Friday, January 20, 2006

Good Work by Gata

The one time prodigy, American GM Gata Kamsky was having the devil of a time playing with the sharks at Wijk aan Zee 2006 before scoring a startling breakthrough today. Armed with the white pieces, he leveled tournament leader Viswanathan Anand to climb out of the basement in the standings. First though, let's recap his experience in the event thus far.

Round one started out as follows:

Topalov,V (2801) - Kamsky,G (2686)
Corus A Wijk aan Zee NED (1), 14.01.2006
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nxd5 4.d4 Bf5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 e6 7.0-0 Nc6 8.c4 Nb6 9.Nc3 Be7 10.Bf4 g5 11.Bg3 g4 12.Ne5 Nxd4 13.c5 Bxc5 14.Rad1 0-0 15.Ne4 Be7 16.Nxg4 c5? Kamsky knew he should play solidly against the reigning FIDE Champion, so he opted for the Scandinavian defense, but he soon allowed himself to be tempted into grabbing pawns, capturing first one and then a second on moves 12 and 13. The position quickly became critical, and Kamsky's 16. ... c5? infact loses by force, as cleverly noted by Kasparov, who was watching the game live on the internet. Instead of Topalov's 17. b4, white should have played 17.Be5! (threatening 18.Nh6#) f6 18. Ng5!! (threatening 19. Qxh7# and, if 18. ...fxg5 then 19. Nh6#) 18...Nf5 19. Nh6 and black is finished. The game did not last long anyway though, concluding with Kamsky's resignation at move 26.

Gata recovered for an interesting game in round 2 against Israeli GM Boris Gelfand, but the final result was a product of Boris' blunder in a theoretically drawn position in the end.

Kamsky,G (2686) - Gelfand,B (2723)
Corus A Wijk aan Zee NED (2), 15.01.2006

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Qc7 8.g3 e5 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Bf4 Nfd7 11.Qc1 g6 12.Bg2 Bg7 13.0-0 0-0 14.a5 Be6 15.Nxe5 Nxe5 16.a6 bxa6 17.Rxa6 Rab8 18.Qa1 Qb7 19.Ra5 Nc4 20.Rxa7 Qxb2 21.Bxb8 Qxb8 22.Rb1 Qe5 23.Rc1 Nd2 24.Rc2 Nb3 25.Qa3 Qb8 26.Bxc6 Bxc3 27.Rxc3 Nd4 28.Ra8 Nxe2+ 29.Kg2 Qxa8 30.Bxa8 Nxc3 31.Qa5 Nb5 32.f3 Nd6 33.g4 Rc8 34.Kg3 Nc4 35.Qa1 Rd8 36.h4 Ne3 37.Be4 Nd5 38.Qe5 h6 39.Bxg6 Rd7 40.Be4 Ne7 41.Qf6 1-0

The critical position came at move 31:Here Gelfand had to play 31. ... h5 in order to stem white's attacking chances against his kingside pawns on the white squares and to give his monarch some room to breathe. The option was again available on move 32, but Gelfand never saw it.

The torture resumed in round 3, as the youthful GM Sergey Karjakin steamrolled Kamsky's Kan Sicilian with a grinding Maroczy Bind.

Karjakin,Sergey (2660) - Kamsky,G (2686)
Corus A Wijk aan Zee NED (3), 16.01.2006

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.0-0 d6 7.c4 g6 8.Nc3 Bg7 9.Be3 0-0 10.Rc1 Nbd7 11.Qd2 Qc7 12.f3 b6 13.Rfd1 Bb7 14.Bf1 Rfc8 15.b4 Bf8 16.a3 Rab8 17.Kh1 Qd8 18.Qf2 Ne5 19.Na4 Nfd7 20.Nb3 Ba8 21.Nb2 Rc7 22.Na4 Rcc8 23.Bd4 Rc6 24.c5 bxc5 25.Naxc5 Nxc5 26.Nxc5 Qc8 27.Qe3 Bb7 28.Bxe5 dxe5 29.Nd7 Rxc1 30.Qxc1 Ra8 31.Nb6 Qxc1 32.Rxc1 Rd8 1-0

Karjakin's 29. Nd7! was just brutal, but this game was white's all the way.

