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Cards on the Table
A relatively new idea in the Ruy Lopez Exchange causes confusion.
Otto Baric from Denmark has been playing the Ruy Lopez Exchange for some time, but is stumped by a new move in a normal position. He e-mailed to say, "1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.O-O Bg4 6.h3 Be6?!?! I was expecting either 6...Bxf3 or the sharp 6...h5, and at first I thought it was just an oversight. I played 7.d4 because I did not want simplification after 7...exd4, but upon 7...Nf6 I began to 'analyse' the position. I suddenly saw many opportunities for Black on the open g-line, and weak pawn on h3 and strong bishops. I decided to prevent that with 8.Bg5, but after 8...h6 I gave up 9.Bh4 g5 10.exf6 and played 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.dxe5 Rg8 I got exactly what I feared. I exchanged queens 11.Qxd8 and lost in a poorly played ending. What a humiliation! Is 6...Be6 really such an ingenious discovery that turns the Exchange Variation into a good Petroff-like position?"
A fascinating question, especially because I have played the line as Black, but I never dreamed of 6...Be6. A quick look in the dedicated Ruy Lopez/Spanish Exchange books from the 1980s/90s finds no mention of the move. Instead, the focus has always been on the traditional moves 6...Bxf3, ...6...Bh5, and 6...h5. So how come someone can be inspired to play a move that has hardly ever been played in the past? The answer is that 5...Be6 has become popular in recent years and it is this fthat might have prompted Black into trying something different.
Here is a quick example of 6...Be6 before I focus on the more important line 5...Be6.
Robert Veleski - Petre Mihajlovski
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 Bg4 6.h3 Be6!?
A remarkable move, which, despite playing the line, I would not really have thought of playing. It makes more sense once one investigates 5...Be6, but I suspect allowing White the extra pawn move h2-h3 might be useful in the long-term to avoid back-rank checkmate. Also possible is a) 6...Bxf3 (in general players are reluctant to give up a bishop for a knight in this line, even so stars such as Korchnoi have given it a go) 7.Qxf3 Nf6 8.d3 Qd7 9.Nd2 0-0-0 10.Nc4 Qe6 11.Bd2 with a slight edge, D.Solak-J.Reipsch,Albena 2013. b) 6...Bh5 (this used to be dismissed as a clear mistake that loses a pawn, but it has been revived and the argument is that Black has some compensation) 7.g4 Bg6 8.Nxe5 Qh4 9.Qf3 f6 10.Nxg6 (10.Nc4 is met by 10...h5) 10...hxg6 (the open h-file for the king's rook is the reason why Black is happy to give up a pawn) 11.Kg2 g5 12.d3 Ne7 13.Rh1 Qh7 (or 13...0-0-0 14.Nd2 aiming to move the white queen and play Nd2-f3 to oust the black queen) 14.Kf1 0-0-0 15.Be3 Kb8 16.Nd2 Qg8 17.Nc4 Ng6 18.Qf5 Rh6 when chances are roughly even, W.So-A.Kolev, Philadelphia 2012. c) 6...h5 7.d3 (7.hxg4? hxg4 8.Nh2 Qh4 wins) 7...Qf6 8.Be3 (8.Nbd2 is also possible) 8...Bxf3 9.Qxf3 Qxf3 10.gxf3 Ne7 11.Nd2 Ng6 12.Rfd1 f6 13.Kf1 Kf7 14.Ke2 Bd6 eventually led to a draw, A.Heimann-A.Diermair, Ruzomberok 2014. 7.d4 After 7.Nxe5 Qd4 wins the pawn back. 7...exd4 The reader is concerned about 7...Nf6 and I have to say it was either inspired at the board or the astute player has used a computer to find this novelty 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bxf6 (the reader Otto Baric gives the line 9.Bh4 g5 10.dxe5 gxh4 11.exf6 Qxf6 when I prefer Black) 9...gxf6 10.dxe5 Rg8 11.Qxd8+ Rxd8 and Black has an edge thanks to the threat of ...Bxh3. 8.Nxd4 Bc4 9.Re1 c5 10.Nf3!? A similar position occurs in the 5...Be6 lines where the most popular move is 10.Nb3, so if White is looking for an improvement in this game that might help. If you are not familiar with this opening, it is worth pointing out that White is usually happy to exchange queens and then try to exploit his four versus three pawn advantage on the kingside by creating a passed pawn. 10...Qxd1 11.Rxd1 Rd8 12.Rxd8+ Kxd8 13.b3 Bb5 After 13...Be6 14.Ng5 looks intimidating, but 14...Kd7 intending to take back on e6 with the king is fine for Black. 14.c4 Bc6 15.Ne5 Be8 16.Be3 f6 17.Nd3 b6 18.Nc3 Ne7 19.Rd1 Bd7?
