Part One: White Plays c3 and d4
By Michael Goeller
The dream of a universal Black fianchetto system against the open games deserves to be revived. Wilhelm Steinitz showed the way in the 1880s when he played a series of games using a Black fianchetto against the Ruy Lopez, the Three Knights, and the Scotch Game. And the system has been played with success by the likes of Alekhine, Keres, Geller, and many others of the "Russian School." It was probably Vasily Smyslov who is best known for developing the theory of the Spanish fianchetto defense (with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6), which is now widely regarded as one of Black's most solid choices. Why hasn't the fianchetto against other White lines developed as strong of a following? Mostly because there simply have not been enough successful games or usable theory to help players get a handle on the ideas that you need to make the Black fianchetto system succeed.
Black has had success with a fianchetto against many lines in the open games:
Where a fianchetto system is not so successful is against lines where White can play an early f4, such as the Vienna, the Bishop's Opening, and the King's Gambit (of course). But we will examine an alternative system against these lines based on developing the Bishop to b4 instead. So it is wrong to think of this as a "universal fianchetto system" -- but it comes close!
In this first of a planned seven-part series, we examine lines where White plays c3 followed by d4, striving to establish a classical center. This is one of the best places to begin because it helps us see the g6 system as a potential tabiya that can work across various opening lines that are typically treated quite separately in the opening manuals. In subsequent articles, we will look at:
In all of these articles, I will try to look at games across various openings so that we can better see the basic ideas that help to make this into a system.
Game One: Italian Game
Edmar Mednis - Viktor Korchnoi [C50]
Vienna IBM International/Vienna, Austria (2) 1986
GM Edmar Mednis became famous in America with his PBS television commentaries on the 1972 Fischer - Spassky match. He wrote many books before his death in 2002 at the age of 64 (the same uncanny age at which Fischer died). Probably his most popular book was How to Beat Bobby Fischer (1974), which examined every Fischer loss. But serious students of the game recognize his valuable contributions to the study of endgames with his numerous books on "practical" endgame play and his long-running series on engames in Chess Life. The following game, from the second round of the Vienna IBM International Tournament (a nine round invitational swiss with 48 players -- the size suggestive of an open) was the only loss for his opponent, world championship contender Victor Korchnoi, who went on to tie for first with Belyavsky. This may be endgame expert Mednis's quickest victory over a GM, but it is no fault of the opening. Until his blunder at move 19, Korchnoi had easy equality. But the game is one of many where a Black loss has reflected badly on the fianchetto system.
With White's pawn at c3, the Queen finds a good post here (safe from harrassmant by Nc3-d5), where it can help to secure the strong point at e5. The plan is now to encourage White to close the center, after which Black will generally secure good chances of a kingside attack in King's Indian fashion.
This exchange, either immediately or after castling, is most challenging for Black in my experience. White does not have to commit to any action in the center just yet, of course, and there are many alternatives. White can put off a decision by castling or playing the often tricky Bg5!?:
In my view, this closing of the center is exactly what Black hopes for in playing this system. White can still delay central action or exchange:
a1) 7. Re1 Nf6 (7... Bg4!?)
a2) 7. dxe5 Nxe5! 8. Nxe5 dxe5 9. Qe2 Nf6 10. f3
a3) 7. Bg5!? f6 (with the f6 advance, Black plans to develop his knight by Nh6-f7; perfectly playable, however, is 7... Nf6) 8. Be3 Nh6 9. dxe5 fxe5?! (it is usually most correct to take with the Knight to reduce forces and protect against dark square attacks: 9... Nxe5! 10. Nxe5 fxe5 11. f3 Nf7=; but not 9... dxe5?! when 10. b4! threatening Bc5 is very strong.) 10. Bg5! Qd7 11. Na3 Nf7 12. Qd2 h6 13. Be3 g5 14. b4 Qe7 15. Bd5 Ncd8! 16. Bb3 Ne6 and though Black recovered from the error in the opening, White went on to win in 1-0 Varga,Z-Zatonskih,V/Balatonbereny 1994 (48).
