Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Double Mengarini, Please

The Mengarini Opening to some extent is an attempt to turn the tables in the opening struggle. It comes in at least three different versions:
  • 1.e4 e5 2.a3
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.a3
  • 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.a3

Against each of these move-orders Black can resolutely turn the table back again with the reply ...a6. Instinctively one would think that these extra moves - which mainly appears to have defensive qualities - would favor Black who by nature is the defending part. However it's not that clear in practice. Actually it turns out to be quite hard to figure out how the extra moves influence the resulting double king-pawn positions:

1.e4 e5 2.a3 a6 (Dia)


a) Sadly 3.f4!? with a Pseudo King's Gambit seems untested.

b) 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 would transpose but the Vienna style moves 4.Bc4 or 4.f4!? may be worth a try.

c) 3.d4 exd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qe3 d6 looks like a slight improvement over the well-known 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 line of the Centre Game. However, in Hofstetter-S.Mueller, Kahl 1996 chances were equal after 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Bd2 Be7 8.Bc4 Be6 9.Nd5 0–0 10.Ne2 Ne5 11.Nxf6+ Bxf6 12.Bxe6 fxe6.

3...Nc6 4.Nc3

a) 4.Bc4 b5 5.Ba2 Nf6 6.Ng5 d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Nxf7 Kxf7 9.Qf3+ Ke6 10.Nc3 Nce7 11.d4 Qd6? (11...Bb7) and in Vasic-Ristovski, Portoroz 2003 White could have obtained a winning position with 12.Ne4.

b) 4.d4 exd4 and now:

b1) I really don't understand why nobody has tried 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5. In this line it's quite likely that Black's ...a6 will be to his disadvantage, as he after 7...Qe7 8.Qe2 doesn't have the sharp option ...Ba6.

b2) 5.c3 dxc3 6.Bc4 d6 7.0–0 Bg4 8.Qb3 Qd7 9.Ng5 (after 9.Bxf7+ Qxf7 10.Qxb7 Kd7 11.Qxa8 Bxf3 12.gxf3 Qxf3 Black at least has a perpetual check) 9...Bh5 10.Bxf7+ Bxf7 11.Nxf7 Na5 12.Qxc3 Qxf7 13.Qxa5 and White had a clear advantage in Zagrapan-Ilkovics, Slovakia 1998.

4...Nf6 (Dia)

One of the strengths as well as the limitations of the Three Knights Opening is the fact that it reduces the active options for both sides. With a3 and a6 eliminating all lines with Bb5 and ...Bb4 this becomes even more pronounced. 4...Bc5?! is met strongly by 5.Nxe5!


5.g3 Nxe4?! is yet another version of the Halloween Gambit. I cannot even guess if the extra a-pawn moves favor any of the sides but a sensible solution is as usual to return the piece with 6.Nxe4 d5 7.Nc3 d4 8.Bg2 dxc3 9.bxc3 which would be a well-known theoretical position if it weren't for these extra a-pawn moves. But maybe the entire gambit is silly as Black after 8.Ne2 the doesn't have option of ...d3 followed by ...Nb4.

5...exd4 6.Nxd4 (Dia)


a) 6...Nxd4 7.Qxd4 simply gives White the freer game and slightly the better chances, e.g: 7...d6 8.Be2 Be7 9.0–0 0–0 10.Bf4 Be6 11.Rad1 += Bucher-Knaus, Switzerland 2006.

b) 6...g6 7.Bg5 (7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 Qe7 9.Qe2 Nd5 10.Ne4 Bg7 11.c4 +=) 7...h6 8.Bh4 Bg7?? (8...d6 9.Bxf6!? Qxf6 10.Nd5 Qxd4 11.Nxc7+ Kd8 12.Nxa8 Qxe4+ 13.Qe2) 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.e5+- Gunsberg-Zukertort, London 1887.