A crucial mistake, which is a sign of complacency, because Black has steadily maintained equality up to this point. Instead Black should have tried 19...Kc8 to avoid any tactics along the d-file. 20.Bxc5! A nice combination by Veleski spells doom and gloom for Black because the loss of a pawn in such a position makes all the difference. 20...Nc6 If 20...bxc5, then after 21.Nxc5 White is ahead a couple of pawns and poised to take back the piece. 21.Be3 Ne5?! 22.Nd5! A clever move by White who has once again spotted the potential of a combination. This time it involves exchanging on e5 followed by Bxb6 and it is not easy to defend against. 22...Nxd3 23.Rxd3 Bd6 Or 23...Kc8 24.Bxb6 cxb6 25.Nxb6+ Kc7 26.Nxd7 with a massive advantage in the ending. 24.Nxb6 A simple, but effective way to dismiss resistance. 24...cxb6 25.Rxd6 Kc7 26.Rxb6 White is two pawns up and in command of the position. Black continues to put obstacles in White's way, partly due to the hope of entering an opposite-coloured bishop ending if the rooks are exchanged. However, saving the position two pawns down is a big task even when only bishops remain in charge. 26...Ra8 27.c5 Bc6 28.Bf4+ Kd7 29.f3 a5 30.a3 Ra7 31.Kf2 Rb7 32.Rxb7+ Bxb7 33.Ke3 Kc6 34.Kd4 Ba6 35.e5 fxe5+ 36.Bxe5 Bf1 37.g3 g6 38.h4 Be2 39.Ke3 Bd1 40.b4 axb4 41.axb4 h5 42.Kf4 Kd5 43.Bd6 Be2 44.Bc7 Kc4 45.Ba5 Bd1 46.c6 Ba4 47.c7 Bd7 48.g4 Kd3 49.gxh5 gxh5 50.Kg5 Ke3 51.f4 Ke4 52.b5 Bc8 53.b6 Kd5 54.f5 Ke5 55.Bc3+ Kd6 56.f6 Ke6 57.Kg6 1-0
It is time to have a closer look at 5...Be6 and to see how Black can respond positively.
Paolo Formento - Das Neelotpal
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 Be6!?
It is a sign of the times that older books from the 1990s simply do not even mention this move, but nowadays it has been adopted by chess stars such as Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen. I should add that I did find a brief mention of the line in the 2005 Batsford book Ruy Lopez Exchange by Krzysztof Panczyk and Jacek Ilczuk, so they did well to predict a future fashionable line. 6.Nxe5 This has to be the critical test and the likely response at any local tournament. 6...Qd4 7.Nf3 Qxe4 8.Ng5 The obvious 8.Re1 is harmless after 8...Qg6, as White no longer has the option of safely playing Ng5, while 9.Nd4 is less impressive upon 9...0-0-0 10.Nxe6 fxe6 11.d3 (11.Qe2?! Qxc2 and Black is a bit better) 11...Bc5 with equal opportunities. 8...Qf5 9.Nxe6 fxe6
10.Re1 At first sight it looks as if the trump of playing against an isolated e-pawn will give White all the chances. However, this has to be balanced against Black's counter chances along the f-file. White has tried a variety of other moves in an effort to extract an edge: a) 10.d3 a popular move at the elite level ready to bring the queen's bishop out when necessary a1) 10...Nf6 11.Nd2 0-0-0 12.Qe2 Bc5 (or 12...Bd6 13.Nc4 e5 is about level) 13.Nf3 e5 14.Qxe5 Qxe5 15.Nxe5 Rhe8 16.Nc4 Ng4 17.Ne3 ½-½, J.Timman-I.Sokolov, Helsingor 2012. a2) 10...0-0-0 11.Nc3 Nf6 12.Qe2 Bc5 13.Bd2 Bd4 14.Rae1 Rhe8 (the beauty of this system is that Black can play normal developing moves, while White needs to show some quality to get something positive out of the position) 