The Philidor Clamp

By Michael Goeller

I'm sure what follows is a game that FM Steve Stoyko would prefer to see vanish into the dustbins of history, but it is too useful to the theory of the Philidor, and especially to the Philidor Counter Gambit, to allow to go unnoticed. I have been playing the Philidor myself of late, generally with the intention of playing the Antoshin Variation by 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 (4.Qxd4 is answered the same way, which makes it easy to play fast here) 4...Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7 and Black has good chances, as Christian Seel demonstrates in his excellent little book The Philidor: A Secret Weapon (Chessgate 2007). Often, however, I have opponents averse to theory playing 3.Bc4!? when I usually respond 3...Be7, hoping to transpose back to Antoshin lines. But I also sometimes play 3...f5! hoping for what I like to call "The Philidor Clamp" that follows 4.d3?! (typical of the theory fearing) 4...c6! 5.O-O?! (practically a blunder) 5...f4! and Black has a winning bind, even though he has only moved pawns. Watch how James West, the Philidor Counter Gambit expert, demonstrates the utter hopelessness of White's position....

FM Steve Stoyko (2273) - NM James R West (2200) [C41]

Viking 4-County Open/Mt. Arlington, NJ USA (3) 2007


1. Nf3 d6 2. e4

I like this little transposition duel in the opening.

2. d4 Nf6 (2... Bg4 is playable, and 2... f5!? would be an interesting way into the Dutch) 3. c4 e5!? 4. dxe5 Ne4 5. Nbd2 Bf5 has been played before by West and apparently transposes to Budapest Gambit, Fajarowicz Variation in which he also specializes.

 

2... e5

But now we have the Philidor, which West has played for decades.

 

3. Bc4!?

I'm very surprised to see Steve play this move. Based on what follows, I think he just wanted to play "simple chess" and avoid any sort of theoretical discussion.

If Steve wanted to play a more "simple" line against the Philidor Counter Gambit, however, he might have tried 3. d4 f5 4. exf5! (recommended long ago by Evans and Smith in their "unbeatable" repertoire) 4... e4 5. Ng5 Nf6 (5... Bxf5 6. f3 Qe7 7. Nc3 Bauer) 6. f3! Qe7 7. Be2 exf3 8. Nxf3 Bxf5 9. O-O Qd7 (9... d5!? 10. Ne5 with the idea of c4) 10. d5! Be7 11. Nd4 Bg4 12. c4!? Bxe2 13. Qxe2 O-O 14. Nc3 Na6 15. Bd2 Rfe8 16. Rf4 Bf8 17. Qf3 Qf7 18. Rf1 Qg6 19. Ne6 Be7 20. Ne4 h5 21. Bc3 Nxe4 22. Rxe4 Nc5 23. Nxc5 dxc5 24. Re6! Bf6 (24... Qh7 25. Qf7+ Kh8 26. Rf5) 25. Bxf6 Rxe6 26. dxe6 Rf8? 27. Qd5 c6 28. Qg5 Rxf6 29. Qxg6 Rxg6 30. e7 1-0 Semen Dvoirys - James R. West, New York Open 2000.

 

3... f5!

My own experience has been that 9 times out of 10, anyone who plays 3.Bc4 instead of 3.d4 will play 4.d3 to avoid main lines. That's why I often meet 3.Bc4 with 3... f5! even though there are safer alternatives.

a) 3... Be7 is safest for those seeking transposition to the Antoshin after 4. d4 (4. c3 Nf6=) 4... exd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6 etc.

 

b) 3... Nf6!? 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 h6 6. Nf3 e4 is an interesting gambit line, as described by Tim McGrew in Gambit Cartel #9, "Going Fishing."

 

c) 3... Be6?! 4. Bxe6 fxe6 5. d4 exd4 6. Nxd4 Nf6!? 7. Qd3!

 

4. d3?!

