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Quote of the Month: Once you have mastered safety, knowing opening theory is very helpful.
This month I thought I would do something a little different. Novice Nook does not often address specific opening preparation, so I am going to help rectify that by presenting a game I played, with emphasis on the specific line's opening theory. To fully investigate this still-popular line from a 2013 standpoint, we will refer to grandmaster games, a database, and computer analysis.
The event was the New York City Championships in January 1972. I had just graduated from college a few weeks before and was starting my first job as a software analyst/programmer.
In the first round I won. That win placed me one past the halfway point of ratings for players with a score of 1-0. That meant I would be paired with the top-ranked player in the tournament, Walter Browne, who was about 200 points higher rated than the second highest player in the event, the well-known veteran master Dr. Ariel Mengarini.
So this was not just any opening or any opponent. Walter Browne went on to become the six-time champion of the US, although when this game was played he was just getting his grandmaster title.
Browne is a little more than a year older than I. He was born in Australia, but at a very early age emigrated to the United States to live in Brooklyn. When the Vietnam War broke out, Browne returned to his homeland, resulting in two very nice benefits: he avoided the military draft, and he immediate became one of the best, if not the clearly best, player in Australia, with the opportunity to represent them in international play. In that sense Browne's story is vaguely similar to what happened to Fabiano Caruana, who also grew up in New York, but had much more success after moving to Europe at the start of his teens; thus becoming the strongest young Italian player, and representing his "other" country.
By the point of this event (1972), Walter was back in the U.S. To further set the scene, I had black and Walter showed up at the board twenty minutes late. Of course, Walter had no idea who I was and hardly could care: just another second-round patzer expert to put away on his way to making a little cash. However, from my point of view, this was a wonderful challenge! Should I play Walter's favorite opening, the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian, against him? Would that be like putting my head in the lion's mouth? Well, I was never known for my timidness (at least over-the-board), so get out your chess board, there is a theoretical game this month!
Walter Browne – Dan Heisman
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6
You have to give me credit for sticking to my guns! I offer the famous Najdorf Variation, named after Miguel Najdorf and, at the time, super-popularized by Fischer, but with no small contributions from GM Browne! This grandmaster staple has maintained its popularity ever since its inception, with most top grandmasters, including Kasparov, including it in their arsenal at one time or another. The other main possibilities for Black are 5...Nc6 (Classical), 5...g6 (Dragon), and 5...e6 (Scheveningen).
All the rage at the time, 6.Bg5 has been making a comeback lately. The English Attack with 6.Be3 and then f3, or 6.f3 first was the hot line until lately. The English Attack was not even considered a sideline in 1972! Fischer liked to play 6.Bc4.
The formerly dormant 6...Nbd7 has been making a comeback lately because of some new move orders for Black.
7...Qb6 is the famous "Poisoned Pawn" Variation, a Fischer favorite; I never played the Poisoned Pawn in serious games. Fischer had also played 7...Be7 many times as well. Kasparov liked to experiment with lines featuring an early ...b7-b5 and then even possibly ...Qd8-b6. 7...h6, the Browne System, is named after – well, you can guess.
The idea of this move order is that 8...Nbd7 unnecessarily allows 9.Bc4, although the engine Houdini 3 evaluates Black as doing just fine in that line if he immediately responds with 9...h6.
The computer suggests the immediate 9...h6 should still be considered.
The Velimirovic idea of 10.Bd3 would not be played for another year or two. But 10.g4 remains popular to this day. Forty-one years later at 24 ply (without its database, of course) the computer rates 10.g4 as best with a +0.23 evaluation. Inexperienced players rarely find moves like this as pawn storms seem "risky" but, as Fischer said, "To get squares, ya gotta give squares."
Almost always played, although at 23 ply the computer's top moves are 10...h6 and 10...Rb8.
11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.g5 Nd7 13.f5
Black has some real choices here. My move was (and still is) the most popular, but the computer thinks some of the sidelines like the rare 13...Ne5, may be just as good (then 14.Qg3 is probably best), so possibly the grandmasters will start playing some of those more frequently. At 23 ply the top two moves are the "natural" 13...Bxg5 and the "beginner" 13...0-0. The top-rated 13...Bxg5+ is the Browne Variation.
14.f6 gxf6 15.gxf6 Bf8 16.Qh5
This is another place where theory has offered several tries for White. At the time, this was the latest rage. My 2004 database suggests 16.Rg1 had become the most popular move, and one that proven very successful in practice. If you go to the Chess.com database at and click on the most popular move on each choice for 31 straight ply, you will reach the position after 16.Rg1, so in that sense that line is considered the main tabiya in chess!
