The Openings Explained
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Rubinstein's Defense in the Four Knights [C48]
The subject of this month's column is Rubinstein's Defense in the Four Knights.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3
Do not confuse Rubinstein's Defense with 3.Bc4 Nd4. Unlike in Rubinstein's, White can castle here without trading the light-squared bishop. Also, White can capture on d4 and there is no pawn on d4 attacking a knight on c3, so no loss of tempo. 4.Nxd4 4.Nxe5 is the well-known trap, when 4...Qg5 is near winning for Black. 4...exd4 5.0-0, and White is much better.
Chess does not get more basic than this, but that does not mean the position is simple to play. Black does not want to end up on the worse side of equality.
Besides 4.d4, this is the only move that makes good classical sense. 4.g3 is an interesting off-beat move, and 4.Bc4 is a mistake because the fork trick 4...Nxe4.
4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4 is the Scotch Four Knights, which leads to an unbalanced struggle after 5...Bb4 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d5.
This interesting move denotes Rubinstein's Defense. Black moves a piece twice in the opening; while not achieving complete equality, because White has not made any suspect moves, it is close to equal and fun to experiment with. 4...Bb4 and 4...Bc5 are good alternatives. If White does not know any opening theory and is just playing logical moves, then White has to start thinking right away. There are a few choices here.
This is the main move; saving the bishop and avoiding ...c6 and ...d5.
5.Bc4 Going toward the center makes sense, but now that the black knight is not on c6, Black has an interesting choice. 5...d6 This is solid. (5...c6!? 6.Nxe5 [6.0-0 castling is better, when Black probably has to exchange on f3 and White is better developed.] 6...d5 7.exd5 Bd6 8.Nf3 Qe7+ 9.Kf1 Bg4 Black definitely has compensation for the two pawns, but I do not see a clear way forward and White does not have to go into this anyway.) 6.0-0 (6.Ng5 Be6 7.Nxe6 fxe6 The knight on d4 protects e6. Black can play ...d5 or ...Qd7 and castle queenside.) 6...Bg4 Black is fine.
5.Nxe5 is a critical alternative. This is the most obvious drawback of moving the c6-knight. 5...Qe7 (5...Nxb5? 6.Nxb5 Qe7 does not work anymore because the c7-pawn is hanging.)
A) 6.Nf3 Nxb5 Black grabs the bishop-pair, of which you all know I am a big fan. The lack of development is Black's biggest issue. 7.Nxb5 Qxe4+ 8.Qe2 Qxe2+ 9.Kxe2 Nd5 This is the key move to remember. 10.Re1 (10.c4 a6) 10...a6 11.Kf1+ Be7 12.Nbd4 Maybe this was slow, and 12.Nc3 was better to challenge Black's knight in the center and after 12...Nxc3 13.dxc3, White's bishop can get out. 12...d6 Besides letting the c8-bishop out, this guards the square f5 from the white knight. 13.d3 c5 14.Nb3 Bf5 Now Black is a little better on account of the bishop-pair. 15.Na5 Nb4 We will pick this up in the first illustrative game.
B) 6.f4 The most interesting and challenging option. 6...Nxb5 7.Nxb5 d6 8.Nf3 Qxe4+ 9.Kf2 This is a choice that White did not have before. 9...Ng4+ (9...Qc4 looks okay too. 10.Re1+ Be6 11.Nbd4 0-0-0 12.d3 Qc5 Black's pieces are not that active, especially the f8-bishop. Black should go for centralization with ...d5 to get that bishop out. The bishop-pair will balance out the fact that White has easier development.) 10.Kg3 This is the most combative. The c7-pawn is threatened and the white rook is coming to e1. 10...Qg6 This is the only move that is any good; otherwise, Black has no counterplay. (10...Qc4 11.Re1+ Kd8 12.Nc3 White is not in danger, while Black's king is in a bad spot.) 11.Nh4 White should stop the threat of 11...Ne3+ winning the queen. 11...Qf6 12.h3 Otherwise, Black can just play ...Be7 and castle. (12.Nxc7+ is not a threat. 12...Kd8 13.Nxa8 g5 Black wins.) 12...g5 The only move. 13.Qe2+ Ne5!