In round 4, paired against GM Levon Aronian - fresh from winning the FIDE Knockout Tournament - Kamsky again over pressed iwth the white pieces and found himself in a miserable, albeit somewhat drawable game. The game needs very little explanation - the American GM simply lost a pawn in the opening and then struggled violently to try to eke out the draw.

Kamsky,G (2686) - Aronian,L (2752)
Corus A Wijk aan Zee NED (4), 17.01.2006

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.d3 Bd6 8.Nbd2 Be6 9.b3 Nd7 10.Bb2 c5 11.g3 0-0 12.Nh4 Re8 13.Nf5 Bxf5 14.exf5 Qg5 15.f6 Nxf6 16.Ne4 Qf5 17.Nxf6+ Qxf6 18.f4 Qh6 19.f5 e4 20.Re1 Rad8 21.Qg4 exd3 22.cxd3 Bf8 23.Rxe8 Rxe8 24.Rd1 Qe3+ 25.Kf1 g6 26.Bc1 Qe5 27.fxg6 hxg6 28.Qf3 Qa1 29.Qf2 Bg7 30.Kg2 Qe5 31.Rf1 Qe7 32.Bg5 Qd7 33.Qf3 Bd4 34.g4 c6 35.h4 Re6 36.Kh3 b5 37.Bd2 Rf6 38.Qg2 Rd6 39.Bf4 Rd5 40.Rf3 Qe6 41.Bg3 Bg7 42.Qf1 Rd8 43.Bf2 Qd5 44.Qe2 Bf8 45.Kg2 Rd6 46.Kg1 Re6 47.Re3 Rxe3 48.Bxe3 Qe5 49.Kf1 Qg3 50.h5 Qh3+ 51.Kg1 Bd6 52.hxg6 fxg6 53.Bf4 Bf8 54.Qe6+ Kh7 55.Qd7+ Bg7 56.Kf2 Qh4+ 57.Ke2 Qf6 58.Ke3 Qa1 59.g5 Qe1+ 60.Kf3 Qf1+ 61.Ke3 c4 62.dxc4 bxc4 63.bxc4 Qc1+ 64.Kf3 Qxc4 65.Qh3+ Kg8 66.Qc8+ Bf8 67.Qe8 Qd3+ 68.Be3 c5 69.Qc6 Qf1+ 70.Kg3 Qe1+ 71.Kf4 Qh4+ 72.Ke5 Qh8+ 0-1

Kamsky succumbed to the dreaded bind again in round 5, this time with Ivanchuk demonstrating his superior technique in a grueling positional struggle.

Ivanchuk,V (2729) - Kamsky,G (2686)
Corus A Wijk aan Zee NED (5), 19.01.2006

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Bc5 6.Nb3 Ba7 7.Qe2 d6 8.Be3 Nf6 9.Bxa7 Rxa7 10.c4 Nc6 11.Nc3 0-0 12.0-0 b6 13.Qe3 Qc7 14.Be2 Qb8 15.Rfd1 Rd8 16.Rd2 e5 17.Rc1 Be6 18.Rcd1 h6 19.h3 Rb7 20.Bf1 b5 21.cxb5 axb5 22.Nd5 Bxd5 23.exd5 Ne7 24.Na5 Rc7 25.Nc6 Nxc6 26.dxc6 Rxc6 27.Qxe5 b4 28.Qd4 Qb6 29.Bc4 Qxd4 30.Rxd4 Rb6 31.Bb3 Kf8 32.g4 Ke7 33.Re1+ Kf8 34.Rc1 Rd7 35.Rc8+ Ke7 36.h4 g5 37.Rh8 Rd8 38.Rxh6 Rg8 39.f3 gxh4 40.Rxh4 d5 41.Kf2 Rbb8 42.Ke3 Kd6 43.Rh6 Rbe8+ 44.Kf4 Kc5 45.Rd2 Rg6 46.Rh1 Reg8 47.Rc1+ Kd6 48.Rdc2 Rd8 49.Rc7 Rd7 50.R1c6+ Ke7 51.Bc2 d4 52.Rxd7+ Kxd7 53.Bxg6 Kxc6 54.Bxf7 1-0

After the game Kasparov finally dismissed the American as a legitimate contender, remarking: "Kamsky is from a different era and it shows." It'll be interesting to see what he says after today's powerhouse showing.

