Well, now we are going to look at another game where once again, White will deviate from the "main line" on the 8th move, and here we will see Black proceed to do what White did in the previous game, where the use of comparison to similar systems will lead Black to a playable position. We will be looking at the game in full, and White does end up winning this game, but this only happened because of mistakes made later in the game. There are actually a number of errors made in this game, but Black made the final mistake and White ultimately won, but the main point of this article is to illustrate the correct way to deal with sidelines, as Black does here, rather than the wrong way, which is what we saw in Part 1. So without further ado, let's see the right way to handle early deviations.
Tuesday Night Action 47, Round 3
W: Patrick McCartney (2069)
B: Mark Biernacki (2152)
King's Indian Defense, Gligoric Variation
1.d4 g6 2.e4 d6 3.c4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 Na6 7.Be3 e5
Via a slightly different move order than usual, but we are in a direct transposition to the Gligoric Variation of the King's Indian Defense, normally reached via 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3 and now Black has a number of options, including 7...Ng4, 7...Nc6, 7...exd4, and the 7th move that would directly transpose to the game here, 7...Na6.
Well, after 7...Na6, the "main line" is by far 8.O-O, played 5 times as often as the move that White played in the game.
So after 8.O-O, the main line runs 8...Ng4 9.Bg5 Qe8 (unlike in the 7...Ng4 line where 8.Bg5 is normally answered by 8...f6) 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.h3 where Black now have two legitimate choices played about equally as often, namely 11...f6 and 11...h6.
However, that is not what we have here. One must look at the consequences of what was actually played, and possibly compare it to other lines. One reason why 8.d5 might not be as popular is that if we compare this position to the Petrosian Variation of the King's Indian Defense.
This is the starting position of the Petrosian Variation, which is normally reached after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.d5. Here, it is Black to move, and one thing to recognize here is that Black has two main options along with some minor sidelines that aren't very good, but they are only not good if White actually knows what to do against them! Those two moves are 7...a5 and 7...Na6. Well, if you are a King's Indian player that plays 7...a5 against the Petrosian Variation, and you never bothered to look at all at the 7...Na6 variation, then you are out of luck, and you just wound up in the same situation as the Slav player back in part 1, where if he at least knew of the ideas of the Bishop Sacrifice line of the Slav, even if he never wants to actually play it straight up, he would at least have known how bad his move was. But here, after 7...Na6, White's best move is usually thought to be 8.Bg5, trying to slow down Black's Kingside attack, which is normally the entire idea behind the Petrosian Variation compared to the Mar Del Plata, that Black's dreams of a Kingside Pawn storm are put to bed. But just like how Black has committed to the 7...Na6 line, White has just as well committed to the 8.Be3 response, which again is not bad, but not thought of as being as strong as 8.Bg5. Against it, Black can play either 8...Ng4 9.Bg5 f6 (here ...f6 is right and not ...Qe8 in the similar line mentioned above where the difference is that White has committed to castling) or 8...Nc5, as played in the game.
So not only do we have a comparison of lines, but we actually have a direct transposition. If all Black did was memorize a single "main line" of the Gligoric, and a single "main line" against the Petrosian where that line happened to be the 7...a5 line, and a single "main line" against all other variations individually and not compare them with other lines that are similar, once again Black would be lost in a shuffle and not have any understanding of what he was doing. But in this game, Black recognizes that were are actually in a direct transposition to a sideline of the Petrosian Variation and no longer in a Gligoric King's Indian (I labelled it as a Gligoric King's Indian up top so as not to confuse people by the 7.Be3 move).
A very common idea in the Petrosian King's Indian. Black is looking to secure his outpost on c5 for the Knight by not allowing the move b4 by White. If White ever wants to play the move b4, it is going to take a long time to do it. If White ever plays the move a3, then Black can play a4 and put a permanent end to White's hopes of playing b4 as Black can take en passant. So, therefore, White would have to play b3 first, then a3, then make sure his Rook on a1 is guarded or moved, which either ties down the Queen or forces White to abandon the a-file, and only then play the move b4 to chase the Knight away after an exchange of a-pawns.
Another stereotype in the King's Indian that those that merely memorize would say is that Black should storm the Kingside, move his Knight from f6, and play ...f5. Black correctly recognizes here that we are not in a Mar Del Plata, and that we are also not in any line where White has committed his King to the Kingside. That is a very important factor in the King's Indian Defense. If you storm your Kingside pawns, and White King is not there, all you are doing is opening up your own King. If the White King is in the center or the Queenside, he will gladly welcome a stripping open of the Kingside, unlike if his own King is there, then White wants nothing to do with opening up the Kingside as Black has a space advantage on that side in the Mar Del Plata, and so all opening that side will do is help Black. Recognizing these factors and understanding the ideas behind the opening is far more crucial than memorizing reams of lines. The only things that need to be memorized are tactical blunders and to specifically avoid them. Things like playing X on move 14 of such-and-such an opening is bad because of this and that, leading to the loss of a pawn or the fatal weakening of a square. This is where memorization is important, where you actually understand why it is important to memorize that line, rather than just trying to be a walking encyclopedia.