Again the only move. Otherwise White will take on g5, and then take on g4. (13...Kd8 14.fxg5 Qxg5 15.hxg4) 14.d4 White protects the f4-square. 14.fxe5 Qf4 mate. But 14.Kh2 is a better defense. 14...gxf4+ 15.Kh2 Qxh4 16.dxe5 Qg3+ 17.Kg1
B1) 17...Kd8! The machine finds this move and assays Black as winning. 18.exd6 Bd7 19.a4 (19.dxc7+ Kc8 and 20...Bc5+) 19...Bxb5 20.Qxb5 Bxd6 is horrifying for White.
B2) 17...f3 18.Qxf3 Qxf3 Now the position is even. 19.gxf3 Kd7 20.exd6 Bxd6 21.Nxd6 Kxd6 ½-½, Popov,I (2613)-Svidler,P (2730)/Aix-les-Bains FRA 2011.
5.Nxd4 White enters a forcing line. 5...exd4 6.e5 This is the best choice. White does not spend a tempo saving the c3-knight and gets quick development. 6...dxc3 7.exf6 Qxf6 8.dxc3 Bc5 The challenge for Black is to catch up in development.
A) 9.Qe2+ Qe6 10.0-0 0-0 11.Qf3 (11.Qxe6 fxe6 Now Black is fine because of the pressure on the f2-pawn.) 11...d6 12.Bd3 Qg4 13.Qxg4 Bxg4 14.Bf4 Rfe8=.
B) 9.0-0 0-0 10.Qh5 d6 11.Bd3 h6 12.Be3 Bxe3 (12...Bb6 is also fine.) 13.fxe3 Qe5 14.Qxe5 dxe5 15.Bc4 Bd7 16.Rad1 Bg4 17.Rd2 Rae8 18.a4 g6 19.a5 a6 20.b4 Kg7 21.Bb3 Re7 22.Rd5 f5 Black has succeeded in getting the upper hand, but White had a bit of a pull. 23.h3 Be2 24.Rf2 Bb5 25.Rfd2 f4 26.exf4 exf4 27.Kf2 g5 28.Rd8 Rxd8 29.Rxd8 Re2+ 30.Kf3 Re3+ 31.Kg4 Bc6 32.Bd5 Bxd5 33.Rxd5 Kg6 0-1, Kekelidze,M (2445)-Malaniuk,V (2525)/Graz 1999.
5.Be2 I include this short game for historical reasons. This move is not ambitious. 5...Nxf3+ 6.Bxf3 Bc5 7.d3 d6 8.0-0 Be6 9.Be3 Bb6 10.Bxb6 axb6 11.d4 0-0 12.dxe5 dxe5 13.Qxd8 Rfxd8 14.Rfd1 Kf8 15.a3 Ke7 16.Rxd8 Rxd8 17.Rd1 Rxd1+ 18.Bxd1 c6 19.f3 ½-½, Maroczy,G-Euwe,M/The Hague 1921.
I decided to go this route. Black sticks to very solid play. The main line has Black playing 5...c6, daring White to capture on e5.
In variations where the bishop is on c4, capturing with the g-pawn has been tried. In this situation it is not serious, since the bishop is on a4 and not in an attacking position.
Playing ...d5 is not the main goal, since that pawn push would leave the black central pawns vulnerable until Black is completely developed. The idea is that Black can now play ...d6.
7.d3 More likely that not this just transposes. 7...d6 8.Bg5 This ends up costing White. The bishop is better on e3. We will pick this up in the second illustrative game.
Black lets out the c8-bishop. It is fine that the pawn is blocking the dark-squared bishop, since it is staying close to home anyway.