Kamsky,G (2686) - Anand,V (2792)
Corus A Wijk aan Zee NED (5), 20.01.2006

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.Bxc4 Nb6 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Ne2 Be6 8.Nbc3 Qd7 9.Ne4 Bd5 10.Be3 O-O-O 11.a3 Qe8 12.Qc2 f5 13.N4c3 Bxg2 14.Rg1 Bf3 15.Bxf5+ e6 16.Bh3 In a dramatic departure from his earlier play, Kamsky came out with both fists in this game, declaring his belligerence right away in the opening! 16. ... Kb8 17.Rg3 Bxe2 18.Nxe2 Nd5 19.Nc3 Nxe3 20.fxe3 Qh5 21.Qe2 Qxe2+ 22.Kxe2 Re8 23.Rf1 Nd8 Anand has managed to force most of the aggressive pieces off the board, but Kamsky's structure is much stronger and black is clearly scrambling for drawing chances. Look out how all of Anand's piece have found their way to the back rank!
24.Ne4 g6 25.Ng5 Re7 26.Rgf3 Bh6 27.Nf7 Nxf7 28.Rxf7 Rhe8 29.R1f6 a5 30.Rxe7 Rxe7 31.Rxe6 Rxe6 32.Bxe6 Bg5 33.d5 Ka7 34.Bg8 h6 35.Bf7 Kb6 36.Bxg6 Kc5 37.Bf7 h5 38.Kd3 h4 39.h3 b5 40.Ke4 b4 41.axb4+ axb4 42.b3 Bh6 43.Bh5 Bg5 44.Be2 Bh6 45.Bc4 Bg5 46.Kf5 Bxe3 47.d6 1-0 Wonderful technique by Gata Kamsky, proving that it's a little early to declare him over the hill!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Reviving the 5. ... gxf6 Caro-Kann

Popular in the 1970's and 1980's as a result of the work of GMs David Bronstein and Bent Larsen, this eccentric and aggressive variation of the Caro-Kann, characterized by the moves 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6, fell into utter disuse after a series of blows were dealt to it at the end of the 1980's. It always seemed a real shame to me that such a colorful variation should sink into the shadows of professional chess. In the line, black sacrifices king safety and structure in return for a dynamic center and attacking chances down the open g-file. There's nothing wrong with the idea strategically - afterall the same idea is still commonly played in the Burn French - rather, it appears to be tactically flawed.

The main culprit variation stems from the game Riemersma-Pietersee, Dieren 1989. 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. c3 Bf5 7. Nf3 e6 8. g3 h5 9. Bg2 Be4 10. 0-0 Be7 11. Re1 f5 12. Qe2! h4 13. Bf4 Nd7 14. Ne5!This variation with 8. g3 has always been considered the best try for white because it slows down black's play on the g-file and black's plan with a quick h5-h4 has been shown to be the most active and assertive reply - if not the only really playable line. The problem is that in the diagrammed position black is in a lot of trouble. Pietersee played 14. ... Bxg2? and ran into the shocking reply 15. Nxf7! Kxf7 16. Qxe6+ winning. If instead he had played 14. ... Nxe5, then 15. Bxe5 f6 16. Bf4 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 follows and white is still much better.

