The Openings Explained
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Owen's Defense for White [B00]
This month I am going to take a look at an old foe of mine: 1...b6, Owen's Defense.
Right away, I am irritated. Besides side-stepping the main lines (Sicilian, French, and so on), which White has undoubtedly spent many hours studying, Black avoids engaging White at all. Black is relatively free to develop the pieces as desired and White can easily overextend. For example, I used to always play d4 and f4 against these kinds of flank openings, but then the a8-h1 diagonal is weak. I could no longer play f3, so my e-pawn was vulnerable. Anyway, I came upon a different set-up.
This should be the automatic response when your opponent does not engage in the center.
This fianchetto is the point behind 1...b6. Black makes an immediate threat against the e-pawn.
Of course, there are other moves here, such as the natural 3.Nc3. I like 3.Bd3 because it develops the kingside quickly and keeps c3 as a possibility if Black plays ...c5. (For the Mousetrap Gambit, 3.Bg5, see Over the Horizons #04 in the ChessCafe.com Archives-ed.)
3...e6 mostly transposes to what we are going to examine. I am not interested in ...g6 or ...d6 systems, which bear resemblance to either the Pirc or Modern and would lead us too far astray.
3...f5? is just a mistake, but it is worth remembering the refutation. 4.exf5 It is fine to open the a8-h1 diagonal since Black has no development and a weak king. 4...Bxg2 Black should develop with 4...Nf6 with no compensation for the pawn sacrifice. 5.Qh5+ g6 6.fxg6 Bg7 Black has to make room for the king. (6...Nf6 just loses right away. 7.gxh7+ Nxh5 8.Bg6#) 7.gxh7+ Kf8 8.Nf3! Nf6 9.Qg6
White attacks the bishop on g2. 9...Bxh1 (9...Bxf3 10.Rg1 Rxh7 11.Qg3 White has simultaneous attacks on h7 and f3.) 10.Bh6 Rxh7 Black loses everything because of, among other things, the threats on h7 and 12.Qf7 mate. 11.Ng5.
This is the system that intrigued me. Now it is White who avoids commitment. White responds to the immediate threat to the e-pawn, leaves open the possibility of castling queenside, and the threat of e5 and Qe4 may prove dangerous later.
This move, followed by the strike ...e5, is one of two main possibilities that I look at.
4...e6 is the other branch. Black moves along more traditional routes with ...d5 and possibly ...c5. 5.Nf3 The plan for White does not involve f4, so White develops this knight as soon as possible. 5...d5 Without this move, Black gets squeezed fast. (5...Be7 is a weak move that does not take into account White's plan to gain space. 6.e5 Nd5 7.a3 8.c4 is threatened, winning a piece. 7...c5 8.dxc5 Black has to move the bishop on e7 a second time or box in the same bishop with 8...bxc5.) 6.e5 The only response.
A) 6...Ne4 Black ends up moving this knight three times in order to exchange it for a knight that has only moved once after White plays 7.Nbd2. 7.Nbd2 There are now three attackers on the e4-knight and only the d-pawn and the b7-bishop behind it are defending the knight, so Black has to trade. 7...Nxd2 8.Bxd2 White has jumped way ahead in development. 8...Be7 (8...c5 This certainly makes sense in order to gain space. 9.c3 Nc6 10.a3 White plays this preemptive move so that if Black plays 10...cxd4, then after 11.cxd4 Black cannot play 11...Nb4. 10...c4 11.Bc2 b5 12.Ng5
This is a key idea in the ...e6 and ...d5 lines. This move targets the weak light squares in Black's position. If Black kicks the knight with ...h6, then the light squares become even weaker. For example, the square g6 would have only the f-pawn as a defender. White may also ignore the threat to the knight and play h4. 12...Be7 13.Qg4 Black's king is not very comfortable.) 9.h4 (9.0-0 is a calmer plan. 9...Qc8 10.Rac1 Ba6 11.c4 White targets the c-file and the weak Black c-pawn.) 9...h6 10.c3 a5 11.h5 Ba6 12.Bxa6 Nxa6 13.Rh3!? Black exchanged light-squared bishops since Black's bishop was bad and White's bishop was threatening. However, the white rook is also very powerful. 13...Qd7 14.Rg3 Bf8 15.Kf1 White will nudge the king to safety on g1 then attack the black king wherever it may end up.