8.h3 This is if White plans to play a slower game and move the knight to e2 without worrying about ...Bg4. 8...Be7 9.Ne2 0-0 10.c3 h6 Here may be a good time for 10...d5. 11.d3 Be6 12.Ng3 d5 13.Re1 Bc5 14.Bb3 Re8 Everyone is just playing logical moves. This is an even position from which the stronger player should win.
The point is to stop 9.Nd5 from being strong. If 8.Nd5 had been played on the previous move, it would have not been that good since there is no bishop on e7 to attack and Black can play 8...Be6.
8...Be7 9.Nd5 This must give White a slight edge. (9.h3 This is a nice example of where Black easily gets an advantage and wins. 9...Be6 10.Be3 Just bad timing since Black gets in a quick ...d5. 10...0-0 11.Bb3 d5 12.Bg5 d4 13.Ne2 Nd7 14.Bxe6 Bxg5 15.Bxd7 Qxd7 16.Qg3 Qe7 17.f4 Opening the position is a bad idea and White has to swiftly concede. 17...exf4 18.Nxf4 f5 19.exf5 Rxf5 20.Rae1 Qf7 0-1, Dzindzichashvili,R-Borisenko,G/Krasnodar 1966. This game was played when the famous grandmaster was twenty-two-years-old, before he was an international master.) 9...h6 10.Ne3 Taking the bishop also leaves the position in White's favor. 10...0-0 11.Bb3 Be6 12.Nf5 Kh7 13.Qh3 ½-½, Polgar,J (2682)-Hammer,J (2636)/Kristiansund NOR 2010 (55). Black managed to hold on, but it was rough.
White can still win the bishop-pair.
9.Bb3 puts the bishop on a more relevant diagonal. 9...Be7 10.Be3 0-0 11.Rfe1 d5 This looks like the Dzindzichashvili game with 9.h3 in the previous variation. White has a rook on e1 rather than a pawn on h3, so that is an improvement. The chances are equal.
This is the follow-up to prevent 10.Ne3 and the same issues.
Now Black tries to take advantage of White's disorganization. However, Black is still two moves away from being castled.
Of course, Black cannot take on d5 right away with the knight, because of 10...Nxd5 11.Qxd5.
The bishop-pair guarantees a white initiative.
The extra pawn and central majority is enough to counter the white pressure.
The idea is to play 13.Bd2 and bother the black queen.
Trying to get castled.
The central black knight prevents the dark-squared bishop from going to many squares.
This is one possible path. Black should be okay, but not better. If this line starts to sour on Black, there is always the main line against 5.Ba4. With Black about to castle and the black knight strong on d5, things can become dangerous! This is a good position to play out.
Gosic, Bogdan (2340) – Bokan, Danko (2380)
It is very instructive to witness how Black opens the position to use the bishop-pair and attack the white king in this game.
1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bb5 Nd4 5.Nxe5 Qe7 6.Nf3 Nxb5 7.Nxb5 Qxe4+ 8.Qe2 Qxe2+ 9.Kxe2 Nd5 10.Re1 a6 11.Kf1+ Be7 12.Nbd4 d6 13.d3 c5 14.Nb3 Bf5 15.Na5 Nb4
Here is where we left off. White's last move wasted time, but anyway Black was better after 15...Kd7 and bringing the rooks to the center. Black counterattacks instead of defending the b7-pawn.
This is best, threatening 17.Nxd6 winning a piece and 17...Kd7 is not possible because of the fork 18.Nb6+.
16.Re2 opens White up to ideas of ...Nxc2 Rxc2 Bxd3+. 16...Kd7 Black leaves this threat open. 17.Nxb7? After something like 17.Kg1, Black can keep developing with 17...Bf6 and just be better. 17...Rab8 18.Na5 Nxc2 19.Rxc2 Bxd3+ 20.Re2 Rhe8
Black is winning.
Black gets out of the pin on the e-file.
