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The Unbelievable Truth
A Modern Benoni with a twist.
Gilles Garrigues from France e-mailed with a problem concerning the first two moves of the game: "I find Black's 1.d4 e6 2.c4 c5!? slightly annoying. Note that I am mostly a positional player rated around 2100. What can you recommend?"
This move-order is an invitation to take on the Modern Benoni. The difference is that Black wants to avoid playing a king's knight to f6 and have the option of developing it to e7, allowing a different type of set-up. The problem is that when you look it up in your standard reference books, it does not seem to exist. The reason is that the game usually goes 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e6. In this case, after 1 d4 e6, Black runs the risk of White playing 2 e4 and entering a French Defence; so if you have played 1 e4 in the past, it is a possibility. If that sounds too much, then 1 d4 c5 2 d5 e6 is another move-order that can occur and something for White to watch out for when looking in the books for a refutation.
Here is an example of what Black wants from the opening:
Yves Lancien – Nad-Titus Petre
1.d4 e6 2.c4 2.e4 transposes to a French, so Black obviously needs to be ready to contest that opening. 2...c5 3.d5 exd5 4.cxd5 d6 5.e4 Be7!?
The first sign that Black does not wish to enter a standard Benoni and instead wishes to play ...Bf6 and then ...Ne7. It is occasionally known as the ''Space Benoni'' according to one report that I found. 6.Nc3 Bf6 A theme of this system is a preference to prepare the queenside pawn advance by nudging the a-pawn forward. Although, White can take steps to make it a risky venture, it does have the merit of stopping lines associated with Bb5+. In the game A.Jankovic-D.Zecevic, Omis 2005, Black's set-up worked well: 6...a6 7.a4 Bf6 8.f4 Ne7 9.Nf3 Ng6 Black keeps an eye on the advance e4-e5 10.Be2 0-0 11.0-0 Re8 12.Nd2 Nd7 13.Kh1 Bd4 14.Nf3? A natural move for White, but with Black's different set-up it fails to a simple tactic 14...Bxc3 15.bxc3 Rxe4 with an extra pawn and Black eventually won. 7.Nf3 a6 As noted, pushing the a-pawn is a deliberate attempt to initiate some queenside counterplay, but easily rebuffed. In this Benoni System 7...Ne7 is more common when play might continue as follows: a) 8.Bb5+ Bd7 9.Bxd7+ Nxd7 10.Bf4 Qb6 11.Qc2 Ng6 12.Bg3 Qa6 13.Ne2 0-0 14.0-0 Rfe8 15.Nc3 Nde5 led to equal chances in the game D.Radocaj-A.Jurkovic, Zagreb 1993. b) 8 Be2 0-0 9.0-0 Ng6 10.h3 (10.Be3 a6 11.a4 Re8 12.Qc2 Nd7 13.h3 Qe7 is about level) 10...Re8 11.Qc2 Na6 12.a3 Nc7 13.Be3 a6 14.Nd2 (or 14.a4 Bd7 15.a5 Nb5 with equal opportunities) 14...Bd7 15.Nc4 Nb5 16.Rfd1?! Nd4 17.Qd3 (17.Qb1 is the best chance for White, but after 17...Nxe2+ 18.Nxe2 Bb5 I would rather be Black) 17...Bb5! 18.Bxd4 Bxd4 19.Qc2 Nf4 20.e5? Qg5 21.g3 Qxg3+ 0-1, I.Sokolov-L.Aronian, Internet 2001. 8.a4 Ne7 9.Bg5 In the game C.Harstad-M.Tissir,Catalan Bay 2004, White tested 9.h3 Ng6 10.Bd3 0-0 11.0-0 Nd7 12.Re1!? (White sometimes plays Bg5 to attack the king's knight on f6, so this set-up forces White to follow another course, while 12.Be3 Nde5 13.Nxe5 Nxe5 14.Be2 Ng6 15.f4 Bd7 is about equal) 12...Nde5! 13.Nxe5 (13.Be2 Nxf3+ 14.Bxf3 Be5! aiming to play a timely ...f7-f5 with an initiative) 13...Bxe5 14.Qh5 Nf4 15.Bxf4 Bxf4 16.Re2?! g6 17.Qf3 Be5 18.Qe3 Qh4! 19.Rc2 Bd4 20.Qe1? Bxh3! 21.gxh3 (21.Ne2 is essential) 21...Qg3+ 0-1. 9...Ng6 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 Now that the dark-squared bishops have been exchanged, the f4 post is rather inviting for the black king's knight. Still, the chances should be even. 11.Be2 0-0 12.Nd2 Nf4 13.0-0 Nd7 14.Bf3 I reckon 14.g3, to oust the knight, is a sensible option. 14...Ne5 15.Qb3?