c) 6...d6 7.f3 (7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.Bc4 Be7 9.0–0 +=) 7...g6 8.Be3 Bg7 9.Qd2 Qe7 10.0–0–0 Be6 11.g4 += Nanu-Chirpii, Eforie Nord 1999.

d) 6...d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Bc4 Qe7+ 10.Ne2 Qe4 11.Bxd5 Qxd5 (11...cxd5 12.0–0 +=) 12.0–0 Bd6 13.Bf4 += Bhend-Mottas, Pizol 1997.


a) After 7.Nb3 Ba7 only Black has any use of the extra a-pawn moves.

b) 7.Be3 may well be best.

b1) Instinctively 7...Bb6 looks less compact with the pawn on a6.

b2) After 7...Ba7 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Bxa7 Rxa7 Black's rook looks a little silly.

b3) 7...Nxd4 8.Bxd4 looks more comfortable for White: 8...Qe7 (after 8...Bxd4 9.Qxd4 d6 10.0–0–0 0–0 11.e5 Ng4 12.f4 Qh4 13.exd6 cxd6 14.g3 Qh5 15.h3 White was clearly better in Eichner-Feldmann, Germany 2006) 9.Be2 d6 10.Bxc5 dxc5 11.0–0 0–0 12.Qd3 += Pirttimaki-Nippula, Finland 1993.

7...bxc6 8.e5

This must be better than 8.Bc4 d6 9.h3 h6 10.0–0 0–0 = of E.Reppen-Garcia Serrano, Copenhagen 2004.

8...Qe7 9.Qe2 Nd5 10.Ne4 (Dia)


10...Bd4!? 11.f4 f5 12.c3 Ba7 is better and at first glance unclear.

11.c4 Nb6 12.Bg5

White's opening has been a success - White is at least somewhat better, Braeuning-X.Garcia, Barcelona 1997.

Friday, October 5, 2007

An Interesting Review

The German language magazine KARL always provides well researched reviews. So when they yesterday published a review of "The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black" I read it with great interest and maybe I will translate some of it for non-German readers one day when I am less busy.

NB: For some strange reason it seems that the link to the review ( works in Internet Explorer but not in Mozilla Firefox, which mysteriously 'redirects' to another review (!

Despite the heading 'Jugendlicher Leichtsinn' which translates to something like 'Youthful Recklessness' (maybe light-headedness is more precise?), the review is generally positive. However, as quite a few others it's also quite critical to our choice of mainline. Not so much because the reviewer, Erik Zude, doubts its soundness or because he finds faults in our analysis but because of the extremely sharp nature of the resulting positions. He is however quite happy with our chapter 5 - Regrouping System, which is a complete alternative repertoire for readers who don't enjoy memorizing razor-sharp variations.

His analysis of a random position from the book seems quite interesting and may be the basis for a future blog entry.

It's a pity that the otherwise very conscientious review got a few errors in the Table of Content. This one, which I copied from Niggemann is more correct:

004 Symbols
005 Bibliography
006 Preface by Sverre
008 Preface by Leif

023 Part 1: Introduction
023 A Quality Opening
029 A Great Learning Tool
030 Learning the Closed Ruy Lopez
031 Closed Ruy Lopez Strategy
032 Some Closed Ruy Lopez Concepts
033 Ruy Lopez Overview

048 Part 2: The Main Battleground
051 1 The Zaitsev Main Line
082 2 The 17. ..c4 Zaitsev
091 3 Other Zaitsev Lines
107 4 Imperfection
117 5 Regrouping System

132 Part 3: White Ducks the Challenge
133 6 Rare 8th and 9th Moves
156 7 5th and 6th Move Alternatives

175 Part 4: Exchange Variations
178 8 The Exchange Variation
194 9 Delayed Exchange Variations
205 Index of Variations

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A 1.a3 Mystery

BigBase 2007 offers this mysterious game:

R.Piepjohn (1920) - G.Sax (2600), Naestved 1988


Grandmasters are usually quite aware that they have to fight for every point - even against modest opposition. However, if Black in any way was inclined to underestimate his lowly rated opponent this move may have been a clever choice.
1...c5!? (Dia)
This seems a very sensible reaction to White's first move. Now the opening can be considered a reversed English.