Recommended by Pinski, this retreat seems more precise than the alternative: 7... Nb8 8. Bb5+ c6 9. dxc6 bxc6 10. Ba4 Nf6 11. Re1
Of course, 8... f5!? is immediately possible since the Knight at d8 helps protect the potentially weak e6 square. But h6 is usually a useful move here anyway.
White has spent all of his energies protecting e4, so Black by-passes it to attack the base at f3.
19. h3 Nf7 20. Bd3 Ng5 21. Rc2 Bxh3 (also good is 21... Nxh3+! but the bishop sac is more instinctive!) 22. gxh3 Nxh3+ 23. Kg2 Nf2! 24. Bxf2? (24. Qd2 Qd7 25. Bxf2 gxf2 planning Qg7+ etc.) 24... gxf2 25. Nh2 Qg5+ 26. Ng4 Nf6 27. Rxf2 h5! 28. Be2 Bxf2 29. Kxf2 hxg4 30. fxg4 Kg7 (30... Qh4+!) 31. Bf3 Rh8 32. Qe2 Rh2+ 33. Bg2 f3! 34. Qxf3 Nxg4+ 35. Kg1 Rf8 36. Qg3 Rf2 (36... Rxg2+! 37. Qxg2 Qe3+ 38. Kh1 Rh8+) 37. Qxf2 Nxf2 38. Kxh2 Ng4+ 39. Kg1 Qe3+ 40. Kh1 Qg3 41. Kg1 Ne3 42. Kh1 Qxg2# Not a bad attack for blitz play!
0-1 papiro1 (2184)-urusov (2149)/Owl21.com 2009.
b) 6. Bg5 Nf6 (this is fine, but personally I prefer 6... f6! 7. Be3 Nh6=, which transposes to positions that will be examined in more detail below)
7. Nbd2 Bg7 8. Qc2 h6 9. Be3
The safest choice, maintaining parity in the center.
This move seems most challenging. Ludeck Pachman -- one of many older GMs who turned to this system as a way of using their experience and avoiding too much theory -- played two games that show how easy Black has it against alternatives:
a) 9. Nd2 Nf6 10. Nf3 Qe7 11. Re1 Bg4 12. h3 Bxf3 13. Qxf3
b) 9. Na3 Nf6 10. f3
9... Qe7 10. f4 (10. Bf4 Nf6 11. Nd2
And here, there is nothing wrong with immediately castling 11...
Mass liquidation has left a relatively equal position, where arguments can be made for the relative advantage of either minor piece left on the board. Black certainly should not be at risk of losing from this position.
Korchnoi resigned, recognizing that endgame expert Mednis would find the remainder an easy task. The Knight cannot be trapped because 23...Kd7 24.h4! creates an escape route via g5, since 24...Bxh4 25.Nxe5+ is winning for White. It's games like this one, with its singular blunder at the end, that help to give g6 a bad reputation!
Game Two: Anti-Ponziani
Anita Gara (2339) - Kim Pilgaard (2426) [C44]
Budapest FS04 GM-B/Budapest (13) 2002
The experienced IM from Denmark chooses an unusual system against the Ponziani Opening of his lovely young Hungarian opponent, and we arrive eventually at a position very similar to those considered above.
With White's pawn at c3, the Queen finds a good square at e7, safe from harrassment by Nb1-c3-d5. Black will play g6, d6, Bg7, Nf6, and O-O with a harmonious development of his forces. Though there are other good ways of playing against the Ponziani, this is one less likely to lead to positions your opponent has studied in depth. After all, why go along with what she wants? Make your opponent play in your territory.
White need not commit the Bishop so soon: 4. d4!? d6 (4... exd4?! 5. Bd3!)
5. Bd3 g6 6.
The Tabiya of the Fianchetto System
9... h6 followed by Kh7 secures more squares around the Black King.
White is clearly under pressure, and Black threatens tactics on the Bishop at d3 and on the kingside.
Keeping the Knight out of g4, and preparing the idea of g5-g4. Black might also take a moment to slow up White's queenside counterplay with 19... a5.
