Saemisch Surprise Revisited

By Michael Goeller

I wrote an article a while back on a "Saemisch Surprise" against the Alekhine Defense, where White plays 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. Nc3 Nxc3 4. bxc3 d5 5. Ba3 in order to control the dark squares. This is still quite a rare line, so when I saw a game with it recently in the Eastern Open Championship in Washington, D.C., I knew I would have to annotate it -- especially since it features the tournament winner Alex Yermolinsky playing the Black side. As I discuss in the notes, Yermolinsky is among those who have played this rare line as White, and with success (see Yermolinsky,A-Bagirov,V/Krasnodar 1980). So it seems quite cheeky of Smith to have chosen it against the GM -- something that only adds to the game's interest.

Bryan G. Smith (2483) - Alex Yermolinsky (2572) [B02]

Eastern Open/Washington, DC (5) 2008

1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. Nc3 Nxc3 4. bxc3 d5 5. Ba3


I flatter myself to assume that Smith must have read my article "A Saemisch Surprise vs. the Alekhine Defense," which offered an extensive analysis of this move. However, he may not have taken note of the fact that my article featured a game by Yermolinsky himself, who once took up the White side of 5.Ba3 in a game against the great Alekhine expert Bagirov. If he did, then it was rather cheeky to play it against Yermo!


5... b6!

This move always seems to be the way to meet White wing activity seeking to grab dark square dominance.


6. d4 c5

6... Qd7!? 7. f4 c5 8. c4 (8. dxc5!? e6 9. Qd4 Nc6 10. Qf2) (8. Rb1!? Ba6=) 8... dxc4?! (8... Qa4! 9. Bc1 dxc4 10. dxc5) 9. Bxc4 cxd4 10. e6! fxe6 11. Qh5+!? (11. Qd3!) 11... g6 12. Qe5 Rg8 13. Rd1 Bg7 14. Qe2 Rf8 15. Nh3 Bh6?! (15... Nc6) 16. O-O (16. Bb5! Nc6 17. Qe4 Bb7 18. Rxd4! Qc7 19. Qxe6) 16... Nc6 17. c3 e5 18. cxd4 exd4 19. Qe4 Bb7 20. Rfe1 Rf6 21. Ng5 Bxg5 22. fxg5 Rd6 23. Bxd6 Qxd6 24. Be6 Kd8 25. Bd5 Kc7 26. Bxc6 Bxc6 27. Qxe7+ Qxe7 28. Rxe7+ Kd6 29. Rxh7 Kd5 30. Rh4 1-0 Honfi-Weyerstrass.


7. dxc5

In my article, I had given this move a "?!" mark, which the result of the game would seem to re-inforce. But on closer examination it is not so clear. White gains a pawn in a very dynamic position, where he should be able to liquidate his doubled pawns with a quick c4. Black can hardly avoid the exchange of dark-squared Bishops at f8, after which his king is stuck in the center. But White's scattered pawns (including the advanced one at e5) present Black with a lot of targets. My current view is that this line might be playable for White. However, White alternatives still look more promising:


a) 7. f4 is what Yermo chose and that would be my own preference. His game continued 7... e6 8. Nf3 Qd7 9. Bd3

(9. Rb1!? temporarily prevents Qa4 and gives White time to get his own attack going: 9... Ba6 10. Bxa6 Nxa6 11. O-O g6 (11... Qa4 12. Qe2!? might transpose since 12... Qxa3?! 13. Qb5+ Kd8 14. Ng5 Kc7 15. Nxf7 Rg8? 16. Ng5 is amazingly dangerous) 12. Qe2 Qa4! 13. f5!? (the modest 13. Bb2! continues to buy White time) 13... gxf5! (13... Qxa3? 14. Qb5+ Kd8 15. Ng5) 14. Ng5!? h6! White is "all in," but it would probably take a week to figure out if it really works.(14... Qxa3!? is also unclear, though I think Black survives: 15. Qb5+! (15. Qh5!? O-O-O 16. Nxf7 (16. Qxf7!? Nc7 17. Nxe6 Rd7!) 16... Be7 17. Nxh8 Rxh8 18. Qf7 Kd7) 15... Ke7 16. Qc6 Rd8 17. Rxf5! exf5 18. Qf6+ Kd7 19. Nxf7 Re8 20. Qxf5+ Kc7 21. Nxh8 and White has some chances after Qxh7 due to his passed pawns and Black's exposed King) 15. Nxf7!? Kxf7 16. g4 Qxa3 ( you have to enter Tal-inspired fantasy realms to see how White's attack works: 16... Rg8 17. Kh1 basically transposes) 17. gxf5 Rg8+ 18. Kh1 Rg7 (18... Rg5 19. fxe6+ Kg8 (19... Kxe6? 20. Rf6+ Ke7 21. Qf3) 20. Qf3) 19. Qh5+ Kg8 20. f6 Qxc3! (20... Rg5 21. Rg1) 21. fxg7 Bxg7 22. Rf7 Qe3 23. Rg1 Qe4+ 24. Rg2 Qe1+ 25. Rg1 1/2-1/2 Haik,A-Torre,E/Athens Wch-jr 1971. An amazing game on close examination! Makes me want to look at Haik's other games.)