B) 6...Nfd7 This is the sensible choice in my opinion. Black keeps this knight as a defender. 7.Ng5 The thematic move in this variation. White deliberately provokes Black since any move that attacks the knight also leaves weaknesses behind.
B1) 7...c5? 8.Nxe6 fxe6 9.Qh5+ Ke7 10.Bg5+ 1-0, Mastrokoukos,G (2357)-Klokas,K/Nikea 2002.
B2) 7...Be7 8.h4 Another thematic move along with the rook lift. 8...c5 Black's only chance to develop counterplay. 9.Rh3 9.c3 is slow and 9...Nc6 would renew regardless the threat on the d4-pawn. 9...Bxg5 (9...cxd4 It is highly suspicious that Black would have time to capture a pawn in this position. 10.Nxe6! fxe6 11.Qh5+ Kf8 12.Rf3+ Nf6 13.exf6 Bxf6 14.Bg5 Nc6 15.Bxf6 gxf6 16.Rg3 This is pretty scary.) 10.Bxg5 Qc7 11.Na3 White continues developing and plans to make Black uncomfortable with an upcoming Qg4.
B3) 7...Qe7 Black senses the danger and works to castle as soon as possible. However, moving the bishop to e7 is a better plan. 8.0-0 Since Black is clearly going queenside, White switches course and discards the h4 and Rh3 plan. The knight on g5 provoked this response to go queenside, yet the black king will not necessarily be safer on the queenside. 8...c5 9.c3 Nc6 10.Nf3 We will look at this in the first illustrative game.
White is still not sure where the queenside pieces will belong, so 5.c3 remains the logical choice.
This gains Black some much-needed space. As I said before, I am ignoring the ...d6 or ...g6 set-ups. 5...e6 does not seem consistent with 4...Nc6, since the freeing ...c5 is no longer available.
I prefer keeping the tension to pushing the d-pawn.
6...Bd6 looks ugly and it is. 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bh4 0-0 9.d5 Black gets run over in this game. 9...Nb8 10.Nbd2 Re8 11.0-0 Be7 The bishop ends up having to move back. 12.Nxe5 d6 13.Bxf6 Bxf6 14.Ng4 Bxd5 15.Nxh6+ gxh6 16.Qg4+ Bg7 17.exd5 Both sides make use of tactics, but White ends up on top with an extra pawn and Black's kingside ruined. 17...Qg5 18.Qxg5 hxg5 19.f4 Re3 20.Bf5 gxf4 21.Rxf4 Na6 22.Ne4 Re2 23.Raf1 Rxb2 24.Ng5 Nc5 25.Bh7+ Kh8 26.Rh4 f6 27.Nf7# 1-0, Brunello,S (2540)-De Santis,A (2289)/Cento ITA 2011.
6...exd4?! Black opens the position with the black king still in the center and White's queen on the e-file. 7.e5 (7.0-0 This is also pretty good. 7...dxc3 8.Nxc3 d6 9.Bb5 a6 10.Bxc6+ Bxc6 11.e5 1-0, Bartel,M (2601)-Polak,T (2508)/Prievidza 2009 (27) Black's position is extremely precarious.) 7...Nd5 8.Be4 Na5 (8...Nde7 9.0-0 dxc3 10.Nxc3 Qc8 11.Rd1 White conducts this game with a lot of energy. 11...Nd8 12.Nd4 Ne6 13.Nxe6 dxe6 14.Bg5 h6 15.Rac1 The threat is 16.Nb5 with attacks on c7 and d6 since the c-pawn is pinned. 15...a6 16.Bh4 g5 17.Qf3 Ra7 18.Bxb7 Qxb7 19.Ne4 Nd5 20.Nf6+ Nxf6 21.Qxf6 Ra8 22.Bxg5 hxg5 23.Qxh8 1-0, Friedel,J (2516)-Barrios,F (2244)/Toronto 2009) 9.Nxd4
The knight on a5 has no anchor, while the white knight is going to f5.
White maintains flexibility with the queenside pieces.