It is a doubtful policy to move the queen away from the scene of danger when Black is poised to break through on the kingside. A sterner defence is 15.Ne2, although 15...Nfd3 promises Black some advantage. 15...Bh3! 16.Ne2 Or 16.gxh3 Nxf3+ 17.Nxf3 Qg6+ 18.Kh1 Qg2 checkmate. Perhaps 16.g3 is necessary to prolong the game, but after 16...c4 17.Qd1 Bxf1 I would much prefer Black. 16...Bxg2 17.Rfe1?! After the line 17.Bxg2 Nxe2+ 18.Kh1 Nf4, Black is a pawn up with a dominant pair of knights. 17...Bxf3 18.Nxf3 Nxe2+ 0-1
The system for Black is certainly interesting, but from White's point of view there is no need to worry about tricks and traps. Instead it tends to be a positional struggle where patience is a virtue. Here is a model example:
Tomi Nyback – Igor Efimov
1.d4 e6 It is worth pointing out that if Black uses a slightly different move-order, such as 1...c5 2.d5 e6, then White can play the usual 3.c4 transposing to the main game, but 3.Nc3 might be even better. For instance, a) 3...exd5 4.Nxd5 Ne7!? (4...Nf6 5.Bg5 Be7 6.Bxf6 Bxf6 7.c3 0-0 offers equal chances) 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bf6 it looks fantastic, but is also sound 6...Nbc6 7.e4 d6 8.Nf3 Be6 9.Nxe7 (probably 9.Bc3 should be given a go) 9...Nxe7 10.Bb5+ Bd7 11.Bxd7+ Qxd7 12.Bxe7 Bxe7 13.Qd5 0-0 led to equal opportunities and an eventual draw, A.Khalifman-B.Katalymov, Bad Woerishofen 1996. b) 3...d6 4.e4 exd5 5.Nxd5 Nf6 and now: b1) 6.Nxf6+ Qxf6 7.Ne2 Nc6 8.Nc3 Qg6 9.Bf4 Be6 10.Qd2 Be7 11.0-0-0 0-0 12.f3 Rab8 13.Kb1 Ne5 14.h4! with an initiative, A.Lenderman -J.Bryant, Las Vegas 2010. b2) 6.Bg5 Be7 7.Bxf6 Bxf6 8.c3 0-0 9.Bd3 Be6 10.Nxf6+ Qxf6 11.Ne2 Nc6 12.0-0 Rad8 13.f4 d5 14.e5 Qh6 15.b4 d4 16.b5 dxc3? (16...Nxe5! 17.fxe5 dxc3, intending ...c5-c5 or ...Qe3+, with the advantage) 17.bxc6 c4 18.cxb7 cxd3 19.Nxc3 Bc4 20.Rb1! Qc6 21.Qd2 (21.Qf3 is good for White.) 21...Ba6 22.f5 Kh8 23.f6 gxf6 24.Rxf6 Qc5+ 25.Kh1 Bc4 26.Rf5 Qc6 27.h3 Rb8 28.Rf6 Qc7 1-0, I.Rajlich-E.Szalanczy,Budapest 2014. 2.c4 A serious tournament player should consider calling Black's bluff by occasionally playing 2.e4, if only to put off people copying the line when doing opening preparation. 2...c5 3.d5 exd5 4.cxd5 d6 5.Nc3 Be7 6.e4 Bf6 As usual 6...Nf6 transposes to more familiar territory. For example, 7.Bd3 (maybe 7.f4 should be tested) 7...0-0 8.h3 a6 9.a4 Qc7 10.Nf3 Nbd7 11.0-0 Ne5 12.Nxe5 dxe5 13.f4!? (perhaps 13.Qe2 is a more patient approach offering White a slight edge) 13...exf4 14.Bxf4 Bd6 with roughly equal chances, J. Quinn- S.Andersson, Sibenik 2014. 7.f4