Black surrenders the d-file in order to keep pieces on the board for a potential attack on the kingside.
Providing additional support for the Knight at f4, since White threatened Nxe5.
Having chosen not to slow up White's queenside play, Black must now pursue his own chances as vigorously as possible by 23... g4! 24. hxg4 (24. Nxe5? Nxg2!) 24... hxg4 25. b5 Ne7 26. Bxa7 Nh5! (26... Ra8!?) 27. Qe3 Bh6 28. Qc5 g3
The tables have turned again and Black is back with a vengeance.
38. h4 Ne6 39. Qf5 Ne7 40. Qh5 Qd2 41. Ra1 Rd8 42. Bh3 Qd5+ 43. Bg2 Qxb5 44. f4 Qb2 45. Rg1 Qc2 46. Ne3 Qf2 47. f5 Qxe3 48. fxe6 fxe6 49. Rf1+ Nf5 50. g4 Qe2 51. Qg5 Rd1 52. Qf4 Rxf1+ 53. Bxf1 Qe4+! 54. Qxe4 Ng3+
Not a perfect game by any means, but a good illustration nonetheless of Black's chances with the set up I have recommended.
Game Three: Spanish Fianchetto with Bc4
Zsofia Polgar - Vasily Smyslov [C76]
Putting the question to the Bishop. This move is fairly critical here, as otherwise Black can come under pressure:
White has two alternatives, which lead to very different types of positions. We will examine these in greater depth below, but here are the basics.
a) 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. d4 (of course, if 6. Nxe5 Black has two good choices for how to recover his pawn: 6... Qe7 (6... Qg5!? 7. d4 Qxg2 8. Qf3 Qxf3 9. Nxf3 Nf6!?=)
7. d4 f6 8. Nf3 Qxe4+ 9. Be3 Be6!? 10.
b) 5. Ba4 d6 (Black has to support the e5 pawn and prepare to block the Bishop's pressure by Bd7. The text position could also arise via the Modern Steinitz Variation with 3...a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.c3 Bd7 6.d4 g6) 6. d4 Bd7 7.
7. Bg5 f6! 8. Be3 Bg7 (8... Nh6!)
9. Nbd2 Nh6 10. h3 Nf7 11.
We now have reached a position nearly identical to the opening tabiya seen in the above games, with the only difference being a pawn is at a6 for Black (which can only be advantageous).
b) 8. h3 h6 ( Black can also get right on with development here: 8... Nf6 9. Re1 (9. Bg5?! h6!)
Just as Korchnoi played in the game above. It is essential to first take with the Knight in order to liberate the c-pawn to block attacks by Ba3 (as in the game) -- and to reduce forces. But Black probably prefers a pawn on e5 eventually in order to maintain parity in the center.
Black plans b5, hence White's next.
Better is 13. c4 Rb8 (13... Ra7!? Flear) 14. Nd2 (14. Nc3 b5) 14... b6 (better than 14... b5 15. Qc2 b4 16. Bb2 Nh5 17. a3 a5 18. axb4 axb4 19. g3 Kh8 20. Rfe1 f5?! 21. exf5 Bxf5 22. Qd1 Bh3 23. Qe2 Rbe8 24. Ne4 Nf6 25. Nxf6 Qxf6 26. f4 Qf5 27. Bxe5 Bxe5 28. fxe5 1-0 Bologan - Akopian, Moscow 2002 (58)) 15. Qc2 Nh5 16. g3 Kh8= Flear.
16... Nxf2!? may already be playable (Flear says he "can't see anything wrong with it"), e. g.: 17. Kxf2 e4 18. Qd2 (18. Nd2 Bd4+ 19. Kf1 Qxh2) 18... Bxa1 19. Nc3 Re8 20. Nxe4 Bf5 21. Rxa1 Bxe4 and it's not clear whether White has sufficient compensation in his potential attack via the long diagonal with Bb2 and Qd4 etc.
Now this is definitely very strong, combining attack on the Rook at a1 with a potential kingside attack.
Now White cannot rescue the Exchange at a1, but Black has even stronger attacking ideas.
