As promised, something about the opening of Chris White’s game on Monday.
We start like this:
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 (The old main line of the Giuoco Piano. These days 5. d3 is very popular.) 5… exd4 6. cxd4 Bb4+
Now White (that’s Chris!) has to make a critical decision. Traditionally, the choice is between Bd2 and Nc3. Bd2 has long been considered about equal, and the engines don’t disagree. Nc3 is the main romantic choice: if you know the theory and your opponent doesn’t you stand a pretty good chance of scoring a brilliant victory, but the main line was more or less refuted in the game Barczay-Portisch half a century ago. Various attempts have been made to revive it over the years but none have been very convincing.
If you play 3… Bc5 with black you need to know the theory: you’re not going to be able to find the best moves over the board.
There’s been some recent interest in Nbd2, which the engines consider as good as Bd2 and might surprise an unwary opponent. Chris, though, chose a fourth option, Kf1, which I seem to recall Gavin recommending to me years ago.
Chris takes up the story:
This line is only really a footnote in the books, I think they just give …d5 as the answer and leave it at that.
7… d5 8. exd5 Nxd5 9. Nc3 Bxc3 10. bxc3 0-0 11. Ng5 (threatening Ba3) 11… h6 12. h4 hxg5 13. hxg5 g6 14. Qf3 Nb6 (14.. Be6 loses to 15. Bxd5)
Now I played 15. Bb3 which is still good, but the magic move is 15. Qf4! +-
Actually at the time Qf4 was my first thought, as 15… Nxc4 16. Qh4 is obviously mate. But after 15. Qf4 Kg7 I figured black is ready to meet to 16. Qh4 with 16…Rh8 and we have stalled. However…………….
15. Qf4 Kg7 16. Ba3! does the trick. Black’s R is attacked but he can’t go 16…Rh8 while the WQ is still on f4 since 17. Qxf7#.
But if our young star leaves the R on f8 (let’s say he grabs a second piece with 16… Nxc4) 17. Bxf8 and there is no decent recapture. 17… Kxf8 18. Rh8+ or 17… Qxf8 18. Qf6+ and 19. Rh8#
(RJ: I would add that 12… hxg5 is either very brave or very foolish, quite probably both: Stockfish 10 prefers either 12… Na5 13. Bd3 Nf6 or the immediate 12… Nf6 when Black is OK. Even then it’s not so easy to defend. A very highly rated player quickly went wrong in the game Ehmann (2305) – Beikert (2414) Sasbach 2018: 12… Na5 13. Bd3 c5 14. Ba3 f5 15. Bxc5 hxg5 16. Bxf8 Nxc3 17. Qc2 Qxd4 18. Rc1 Kxf8 19. Qxc3 Qxc3 20. Rxc3 g4 21. h5 1-0. Black might also look for improvements earlier in the game: 9… Nb6 or Be6, or 10… Be6 are engine suggestions.)