The difference compared to the previous main game is that the advance of the f-pawn allows White to control the e5-square. This is important when you consider that Black's standard plan of ...Ne7-g6 and then ...Ne5 is thwarted. 7...Ne7 8.Nf3 Ng6 9.Bd3 A sensible set-up, which is what you would expected from a 2600+ rated grandmaster. White prepares to castle and to probe for an advantage on the kingside. In the game C.Gregoir-M.Hovhanisian, Gent 2006, White tried a safer approach with 9.Be2 and play proceeded 9...0-0 10.0-0 Bg4 11.Be3 Bxf3 12.Bxf3 Nd7 13.a4 a6 (13...Nh4 is another possibility) 14.Qd2 Re8 15.g3 Rb8 led to double-edged play. 9...0-0 10.0-0 Re8
Efimov continues to activate his pieces and makes sure that the advance e4-e5 is precarious. Instead, 10...a6?! allows White to step up the attack to a higher level. For instance, 11.e5! Be7 (11...dxe5 12.fxe5 Nxe5 13.Nxe5 Bxe5 14.Bxh7+! Kxh7 15.Qh5+ Kg8 16.Qxe5 when White is doing well in view of the exposed black king) 12.a4 Bg4 13.Qe1 Re8 14.f5 Nf8 (14...Nxe5 15.Nxe5 dxe5 16.Qg3 Bh5 17.Qh3 g6 18.g4 winning) 15.e6 Bxf3 16.Rxf3 Bf6 17.Ne4 Bd4+ 18.Be3 Bxe3+ 19.Rxe3 fxe6 20.fxe6 Ng6 21.Qg3 Ne5 22.Rf1 Rf8 23.Rxf8+ Qxf8 24.Nxd6 1-0, S.Savchenko-G.Eichler, Bad Woerishofen 2005. 11.Kh1 Na6 12.f5!? It seems strange to give up control of the e5-square, but then again it does have the merit of locking out the light-squared bishop on c8 from the kingside action. 12...Ne5 13.Bf4 Nc7 14.Qd2!? More consistent is 14.Nxe5 when a sample line runs 14...Bxe5 15.Bxe5 Rxe5 16.f6 gxf6 17.Qf3 which looks promising. 14...Nxd3 15.Qxd3 b5 Black has managed to equalise by playing ...b7-b5 without losing material. 16.Rfe1 16.Nxb5 Nxb5 17.Qxb5 Rxe4 favours Black. 16...b4 17.Nd1 Ba6 18.Qd2 Nb5 19.Nf2 Nd4 20.Ng4 The bishop on f6 is proving to be an influential piece, so White takes steps to trade pieces. 20...Bh4!? Instead, 20...Nxf3 21.Nxf6+ Qxf6 22.gxf3 Bb5 is about equal. 21.Nxh4 Also interesting is the line 21.Nxd4 Bxe1 22.Qxe1 cxd4 23.Qg3 with some attacking prospects. 21...Qxh4 22.h3 Qd8!?