7.d5 is another option that takes a positional tact. 7...Ne7 8.a4 a6 9.a5 Qc8 10.Na3 Nd7 11.Be3 Ng6 12.g3 Be7 13.h4 h6 14.h5 Ngf8 15.Nh4 White is winning since the black pieces have absolutely no range. Probably 9...Qc8 was a mistake, losing time.
Black works on completing development.
7...Nd7 This contortion did not work out well for Black in the second illustrative game.
In the previous variation with ...e6 and ...d5 we talked about the weak light squares left behind by Black's light-squared bishop. In this variation, f5 becomes a juicy square.
8.dxe5 This simple approach worked out well in this game. 8...Nxe5 9.Nxe5 dxe5 10.Nd2 0-0 11.Nc4 White will always have enduring pressure on the e-pawn. 11...Nd7 12.Rd1 Bg5 13.Ne3 Bxe3 14.Bxe3 Qe7 15.Bc2 Rfd8 16.f3 Nf8 17.Bb3 1-0, Paragua,M (2508)-Torre,E (2469)/Boracay PHI 2012 (51) The pull of the bishop-pair won the game for White.
Black gets to safety.
We have a position reminiscent of Philidor's Defense. I prefer White because of space and I do not see a plan for Black that does not involve changing the position of every piece.
Antonio, Rogelio Jr (2529) – Donguines, Fernie (2362)
This short game shows the limitations of the ...e6/...d5 framework. Black successfully defends his weak kingside, but castling queenside proves no relief since White can also attack on that part of the board.
1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 Nf6 4.Qe2 e6 5.Nf3 d5 6.e5 Nfd7 7.Ng5 Qe7 8.0-0 c5 9.c3
9.Nc3 I did not mention this in the theory section, but this is an attractive alternative to 9.c3. Black should play 9...a6 to stop 10.Nb5, when White can trade on c5 and use his piece activity.
This is where we stopped in the theory. This is probably the best way to protect the d-pawn now that threats on e6 and f7 are not as strong since Black's queen is guarding those squares. Castling queenside looks dangerous for Black since it is very easy to attack Black's king with pawns, but hard for Black to attack White's king.
I imagine Black was concerned about 11.Bg5. 10...Qd8, followed by 11...Be7, is preferable.
This brings another piece to aim at the queenside, but gets in the way of the white queen.
11.Na3 a6 12.Bd2 and busting open the queenside would be my choice. Black's attack with ...g5 looks forced since there are no pieces to back it up. In the meantime, Black's king is stuck in the center.
Black decides to go for it. 11...Qd8 is safer and better.
11...f6? 12.Nh4 Those weak light squares.
White could leave this piece where it is and instead develop the knight to a3. Black is not really threatening ...c4, since after Bc2 White can play b3 and really open things up.
12.Na3 f6 13.Nh4 Qf7 14.Ng6 Rg8 15.Nxf8 This leaves the knight free to go to d6.
Black is too far behind to have a successful attack. Nonetheless, White cannot afford to waste time.
12...f6 13.Nh4 Qf7 This is actually not so bad for Black. Instead of 13.Nh4, White could trade on f6, but that is definitely a victory for Black, who gets more space.
White wastes no time in attacking Black.
13.a4 c4 And b3 is no longer as strong since White cannot recapture with axb3.
This is really asking for it.
13...Nxc5 is necessary to keep the king's position closed for now. 14.a4 g5 15.b4 Nd7 16.a5
White is just a little faster than Black. For one thing, White has not advanced any of his pawns on the kingside, so there are no targets for Black.
The pawn storms begin.
14...g5 15.Nbd2 Qf7
This is much too careless.
15...g4 The only logical move. 16.Ne1 Bg7 17.bxc5 The open b-file spells doom for Black.
15...f4 fails to 16.Bxc5 Nxc5 17.Bxc6 Bxc6 18.bxc5 Qxc5 19.Rab1 This is a win for White. The knight comes to d4 and the queen to a6.
15...Ncxe5? 16.Nxe5 Nxe5 17.Bxc5.
The black queen's disengagement with its king lets White quickly crash through.
16...Bxc5 17.Bxc5 Nxc5 18.Nd4 The white pieces swarm the king.