Obviously there are other options at black's disposal, but none of them faired much better. If instead 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. c3 Bf5 7. Nf3 Nd7, as in Campora-Morozevich, Moscow Olympiad 1994, then 8. g3 Nb6 9. Bg2 Qd7 10. 0-0 Bh3 11. Bxh3 Qxh3 12. a4 and black is behind in development, under-represented in the center, and faces the unpleasant task of finding reasonable lodgings for his monarch. Somewhat amusingly, Campora tried to improve on this line for black recently and fared no better than Morozevich did ten years earlier. Fernandez Romero-Campora, Dos Hermanas 2005 went 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. c3 Bf5 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. g3 Nb6 9. Bg2 Qd7 10. 0-0 0-0-0 11. a4 Nd5 12. Bd2 e6. 13. Re1 Kb8 14. b4 Bg4 15. Qb3 Nc7 16. Bf4 Bd6 17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. Nd2 and white was much better coordinated and positioned for attack.

Alternatively, 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. c3 Bf5 7. Nf3 e6 8. g3 Qd5?! 9. Bg2 Qc4 10. Be3 Nd7 11. Bf1!? Qd5 12. Qe2! And black's plan is already unraveling, as he cannot further trouble white's castling scheme on the light squares and he has wasted an inordinate amount of time on queen moves.

Saddled with the task of choosing among this unpromising array of options, strong players simply gave up the line and it has remained abandoned throughout the 1990's and into the 21st century. In this past year, however, there have been stirrings of interest in the variation and two strong players ventured to experiment in the line. Their contributions are strange to say the least, but the ideas are novel and far from clear. Is it possible that there will yet be a renaissance for the line?

Naiditsch-Seirawan, Dutch Rapid 2005 went 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. c3 h5!? Here Jeremy Silman offered 7. Bc4 Nd7 8. Ne2 Nb6 9. Bb3 Bg4 10. h3 Bxe2 11. Qxe2 e6 12. Be3 Qc7 with advantage to white in his 1989 book The Dynamic Caro-Kann. This assessment is probably accurate, but there's definitely plenty of fight left in the position, and in any case, there is probably room for improvement in the line. Naiditsch varied with 7. Nf3 h4 8. Bf4 Nd7 9. h3 Nb6 10. c4 Bf5 11. Bd3 Qd7 12. Be3 0-0-0 13. Qc2 Bxd3 14. Qxd3 e5!?Seirawan's handling of the line is substantially more solid and conservative than the traditional main variations. He certainly has somewhat the weaker central control in the diagrammed position, but it looks like he has good chances for equality and the game was in fact drawn quite easily after 24 moves. Maybe black just needs to take a more relaxed approach?

Even more interesting (and potentially theoretically significant) was the game Tiviakov-Nisipeanu, FIDE World Championship Libya 2004. It was an important game for the aggressive Romanian grandmaster and it is noteworthy that he opted for the disreputable gxf6 line. The game went 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. c3 Qd5!? This is a move that Jeremy Silman pointed to in his book as a possible area for future exploration, but very little work has been done on it in the intervening years. It is strange in that black's queen should be exposed in the center, but instead, it appears that it helps to quiet down white's initiative and buy time for black to unwind. The game continued 7. Ne2 e5 8. Be3 Be6 9. f4 Nd7 10. dxe5 fxe5 11. Qxd5 Bxd5 12. fxe5 Nxe5 13. Nf4 Be4 14. Be2 0-0-0 15. 0-0 Bh6where black had the technical structural problem of isolated pawns on the kingside, but somewhat made up for it with attacking chances down the g-file. The diagrammed position was probably not far from even. One older game also demonstrated the viability of this line for black, suggesting that perhaps it is really a fully acceptable and quite playable alternative to the old lines. Spassky-Seirawan, Barcelona 1989 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. c3 Qd5!? 7. Ne2 e5 8. Be3 Be6 9. Qe2 Nd7 10. a3 0-0-0 11. 0-0-0 Nb6 12. dxe5 Qxd1+ 13. Qxd1 Rxd1+ 14. Kxd1 fxe5 15. Ng3 f5 16. Bd3 e4 17. Be2 c5 18. Nh5 1/2-1/2

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Morozevich and Bareev, Heavyweight Duelists

Russian Superstar Alexander Morozevich is, hands down, the most dynamic active "Super Grandmaster" and is one of the most fascinating players to follow. He is not so much incredible for his sacrificial play as for his odd piece-placement and seeming comfort with unusual, even dubious openings and hectically confusing positions. Here is a special gem of his - a very interesting contribution to Caro-Kann opening theory (that is, if anyone is courageous enough to follow his lead) in which Morozevich matches wits with Russian Super Grandmaster Evgeny Bareev.