An instinctive response to withdraw the queen to avoid complications associated with Bg5. Perhaps 22...Bb5 is also possible. 23.Rad1? A harmless continuation that merely brings another piece into the action, but admittedly keeps Black in a tense position. It is not obvious, but 23.f6! is a great way to launch the onslaught: 23...Bc8 (23...g6 24.Nh6+ Kf8 25.Bg3 Bc8 26.Ng4, intending Qh6+, when Black should resign) 24.Bxd6 Qxd6 25.Qg5 g6 26.Nh6+ Kf8 27.Nf5 Nxf5 28.exf5 winning. 23...f6 Efimov is wise to the danger of f5-f6, so does his best to cancel out the possibility. 24.Qf2 b3 25.Qg3 White is asserting relentless pressure by shifting his pieces to the kingside in preparation for an attack. 25...Kh8 Or 25...bxa2? 26.Nh6+ Kf8 27.Bxd6+ wins. 26.axb3 Rb8 27.Re3 Rb6?! The rook is tied to the d-pawn defence, which can be a bit annoying for Black. Instead, 27...Ne2! might well be the right answer in view of the line 28.Qf2 (28.Rxe2 Bxe2 29.Rd2 Bxg4 30.Bxd6 Qa5! 31.Rd3 Rb4 favours Black) 28...Rb4 29.Rxe2 Bxe2 30.Qxe2 Rexe4 31.Be3 Rxb3 is a mess, but White has to be careful to hold the position. 28.Nf2 Re7 29.b4!? As usual White is maintaining the pressure by giving Efimov the chance to go wrong. 29...Ne2 If 29...Rxb4 30.Bxd6 or 29...cxb4? 30.Rxd4. 30.Rxe2! White has a knack of trying to force Black's position into a state of crisis by avoiding the dull reply that would allow the exchange of pieces on f4. 30...Bxe2 31.Rd2 Bb5!? It seems to be more precise to fight back with 31...Bc4 32.bxc5 Rb3, but after 33.Qh4 Black is still in trouble. 32.bxc5 dxc5 33.e5 fxe5 34.Bg5 h6
35.Bxe7 35.Qh4! is a knock-out blow because 35...Rbb7 is met by 36.d6. 35...Qxe7 36.Ne4 Rb8 37.Qg6 Rf8 38.d6 Qh4 39.f6 gxf6 40.d7 1-0
In the January 2014 column I looked at the obscure Colorado Defence after Jonathan Adams from Australia asked a question about the line 1 e4 Nc6 2 Nf3 and now 2...f5. I then asked our informed audience to become chess historians and discover the origin of the name and I am pleased to report the excellent work done by the readers.
Graham Stevens from the UK was most informative:
Hugh Myers was always one for accurate attributions. On page 78 of his Nimzovich's Defence to 1.e4 (Caissa Editions, 1985) he writes, "Probably the first published mention of this gambit was in the 8/78 issue of Chess Life. A published 2...f5 game was played in Colorado in 1978, and the most detailed analysis of it (particularly in Myers Openings Bulletin #31) has been by Paul Szeligowski of Colorado. So I call it the Colorado Defense."
As Christoph Wisnewski (now Scheerer) writes in his book Play 1...Nc6, it is the move 2.Nf3 that puts many people off playing the Nimzowitsch Defence. Black has several options: 1) 2...d5 has a poor reputation, although Vlassov plays (played?) it. 2) 2...d6 scores badly. 3) 2...f5, you've already dealt with. 4) 2...e5 is a moral defeat. Scheerer prefers a different solution: 5) 2...Nf6, "El Columpio" (the Swing, in Spanish). His main line goes 3.e5 Ng4 4.d4 d6 5.h3 Nh6 and now 6.Bxh6, although he reckons White can do better by delaying this. Before you laugh, Marc Narciso Dublan played it several times in the 1990s.
Bert Kramer from The Netherlands added another insight: "I have no question, but an answer. You ask in your article about 'the Colorado' for games. May I pay your attention to a small book Nimzovich Defence by T. Kapitaniak (Nottingham, 1982) page 52. There you will find two games Silman-Root 0-1, Lone Pine 1979 and Liberzon-Root 1-0, Lone Pine 1980." This find helps to explain why the opening became popular in the 1970s and '80s and also explains why James Pratt from the UK advised me to look up games by Doug Root.
Alternatively, Jeremy Hodgson from the UK is convinced it is named after the state of Colorado and the final word goes to the mysterious J.K.A. from the USA who e-mailed comments he saw in a chess forum: "In the 1995 edition of his Nimzowitsch Defence book Myers says that he had previously named 2 ...f5 the 'Colorado Defense' (without saying why). It was played in the '70s and '80s by the young American player D. Root, with mixed success, but Myers cites Yates-Lean, British Championships, Chester, 1914 as its first appearance. After seeing another game played by R.E. Lean in 1911, Hugh Myers (New MOB – Myers Opening Bulletin No. 9, p. 38-40, published late 1996) concluded that this opening be called "Lean's Variation of 1.e4 Nc6," and not the Colorado defence. In the same issue he explains that he first named it Colorado Defence because it had been played in 1978 in Colorado (presumably signifying an early game) and because its first detailed analysis was by Paul Szeligowski of Colorado."