However, the computer rates 16.Rg1 as equally best, but only at 0.00 if Black plays the correct 16...b4. The success for White in a line rated as equal might mean the real evaluation is beyond the current ability of the computer, but it much more likely reflects that a position can be objectively equal, but in practice the equal position can be much more difficult for one side to play. Therefore, if you are playing a human, you can happily accept the equal position, so long as your opponent is the one with the tougher position to play.
The most common continuation. Up to 23 ply the computer thinks 16...b4 right away followed by the sacrifice 17.Nd5 is the Principal Variation (PV), but at 24 ply it changes its mind and thinks that 16...b4 is dangerous for Black and 16...Bd7 is better. Its top move at that point is 16...Rg8!? with virtual equality.
17.Bh3 b4 18.Nce2
Originally, most strong players had made the sacrifice 18.Nd5!?, so I did not know what to expect here. At the Merrimac Grand Prix in 1968 I earned my U.S. Chess Federation "Expert" title. During that event, recently deceased GM Robert Byrne, the brother of my coach Donald, suggested to me that 18.Nce2 was best and that 18.Nd5 was bad. Of course, he was just reflecting the most accurate then-current theory, which does tend to change. Even today you find 18.Nd5 still being played. Ironically, the computer rates 18.Nd5 at 0.00 at 25 ply and 18.Nce2 at +0.04. It could change at 26 ply. Rest in Peace, Robert!
I made this move immediately as book – I knew the line better then than I do now! In fact, all these moves were made immediately – by both sides! The blitzing of book continued.
19.Qxf7 Bh6+ 20.Kb1 Rdf8 21.Qh5 Rxf6 22.Rhf1 Rhf8
My notes to this game in my ChessBase file indicate that "up to this point both sides had been following recent theory. Dr. Mengarini, playing on second board, was noted for his offbeat openings and, despite his twenty-minute head start due to Walter's late arrival, was now only reaching about move eight of some irregular opening. The esteemed Doctor looked over, saw Walter and I pounding out these 20+ moves in a couple of minutes, and said, in a combination of disdain and some admiration, 'You kids!'" (I was twenty-one, Walter was around twenty-three).
23.Rxf6 Rxf6 24.Qh4
My notes say that Browne used two minutes for his first twenty-four moves and thus, counting the twenty minutes he arrived late, now has twenty-two minutes used on his clock. I was finally out of my book.
Two whole minutes for this move and now Browne has used four (twenty-four total). Would you believe he now takes one hour and thirty-five minutes to play his next seven to nine moves, leaving him one minute to play his last six to eight? Amazing, but true. In a previous game in 1970 GM Tringov had played 25.Nb3 against Browne (!) and Tringov won.
Now I have to think for myself. What a shame. As sometimes happens with strong players, the first move out of book is tough, although it was played by two international players (GM Schmidt and IM Zuckerman) in 1971 and a couple times since. So, yes, it was still theory! Believe it or not, Houdini thinks this is clearly best (0.29 to 0.55 for second best). So I continue to play like a grandmaster – for one more move.
Browne took thirty-nine minutes on his move and, before getting up to take a walk, wrote "!" next to it on the scoresheet. Bold, but the computer does not rate 26.Ng3 as one of the top two moves, listing 26.Ned4 and 26.Nf4 as better at 25 ply. My database search shows that no one has ever played 26.Ned4 and only the game Pieretti-Crispino featured the second move 26.Nf4. White won that one in 1982! Maybe someone will revive this line and play 26.Ned4. My game, of course, was not an international tussle and never made any of the books or, later, databases.
Not best, as we shall see.
Again White falters as the refutation to 26...Be8 is 27.Bf5! At this point, Browne had used eighty-nine of his 120 minutes!
Browne has used 103 minutes, leaving him seventeen minutes to hit time control. As is well known, Walter was a fantastic blitz player and would get into enormous time trouble almost every game, but usually came out smelling like a rose. You could probably call him a time trouble junkie.
The losing move. I had to play 29...Ne6, when after 30.Nxe5 Qxe5 31.Qd8+ Kb7 32.Qxe8 Qxf5 Black is fine.
30.Qe7!+- Qd8 31.Qxh7 Rf6 32.Bxd7+
Browne has four minutes left; and I have thirty-seven to get to move forty. Unfortunately, the position is too easy for the grandmaster to play, so his time trouble was not much of a problem.