9... Ba6

(9... Qa4! 10. Bc1 (10. Qc1 c4 11. Bxf8 cxd3 12. Bxg7 Rg8 13. Bf6 Rxg2 14. cxd3 Ba6) 10... Nc6 11. Be3 Qa5 12. Bd2)


10. O-O Be7 11. Bc1!? (The Bishop has done its duty and switches diagonals to avoid tactical problems hanging out at a3.) 11... Bxd3 12. cxd3! (Now White can easily fix his structure with an exchange at c5, after which White's space advantage allows him to attack on both sides of the board.) 12... Nc6 13. dxc5 Bxc5+!? 14. Kh1!? (White avoids committing to d4 since that would give Black a clear target at c3 and square at c4 to work on. Both players now enter into some tricky maneuverings.) 14... O-O 15. Qe2 Rac8 16. Bd2 Ba3 (16... d4!? 17. c4 gives White the e4 square) 17. Rab1 Rfe8 18. Rb3 Bf8 19. a4 Na5 20. Rb5 Nb7 21. Ra1 Rb8 22. Nd4 Bc5 23. Nc2 Rec8 24. Qf3 Na5 25. h3 Nc6 26. Rbb1 Be7 27. Rb5 f6!? 28. exf6 Bxf6 29. d4 (Only now does White advance, to fix Black's pawn at e6 -- but Black has gotten what he wanted and now makes progress on the queenside. However, that is all part of White's plan...) 29... a6 30. Rb2 Na5 31. Ne3 Nc4 32. Nxc4 Rxc4 33. Rab1 Qc6 34. f5! Rxa4 35. Bf4 Rb7 36. Re2! (White engineers an amazing turnaround, which his control of the center allows. As in the Haik game, as soon as Black achieves his goals on the queenside, he leaves the kingside vulnerable.) 36... exf5 37. Rbe1! Rf7 38. Qh5 Rf8 (38... g6 39. Re8+ Rf8 40. Rxf8+ transposes) 39. Re8 g6 40. Rxf8+ Kxf8 41. Qxh7 Bg7 42. Bh6! (42. h4 amounts to the same thing, and you have to admire the simplicity of Yermo's method.) 42... Bxh6 43. Qxh6+ Kg8 44. h4 1-0 Yermolinsky,A-Bagirov,V/Krasnodar 1980.


b) 7. Bb5+ , to prevent the exchange of Bishops by a6, also interests me, with ideas like 7... Bd7 8. Be2!? (8. Bd3 Qc7!) 8... Qc7!? (8... e6 9. Nf3 Be7 10. O-O O-O 11. c4!?) 9. Nf3 cxd4 10. Qxd4 e6 11. Bxf8 Rxf8 12. c4 and Black's King will not be comfortable.


c) 7. Nf3 e6 8. Bb5+ Bd7 9. Bd3 Be7 10. O-O Nc6 11. Re1 Rc8 12. dxc5 bxc5 13. c4 Qa5 14. Bc1 dxc4 15. Bf1 (15. Bxc4?? Qc3) (15. Be4!) 15... Nd4 16. Nxd4 cxd4 17. Re4 1-0 Traub,B-Spiegel,S/Germany 1995 (46).


7... e6 8. Bb5+ Bd7 9. cxb6

A cute intermezzo, winning a pawn, but it is really an insignificant material advantage given White's structural issues. Note that both White Bishops are immune due to the threat of b7 trapping Black's Rook.


9... Qxb6!?