We will have a look at White's alternatives at the end of this entry.

2...g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.d3 d6

Black has also tried 4...Nc6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Nf3 Nf6 7.0–0 0–0 which looks fairly equal. Here White may have been a tad too optimistic when he initiated a kingside attack with 8.Nh4 e5 9.f4 exf4 10.gxf4 d5 11.f5. After 11...d4 12.Na4 Ng4 13.Qe1 Bf6 14.Nf3 Qe7 15.fxg6 hxg6 16.c4 Bf5 17.Rb1 Rae8 it was obvious that Black was better in Huettig-Klundt, Ditzingen 2000.

5.Nd2 Nc6 6.e3 e5 7.Rb1 a5 8.b3

Obviously White's success in this game was not directly related to his opening play.

8...Nge7 9.Ne2 0–0 10.0–0 Be6 (Dia)

The opening phase is more or less over, and despite Black's slight space advantage, the position looks roughly equal.

11.h3 Qd7 12.Kh2 f5 13.c4 g5 14.f4 g4 15.h4 Rad8 16.Qc2 b6 17.Bb2 Bf7 18.Rbd1 d5!?

This opens up the position somewhat but not really to Black's advantage.

19.fxe5 Nxe5 20.d4 cxd4 21.Bxd4 Qc7 22.c5 b5 23.Nc3 Be8 24.a4 b4 25.Ne2 N7g6 (Dia)

The position has become quite unbalanced. Now the armies engage in close combat and surprisingly it's the GM who fails in the calculation test.

26.Rxf5 Nxh4?!

Probably 26...Rxf5 27.Qxf5 Nxh4 is better. After 28.Bxe5 Qxe5 29.Qxe5 Bxe5 there are some long forcing lines and one of them goes 30.Nc4 Nxg2 31.Nxe5 Nxe3 32.Rd3 Nc2 33.Nxg4 d4 34.Nf6+ Kh8 35.Nxe8 Rxe8 36.Nxd4 Rd8 37.c6 Nxd4 38.c7 Rc8 39.Rxd4 Rxc7 =.

27.Rxf8+ Bxf8 28.Nf4 Nxg2 29.Kxg2 Qe7

Possibly 29...Bf7 planning to meet 30.Qf5 with 30...Re8 is better.


Now White's advantage is obvious.

30...Bg7 31.Qe6+ Qf7?

After 31...Kf8 32.h4 White is objectively winning but there is still a fight and the 680 rating points might still have influenced the result.

32.Bxe5 1–0

It would indeed be a nice story if "super GM" Sax lost to an unknown amateur who opened the game 1.a3. At this time Sax was close to his peak as a player. So who was Reinhardt Piepjohn who so easily matched him? BigBase 2007 has only this single game by him and claims that it was played in the ninth and last round on October 4. But something isn't quite right as the tournament seems to have been played July 30th to August 7th as this Danish site shows. The tournament rating favorite Sax didn't do too badly and ended well ahead of Piepjohn. Can it be that the round number as well as the result is wrong? Or was Black a different player? Any information is appreciated!

And now let's return to some alternatives to 2.g3:

1.a3 c5 2.b4!? (Dia)

This looks logical and strong as White will now get a numerical superiority in the centre. However, I remember seeing 1...c5 recommended as a good antidote to 1.b4 and I don't believe 2.a3 is White's best try in that position. Other options are:

a) 2.Nf3 is a flexible and good move but I have not really found any lines that make sense of White's first move.

b) 2.e4 leads to an Anti-Sicilian line which has recently gotten quite a lot of attention. The main source of information is no doubt 'Challenging the Sicilian with 2.a3!?' - a 206 pages work by Alexei Bezgodov. However, for historical information you should also read Hans Ree's article for 'The Chess Cafe'. I assume that if you want to reach this position, 1.e4 is your best bet.

