Tuesday, 3 July 2018

037. The King Steps Sideways

White: G. Crook - BCCA DJKO 35/1, 2000

The Two Knights with 4 d4 exd4 5 0-0 isn't played very much nowadays, because 5...Nxe4 6 Re1 d5 7 Bxd5 Qxd5 8 Nc3 Qa5 (or 8...Qh5) 9 Nxe4 Be6 is considered perfectly acceptable for Black. All well and good. Black has grabbed the central e-pawn; White has played a little trick (7 Bxd5, 8 Nc3) to regain it. And there the excitement ends for me.

I've mostly preferred the Max Lange Attack: 5...Bc5 6 e5 d5 7 exf6 dxc4. The main line continues 8 Re1+ Be6 9 Ng5 Qd5 10 Nc3 Qf5 11 Nce4 0-0-0 12 g4 Qe5, reaching a very messy position. That's more like it. I like messy positions. Up to a point. What I really like is messy positions where my opponent hasn't already learned what to do. Mainline Sicilians, for instance, can be extremely messy but also mapped out to move thirty and beyond. I'm not interested in all that. Max Lange variations, too, go deep into the twenties, and I'm not interested in those either. Especially not when it's me who doesn't know what to do.

So I started sliding the king sideways: 8...Kf8!?. Theory tends to dismiss this on account of 9 Bg5 gxf6 10 Bh6+ Kg8 11 Nc3.

For the price of two pawns White has shut the h8-rook in the corner and opened the black king to spectacular mating attacks. Such as 11...Bg4 12 Ne4 b6 13 c3 Ne5? 14 Nxe5! Bxd1 15 Nd7! Be7 16 Nexf6+ Bxf6 17 Re8+! Qxe8 18 Nxf6 mate, as in B.Kazic-B.Vukovic, Candidates Tournament, Yugoslavia 1940. Or 11...Bf8 12 Nxd4 Nxd4? 13 Qxd4! Qxd4? 14 Re8 Qd6 15 Nd5 and mate in four.

Except, none of that is forced. In the latter line Black can play 12...Bxh6 13 Nxc6 Qxd1 14 Ne7+ Kg7 15 Rad1 Be6 16 Ned5 “with roughly equal chances”, according to Yakov Estrin in his book on the Two Knights Defence (Batsford 1983). And I think that's being generous to White, seeing as Black still has an extra pawn and the two bishops. Or if 12 Bxf8 Kxf8 13 Ne4, then 13...f5! and again the onus is on White to justify the sacrifices.

I got to test those “equal chances” in the game below. As it happens, my opponent did manage to find compensation, tried to mate me with rook, knight and king, and eventually took a draw by perpetual check. Nonetheless, today's engines give Black the advantage all the way through, even if I was unable to convert it at the time. Certainly I'd be happy to have another go.

That is if White doesn't avoid the whole thing by throwing in 8 fxg7 first.

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