Monday, 6 May 2019

048. No Problems

White: O. Bouverot - Koshnitsky Memorial, 2002

Two posts ago, I wrote: “After 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Black can play simply 3...Nf6 4 d3 Na5 and has no problems.”

Checking that statement against my own praxis, I came across the game below – which began as a Bishop's Opening: 2 Bc4 Nc6 3 Nc3 etc – where I managed to create problems for myself with an impatient break in the centre (12...d5!?), as my opponent's accurate moves demonstrated (14 Nb5!, 17 Kb1!). I later drew anyway after an exchange sacrifice (31...Bxg3!?) for a near-fortress on the light squares.

Looking at the opening, my notes indicate that I also considered 2...Nf6 3 d3 c6 4 Nf3 Be7!? 5 0-0 d6, reaching a Philidor set-up where White has already played d2-d3. This gives Black time for a quick ...Nbd7-f8 or even ...h7-h6 and ...g7-g5. But my favourite 2...f5!? I dismissed with the terse note “2...f5?! 3 d3”. I'm not sure now what I was worried about at that stage in my investigations.

As for 4..Na5, I'd thought Bronstein had remarked on the efficacy of this move for Black, but it turns out he was referring to 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 d3 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Bg5 Na5, as in V.Korchnoi-D.Bronstein, USSR Championship, Moscow 1952 (0-1, 53). Here's what he had to say about that:

Not so long ago, when Korchnoi had already become a serious contender for the world crown, I happened to ask him: “Why don't you play the Two Knights’ any more these days?” The grandmaster looked at me in amazement and muttered: “Because of
6...N-QR4, of course. You mean to say you didn't know that yourself?”

And 6...Na5 there still seems fine for Black, as with 4...Na5 here. So why does no one (much) play the Vienna/Bishop's Opening hybrid any more these days? Because of
4...N-QR4, of course. You mean to say you didn't know that yourself?

Or if they do... Searching for the position after White's 4th move (filters: date 2010-19, both players rated 2500+ Elo) in fact brings up 41 games (at non-rapid/blitz time limits). But within that sample 4...Na5 scores a hefty 58.6% (P29, W9, D16, L4) for Black – who clearly has no problems.