15.Nd1 e5 16.Nc3 Nd5 17.Qe4 g6 18.Qh4 Nf4 19.Bxf4 exf4 20.Qxh7 Bxf2+ spectacular, but leads to a draw (the computer prefers 20...f3 ) 21.Kxf2 Qc5+ 22.Kf3 Re3+ 23.Rxe3 Qxe3+ 24.Kg4 Qe6+ 25.Kf3 Qe3+ 26.Kg4 Qe6+ 27.Kf3 Qe3+ ½-½, B.Socko-M.Ragger, Austria Team Championship 2008. b) 10.Qe2 0-0-0 11.Re1 Bc5 12.Qxe6+ Qxe6 13.Rxe6 Nf6 14.d3 Kd7?! (14...Rhe8 gives Black an initiative) 15.Re2 Rde8 16.Nc3 Rxe2 17.Nxe2 Ng4 18.d4?! (18.h3! is the key move to preserve White's advantage 18...Nxf2 19.d4 and Black is in trouble) 18...Re8! 19.Be3 Bd6 when Black wins back a pawn with interest, G.Fiorido-P.Guichard, Forni di Sopra 2014. 10...Nf6 11.Qe2 Bc5 12.c3 0-0 Maybe 12...0-0-0 can be considered, when a sample line runs 13.d4 Bd6 14.Qxe6+ Qxe6 15.Rxe6 Rde8 leading to equal opportunities. 13.d4 Bd6 14.Qxe6+ It is certainly tempting to grab a pawn, but that merely encourages Black to go on the offensive. A sensible alternative is 14.Nd2. 14...Qxe6 15.Rxe6 Ng4 16.h3 Maybe Formento had in mind to play 16.f3, but it does not favour White. For example, 16...Bxh2+ 17.Kh1 (17.Kf1 is better, but 17...c5 18.dxc5?! Ne5 gives Black decent play) 17...Bg3! 18.fxg4? Rf1 checkmate. 16...Nxf2 17.Nd2 Nd3 Neelotpal is doing a good job of annoying White by making it awkward to develop smoothly. 18.Nc4 Bg3!
The bishop does a good job of surrounding the white king and making him worry about mating possibilities. 19.Be3 Rae8 20.Rxe8 Rxe8 21.Bd2?! White can try 21.b3 to avoid tactics on b2, but Black can increase the pressure with 21...b5, and Black will win material upon 22.Ne5 Bxe5 23.dxe5 Rxe5 24.Bd4 Re2 when White is in trouble. 21...b5 22.Ne5 22.Ne3 simply fails to 22...Bf2+. 22...Bxe5 23.dxe5 Nxb2 Black is a pawn up and in a position to try and grab the e5-pawn, so things are bleak for White. 24.Bf4 c5 25.Bg3 c4 26.Re1 Kf7 27.e6+ Rxe6 28.Rxe6 Kxe6 29.Bxc7 b4 30.Kf1 b3 31.axb3 cxb3 32.Ke2 Nc4 33.Kd1 a5 34.Kc1 a4 35.Kb1 a3 36.Bf4 Kf5 37.g3 Ke4 0-1
The reader really wants to know how to combat 5...Be6, so I would suggest a line that is closely linked to the usual Ruy Lopez Exchange lines in that the queens are exchanged early.
Viesturs Meijers - Nanko Dobrev
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 Be6 6.d4
This might appeal to regular players of the opening who are quite happy to exchange queens and steer the discussion to the middlegame possibilities. Other moves are also worth considering: a) 6.Nc3 this refined version of 6.d4 looks promising 6...f6 7.d4 exd4 8.Nxd4 Bc4 9.Re1 c5 10.Nf5!? (10.Nb3 is similar to the main game) 10...Qxd1 11.Rxd1 g6 (11...Ne7 is interesting) 12.Ne3 Bf7 13.Ned5 Bd6 14.Be3 0-0-0 15.Rd2 b6 (maybe 15...Kb8) 16.Rad1 Kb7? 17.Nxc7! Bxh2+ (17...Kxc7 18.Rxd6 Rxd6 19.Bf4 wins) 18.Kxh2 Rxd2 19.Rxd2 Kxc7 20.Bf4+ Kc8 21.Na4 g5 22.Nxb6+ Kb7 23.Na4 Be8 24.Nxc5+ Kc6 25.Be3 1-0, A.Naiditsch-A.Demuth,Bastia 2013.; 6.Qe2 Bd6 7.c3 White wishes to play d2-d4 at the right time and in the meantime aims to improve his pieces first 7...c5 8.b3 Qd7 9.Rd1 0-0-0 10.Na3 Ne7 11.Nc4 Nc6 12.Bb2 Rhe8 13.Ne3 with about even chances, A.Brkic-J.Radulski, Zagreb 2010.; 6.b3 f6 7.Bb2 Nh6 8.d4 exd4 9.Nxd4 Bg4!? (9...Bf7 is also fine when 10.Nd2 is equal) 10.f3 (perhaps 10.Qe1) 10...Bd7 11.Nd2 Bc5 12.Kh1 Qe7 13.Nc4 0-0-0 14.Qe2 Rhe8 15.Rae1 when the middlegame offers equal opportunities, V.Meijers-A.Karpatchev, Bad Zwischenahn 2006. 