So now we know the origin of the name unless someone else can add more historical background to the line 1 e4 Nc6 2 Nf3 f5. Here is a reminder of what the fuss is all about with a recent game:
K. Solic – Marin Bacetic
1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 f5
3.exf5 d5 Black has been known to reply 3...Nh6?! when 4.d4 d5 5.Bb5 Nxf5 6.Ne5 Bd7? 7.Qh5+ g6 8.Nxg6! gave White a winning advantage, J.Adams-K.Blazeski, Sydney 2013. 4.d4 4.Bb5 is arguably the best move: 4...Bxf5 5.Ne5 a6?! (the obvious reply is just to block the pin with 5...Bd7, but it is all good news for White: 6.Bxc6 bxc6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.d4 with the better game) 6.Bxc6+ bxc6 7.d4 (In the game R.Lau-G.Gross, German Team Championship 1997, a German grandmaster playing White found a way to do without the usual d2-d4 in the opening: 7.0-0 e6 8.d3 Bd6 9.Qh5+ g6 10.Qe2 Qh4 11.Nd2 Nf6 12.Ndf3 Qh5 13.Re1 0-0 14.h3 c5 15.Bf4 (15.g4? Nxg4! 16.hxg4 Bxg4 17.Nxg4 Qxg4+ 18.Kf1 Rxf3 19.Qxe6+ Qxe6 20.Rxe6 Raf8 favours Black) 15...Rab8 16.b3 h6 17.Nd2?! (17.Qd2 g5 18.Bg3 with a better game) 17...Qxe2 18.Rxe2 with roughly equal chances although White eventually won) 7...e6 8.Qh5+! (a clever idea that is designed not to checkmate Black in the opening, but to compromise the pawn structure) 8...g6 9.Qe2
(the point is that now the bishop on f5 cannot retreat, which means Black has to be extra careful) 9...Qh4? (it might look ugly, but 9...h5 is necessary to avoid serious loss of material) 10.g4 Be4 11.0-0! (I suspect Black underestimated the power of this simple, elegant move. The point of ...Qh4 was to prevent f2-f3, but now White is ready to try and trap the light-squared bishop) 11...Bd6 (instead, 11...g5 preserves the bishop by offering an escape route, but after 12.f3 Bg6 13.Nxc6 and White has a clear advantage) 12.f3 Bf5 13.Nxc6 Ne7 14.Nxe7 Kxe7 15.gxf5 winning, D.Baramidze-D.Hoeffer,Deizisau 2012. 4...Bxf5 5.Bb5 Nf6 6.0-0 Qd6 6...Bd7 can be well met by 7 c4. 7.Ne5 Nd7 8.Bf4 Solic finds a way to start increasing the pressure by preparing a hidden attack upon the black queen once the e5-knight moves. Or 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Bd3 Qg6 10.Bf4 e5?! (10...Rb8 is a sensible alternative) 11.dxe5 Bc5 12.Nd2 0-0 13.Bg3 Bxd3 14.cxd3 Qxd3 15.Rc1 Rae8 16.Nf3 with the better chances, A.Holmsten- -T.Porrasmaa, Jyvaskyla 1998. 8...Ncxe5 9.Bxe5 Qb6 10.Bxd7+ Kxd7 It seems strange to voluntarily move the king and deprive himself the chance to castle. Perhaps Black hoped to play ...Rd8 and ...Kc8 at some point. Or 10...Bxd7 11.Nc3! e6 12.Qh5+ is rather strong. 11.Nc3 e6 12.Na4 12.Qf3 threatening Nxd5 also looks sharp. 12...Qc6 13.b3 Ba3 14.c4 dxc4 15.bxc4 Qxc4?!
With your king stuck in the centre of the board it is not a good practical decision to grab a pawn and invite White to attack. 16.Nc5+! Ke7 17.Qh5 Bg6 18.Qg5+ Kf7 19.Rfe1 Bxc5?! Maybe 19...Rhf8 to artificially castle with ...Kg8 is a better idea. 20.dxc5 Rad8 21.Re3 Rhf8? 22.Rf3+ Kg8
Or 22...Bf5 23.Bxg7 winning. 23.Qe7 1-0
If anyone has played these lines, then e-mail me the game.
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