Friday, 6 January 2017

009. Patzer Sees a Check

White: stormytlc - thematic tournament,, 2011

Talking of articles, I once wrote an article on 1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 f5!? (the Calabrese Counter-Gambit) for a special issue of Tim Harding's magazine Chess Mail (May 1997). Nineteen years ago. Damn. My theoretical investigations have moved on quite a bit since then.

Jänisch's "refutation" 3 d3 Nf6 4 f4, which I indicated as still being the critical line, had in fact already been neutralized by Mark Lyell: 4...Nc6 5 Nf3 fxe4! (I concentrated on the inferior 5...exf4, utilizing some transpositional analysis from Matthias Wahls) 6 dxe4 Nxe4 7 fxe5 Nxe5! 8 Bd5 (or 8 Nxe5 Qh4+) 8...Nxf3+ 9 Qxf3 Nf6 and Black is fine, J.Emms-M.Lyell, British Championship, Southampton 1986.

In his later book on the Italian Game and Bishop's Opening, Beating 1 e4 e5 (Everyman 2010), John Emms suggested two other possibilities for White: 3 d4!? exd4 4 e5 d5 5 exd6 Bxd6 6 Ne2 Nc6 7 0-0 Na5 8 Bxg8 Rxg8 9 Nxd4 “with advantage, J.Pietrasanta-K.Shirazi, Pau 2008”; and the simple 3 d3 Nf6 4 Nf3.

The first, a sort of reversed Falkbeer, was missing from my article. I subsequently faced 4 e5 three times (1998-2001), though White always retreated the bishop in my games. After 5 exd6 etc, Shirazi's play might be improved by 7...Qh4!?, when something like 8 g3 Qf6 9 Nd2 Ne5! 10 Nxd4 Bd7 and ...0-0-0 is quite unclear.

The second line, 3 d3 Nf6 4 Nf3, can indeed be tricky if Black develops "normally". I gave (among other things) 4...fxe4 5 dxe4 Nxe4 6 Qd5 Nd6, following L.Bledow-P.von Bilguer, Berlin 1839, which looks extremely dodgy to me now, especially if White just plays 6 0-0!. Instead, Emms notes that 4...Nc6 5 0-0 Bc5 6 Nc3 d6 7 Bg5 “is a King's Gambit Declined with reversed colours, and 7...Na5 8 Bxf6! Qxf6 9 Nd5 Qd8 10 b4! Nxc4 11 bxc5 was somewhat better for White in D.Fryer-M.Lyell, Hastings 2003/04.” The problem is the combination of Bg5 and Nc3-d5 which the natural ...Bc5 does nothing to prevent. Trying to solve this led me to the patzer's variation 4...fxe4 5 dxe4 Bb4+!?.

White has four reasonable ways to block the check, all of which rule out the Bg5 and Nc3-d5 plan: (i) 6 Nc3 sees the knight pinned; (ii) 6 Nbd2 puts it on the wrong square; (iii) 6 Bd2 allows the bishop to be swapped off; (iv) 6 c3 Bc5 leaves the c3-square obstructed by a pawn. Almost all of my opponents have chosen option four, when White's position does look rather good. It will take at least four moves for Black to evacuate the king from the centre, while the c5-bishop is an obvious target for space-gaining advances on the queenside with b2-b4 and a2-a4-a5. Nevertheless, it turns out that it's not so easy for White to prove anything, while Black gets on with the slow plan of ...d7-d6, ...Qe7, ...Be6 and ...0-0. It's often possible (and better) to insert ...Nc6-d8 before ...Be6 as well.

The game below was one of my earliest with this set-up. As it happened, my opponent managed to keep me from castling short, but by that time it was okay to go long. Note that 18 Qxd6?? would lose for White after 18...Nb8, while 18 Na3 Rhe8 19 Qxd6 Qf4 20 Qd2 Nf6 21 Qxf3 exf4 is fine for Black. And also that no one has yet managed, in my 16 further games, to cast doubt on Black's position after 5...Bb4+. It may be possible to cast doubt on the whole idea of 2...f5, but that will have to wait for a future post.

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