Every single White piece participates in the offensive. None of the black pieces are even on the kingside where White's king is, except the f8-bishop, which has not left its original square, or the h8-rook, which has no open files.
17...Nb8 18.Bxc5 Bxc5 19.Nd4 Qe7 20.Rfc1 a6 21.Ba4 Rd7 22.Bxd7+ Nxd7 23.N2b3 Bb6 24.c4 Bc7 25.Na5 1-0
Black tried to give up the exchange to mitigate the threats, but the position was too far gone. A good attacking game by Antonio, with several places where he may have considered other possibilities.
Mitkov, Nikola (2530) – Blatny, Pavel (2494)
I was very impressed by White's play when I saw this game. He makes the squeeze seem effortless.
1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 Nf6 4.Qe2 Nc6 5.c3 e5 6.Nf3 d6 7.0-0 Nd7
Black rearranges his pieces, but this is extremely slow.
The knight may go to c4 to influence the center or back to c2 to swing around to e3 and f5.
8.Ba6 is one of those positional motifs where you trade these bishops in order to take over the light-squares on the queenside. Definitely worth considering.
As in the last game, Black stops any ideas of Ng5 or Bg5. I would prefer hunkering down with 8...Be7.
This is an interesting move that keeps maximum flexibility about where the dark-squared bishop will go or where the a3-knight will end up. Putting the rook on the same file as the black queen is also strong if the d-file opens up, which is entirely possible because of the tension in the center.
This move stops ideas of Ba6.
9...Be7 10.Nc2 Bf6 Black is cramped, but has more freedom than in the positions that occurred in the game.
The start of a really strong idea made possible by the absence of a knight on f6.
This move and the next get Black into trouble. White easily develops a bind and Black makes too many pawn moves that leave too many targets.
10...Be7 To me this move is begging to be played.
A subtle move that may not be about what it seems, as we will see.
I decided to go ahead and give this move a question mark since it really misses White's ideas. And Black just does not have the time to go slow.
What makes this move hard to take seriously is that it is not usual for the bishop to go to d5. However, in this position it pins the black knight and targets the light squares. Black does not have a good way to resolve this tension.
Without a good alternative, Black works on castling and deals with White's threats as they come.
12...0-0-0 gives White a free hand to terrorize the queenside. 13.Bxc6 Bxc6 14.Nb4 Bb7 15.Nd5 This is a very strong knight. Black does not want to take it since the black king would be left undefended.
Simple and strong. The knight going to this square was not obvious from where it started on a3.
Unfortunately for Black, this is the only halfway decent defense.
13...Nxb4 14.Bxb7 Rb8 15.cxb4 Rxb7 16.Qxa6 White wins a pawn with tempo.
And still, White takes his time. He first opens the d-file for the rook and limits the potential for the g7-bishop by closing the h8-a1 diagonal.
14...Bxe5 15.Nxe5 dxe5 Black loses the dark-squared bishop, an obvious disaster in an open position.
A quiet move. White transports the bishop to a3 to use it in the attack on that diagonal.
At this point, Black does not have much choice but to get the king out of the center as quickly as possible.
16.Ba3 Re8 17.Nc2 Qd7 18.Ne3
Instead of putting the bishops on d3 and e3 as might be expected, White puts the bishops on the long diagonals aimed at the black king.
18...Qc8 19.Nh4 b5
There is nothing Black can do about the pawn on g6, which is unprotected since the pawn on f7 is pinned. Therefore, Black works to shut down the a3-bishop.
19...Re6 is probably the best option, but the end would never be in doubt.
20.Nxg6 b4 21.Nf5 Re6
21...bxa3 22.Qg4 Nd7 23.Nge7+ and mate on g7 next move.
22.Qg4 Kh7 23.Bxe6 Qxe6 24.Nf4 Qf6 25.Nd5
First we had domination by the bishops, now by the knights.
25...Qg6 26.Qxg6+ fxg6 27.Nxg7 Kxg7 28.Bb2 Ra7 29.Nxc7 Kf7 30.Nd5 a5 31.a3 1-0
A beautiful game that showed White beating a strong grandmaster by using the powers of the minor pieces.
The Openings Explained #44
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