Grand Prix with Na3!?
By Michael Goeller
I have been playing the Left Hook Grand Prix with a3 (that is pawn to a3), and I know that fellow expert Matt Pullin has tried it on occasion himself, since he says as much in a couple of videos he posted online a while back. So I was very intrigued when I saw a game where he played Knight to a3 in the Grand Prix to win a pretty miniature that helped him take first in his section at the recent 1st North American Amateur Closed Championship. This is a great example of amateur opening innovation and deserves some attention.
Matt Pullin (2034) - Brian Villarreal (1805) [B23]
1st North American Amateur Closed /Skokie, IL USA (8) 2010
The line in this game seems inspired by Zvjagintsev's 2. Na3 which can lead to Grand Prix type of set-ups, for example: 2... Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 (3... Qc7 was Khalifman's interesting choice against Zvjagintsev, to discourage f4 while protecting c6 with apiece)
4. f4!? (White can also prevent Nd4, blunt the Black Bishop, and make room for the Knight with 4. c3 Bg7 5. d3 Nf6 6. f4
This move and 2...Nc6 seem to be Black's most popular responses to 2.f4, even though theory prefers a quick d5 advance:
a) 2... d5 is the Tal Gambit and is widely considered Black's best. White can get a decent game with Mark Hebden's 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 typically followed by Nf3, g3, Bg2, b3, and Bb2. There are alternatives, of course, and I'm curious what Pullin would play (I was not able to find any of his games with the line).
b) 2... e6 (a French set-up) 3. Nf3 d5 4. e5! leads to the Labourdonnais - McDonnell Attack against the French, which has been analyzed at the Kenilworth site. It is thematically similar to the 2.Na3 line, so it is not surprising that it has been played by Zvjagintsev himself. Pullin played this line in three games during the tournament with good results (that should have been even better).
Zvjagintsev's idea via a Grand Prix move order. I found a few games from the Russian expert player Igor Popelyshev with this line in the database (via 2.Na3), but I think Pullin deserves more credit for this fascinating move order. The Knight is more flexibly deployed here than at c3 because it leaves open the possibility of a pawn advance to c3 to keep control of the important d4 square. Meanwhile, as Zvjagintsev showed, the Knight has a flexible future (not a grim one), redeploying to c4, c2, or even b5 depending on how Black responds.
Probably what 9 out of 10 amateur players would do, but Black probably has better:
I'm interested to see what alternatives develop in this line if it becomes more popular.
a) 5... Nf6 6. Bxc6 bxc6 7. d3
b) 5... d5!? might still be worth a try.
Interestingly, White could now play 6.O-O!? inviting transposition to known lines in the regular Grand Prix (arising via 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Bb5 Nd4 6.O-O etc.), but because of the fortunate placement of his Knight at a3 he has even better.
Unlike the main lines of the Grand Prix, White does not have a Knight at c3 that would now have to move, and so the Bishop at b5 is nicely protected, making castling possible. White is rapidly getting ahead in development and has great prospects for a kingside attack with f5.
Another advantage of Na3 over Nc3: White occupies critical central squares and threatens to turn Black's doubled pawns into a permanent weakness. The tactically minded 8. Nc4?! Qc7 9. e5 Bf8! seems to leave White as awkwardly placed than Black.
Exchanging pawns greatly benefits White, especially by opening up the d-file. But not exchanging leaves White with lots of central turf.
Moving another pawn not only creates another weak dark square at b6 but also leaves Black dangerously behind in development. White's next exploits both these facts.
15. f5! immediately looks even stronger.
and mate follows by force. A satisfying late-round victory for Pullin which helped him to take his section of the tournament. Add this to your list of surprising ways of playing the Grand Prix Attack. I might be giving it a try myself.
Game in PGN
Copyright © 2010 by Michael Goeller