Another great Smyslov game with his g6 line vs one of the Polgar sisters! The series of "Veterans vs. Ladies" matches contributed a great deal to our knowledge of the black finachetto system in the open games.
Game Four: Spanish Fianchetto with Ba4 and d5
Zsofia Polgar - Vasily Smyslov [C76]
Match (Veterans vs. Ladies)/Vienna, Austria (7) 1993
The aging former champion here employs the anti-Spanish system that bears his name -- as he did a number of times against the Polgar sisters. In contests of youth vs. age, it makes sense for the older player to avoid theoretical battles and stick to the openings that he knows well through long experience. The Black fianchetto system is the perfect choice in such cases.
Play will likely transpose after 4. c3 a6 5. Ba4 d6 6. d4 Bd7 but Black does well to develop differently in response to 7. Bg5 f6! 8. Be3 Nh6 (now the Knight heads for f7 but may threaten Ng4 as well) 9.
32... Rd4! 33. Qe1 Rxc4 34. Rd1 Qg5 35. Nc5 Bc8 36. Kg2 Rxb4 37. Re2 Rc4 38. Nd7 Bxd7 39. Rxd7 Qf6 40. Rf2 Rf7 41. Rxf7 Qxf7 42. Rd2 c5 43. Qe3 Rd4 44. Rb2 Qe7 45. Rc2 c4 46. Rb2 Kg8 47. Qc3 Qc7 48. Rc2 Qc5 49. Rc1 Qb5 50. g4 Kf8 51. Kg3 Ke8 52. Rh1 Qb3 53. Qc1 Rd3 54. Qf1 Rd7 55. Qf2 Rf7 56. Rf1 Qd3 57. Kg2 Qd4 0-1 Beliavsky,A-Smyslov,V/Montpellier 1985.
This advance is likely White's best choice, leading to positions that resemble the King's Indian Defense but with White able to exchange off his bad Bishop for Black's good one. However, though White gains something from the exchange of Bishops, Black gains a little time (White loses tempi by c2-c3-c4 and Bb5-a4xd7) and some more room to maneuver his pieces thanks to the exchange.
The alternative 8... Nb8!? poses different problems for White and seems to discourage the logical Bxd7+ because that hands Black a tempo for development by Nxd7. Yet White should definitely exchange anyway. Here's what can happen if he doesn't: 9. c4 (9. Bxd7+ Nxd7=)
9... Ne7! 10. Nc3
Black can also consider pushing the f-pawn forward before developing the Knight -- but this does require first playing ...h6 to prevent Ng5-e6. For example: 10... h6 11. Nc3 f5 12. b4!? (12. Ne1 Nf6 13. f3
Dark Square Domination
Despite his permanently backward pawn at d6, Black has the better game due to his total domination on the dark squares.
The Bishop slows up White's potential counterplay by f4.
White seems not to have done the basic math here, as Black ends up netting two pawns in the exchanges that follow. But White was slipping into passivity and must have felt she needed to strive for counterplay and exchanges, seeking some drawing chances in a rook ending perhaps.
Black is already creating mate threats by Rc8+ and Nf2! threatening Rh8#, or Ng6 and f5 trapping the King, hence White's offer to exchange Rooks next. But after that Exchange, White's hopeless situation in the endgame became more obvious and she resigned.
Game Five: Spanish Fianchetto with Ba4 and dxe5
Xie Jun (2528) - Vasily Smyslov (2485) [C76]
Flamenco Veterans vs Ladies/Marbella ESP (8) 1999
Black now has a Deferred Steinitz by transposition. I have generally looked at games that reached this position via a Smyslov Variation move order with 3...g6, but there is a lot to learn from GM encounters that began 3...a6. Serious students of the game will want to collect games with both move orders for further study.
7. Bb3!? h6?! (Black takes away any tactical ideas White may have had with Ng5, but the loss of tempo seems a lot to pay 7... Bg7 8.
