As you may recall from Sunday’s video against the Dutch, we left with two critical questions:
1) Why is 2 c4 more common than 2 Nc3 against the Dutch?
2) How is Black supposed to stop the h-pawn push in the Leningrad Dutch – and can White make it even more effective?
While Black folded rather easily (until I missed a simple win), I thought this game was a good starting point for today’s article, which asks us not one, but two critical theoretical questions about one of Black’s most common responses to 1. d4. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, you can catch up here:
ChessBase’s online database gives us a really nice breakdown of White’s second move options, and as you may notice 2. Nc3 is not all that uncommon.
In fact, it scores rather well, 58% in 2163 games. While this line has received special attention from top grandmasters Alexander Grischuk, Santosh Vidit, and Erwin L’ami, it has been played several times by the famous theoretician Boris Gelfand, though he hasn’t brandished it since 2014.
While I will discuss both the positives and negatives of 2. Nc3 against the Dutch, please do note that most of its appearances in the Mega Database are from blitz tournaments – meaning that it may be used more as an element of surprise than an actual attacking weapon at the highest level. Let’s take a look at what can go wrong when Black doesn’t know how to handle 2. Nc3.
Jobava – Sandipan (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2014)
1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5
4. e3 e6 5. h4
5…Be7 6. Nh3 O-O 7. Qd2 Ne4
8. Nxe4 dxe4?! 9. O-O-O Nd7 10. Nf4 Nf6 11. Bc4
11…Qd6 12. Qa5!
12…h6 13. Qxf5 +-
13…Nd5 14. Qxe4 Bxg5 15. Nxd5 1-0
And on just the 15th move, Chanda Sandipan submits his resignation. Though 15… Bd8 could avoid immediate material loss, Black would find that his weaknesses on the light squares are just too much to bear after 16. Nc3 and 17. Bd3. With an undeveloped army, Black would face a kingside pawn storm with absolutely no counterplay. So what did this game tell us about the Veresov-like lines against the Dutch?
1) If Black cannot resolve the problems of his light squared bishop, it becomes extremely difficult to play for a win.
2) When White castles queenside, “textbook” Stonewall ideas aren’t effective.
Sure, this was a blitz game, and black wasn’t offering the best resistance, but these elements dictated the pace of the game. If Black wants to really maximize his chances, he needs to find a way to bust open the center. Let’s take a look at an antidote here from Vassily Ivanchuk.
Gelfand – Ivanchuk (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2012)
1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 c5
6…Bd7 7. Be2 Nc6 8. Ne5 Be7 9. Nxd7
9…Qxd7 10. dxc5
10…O-O 11. O-O Bxc5 12. Na4 Bd6 13. c4 d4!
14. exd4 Nxd4 15. Nc3 Rad8 16. Be3 Be5 17. Nb5 Nxb5 18. cxb5 Nd5 19. Bc5 Bxh2+!
20. Kh1 Bd6 21. Bxd6 Qxd6 22. Bf3 e5 23. Bxd5+ Qxd5 24. Qxd5+ Rxd5
25. Rac1 Rxb5 26. b3 g6 27. Rfd1
27…Rf7 28. Rc8+ Kg7 29. Rdd8 e4
30. g3 Re5 31. Kg2 e3 32. fxe3 Rxe3
33. Rc2 Rfe7 34. Kf2 h5 35. Rb8
35…R3e6 36. Kf3 Kh6 37. Kf2 Kg5
38. Kf3 Re3+ 39. Kf2 Kg4 40. Rc4+ R3e4 41. Rbc8 g5 0-1
What changed? Well, Black definitely took some initiative with 5… c5. While reaching the Stonewall position helps limit White’s light squared bishop, it was critical that Black take advantage of White lacking a pawn on c4. Just like some Veresov lines, White really lacks any dynamic play because he doesn’t have a way to contest the center. Through further research, most Super-GM success with 2. Nc3 against the Dutch is against lower rated players, so perhaps it’s just a weapon to catch a lower rated player off-guard or out of preparation.
So that answers the first question – when it comes to dynamic play, the straight-forward 2. c4 is favored. Look no further than last week’s post for proof!
Now, the h-pawn march against the Leningrad. What can Black do? Well first, let’s see the idea played in it’s true form, played by the sixth best player in the world, Hikaru Nakamura.
Nakamura – Barron (Toronto Open, 2009)
1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3
3…g6 4.h4 Bg7 5.h5 Nxh5 6.e4
6…fxe4 7.Rxh5 gxh5 8.Qxh5+ Kf8 9.Bh6
9…Bxh6 10.Qxh6+ Kg8 11.Qg5+ Kf7 12.Nxe4
12…Qg8 13.Qf4+ Ke8 14.Qxc7 Nc6 15.O-O-O
15…Qg6 16.Re1 Kf7 17.d5 Nb4 18.Nf3 d6??
19.Neg5+ Kg8 20.Qd8+ Kg7 21.Rxe7+ Kh6 22.Nf7+
22…Kh5 23.Re5+! dxe5 1-0
Black resigned before White could complete his masterpiece, as 24. Qh4# ends the game. Nearly a miniature from the American, and not a convincing defense in sight. So the question persists, what should Black do?
While Black has won games in this line, I can hardly see the middlegame positions being what Black desires from move 1. That’s why I’m going to suggest a different, more flexible move order for Black.
1.d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d6!
Not a brilliancy by Grandmaster-level thinking, but it turns out that this extra tempo takes White out of the line. The next move, 4. Nf3, the most common choice puts an end to the h2-h4 shenanigans since the sacrifice on h5 doesn’t work with the queen’s entry blocked.
While this move means Black must be prepared for different sidelines, it does mean that he gets more “Dutch-like” positions and can rely on intuition more than just pure calculation.
Well, that’s bad news for White – a great exchange sacrifice ‘refuted’ due to a slight move order change. In these past two weeks, I have easily been the most I’ve ever written about the Dutch. Expect a little bit of fresh air on Friday, it’s time to look at something new!