6...Bc4 Strangely, I can find no game references with 6...Nf6, but it seems to be perfectly acceptable for Black. For instance, 7.dxe5 (7.Nxe5 Nxe4 8.Re1 Nf6 is level) 7...Qxd1 8.Rxd1 Nxe4 9.Be3 with equal opportunities, but then again this is a typical ending for players of the Ruy Lopez Exchange. Or 6...exd4 7.Qxd4 Qxd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7 9.Nc3 0-0-0 10.Be3 c5 (10...Ne7 is also possible) 11.Nb3 b6 12.Rad1 Bd6 led to a level position in the game M.Corvi-D.Marholev, Prague 2010. 7.Re1 exd4 8.Nxd4 c5 9.Nb3 The knight on b3 has emerged as the accepted continuation with White accepting an equal ending, but happy to make his mark in the middlegame. Also possible is a) 9.Nf5 Qxd1 10.Rxd1 Be2 11.Re1 0-0-0 12.Ne3 (12.Rxe2?? Rd1+ 13.Re1 Rxe1 checkmate) 12...Bh5 13.Nc3 Ne7 14.Ned5 f6 15.Bf4 Rd7 16.f3 Bf7 17.Rad1 when chances are level, L.Rodi-M.Neubauer, Brasilia 2011. b) 9.Nf3 is not so testing in view of the line 9...Qxd1 10.Rxd1 Be2! 11.Re1 Bxf3 12.gxf3 0-0-0 with an equal position. 9...Qxd1 10.Rxd1 Bxb3 It is a matter of taste whether to keep the bishop-pair, which is traditionally described as the compensation for White doubling the c-pawns. Kasparov has played this line as white, but Sergey rather than Garry. For example, 10...b6 11.Bf4 Rc8 12.Nc3 Ne7 13.Rd2 (13.a4 intending a4-a5 might be an idea) 13...Ng6 14.Bg3 h5 15.h3 Be7 16.Nd5 Bg5 17.Rdd1 Bxd5 18.Rxd5 Bf4 when the position looks peaceful and the result was eventually a draw, S.Kasparov-D.Marholev, Cutro 2006. 11.axb3 Bd6 12.Nc3 0-0-0 13.f4 13.Na4? is a dream come true for Black who wins upon 13...Bxh2+ 14.Kxh2 Rxd1. 13...c4? Dobrov is trying to be clever by going on the offensive to avoid White slowly grinding out a win. 14.bxc4 Bc5+
15.Kf1! Black's pawn sacrifice makes perfect sense if White tucks the king into the corner. For instance, 15.Kh1 Rxd1+ 16.Nxd1 Nf6 17.e5 (17.Nc3 Nxe4! 18.Nxe4 Re8 when the threat of back-rank checkmate wins a piece) 17...Rd8 18.Be3 Ne4 with double-edged play as the black rook is poised to occupy the second rank. 15...Nf6 16.e5 Ng4 17.h3 This is the problem for Black that with the king on f1 and not h1 he does not have the necessary pieces to reinforce his lightweight attack and is simply a pawn down. 17...Nf2? It looks threatening, but there are not enough safe escape squares for the black knight. Instead 17...Nh6 looks meek, but has the merit of continuing the struggle; although I much prefer White after 18.Rxd8+ Rxd8 19.g4. 18.Rxd8+ Rxd8 19.Ke2 Bd4 20.Nd5 c6 If 20...Ne4, then 21.Kd3 reminds Black he is in big trouble. 21.Ne7+ Kc7 22.Nf5 Ne4 23.Kf3 Nc5 24.Nxg7 A loss of two pawns against someone rated 2500+ is not good news for Black. 24...f6 25.c3 Bg1 26.b4 Rd3+ 27.Ke2 Rd7 28.Ne8+ 1-0
Stefan Stanescu from the United Kingdom has an intriguing question: "I have tried my hands at the Nimzowitsch Defence and wonder what is wrong with White playing 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nc3. I believe this would put off the response ...d5 from Black. Is this a sound move?"
