Monday, 25 January 2021

067. An Eighteenth Century Fortress

White: ianl - all-play-all tournament,, 2020

In Game 32, ‘Grandmasters to the Rescue’, I mentioned a critical variation of the Jaenisch, 9 Nxa7+ Bd7 10 Bxd7+ Nxd7 11 f4!, and how this had been strengthened for Black with 11...Qf5!.

The following year I had a brief discussion about this line with a couple of IMs (pfren and poucin) on the forum:

jatait47: I'm guessing the engine line meant, deviating from Carlsen-Nisipeanu, is this one: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 4 Nc3 dxe4 5 Nxe4 d5 6 Nxe5 dxe4 7 Nxc6 Qg5 8 Qe2 Nf6 9 f4 Qxf4 10 Nxa7+. Yes, the engines all love this move – for a while anyway. I get 10 Nxa7+ all the time in online games and it gives White nothing. (My score over the past two years: P12 W7 D5 L0.) The only drawback is that White can force an immediate draw - and indeed three of my opponents did just that (ffs).

pfren: Quite unfortunately the direct 9.Nxa7+! has practically archived the whole line as problematic for Black.

jatait47: That's certainly more testing than 10 Nxa7+, but it's not so clear either. There's a very important game with 9 Nxa7+ Bd7 10 Bxd7+ Nxd7 11 f4 Qf5! - Nekhaev-Nisipeanu, correspondence 2012. And I'm currently 4½/5 as Black in this line :)

poucin: All this is well covered in Sokolov's "Ruy Lopez revisited" (written in 2009), where he thinks black is ok. However, he concludes Qg5's introduction by: “I would not be surprised if in the future white players focus on the complicated 9.Nxa7 (instead of 9.f4), and that this becomes one of the main lines in the Jaenisch gambit.”

jatait47: Yes, Sokolov was the first to draw attention to 11...Qf5!, but other players have taken this line further since then. In particular, Nisipeanu came up with 12 Nb5 0-0-0 13 a4 Bb4!, which improves on Sokolov's 13...Bc5.

pfren: That game featured a clever recipe by Livi (13.a4 Bb4!?), but this is not enough. Instead of Nekhaev's 14.c3?! and the great piece sac 14...Nc5! white could (and should) trade Queens with 14.Qc4! Qc5 (forced) 15.Qxc5 Nxc5 16.Ke2, or 16.Nc3, when it is very hard to show compensation for a two-pawn deficit.

jatait47: Yes, that's the engine's first choice. But 13...Bb4! wasn't some casual punt in a blitz game. This was high-level correspondence, where both players obviously considered 14 Qc4 for White. In fact Nisipeanu had prepared the whole thing to play against Carlsen. After 14...Qc5 15 Qxc5 Bxc5 and then, for instance, 16 Ke2 c6 17 Nc3 Ne6 18 Nxe4 Rhe8, Black actually has compensation for three pawns, as Junior Tay shows in his recent book. Apparently, Nisipeanu was more worried about 14 0-0 Qc5+ 15 Rf2 Qxc2 16 d4, though that's defensible as well (my one draw came in this line).

The last word was mine and I've had no cause to revise my opinion. In five more games with 11...Qf5 since then I've scored W1 D4 L0, including three draws after 14 Qc4. The game below is one of them.

But I'm not showing this game because of the opening, rather because of the ending. My opponent's valiant efforts to try and win culminated in 46 Ra7, allowing – indeed forcing – the exchange sacrifice 46...Rc3+! 47 Nxc3 Bxc3, and reaching this position.

This is a fortress, dating back to E.Del Rio in 1750. Note that Black's pawns are irrelevant. (I played simply to give them away.) The crucial point is that Black's king is safe, since White's king cannot approach. The white pawn blocks off the c6-square and the bishop can drive the king from either b6 or d6. If the pawn advances, it will get taken off for a draw with bishop vs. rook.

Moral: If you want to defend the Jaenisch as Black, study the endgame!

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