32...Bxd7 33.Nxe5 Qe8 34.Qxd7+
Despite his short time left, Browne is accurate. He could still go wrong with 34.Nxd7?? Rd6 35.Nb6+=.
34...Qxd7 35.Nxd7 Rf2 36.Nb6+ Kb7 37.Nc4 a4 38.h3 Rh2 39.a3 bxa3 40.Nxa3
"Easily" making time control. I was hoping for 40.bxa3? when 40...Rxh3 would hold good chances for survival.
As we each get an extra hour added to our clocks, I survey the wreckage. The position is lost, but not resignable, so I trudge on. Of course, against a grandmaster, the position is resignable more quickly. The remainder does not require much comment.
41.Rd4 Bf8 42.Rxa4 Rh2 43.c3 Bg7 44.Rg4 Bh6 45.Ka2 Bd2 46.Kb3 Bh6 47.Rg6 Bf8 48.Nc4 Bh6 49.Rf6 Bc1 50.Rf1 Bh6 51.Rf7+ Ka6 52.Rh7 1-0
When others discover that I played six-time US Champion Walter Browne and lost in fifty-two moves they often fish for a complement, "Oh congratulations – you lasted that long!" However, in chess they do not rate you on how many moves you lasted, but your result. A lost game lasting fifty-two moves is no better, from that standpoint, than getting Fool's Mated in two moves. A loss is a loss is a loss. In contrast, my friend NM Rich Pariseau played Walter Browne three times and got three draws. Way to go, Rich! That is a result Rich can be proud of; beats me by a mile.
After our game Walter said he knew a good steakhouse nearby and invited me to dine with him, which I happily accepted. During this post-mortem I asked him if he would review the opening with me – a great opportunity to learn from one of the most knowledgeable! – but he turned me down, citing professional trade secrets – drat! After that meal, I do not think I ever talked with Walter again and he probably does not remember much of this at all. Maybe someone will point out this Novice Nook to him.
But that is not the end of the story. One big reason I selected this game is that six months later at the prestigious Church's Fried Chicken international tournament in San Antonio, Walter Browne played the exact same opening for twenty-six moves against one of the West's top players, GM Henrique Mecking of Brazil. Browne, of course, had our game as a basis, but Mecking had only those other Browne games to study (in those days there were no big databases, though likely they had made the Informant). However, on move twenty-six...
Browne, Walter (2530) – Mecking, Henrique (2570)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0 Nbd7 10.g4 b5 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.g5 Nd7 13.f5 Nc5 14.f6 gxf6 15.gxf6 Bf8 16.Qh5 Bd7 17.Bh3 b4 18.Nce2 0-0-0 19.Qxf7 Bh6+ 20.Kb1 Rdf8 21.Qh5 Rxf6 22.Rhf1 Rhf8 23.Rxf6 Rxf6 24.Qh4 Rg6 25.Nf3 a5 26.Ng3
The exact same moves as in my game! Walter is repeating his path in search of another victory, but...
That is the move I missed and the one that gives Black the advantage. Of course, if Black can get the advantage, no player with the white pieces would ever play this (at the least, White should improve with 26.Ned4), so not only 26.Ng3, but essentially this entire line, pretty much disappeared from grandmaster play. So the Mecking move made all the opening books, but my game with Browne, which paved the way for his loss to Mecking, vanished from history – until now!
27.Qh5 Bf4 28.Ne2 Qf8 29.Nfd4 Be5 30.Nf3 Bh8 31.Nfd4 Be5 32.Nf3 Qh6 33.Qxh6 Rxh6 34.Bg2 Rg6 35.Bh1 Bc6 36.Re1 Bh8 37.Ng3 Kc7 38.Nd2 Be5 39.Re3 Bf4 40.Re2 Bxg3 41.hxg3 Rxg3 42.Re1 e5 43.Bf3 Ne6 44.Kc1 Ng5 45.Bd1 Rg2 46.Rh1 a4 47.a3 bxa3 48.bxa3 Kb6 49.c3 Rg3 50.Kb2 Rd3 51.Kc2 Nxe4 52.Kxd3 Nc5+ 53.Kc4 d5+ 54.Kb4 Na6# 0-1
So, as Paul Harvey used to say, "And now you know the rest of the story!"
Novice Nook #148
In ChessBase, PGN, and PDF formats. Viewable in Ipad,
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With bonus analysis from Houdini, Rybka, and Shredder!
© 2013 Dan Heisman & BrainGamz, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Dan welcomes readers' questions; he is a full-time instructor on the ICC as Phillytutor.
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