And low and behold, White tries to use the fact that he has not castled to start trying to soften Black's Kingside. Isn't Black glad he hasn't just opened his King up?
Played to avoid the move h5 by White, which is the correct idea. But notice how playing f5 any time soon now would be a bad idea, and so Black proceeds to go after White's center and Queenside rather than trying to pawn storm the Kingside.
This is actually an error by White. Better is 12.f3 with a small advantage for White, but nothing that Black can't handle.
Black misses his chance at an advantage. After 12...Ncxe4! 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Bf5 15.Qf3, the Queen is misplaced, and after 15...a4!, Black is better after either 16.Nd2? a3 or the lesser evil for White which is 16.Bg5 Qb6 (White is OK after 16...f6 17.Bd2 axb3 18.Qxb3) 17.Nd2 a3 18.bxa3 e4 19.Qb3 Qxb3 20.Nxb3 Bc3+ 21.Bd2 Bxa1 22.Nxa1 Rxa3 23.Nc2 Rxa2 24.Ne3 Bc8.
Better late than never!
13...a4 14.Nc1 a3 15.b3 Qa5 16.Qd2 cxd5 17.Nxd5
White could also opt to not trade Knights and Queens and play 17.cxd5, but it just felt like after 17...Bd7 and an eventual placement of a Black Rook on c8 that all the play is on the Queenside and in Black's favor. Here it is a matter of taste more than anything else, but I felt White would be better off with the pressure off of his King given that his King is in the center, which is a better spot for the King in an endgame, not in a position with a bunch of pieces still on the board.
17...Qxd2+ 18.Kxd2 Nxd5 19.cxd5
So let's take a look at the current position with Black to move:
- The material is equal - Both sides have both their Rooks, both their Bishops, a Knight, and seven Pawns
- Both sides have one minor piece impeding the connection of their Rooks. For White, it's the Knight on c1. For Black, it's the Bishop on c8.
- Both sides have a good Bishop (the light-squared one for Black and the dark-squared one for White) and a bad Bishop (the dark-squared one for Black and the light-squared one for White).
- White does have to watch for potential sacrifices on b3 if the a-pawn becomes unstoppable. Not an immediate threat by any means, but just something White has to be on the lookout for.
Overall, White is slightly better because his good Bishop has more scope than Black's and his bad Bishop is less bad than Black's, and White also threatens a positional idea here, which will cost Black time if he sees it.
Black's idea is simple. He wants to play ...Bh6 and get rid of his bad Bishop. That said, the position is still closed in the center. Sure, both sides would love to get rid of their Bad Bishop, but for what is the question. Sure, it wouldn't be the end of the world if White was to trade light-squared Bishops. Same for Black trading dark-squared Bishops. But in this closed position, which piece do you really want? Let's just say that Black should probably have done something to hold on to his, like maybe 19...Nc7, with a playable position.
White not only gets rid of his Bad Bishop, but with all the White pawns on light squares, it's not like the Black counterpart has the greatest of futures. But that Knight? White couldn't ask for a better thing than that Knight for his Bad Bishop. This is a very favorable trade for White and his advantage at this point is significant.
20...bxa6 21.Nd3 a5 22.Rhc1 Bd7 23.Rc7 Bb5 24.Rac1
At this point, gaining domination over the c-file is more important than preserving the Knight. If all minor pieces were traded off, White would be the side of choice 100 times out of 100.
24...Bh6 25.Rb7 Rab8 26.Rcc7 Bxe3+ 27.Kxe3 Kg7
Here is where White starts playing a little too conservative. Yes, White is still completely winning, and there is nothing specifically "wrong" with the move 28.g3, but why not put Black out of his misery? After 28.Rxf7+ Rxf7 29.Rxb8, White is just winning. For some reason, I was fearing intrusion on the c-file or some eventual sacrifice on b3 when the a-pawn can't be stopped, but this was just a case of White seeing ghosts as none of that is going to happen here in this position.
28...Ba6 29.Ra7 Rb6 30.Rc6
Eventually, White does have to worry about the potential sacrifice on b3, particularly after the other Rook gets to b8, and so White puts an end to that idea once and for all. Black has no other choice than to trade Rooks here, and White will net a pawn when all is said and done.
30...Rxc6 31.dxc6 Bb5 32.Rxa5 Bxc6 33.Rxa3 Rc8 34.Nb4 Bb5 35.Nd5 Rc2
So suddenly, Black threatens mate. The good news for White is, while there is only one move, that move is still winning for him!
There are three ways to capture the Pawn. One wins, the other two draw. What's the right recapture for White?