Morozevich-Bareev 2000 Sarajevo, Bosnia
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nc3 e6
I would like to point out here that in my own praxis, I have had difficulty with 4. ... Qb6 5. Bd3 Qxd4!? Kotronias' book on the advance Caro-Kann recommends 5. Bd3, arguing that black cannot take this central pawn because he falls too far behind in development, but U.S. GM Larry Christiansen argues that the pawn can be captured with impunity and I have not come across any convincing analysis to the contrary. Does white have a better line here?
5. g4 Bg6 6. Nge2 c5 7. h4 h5 8. Nf4 Nc6 9. Nxg6 fxg6 10. Ne2 Qb6Ten moves in and already all hell has broken loose. Bareev's king position has been compromised, but white cannot carry out his attack unless he mobilizes more of his pieces, meanwhile black's development is speeding up and it looks as though white's overextended pawns are going to start falling.
11. Nf4 cxd4 12. Nxg6 Bb4+ 13. Ke2!?Amazing! Morozevich carries on in signature style, refusing to play c3 and absurdly centralizing his king. The move follows a sort of logic though. White is committed to maintaining as much of his own positional edge as possible - the knight on g6 defends e5 - and he cannot play Bd7 because this uncovers the b7 pawn. Hence - into the fray...
13. ... hxg4 14. a3
Morozevich understands that maintaining the pawn on e5 is more important for the survival of his centralized king than capturing the rook on h8. Additionally, the bishop needs to be kicked or captured in order for him to develop his queenside comfortably.
14. ... Rh5 15. axb4 Nge7 16. Nxe7 Rxe5+ 17. Kd2
White is now up two pieces, but the wild romp seems to be coming to its close. Black's central pawn wedge is intimidating, and there are preciously few escape squares for the white monarch. It looks as though 17. ... Qxb4+ is met by the lunatic 18. Kd3, escaping from the pressure, but computer analysis would show the path more accurately.
17. ... Kxe7 18. b5! Nb4 19. Bd3 Rf8 20. Qxg4 Nxd3 21. cxd3 Rxf2+ 22. Kd1 Qxb5 23. Ra3 Qc6
Morozevich hangs on by the skin of his teeth. He may be up by a piece, but he has lost most of his pawns and the attack just won't quit. He has also gone the whole game without comfortably developing - this cannot be how grandmasters should play chess, right?
24. Bd2 Ree2Just when it seems that the wild ride must finally be over, Morozevich pulls another rabit out of his hat!
25. Qxe2! Rxe2 26. Kxe2 e5 27. Rg1 e4 28. dxe4 dxe4 29. Rxg7+ Kf8 30. Rag3 1/2-1/2
The dust has settled and the result is peaceful... Fascinating!

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Immortal Duel of a Son and Father

I first got involved in tournament chess as a kid when my father still directed scholastic events, but I took a long hiatus in High School. When I went off to college I became re-enthused and during my college summers when I came home, my father and I waged titanic battles over the board, sitting out on our summer porch in candle light. The games were often fraught with errors, as we taught each other opening theory in cold blood, but they were wonderfully spirited. The first example here was one of my favorites.

