Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Najdorf Problem

About a year ago, I decided to adopt the Be2 line against the Najdorf Sicilian, hoping to get positions that would be stable and flexible, enabling me to comfortably deploy my pieces and pressure my opponents without needing to launch violent sacrificial attacks. The resulting praxis was confusing and unfortunately, a bit disappointing. I guess that my (rather premature) conclusion would be that the Najdorf is just a really slippery beast to tackle - you have to get both hands around its throat and hold on for a long time to get that full point.

White: Joshua Haunstrup (1817)
Black: Seth Neel (1794)
Event: MCC Summer Solstice (4)
1 e4 c5
2 Nf3 d6
3 d4 cxd4
4 Nxd4 Nf6
5 Nc3 a6
I had recently won a pretty ugly miniature from Seth at the Rhode Island Championship, and, still harboring memories of a similarly miserable loss that I had suffered at his hands about a year before, I was looking forward to sticking it to him with my new toy. (This was my first outing with Be2.)
6 Be2 e6
7 0-0 b5?!
Dubiousness sets in already! Evidently, Seth wasn't used to seeing his opponents playing with such reserve (I knew he was pretty booked up on Be3 for instance). However, alas, it took me another move before I spotted the correct reply Bf3.
8 Bg5 Be7
9 Bf3 Ra7
10 a4 b4
11 Na2 e5
12 Bxf6 Bxf6
13 Nf5 Bxf5
14 exf5 a5
15 c3 Qb6
16 Qd2 Na6
The position is kind of hard to evaluate, and definitely not the sort of thing that would ever have cropped up in an Anand-Kasparov game. At the time, I couldn't really shake the sense that I should have gotten more from the position after his sketchy b5 advance, but up to this point, he played with a lot of poise. White probably does have a little something here just based on the awkwardness of black's defense, but it's not the position that affords a lot of scope for outplaying your opponent. It's much more a duel of who will be able to continue to find the "only" and best moves turn after turn.
17 Rfd1 Rd7
Probably 17... b3 was stronger.
18 cxb4 axb4
19 a5 Qb5
20 Rdc1
And here, I finally strayed a bit. 20.Qe2 with the idea of forcing his knight away from the defense of b4 after the exchange of queens was probably best.
20... d5
21 Rc8+ Bd8
22 Be2?!
Once again here, Qe2 with an exchange was the best. My move lost a bit of the advantage, relinquishing the pressure, and the game sputtered soon afterwards into an ending that we agreed drawn.
22 ... Qb7
23 Bxa6 Qxa6
24 Qc1 Qxa5
25 Nc3 Qb6
26 Na4 Qb7
27 Qc5 Rc7
28 Rxc7 Bxc7
29 Rc1 Bd8
30 Rd1 Be7
31 Qxd5 Qxd5
32 Rxd5 f6
33 Nc5 Bxc5
34 Rxc5 0-0
35 Rb5 1/2
Alright, the first outing was a bit of a disappointment, but what of the second?

White: Joshua Haunstrup (1817)
Black: Philip Nutzman (1865)
Event: BCC Quad 7-6 (3)
1 e4 c5
2 Nf3 d6
3 d4 cxd4
4 Nxd4 Nf6
5 Nc3 a6
6 Be2 e6
7 0-0 Be7
8 a4 Nc6
Here we have a fairly standard mainline position. And now... I went astray! For some weird reason I really got into a habit of prematurely retreating my knight from d4 in standard sicilian positions for a while. I guess the advice here for all readers is that the knight really belongs on d4 where it has a lot of scope unless there's really a very good reason to retreat it, and fear of exchange and fear of a knight coming to c5 are not good reasons in most cases.
9 Nb3? b6
10 Be3 Bb7
11 f4 0-0
12 Bd3 Qc7
13 Kh1 Rfd8
14 Qe2 e5
15 Nd5?!
Something like 15.fxe5 dxe5 16.Qf2 would have been more standard, preserving some hope of a slight advantage. My move is rather wacky - a knee-jerk reaction to Nutzman's pawn-break that's kind of an overreaction.
15... Nxd5
16 exd5 Nb4
Now we've reached the boiling point.
Black has a lot of coiled dynamism and verges on being able to demonstrate that white has overextended. Best was certainly 17.a5! which I had been planning some moves ago but somehow forgot about in the heat of the moment. The resulting play might have continued: 17...bxa5 18.c4 Nxd3 19.Qxd3 Bf6 20.fxe5 Bxe5 21.Nxa5 with an unclear position in which black has to tread very carefully. This would have reserved pretty good chances for an advantage. Instead, I tossed it all with a move that demonstrated that I really didn't have a handle on the subtleties of position.
17 fxe5
From here on out, it's all black all the way.
17... Nxd3
18 Qxd3 dxe5
19 c4 b5
20 axb5 axb5
21 Rxa8 Bxa8
22 Rc1 bxc4
23 Rxc4 Qb7
24 Qc2 Qxd5
25 h3 Bb7
26 Nc5 Rc8
27 b3 Bc6
28 Nd3 f6
29 Bc5 Bxc5
30 Rxc5 Qd7
31 Kg1 Qd4+
32 Kh2 Rd8
33 Nc1 Qf4+
34 Kg1 Rd2
35 Qxd2 Qxd2
36 Rxc6 e4
37 Rc8+ Kf7
38 Rc7+ Kg6
39 Rc4 e3
40 b4 Qf2+
41 Kh2 e2
42 Nxe2 Qxe2 0-1


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joshua.

I like the English Attack setup against the Najdorf. f3, Be3, Qd2, O-O-O, Kb1 g4, h4, with mate to follow.


1:31 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

I am into S-M ( smith Morra) I TROUNCED Genisis last night with it.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Yeah, I think that neither line really goes with my style and needs. In the open sicilian, I generally look for positions with flexibility, dynamic potential (ie. I can launch an attack if opportunity presents), and a certain amount of solidity. I have found that lines like Bg5 can really catch you out and are unsuitable for play if you really don't want to lose games down too often. As for the English Attack, I'm not fond of the positions after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Be7 9.Qd2 h5 10.0-0-0 Nbd7 11.Kb1 Rc8. I don't know if you've run into this stuff much Matt, but the h5 prophylactic strikes me as a genius idea. It puts white in a weird catch-22 where you're kind of psychologically and positionally committed to an attack but can't really manage one AND it's pretty irritating trying to put together a positional bind in the structure as well. I know there are ways through, but it's just a position that's kind of unpleasant to play. Plus, truth be told, I think that Ng4 is a fairly jazzy idea for black too with a lot of potential to mess up white's aspirations. In short, I don't see a lot of "mate to follow" coming out of the English attack. I watch the boards around me in the big events where people are contesting these positions, and I see a lot of drawish rook endgames...

And as for the Smith-Morra... well, all I can say BP is I am waiting for it ;). Poor Genesis - he looked like a duck hit over the head for most of that game... Good job - that's what I should have done to him when I had him licked at the Continental.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

btw, don't let the reply sound too firm. I'm happy for the input - the Najdorf remains a slippery creature for me.

3:38 PM  

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