White did not play the right one. The winning line is 37.Kxf4!! Rf2+ 38.Ke3 and White is winning. 38...Re2+ or 38...Rg2 is answered by 39.Kf3 and other moves, like 38...Rb2, White simply moves his Rook with a move like 39.Ra7 and the Queenside passers are too much for Black.
This is White's only try if he wants to play for a win as he has no hiding place on the Kingside as the h3-square is light, which Black can attack with ...Bf1.
38...Rxg3 39.Ra7 Rf3??
The losing move, and this time, White doesn't look back. There were several ways to draw:
- 39...Kf8 40.Ra8+ Kg7 41.Ra7 is a simple repetition and White has nothing better.
- 39...Rg4 40.Ne6+ (40.a4 doesn't work here - 40...Bxa4! 41.Nxh5+ [Or 41.Ne6+ Kf6!!] 41.gxh5 42.bxa4 Rxh4 is no good for White) 40...Kf6 41.Nd8 Be8 is also equal.
The difference here is that after 40...Bxa4?, White has 41.Ne6+ and if 41...Kf6 here, then not 42.Nd8, but rather, 42.Ng5!!, which attacks the Rook with tempo and there is no time for the Bishop to cover the f-pawn.
41.Ne6+ Kh8 42.Nd8
With the Bishop not able to go to e8, this works, but even stronger was 42.Ng5!
White walks right into a discovery, but notice that there are no good discoveries for Black to play as he has no way to attack any of the White pieces with his Rook. The rest of the game is a matter of technique.
43...Rh3+ 44.Kb4 Rxh4 45.Nxf7+
All of the tactics work in White's favor here. His pawn capture is with check, Black's was not. The next move will be a discovered check, capturing a second pawn, and conveniently it covers White's e-pawn in the process. In the meantime, Black can't stop the Queenside Pawns. Black could safely resign here.
45...Kg7 46.Nxd6+ Kg8 47.a5 Rf4 48.a6 h4 49.Ra8+ Kg7 50.a7 h3 51.Rg8+ Kxg8 52.a8=Q+ Kg7 53.Qa7+ Kh6 54.Qe3 Kg5 55.Nf7+ Kg4 56.Ne5+ Kg5 57.Nxg6 1-0
Black had enough and threw in the towel.
So what we saw here may have been a very flawed game, particularly White's 12th and 37th moves along with Black's 19th and 39th moves, the last one being the straw that broke the Camel's back for Black. But what we did see here was common sense play by Black in the late opening and early middle game phases in response to a sideline played by White on the 8th move. Notice how many of Black's moves came via comparison to other lines of the King's Indian Defense, and technically, the game directly transposed from one line, the Gligoric Variation, into a completely different line, the Petrosian Variation, and how having the knowledge of various lines of the opening, even if they are lines that you may not normally play yourself, can be vital to getting out of the opening alive. In this case, playing the 7...Na6 line against the Gligoric Variation would specifically require you to know what to do in the 7...Na6 line of the Petrosian Variation, even if your normal line of play is the 7...a5 line, because of White's ability to play 8.d5 instead of 8.O-O. Nothing says that the main line is forced in all lines for White (or Black for that matter). If all you know are limited lines of an opening, and all you do is memorize them, you will easily end up lost before you've even played 10 moves in a chess game. By understanding the specifically ideas behind each of the lines, and by at least being familiar with the specific lines that you may not necessarily play, you can avoid the trap door of being clueless what to do when your opponent sidesteps the main line and either plays a sideline or even worse, transposes into a completely different variation.
So the next time that you decide to play a certain opening, don't just think that you can figure out one response to each of the main lines and call it a day. You need to spend the time to fully understand WHY it is the main line, what the consequences are of your opponent playing different lines than the main line, and at least be familiar with the other variations of the opening you play, even if it's not your specific line of choice. Nothing says you have to actually play those other lines. For example, in the Slav Defense, against the Central Variation, you can play 6...Nbd7 one-hundred percent of the time, and never play 6...e6 and the Bishop Sacrifice, but at least make yourself familiar with it so that when your opponent does something quirky or unusual, you don't walk right into something that is specifically meant to be avoided. The same can be said for almost any opening. A Nimzo-Indian player that plays 4...b6 or 4...c5 against 4.e3 should probably also know something about the 4...O-O line even if he never plays 4...O-O because many ideas and lines can overlap. The same can be said for a French player that plays 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 knowing something about the Winawer, a Najdorf player that normally plays 6...e5 against the English Attack knowing something about 6...e6 as well as many other lines lead to similar positions, etc. Studying an opening is not as simple as picking and choosing two or three lines and calling it a day. Fully understanding it to the point of understanding key strengths, weaknesses, and transpositional posibilities are just as important as knowing the specific line or lines that you yourself prefer to play.
This concludes this two part article on Why Memorizing Openings Is Bad. Till next time, hope everyone involved in the NC Closed plays well next weekend.