I like 16...Bg6 more. I thought 17.Ne3 stopped everything, but 17.Ne3 Nxc2 18.Nxc2 Bxd3+ 19.Re2 0-0-0 Of course this still works. The advance of the passed d-pawn is going to be strong.
17.Re2 b5 18.Ne3 Kd7
Black connects the rooks before starting any action.
This gives Black a target.
20.Bd2 Black easily gets a commanding position regardless. 20...Bf6 21.Rb1 Nd4 22.Nxd4 cxd4 23.Nd1 Rac8, and Black can double up on the c-file.
Black works to open the position, much to the delight of the bishops.
21.Nd1 Bd5 22.Re3
Not getting doubled pawns is the least of White's problems.
22.Be3 Bf6 23.Nd2 Nd4 24.Bxd4 cxd4 25.Ne4 White had to make another concession, giving up the bishop-pair for two knights, yet this position held more hope.
From here Black steamrolls on.
23.c3 g4 24.Ng1 Rag8 25.hxg4 hxg4 26.Re2 Ne5 27.Ne3 Bb7 28.d4 cxd4 29.cxd4 Nf3 30.Nf5
30.gxf3 gxf3 31.Rc2 Rh1.
30...Nh2+ 31.Ke1 Bf6 32.Kd1 Bxg2 33.Kc2 Re8 34.Bf4 Rxe2+ 35.Nxe2 Be4+ 36.Kb3 Bxf5 0-1
A great game to go through several times.
Ravinsky, Grigory Ionovich – Simagin, Vladimir
This game was played by one of the great players of the Soviet era.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Nd4 5.Ba4 Nxf3+ 6.Qxf3 c6 7.d3 d6 8.Bg5 Be7
Black has the solid position we were aiming for.
9.0-0 0-0 10.Qe2
This is clearly a blunder, and the game would not be worth showing if this was the end of it. Yet Black gives White several chances to get back in the game, and we can learn from these mistakes.
10.Bb3 Be6 11.Rfe1 Qd7 followed by centralization of the rooks would be usual.
11.Bxe7 Nxc3 Black ends up a pawn ahead.
With the bishop-pair and an extra pawn Black is easily winning.
This hardly throws away the win, but gives White more chances.
12...Qe7 13.Qd3 Rd8 is easier, and then expanding on the queenside.
13.Bb3+ Kh8 14.exf5 Bxf5 15.Ne4
Suddenly, White's knight and bishop are a lot more active.
Black decides to cede the bishop-pair.
I would prefer 15...Be7 16.c4 Qc7, but I do not like White's knight being in the center.
16.Qxe4 Rf4 17.Qe2 Be7 18.g3 Rf6
This is a weakening move that makes Black's job easier. White had been holding.
19.Kg2 The plan of 19...Qb6, as in the game, would not work here: 20.f4, and Black's passivity makes things turn in White's favor.
19...Qb6 20.Rd2 Raf8 21.Kg2 Qc5!
A simple strong move that is easy to overlook. Black is going to re-route the bishop to attack f2.
22.f4 g5! and White's king is in trouble.
22...Bd8 23.Bc2 g6 24.a3 Bb6 25.Qe2 Qa5
Another great move, making way for the bishop to go to d4, or, if White insists on playing b4 as in the game, the a3-pawn is hanging.
26.f3 Bd4 Black can prepare ...b5 to make a second front.
White goes ballistic, but he was lost anyway.
27...dxc5 28.f4 cxb4 29.Rf3 Qa1 30.Rd7 exf4 31.Kh3 R6f7 32.Rxf7 Rxf7 33.Bb3 Rf8
Notice that the black queen covers the a1-h8 diagonal.
34.Rd3 fxg3 35.Rf3 Bc5 36.Qe6 Qg7 37.Rxf8+ Bxf8 38.hxg3 h6 39.Kg2 Kh7 40.Kh3 a5 41.Bc2 c5 42.Qc8 b5 0-1
This was an exciting game with a couple quiet queen moves making more of a difference than the extra pawn.
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