I can understand the confusion because after 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 and now 2...d5 is the standard move, so it is annoying that you can't do the normal routine. There is no need to worry because by playing 2.Nc3 White can be lured into lines that they are not familiar with after just two moves. For instance, 2...e5 would suddenly put White into a crisis if he plays something like the Ruy Lopez where Nc3 is not the usual move in the main lines. There are a number of books on 1...Nc6 and, for example, the Everyman Chess book by Christopher Wisnewski suggests playing 2...e6. I will put forward the idea of just playing 2...d6 because, handily, I have a model example.
Alvaro Martinez Sasso - Emilio Cordova
1.e4 Nc6 2.Nc3 d6 3.f4
A statement of intent by getting ready to attack. It reminds me of the Grand Prix Attack in the Sicilian, which runs 1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 f4. Also possible is a) 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 (4.Nf3 e6 intending ...d6-d5 is level) 4...a6 5.Bg5 e6 6.Nf3 Na5 7.0-0 b5 8.Bb3 Bb7 9.Ne2 c5 10.c3 Nxb3 11.axb3 Be7 when Black has at least equality, F.Felecan-A.Matikozian, Correspondence 2010. b) 3.d4 e5 (3...Nf6 is also popular) 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.Bb5 this is now familiar to those who play the Ruy Lopez Steintz Variation 5...exd4 6.Qxd4 a6 7.Bxc6+ bxc6 8.Qc4 Qd7 9.Be3 Ne7 10.0-0-0 with an edge, V.Krapivin-P.Jaracz, Pardubice 2013. 3...g6 4.Bc4 Once again this is in line with plans associated with the Grand Prix Attack, as White plans to castle and play f4-f5 as part of an attack. 4...Bg7 5.Nf3 Nf6 The grandmaster from Peru astutely carries on developing in spite of White's aggressive intentions. In the past players have worried about the potential of white's light-squared bishop and tried to blunt it with 5...e6. For example, a) 6.0-0 Nge7 7.Qe1 Nd4 8.Nxd4 Bxd4+ 9.Kh1 Nc6 10.a4 Bd7 11.d3 leading to a balanced position, J.Schulz-P.Mueller, Stuttgart 2010. b) 6 d4 Nge7 7.Be2 0-0 8.0-0 d5 9.e5 b6 10.Be3 Bb7 with equal chances, U. Hoffmann-D.Albers, Kranenburg 2003. 6.0-0 0-0 7.d3 Bg4 I can see the lure of 7...Na5 to exchange the bishop, although in the game O.Salmensuu-P.Pietinen, Helsinki 2002, White triumphed by carrying on in Grand Prix Attack style by transferring his queen to the kingside: 8.Bb3 Nxb3 9.axb3 Bg4 10.Qe1 c5 11.Qh4 Bxf3 it is not a good idea to encourage the king's rook to attack 12.Rxf3 d5 13.e5 Ne8? (it is not obvious, but 13...d4 is necessary when 14.Ne2 Nd5 15.Rh3 h5 16.g4 e6 still favours White, but there is less chance of checkmate by White) 14.Rh3 h5 15.g4 e6 16.Qxd8 Rxd8 17.gxh5 1-0 . 8.h3 Bxf3 9.Qxf3 e6 10.g4 This looks good, but Black's position is very solid. 10...d5 11.Bb3 Nd4 12.Qf2 c5 A quality move as there is no rush to exchange on b3 when you can keep White guessing to your true intentions. 13.g5 Nh5 14.exd5 Nf5 The big threat is ...Bd4 pinning the white queen, so evasive action is required. 15.Kh2 e5 16.Qxc5?
It is not a good idea to go pawn grabbing when the safety of the white king is at stake. A more prudent choice is 16.Bd2 when 16...exf4 17.Bxf4 Nxf4 18.Qxf4 keeps control of the position, because the g5-pawn is defended compared to the game. 16...exf4 17.Ne4 In normal circumstances 17.Bxf4 would be the move, but the line 17...Nxf4 18.Rxf4 Be5 looks terrible for White. 17...Bd4 18.Qb4 Be5 Instead 18...a5 19. Qc4 Be5 also looks excellent. 19.c3 Re8 20.Bd2 Bd6 White is busted. 21.Qxb7 Rxe4 22.dxe4 Qxg5 23.Qxa8+ Kg7 0-1
Has anyone else got a question?
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