This is actually Fritz's choice in this move order as well, but it's really no good, as the present game pretty much proves. White has to play into the well-analyzed territory of the main line by 4.d4 if he wants any advantage.

4. d4! exd4!? (West usually plays 4... Nc6 5. dxe5 dxe5 6. Qxd8+ Nxd8 7. exf5) 5. Ng5 (5. Nxd4 fxe4 6. Qh5+ g6 7. Qd5 Qe7 8. Bg5 Nf6 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 10. Qxe4+ is pretty good for Black due to the two Bishops) 5... Nh6 6. O-O (6. exf5!?) 6... f4! 7. Bxf4 Qf6 8. Qh5+ g6 9. Qh4 Nc6 10. Nd2 Bd7 11. Ndf3 O-O-O 12. Ne6 Qxh4 13. Nxh4 Bxe6 14. Bxe6+ Kb8 15. Bg5 Be7 16. Bxh6 Bxh4 17. g3 Bf6 18. a3 d3= eventually drawn in Reyna Glez - Perez, Correspondence 1994.

 

4... c6!

West's recommendati n in his book and probably the best move. When playing the Philidor Defense, after all, one needs to remember that "Pawns are the soul of chess!" Instead, 4... Nf6 is suggested by Tony Kosten, but he does not consider White's most challenging line: 5. Ng5! d5 (5... Qe7 6. Bf7+ Kd8 7. Bb3) 6. exd5 Nxd5 7. O-O has got to be better for White

 

5. O-O

This is the move that West was waiting for. It really gives him what he wants. Now he can clamp down on the kingside, strong-point e5, castle queenside, and the attack plays itself. I can't tell you how many times I have won in a similar fashion on ICC, thanks to Jim West's book! But I'm not sure White has a better alternative here.

a) 5. Ng5?! d5

b) 5. Qe2 f4!?

 

5... f4!

CLAMP! West says in his book that once White has castled, this move is good for Black due to this coming kingside attack. It's amazing how stifling this move is.

 

 

6. c3!?

a) 6. Nxe5?! dxe5 7. Qh5+ Kd7 8. Qxe5 Qf6 leads to an ending where Black has at least equal chances and probably should win in the long-run, no matter what Fritz tells you.

b) 6. d4 Qf6! 7. dxe5 dxe5 8. Nc3 Bg4 followed by Nd7 and O-O-O is given by West as better for Black.

 

6... Qf6!

The fascinating thing for me is that Black gets an advantageous position here even though his first five moves are with pawns, and his sixth brings the Queen out early!

 

7. d4 Ne7!

A nice refinement. The Knight is headed to g6 to support the strong-point at e5.

Black has to be careful to avoid 7... Bg4? 8. Qb3! which seems one idea behind c3.

 

8. b3!?

8. Qb3 g5 9. Rd1 Ng6

 

8... g5 9. Ba3 Ng6

Most of Black's pieces are still on the back row, but it doesn't matter: his powerful pawn clamp gives him practically a winning advantage.

 

10. dxe5 dxe5 11. Bxf8 Rxf8 12. Nfd2!? g4! 13. Be2 f3!

A thematic line-opening sacrifice, and still more Philidor-like pawn moves! Nine of Black's first thirteen moves have been with pawns.

 

 

14. gxf3 gxf3 15. Bxf3 Bh3 16. Re1 Nd7

Black is in no hurry, but he can win almost immediately by 16... Nh4! 17. Bh5+ Ke7 and there is nothing to save White's King or his bishop due to the coming check on the g-file.

 

17. Re3 O-O-O 18. b4 Nh4!

With Black's development complete, this move is even more devastating.

 

 

19. Kh1 Qg5 20. Qg1 Qxg1+ 21. Kxg1 Rg8+ 22. Kh1 Nxf3

White resigns. West notes that "This game won the biggest upset prize of $3.65 (5 cents for each rating point!) in round 3." It is a very good game, but White was basically lost in the opening.

 

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[Michael Goeller]

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Copyright © 2007 Michael Goeller