c) 2.c4 too makes sense as queenside expansion with a3, Rb1 and b4 is a common plan for White in the symmetrical English. Here are two game fragments that actually started with our move-order.

c1) 2...Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 e6 7.Nf3 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Nxd5 exd5 10.d4 c4 unclear Andrejic-Andrijevic, Obrenovac 2004.

c2) 2...g6 3.b4 Bg7 4.Ra2 d6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.e3 0–0 7.Be2 Nc6 8.b5 Na5 unclear Ambrus-Balashov, St Petersburg 2001.

d) 2.d3 doesn't have much independent significance compared to 2.Nf3 or 2.g3. After 2...d5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Nbd2 Nf6 5.e4 Bg4 6.Be2 Qc7 7.c3 Rd8 8.Qc2 e6 9.0–0 Be7 chances were balanced in Markus-Buljovcic, Subotica 2001.

e) 2.e3 too is relatively non-descript. One example is 2...b6 3.Nf3 Bb7 4.d4 e6 5.Be2 Nf6 6.0–0 Be7 7.b3 0–0 8.Bb2 cxd4 9.exd4 Nc6 with equal chances in Z.Markovic-Perunovic, Novi Sad 2000.


This strengthens White's central influence and opens the a-file for his rook. Still it is probably critical as it exposes White's b-pawn to attack.

a) 2...e6 3.Bb2 Nf6 4.bxc5 Bxc5 5.e3 Nc6 6.Nf3 0–0 7.c4 d5 8.d4 Bd6 9.Nbd2 Qe7 10.Be2 e5 11.cxd5 Nxd5 12.Ne4 exd4 13.Nxd6 Qxd6 14.Nxd4 += Kulicov-Stiri, Athens 2006.

b) 2...e5 3.Bb2 (3.bxc5 Bxc5 4.Bb2?? Qb6 –+ Monastyrev-V.Karpov, Tomsk 1999) 3...e4 4.e3 Nf6 5.bxc5 Bxc5 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Nc3 Qe5 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Nge2 b6 10.Bd5 f5 11.0–0 Bd6 12.Ng3 Ba6 13.f4 Qf6 unclear Ermenkov-Adorjan, Riga 1981.

3.axb4 Qb6 (Dia)


White cannot expect any advantage after 4.c3 or the strange looking 4.Ra4 d5 5.Nc3 e6 6.e3 Nf6 (6...Bxb4? 7.Bb5+ +-) 7.Nf3 Bd6 8.Nb5 Be7 9.Bb2 Nc6 10.Ne5 0–0 = Bettman-Wirschell, Soest 2000.


This is untested but must be critical. The sensible 4...e6 5.b5 d5 6.e3 Nf6 7.Nf3 Bd6 8.Bb2 Nbd7 9.Be2 0–0 10.0–0 e5 11.Ba3 Bxa3 12.Rxa3 Re8 lead to roughly equal chances in Frank-Bokelbrink, Pinneberg 2002.

It's not at all easy to give a meaningful continuation from here but it seems obvious that White's superior development gives him some play for the pawn. One almost absurd line goes:

5.e4 Qb6 (Dia)

6.Bc4 Nf6!?

7...e6 looks safer.

7.e5 Qc6

Could 7...d5 8.Bb5+ Nfd7 9.Nxd5 Qd4 really be better? 10.Nc7+ Kd8 11.Nxa8 Qxe5+ 12.Ne2 Qxa1 13.0–0 isn't too convincing.

8.d3 Ng4!

8...a6 9.exf6 b5 10.fxe7 Bxe7 11.Nd5 bxc4 12.Nxe7 Qe6+ 13.Ne2 Qxe7 14.Ba3 looks winning for White.

9.Qxg4 d5

...and it seems like Black survives.