Black focuses on piece placement and development to better exploit White's pawn weaknesses. This seems to be an improvement on capturing with the a-pawn:

9... axb6 10. Bxf8! Kxf8 (10... Bxb5?! 11. Bxg7 Rg8 12. Bf6 is too messy) 11. c4! (11. Bxd7 Nxd7 12. Nf3 Ra4! 13. O-O Qc7) 11... Qc7! (11... Bxb5!? 12. cxb5 Qc7! 13. Ne2! Qxe5 14. O-O) 12. Nf3?! ( Here is where White goes wrong, I think. Best was 12. Ne2! Qxe5 13. O-O with ideas like f4-f5 and White has a promising game -- rather like the line I recommend in the main game. The rest is just a mess after this, but it has a nice conclusion.) 12... Bxb5 13. cxb5 Qc3+ 14. Ke2?! Ke7? (14... Nd7! 15. Qd3 Qc7) 15. Qd3! Rc8 16. Nd4 Rc4 17. Rhd1 Nd7 18. Nc6+! Ke8 19. Qxh7? (19. Rdc1! Re4+ 20. Kf1 Ra3 21. Qxc3 Rxc3 22. a4 Nxe5 23. Nxe5 Rxe5 24. a5!) 19... Re4+? (19... Qb2! 20. Qg8+ Nf8 21. Kf1 Qxb5) 20. Kf1 Qxc2 21. Qh5?! (21. Qxg7!) 21... Rxa2 22. Rxa2 Qxa2 23. g3 Qc4+ 24. Kg2 Qxb5 25. Nd4 Qa4? 26. Nxe6! g6 27. Qh8+ Ke7 28. Qf8+! Kxe6 29. Qe8+ Kf5 30. Qxf7+ Kg5 31. Rxd5! Rd4 32. h4+ Kh6 33. Qg8 g5 34. h5 Nf8 35. Qxf8+ Kxh5 36. Qf5 Kh6 37. Qf6+ Kh5 38. Qe7 g4 39. Qh7+ Kg5 40. Qg7+ Kh5 41. Qf7+ Kg5 42. Rxd4 Qxd4 43. Qf4+ 1-0 Prie,E-Karr,J/Montpellier 1996.


10. Bxd7+

This seems the place where White could improve. Perhaps instead he should take the other Bishop:

10. Bxf8! Kxf8 (Black may as well give up the right to castle, because he is not castling anyway after 10... Bxb5 11. Bd6!) 11. Bd3! Qc7 12. Ne2 Qxe5 13. O-O and White has a slight lead in development and the safer king, and ideas like c4, Qb1-b7, and f4-f5.


10... Nxd7 11. Bxf8 Kxf8

11... Nxf8 12. Nf3 Nd7 13. O-O Rc8 14. Rb1 Qa5 15. Nd4!?.


12. Nf3 Rc8 13. O-O! Qc7 14. Qd4 Qxc3 15. Qxa7 Nxe5 16. Nxe5 Qxe5




This must have been the position that both sides were playing for, but Yermo's experience helped him to judge it a little better. White must surrender the c-pawn eventually, but Smith certainly felt he'd have genuine compensation in the passed a-pawn, control of the 7th rank, and safer King. But Yermo saw that his pieces would have much greater activity. One way of explaining Black's long-term advantage is to note that as White's a-pawn advances, his Queen will have fewer and fewer squares -- yet Black'ssuper-centr alized Queen will grow in stature as the Black Rooks gain activity. White now plays to activate his Rook by bringing it to the 7th.


17. Rab1

It does not appear that simply pushing the a-pawn and keeping the Rooks connected behind it would have improved his chances, e.g.: 17. a4 g6 18. a5 Rxc2 19. a6 Kg7 20. Ra3!? d4 and I think I'd bet on Black here.


17... g6 18. Rb7 Qf6 19. a4 Kg7 20. a5 Rxc2 21. Rc7 Ra2!

Simple chess! Black's Rook helps to stop the a-pawn while also creating potential back-rank tactics. White now surrenders his pawn at a6 in exchange for Black's passer at d5, hoping that having all the pawns on one side of the board will give him drawing chances. But Yermo shows that there is too much force on the board for that to be true.


22. a6 e5 23. Qb7 Rxa6 24. Qxd5 h5 25. h3 h4! 26. Rb1 Re8 27. Qc4

27. Rbb7?? Ra1+ 28. Kh2 Qf4+ is quick and deadly.


27... Rd6 28. Rbb7 Rd1+ 29. Kh2 Rf8 30. Qg4 Rd2!

After this, the f-pawn falls.


31. f3? Rd4!

White's Queen is trapped unless he surrenders the pawn.


32. f4 Qxf4+ 33. Qxf4 Rxf4 34. Re7 Rf5 35. Re6 Rd8 36. g4 hxg3+ 37. Kxg3 Rd3+ 38. Kg2 Rg5+ 39. Kh2 Rd2+ 40. Kh1 Kh6!?

Perhaps White's flag fell here? One would think that Smith might play on, even though Black is still winning after 41.Rxf7 Rdg2! 42. Rf1 Re2 and, having reached the time control, there is little reason to make the GM prove it. In any event, this was a very interesting game in all its stages and a great victory by Yermo on his way to winning the tournament.


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Copyright © 2008 by Michael Goeller