enough. For example 19. Bxf7 Bb4. But no, White just plays 20. Bxe8! Bxa3 21. Bxc6! and we're dead.

So from the diagram, how about 16...Nxd4 with the idea 17. Rxd4 c5 18. Qxc5 Bd8, returning one pawn for a reasonable defense? White should play 19. Nc7 and now we can't afford to get fancy with 19...b6 20. Qd5 Bxc7 21. Qxa8 Qc6 (21... Bxe5 22. Re1) 22. Qxc6 dxc6 23. Re1. But we can play 20...Bxc7 20. Qxc7 Qc6 21. Qa5 b6 22. Qd5 and after the exchange of queens,White has no more than adequate compensation for his extra pawn. But wait, White doesn't have to exchange queens. Intead of 22. Qd5, he can play 22. Qd2 and White's attack is rolling after 22...Qc5 23. Qf4. Nor can Black afford 22... Bb7 23. Bd5 Qc8 24. Rc1 Qb8 25. Bxb7 Qxb7 26. Rxd7. Darn.

Well then, what about 16...d6 from the diagram? Naaah, with 17. Bb5 White just transposes into 16. Bb5 d6 17. Nd4, a line we already rejected. Besides, White even has 17. Nxc6 bxc6 18. Qxa5 cxd5 19. Bxd5 Rb8 (19... Bg4 20. Bxa8 Bxd1 21. Bc6) 20. Qxc7. Ugly!

A key tactical problem for Black in the diagrammed position is White's threat to eliminate the knight and play Ne7+, forking king and queen and compelling us to surrender the exchange. We've tried all the active defenses, so how about the passive ones? We have the joke defense 16... Kh8, after which we can write "the draw" on a sheet of paper, hold it up, and say "See, we have the draw in hand!" But this works out badly after 17. Nf4 Qe4 18. Bxf7 Qxf4 19. Bxe8 Bb4 20. Qf3 Nxd4 21. Qxf4 Ne2+ 22. Kh1 Nxf4 23. Rd4.

But what about 16...Qh5 from the diagram, not really such a passive move at all? Certainly, 17. Nxc6 bxc6 18. Ne7+ Kh8 19. Nxc8 Qxe5 20. Ba6 d6 is satisfactory for Black. But if you think about it, White has no reason to hurry. Instead he can afford an expansive move like 17. f4.

Diagram 6
Position after 17. f4

What can we do here? If 17... Nxd4 18. Rxd4 Bb6, then 19. Nxb6 cxb6 20. Rd6 looks great for White. We could try 17... d6 18. Nxc6 bxc6 19. Qxa5 cxd5 20. Bxd5 Bg4, but now just 21. Rc1 appears to guarantee White's advantage.

Our best try from the diagram seems to be 17...Bb6 18. Nxb6 cxb6. Now White most likely should play 19. Nb5, and I have very little doubt that we'll lose if we let that critter come to d6 before we get ...d5 in. So we have to try 20...d5 20. Bxd5 Bg4 21. Rde1 Rad8 22. Nd6 Re7 and now we are in terrible trouble after 23. f5. For example, 23... Qh6 24. h3 Bh5 25. Bxc6 bxc6 26. g4 Qg5 27. Qg3, or 23...Be2 24. Rf2 Bd1 25. e6 fxe6 26. Bxe6+ Kh8 27. Rd2 Bg4 28. h3.

It looks like we've failed in our attempt to improve this line for Black. We've improved on Harding and Cafferty all right, but we've simply found a better way for White to prove his advantage. Our time hasn't been wasted, however. We've learned a great deal about chess. And after all, ours is a game in which there is objective truth.

The zip file available here includes the foregoing analysis layed out in more logical form, the Bartolik-Malinin game that I mentioned, and two games where I defended Black's side of the Two Knight's Modern. In Maxfield-Morss after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. e5 d5 7. Bb5 Ne4 8. Nxd4 Bc5, White went in for 9. O-O O-O 10. Nxc6?! and was punished. In Danzanvilliers-Morss, the more topical idea 9. Be3 Bd7 10. Bxc6 was tried. This is a dynamic line where Black holds the two bishops and tries to break out with ...f6, while White fights to control the central dark squares to blockade Black's d- and doubled c-pawns. I believe Black's chances are fully adequate, but it's worth noting that ECO-3 disagrees with me.

Game 1: Maxfield-Morss USCF-92CM84

Game 2: Danzanvilliers-Morss WT-M-GT-365

Download game and main text analysis
for a zipped file (with commentary) in new ChessBase (CBH) and PGN formats.

Next Month: A Fancy Gambit against the Slav.

Copyright © 1999 by Mark F. Morss

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