Opening Ideas and Innovations: Taking the Next Step

Over the weekend, I decided to play a G/15 quad, and even though I was easily able to reach a score of 2.5/3 (my quick rating is low, so I played mostly inferior opponents), I saw a game in the top quad that inspired me to write today’s post.

Rea – Feliachi (G/15 November Quads, 2015)

Just as a disclaimer, I was in my second round game as this one was developing, so the move order may not be exact (the critical position will be reached regardless).

1.d4 e6

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This move 1… e6 is surprisingly flexible. Black can play 2… f5 for a Dutch while avoiding the Staunton Gambit, but he can also transpose into Nimzo, Queen’s Gambit, and Queen’s Indian lines. In this game, Feliachi opts for the lesser known queenside fianchetto lines.

2.Nf3 b6 3.e4 Bb7

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While Black has given up the center, he has succeeded in reaching unfamiliar territory. White needs to proceed with caution, as the e-pawn will be a target for the b7 bishop.

4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Qe2?!

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This move protects the pawn but seems dubious. Rea intends to push c2-c3 as he does later in the game, but delaying the development of his queenside army is not fundamentally correct. By pushing both of his center pawns forward, White conceded that both the e- and d- pawns may become potential targets. While it would be nice to play f2-f3 or c2-c3, White can’t afford to take away squares for his pieces to fight for the center.

5…Be7 6.Bf4

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It was at this point in the game where I thought perhaps Black was slightly better. It’s not quite clear what the bishop on f4 is doing, but this now gives Black time to make his first push for the center.

6…c5 7.c3 Nc6 8.Nbd2

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If White can castle and maintain his hold on the center, he will likely be equal or even better. However, Black gets an opportunity to intervene. White’s piece development has centered around the ability to push c2-c3 to stop moves like …Nc6-b4 (attacking the d3 bishop). With his next move, Feliachi forces White to surrender the structural integrity of the queenside.

8…cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4!

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The point of Black’s plan! White would have been better suited letting Black exchange on d3 to take control of the c-file. Black’s plan would be to push …d7-d5 in such position and seize control of the e4 square. Endgames in those positions will favor the pair of bishops, so Black holds a slight advantage.

10.Bb1 Ba6!

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Rea retreated his bishop to stay on the b1-h7 diagonal, but in doing so walks into the heart of Black’s plan. Now White is much worse because his king is stuck in the center of the board while Black’s rook will swing to c8 and expose White’s lack of coordination.

11.Qe3 Rc8 12.Nb3 Nc2+ 13.Bxc2 Rxc2

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Black takes control of the 2nd file with added threats of …Be7-b4+ looming. Uncertain of how to defend, White allowed Black to fork the king and queen on e2 and lost the game.

I remember watching this game and being really impressed with Black’s ability to punish White’s desire to play c2-c3. Though this …Nb4 and …Ba6 idea was clearly researched by Black before the game, it still made for a very instructional victory over a National Master.

With this inspiring opening play out of the way, I figured I might as well share Richard Rapport’s game at the European Team Championships last Sunday for team Hungary in their match in France. At only 19, Rapport has established himself as one of the world’s elite, specifically for bizarre opening preparation. In his game against Fressinet, he chose to open his game with 1. f4, giving the Bird’s Opening a rare showing at the Grandmaster level.

Since Gibraltar last January, 2015 hasn’t been the kindest to the Hungarian. Now under 2700 again, will the European Team Chess Championships allow Rapport to turn the page?

Rapport – Fressinet (European Team Chess Championships, 2015)

1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4

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Having worked with 1. f4 players before, this is not a move I’m too familiar with. White offers the c-pawn to gain central control, and if Black doesn’t take, the c-pawn puts pressure on Black’s center. That being said when Black plays …Bg7, it will be difficult for White to blunt the diagonal, thus offering Black some play.

3…c6 4.e3 Bg7 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.d4

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White’s structure now represents a flipped Botvinik set-up, where White will hope to use his control of the e5 square and his space to acquire an advantage.

6…O-O 7.Be2 e6 8.O-O dxc4 9.Bxc4 Nbd7 10.e4

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With this move, Rapport fills the “hole” in his structure on e4 while taking away Black’s strong point, d5, as a potential outpost. While this takes a tempo for having moved the pawn twice, the burden is on Black to find a way to develop his bad c8-bishop. Despite this game’s awkward beginnings, it seems like the balance has already shifted slightly towards White.

10…b5 11.Bd3 b4 12.Na4 c5 13.Nxc5 Nxc5 14.dxc5 Bb7 15.e5

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Black has found a way to develop his bad bishop on the long diagonal, but not without consequences. Already with a hyper-extended b-pawn, Black must now also worry about the d6 square. While this e-pawn push from Rapport gives up some light squares, he locks in the g7 bishop, making the dark squares hard to defend.

15…Nd5 16.Ng5 Qa5 17.Ne4 Rfc8 18.Kh1

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A prophylactic measure. At some point, White will want to play Ne4-d6, and this move allows him to do so as the king will no longer be exposed along the a7-g1 diagonal. While Black currently has better development, Fressinet struggles to play around Rapport’s Bind, as there’s no clear plan for Black.

18…Ba6 19.a3 Bf8 20.Bxa6 Qxa6 21.Nd6 Rc7?

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This move confines Black to passivity, as playing …Bxd6 would have been better. Fressinet must have feared the protected passed pawn on d6, but the bishop on f8 really doesn’t add value to Black’s set-up. 21… Rxc5? doesn’t work because 22. axb4 Qxa1 23. bxc5 and Black’s queen is awfully misplaced in the corner.

22.Bd2

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Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman states that dynamic play stops when the attacking player has a static advantage. Here with a knight firmly planted in Black’s territory, White can finally complete his development with ease.

22…b3 23.Rc1 Rb8 24.Rf3 Qa4 25.Rc4 Qa6

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This sequence shows how poor Black’s position really is. Unable to generate counterplay or stop White’s improvements, White has already strategically won, the rest is just technique.

26.Qc1 Qc6 27.h3 Rd7 28.Qf1 Qa6 29.f5 exf5 30.Rxf5 gxf5 31.Rg4+ fxg4 32.Qxa6

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Two rooks are generally better than a queen, but here Rapport also weakens Black’s queenside. With Black’s rooks out of reach from the king, White is left with the task of attacking a defenseless king.

32…Ne7 33.e6!!

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A very instructive moment from Rapport! Sometimes, if you can’t solve a position, it’s important to try changing the move order. If White had just tried 33. Qa4 Rc7 34. Qxg4+, after 34… Bg7, it’s unclear how to proceed. Now with this move, White offers a pawn so that after Qxg4+, the queen can follow up by taking on e6, infiltrating the Black camp.

33…fxe6 34.Qa4 Rc7 35.Qxg4+ Ng6 36.Qxe6+ Kh8 37.Nf7+ Kg8 38.Nh6+ Kh8 39.Qg8# 1-0

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Out of gamesmanship, Fressinet allows Rapport to deliver a checkmate after a long day in the office.

A great performance from Rapport, as his result was critical in securing a tie with the French in Round 3. After 4 games, Rapport has secured 3.5/4 for the Hungarian team in the European Team Chess Championships.

Make sure to check out other games from the event, as there have already been several heavyweight clashes. After Russia’s dominating win over Ukraine, will they be the favorites to run away with the event, or can Azerbaijan or Armenia catch up to the leaders? You can visit the event webpage here.

After losing to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian rebounded with a big win over reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen and team Norway. The Armenian has had the most difficult schedule, as he fell to Michael Adams in round 5.
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