While some players focus on learning and memorizing opening theory, others look for shortcuts out of it. If you like less popular lines or even novelties, it is very important that you consider the main opening principles: develop, get the king safe, and find critical squares to control (A lot of coaches will say the center, but it may vary. For example in the Bg5 Najdorf lines, Black focuses more on queenside expansion). In this game, I caught my opponent by surprise with an odd knight move in the opening.
Steincamp – McDougall (Old Donation Fall Scholastic Quads, 2013)
Heading into this game, I knew two things: the time control is G/60 and my opponent was 2100+. For me, I knew that short–time controls were not optimal conditions for me, especially against a high rated player. After a couple moves, I elected to go out of book in order to head straight into the middle game without wasting time in the opening. This may not be the best mentality, but I had looked at this novelty before the tournament, so I was comfortable with the idea.
1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c6 3. d4 d5
4. Bf4 I opted against the main line Tartakower 4. Bg5 to avoid theory. My idea is I want to trade dark squared bishops, making my opponent’s dark squares weak and emphasizing his bad c8 bishop. This positional idea is very similar to the Stonewall Dutch because while Black’s f7 pawn is not on f5, he still has the same bad c8 bishop. Against a Stonewall, White usually tends to trade off the dark squared bishop from a3 or f4, so here I opted for the same trade.
4…e6 5. e3 Bd6
6. Nh3?! This is the move. Up to this point, this game was a typical Slav Queen’s Gambit, but this changes the game a little bit. I figured that since the dark squared bishops were going to be traded, I might as well keep the tension than allow Black to develop his queen. If Black takes on f4, I will recapture with the knight, and if not I will take on d6 and then play Nf4. Perhaps from there, relocating the knight to d3 and then e5. The problem with Black’s position is that he has to take on f4 at some point to continue his development. In these QGD/Slav lines, Black usually plays Nbd7, but here, that is not possible until the bishops are traded.
6…Bxf4 7. Nxf4 Nbd7
8. cxd5 Probably too early. Right now, I have a positional advantage because my bishop on f1 is much better than Black’s on c8. While it is not a bad move, this allows for …exd5, opening up the bishop. Here both 8. Qc2 or 8. h4 would have been interesting waiting moves, as they both keep the tension in the center.
8…exd5 9. Bd3 Nb6 10. O-O
10…Qd6 While I went out of book with an unorthodox approach, I still have a respectable position. While Black has equalized, I got a very playable position using very little time on the clock.
11…Bg4 Black’s problems begin now. If we go back to the main opening principles, one of the most critical points is to get the king safe. While this position has the famous Carlsbad pawn structure, Black should castle kingside, and attack on the queenside. In this position, my pieces are better placed than Black’s. My plan is to slide the queen over to g3, threatening Nfxd5 with discovery on the queen. Black will have to spend a tempo moving the queen, giving me time for a dramatic h–pawn push. While this will not win yet, it is clear I have faster play on the kingside, whereas the slow minority queenside attack doesn’t necessarily yield any benefits.
12…g5?? Missing the point. Black was hoping to trade queens and perhaps reach a position where he has the better bishop but…
13. Nfxd5!! Qxg3 14. Nxf6+ Ke7
15. fxg3 Defending the knight! The game is over. I played very cautiously for the remainder of the game in order to limit my opponent’s counter play, but since he could not do much in the position, it was probably not necessary. When you reach a position like this and don’t see an immediate win, the key is to slowly improve your position and eliminate all hope for the opponent.
15…Be6 16. Nce4 h6 17. b3 Rad8 18. Nc5 Bc8 19. Bc4 a6 20. Rf2 g4 21. Raf1 h5 22. Nxh5 f5 23. Ng7 Rh7 24. Nxf5+ Ke8 25. Bg8 Rc7 26. Nd6+ Ke7 27. Rf7+ Kxd6 28. R1f6+ Be6 29. Rxe6+ Kd5 30. Rf5# 1-0
And in just thirty moves, I found victory. I wouldn’t say that it is all because 6… Nh3?! is aggressive (its probably more drawish), but, by playing consistently. My developed pieces were able to formulate a plan, and even made it possible to find a tactic! If you play coherent chess in the opening, you should always be able to reach a playable position. Note how in this game, I played and completed all of the basic opening principles, whereas my opponent never got his king safe. My opponent probably knew all of the main line Slav lines better than I do, but by going out of book, I got to focus more on playing good chess rather than relying on opening preparation.