Joshua-Moe 2001

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f4 0-0 6. h3?! c5 7. d5 Nh5?! 8. Qf3 Bxc3+ 9. bxc3 Ng7 10. Bd3 e6 11. Ne2 f5 12. e5
Here we are in typical form for the time. I was white. In the position, I am pressing, impetuous, violently overambitious and about ready to win... or collapse. My father is trying to hold his own, perhaps a little tentative, but certainly tenacious.
12. ... dxe5 13. fxe5 Nd7 14. Qg3 Nh5 15. Qh2 exd5 16. cxd5 Nb6 17. c4 g5 18. 0-0 f4 19. e6 Qf6 20. Ba3 Ng3 21. Nxg3 Qd4+ 22. Kh1 Qxd3
The battle has reached its boiling point. My material is falling fast, but the pawn chain has become insurmountable.
23. Bxc5 fxg3 24. Rxf8+ Kg7 25. Qg1 Qxc4 26. e7 Bd7 27. Bd4+ Kh6 28. Rf6+ Kh5 29. Qd1+ Kh4 30. Rh6#
Those were the days!

Here's an interesting one where my father gave me a pretty good licking. Again, it's a little crude from an aesthetic standpoint, but a pretty good standup fight.

Moe-Joshua 2000

1. e4 d5 2. Nc3 d4 3. Nce2 e5 4. f4 Bd6 5. f5 c5 6. Ng3 Nf6 7. Bc4 a6 8. a4 Nc6 9. d3 h6 10. Nf3 0-0 11. 0-0 Rb8 12. h3 b5 13. axb5 axb5 14. Ba2 Nb4 15. Nh2 Bb7 16. Ng4
My father's eccentric retort to my centre counter has seemingly worked out. Though I have more space on the queenside, my pieces are not well coordinated, and he is geering up for a big attack on my king position.
16. ... Nxa2 17. Rxa2 c4 18. Nxh6+ gxh6 19. Bxh6 cxd3 20. cxd3 Kh7 21. Bg5 Rg8 22. h4 Be7 23. Nh5 Nd7 24. f6 Bf8 25. Ng7 Rxg7 26. Qh5+ Kg8 27. fxg7 f6 28. Qh8+ resign.

It's an interesting dynamic, participating in a long-term duel with a person you know very well. Though I have devoted a good deal more time to chess than my father, and have consequently surpassed him in overall strength, he still holds his own against me when we play. We know each other well.

Topalov beats Bacrot ... or does Bacrot just blow it.

Topalov,V (2801) - Bacrot,E (2717) [C42]
Corus A Wijk aan Zee NED (3), 16.01.2006

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Bf4 0-0 8.Qd2 Nd7 9.0-0-0 Nc5 10.h4 Bf6 11.Ng5 h6 12.Bd3 Nxd3+ 13.Qxd3 g6 14.Nf3 h5 15.Rde1 Bf5 16.Qd2 Re8 17.Bg5 Bxg5 18.Nxg5 Qf6 19.f3 Re5 20.Rxe5 dxe5 21.Rd1 Qc6 22.b3 Re8 23.Kb2 e4 24.fxe4 Bxe4 25.Qf4 Bf5 26.Rd2 Qc5 27.Nf3 Bg4 28.a4 Bxf3 29.Qxf3 c6 30.Rd7 Re7 31.Qd3 Rxd7 32.Qxd7 Qb6 33.b4 c5 34.a5 Qc6 35.Qxc6 bxc6 36.Kb3 Kf8 37.Kc4 Ke7 38.Kxc5 Kd7 39.c4 f6 40.b5 g5 41.b6 axb6+ 42.Kxb6 Kc8 43.Kxc6 gxh4 44.c5 1-0

Reading over this game this afternoon I was... well I was very confused. Bacrot unleashed the mighty Petrov (haha) against Topalov, evidently seeking a draw. Topalov responded with the eccentric 5. Nc3 variation, seeking a quick doubling of his own pawns in return for dynamic and obscure play. It didn't seem to be working out for him by 22. ... Re8, however. Bacrot has managed his pieces alright and Topalov doesn't seem to have much to atone for the doubles. Maybe the game will draw from here, I thought, and maybe Topalov will even lose. True enough, he has better control of the dark squares, and Bacrot has some airy squares around his king, but... well anyway. Bacrot seemed to go wrong somewhere in the maneuvering stage, when neither player had much left on the board. I think the following position, before the exchange of rooks was an important decisive stage, but I still don't really get it. It seems that Bacrot should really be doing alright after something like ...b6. Ah well, I will have to Fritz it and see. What really struck me was that Bacrot kept playing after the exchange of queens, long after it was clear as day that he was dead lost.