8. d5 Nce7 9. Bxd7+ Qxd7 10. c4 Nf6 11. Nc3
In Offbeat Spanish, Glenn Flear notes that "Simplest for Black is to capture on e5 with the knight, with no problems to equalize, but capturing with the pawn may be worth a try if you want to set your opponent more complex problems." In another game with Xie Jun, Smyslov tried just that:
8... dxe5!? 9. Be3 Nge7 10. Nbd2
19... g5!? with the idea of Qh6 and Bg3 looks strong.
Black should eventually consolidate and win in any event, but this blunder simplifies the task.
Game Six: Spanish Fianchetto with Bxc6
Andrei Volokitin (2652) - Hrvoje Stevic (2539) [C60]
TCh-SLO/Celje SLO (4) 2004
This is probably the least troubling of White's options, but the fact that he has three viable replies to 4...a6 highlights the flexibility of the Ruy Lopez compared to the other open games.
As usual in the Ruy Lopez, White gets less than nothing by 6. Nxe5 and Black can recover the pawn with advantage in two ways:
I like this method since it leads to a more unblanced pawn structure. A simpler method of recovering the pawn is 6... Qe7 when Black's two Bishops can come to the fore, e.g.: 7. d4 f6 8. Nf3 Qxe4+ 9. Be3 Bd7 10. Nbd2 Qf5 11. Qb3
7. d4 Qxg2 8. Qf3 Qxf3 9. Nxf3 Nf6 10. Nbd2 Bh3!? 11. Rg1! c5 12. d5 Bg7 13. Rg3 Bc8! (13... Bd7 14. Ne5! Nxe4 15. Re3)
I am intrigued by 7... f5!? as Spassky plays in one of the games cited below: 8. Bg5 (Black also seems fine after 8. exf5 Qe7+ 9. Ne5 Bxf5 10.
9... Qe7 with the idea of O-O-O and Nf6 looks like a viable alternative.
Flear suggests what he calls the "cheeky" 12... Bxd4!? 13. Bxd4 (13. Rad1 c5) 13... Qxd4 14. Rad1 Qe5 15. Rd7 Rad8 which at least gives Black a material edge and therefore some chance to win, as in our main game.
Spassky's choice seems too drawish. Another idea is to blockade with 16... Qe6 followed by Rf7-d7 with some pressure against the backward d-pawn.
Taking the pawn is risky but certainly more interesting than the alternatives at this point. Now 12... f5 13. Be5 fxe4 14. Qxe4 Nd5 15. Rae1 Qd7 16. Bxg7 Kxg7 17. Qe5+ Kg8 18. Nxd5 cxd5 19. Qe7 Rf7= is merely defensible for Black and a likely draw.
After this move, threatening Nxc5, it is clear that Black will not simply be able to hold onto the material.
Black seems to have judged this position well, since his passed d-pawn is bound to cause White trouble.
I think Black can be forgiven for having overlooked the win to be had by 24... Rb4!! threatening Rxb2, and if 25. Qxb4 Qe1+ 26. Kh2 d1=Q!! is a highly unusual tactic that leaves Black with a winning material advantage no matter how White responds.
Black has the right idea, but his specific execution allows for a surprising White resource.
More accurate is 25... Rxc7!! 26. Rxc7 Qe5+ 27. Qg3 Qxb2 and because the Rook is at e4, White does not have the saving Qf4 as in the game. Now to stop the pawn he must try 28. Rc8+ (28. Rd7 Rd4!) 28... Kg7 29. Rd8 Re1 30. Qf3
Though Black is up a pawn, the ending is theoretically drawn. That's not to say it is very easy for the defender! Those interested in this ending might compare Fedorowicz-Yermolinsky, US Championship 1997, and Lerner - Dorfman, Tashkent 1980, both of which are very well discussed in John Emms's handy Survival Guide to Rook Endings.
This unusual move seems to simplify White's task. Standard practice is to advance the King and the pawns until it might be possible, against weak defense, to make a run to the queenside to support the passer. Now White can force a favorable exchange of pawns.
Black is in zugzwang!
A most unfortunate draw for Stevic, who had all of the chances throughout the game.
Games in PGNCopyright © 2009 by Michael Goeller