The Peaceful Albin?

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5!?

Black strikes back in the centre in violent uncompromising fashion. You'll never take me alive, he protests, stamping his boot and shaking his fist. Thus the Albin!

I grew up in love with this risque counter to the Queen's Gambit. A kid played it against me once in a scholastic tournament and I was enthralled. That first game was not very interesting. I followed up 3. cxd5 and the position quickly smoothed over into flat equality... though I eventually prevailed! My life would never be the same again, however. I found a musty old copy of Lamford's book on the gambit and started to employ it whenever I encountered a d-pawn player. At one point my USCF record with the gambit was a startling 8 for 8 with the black pieces! Every trap in the opening seemed to work like it was a foregone conclusion. I won a sweet little game that went:

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 d4 4. e3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 dxe3 6. Bxb4 exf2+ 7. Kxf2 Qxd1 8. resign

Yes, I was a weak player back in those days, but ahhh, it was nice when opponents used to hand out shrink-wrapped wins on silver platters like that. In any case, the heart of the Albin lines according to the books go:

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 d4 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. g3

White accepts the gambit and both sides play with extended pawns that impinge somewhat uncomfortably on the opponents' position. Black is down a pawn, but in return gets dynamism, a semi-open game that is more reminiscent of many e4 systems or of the Benoni than of most d4 lines and attacking chances against the white kingside. It all sounds great, right?

The main followup plans involve either moving the queenside bishop or the kingside knight. 5. ... Nge7 is Russian Superstar Alexander Morozevich's patent, a move that seems to be taking off after it appeared in the Secrets of Opening Surprises series and was featured in several of Nakamura's games. It is a little more solid than the more traditional bishop moves, eg. 5. ... Bf5, Be6, and Bg5. Each of these moves has its advantages and short-comings, but I never had much trouble in these main line positions with black. I always found that the inherent aggression of the pawn structure worked to my advantage, even when White managed to combine aggressive pawn advances with the long-range power of the fianchettoed bishop. Much more troubling, believe it or not, has always been the annoying patzer move 5. a3!? Here white forgoes rapid development in an effort to avoid the bishop check on b4, enabling the undermining advance e3. The amazing bit here is the difficulty that black faces achieving anything more than a miserable equality. I will also note here that I have had stunning difficulties after 5. e3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 dxe3 7. fxe3.
It can be amazingly difficult to take advantage of the doubled pawns if there is an exchange of queens. Additionally, if white can maneuver a piece to d4 without losing the advanced e5 pawn, good luck securing any advantage...

Chris Ward's recent book on Unusual Queen's Gambits offers 5. a3 Nge7 as an interesting departure from the relatively lame 5. ... Be6, but though this stands up alright against 6. e3, I have found it to be somewhat wanting against 6. b4!? a move that I have never seen in any book on the subject. It looks a little silly I know, another patzer idea at work - push the b-pawn down the board to kick away the defense of the d-pawn, but it is very annoying. Play continues something like: 6. ... Ng6 7. b5 Ncxe5 8. Qxd4 Qxd4 9. Nxd4 Nxc4 10. e4.
The question is, can black develop counterplay against white's stronger central grip? The answer is probably, but it's certainly no picnic. Black has to retreat his knight and white will have a lot more space.

I think this is the most irritating thing in the whole Albin complex, and is most certainly the main thing that has turned me off to playing the Albin in recent years. It's really too bad from a competitive standpoint, because all of the other Albin lines are fun to play... Does anyone have suggested improvements? Has there ever been any high-level analysis of this line?