Opening Exploration: Navigating the Najdorf

To follow up on last Tuesday’s video, I put together an analysis on the Be3 Najdorf, with improvements for Black. For those of you that missed the video, make sure to check out White’s refutation of my set-up:

For those of you who saw it, here are some of the highlights:

DarwinEvolution–leika (G/15 Internet Chess Club)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Nc3 Nf6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. f3

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This will be the tabiya position for today’s post. In the game, I veered off with 8… Nbd7, but today I will suggest the main line, 8… Be6.

8…Nbd7 9. Qd2 Qc7 10. g4 h6 11. O-O-O b5 12. Kb1 Bb7 13. a3 Rd8 14. Qf2!

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And now Black is paralyzed! No longer able to play …Nb6 to push …d7-d5, I no longer have an active plan, and must wait for White to take action.

I could have tried to insert …Nb6 earlier, with the idea of reaching c4, but even in those lines, my light squared bishop is slightly misplaced. Why did I go for this set-up? Let’s take a field trip back to the third video I ever posted to chess^summit, back in October 2014:

In that game, the set-up was justified in that game because White not only wasted several tempi but also with a bishop on e2, the Qf2 idea was never possible. That game was actually one of the last times I employed the Najdorf, so I never really worried about going beyond the analysis I had at that time.

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So that brings us back to the tabiya position. As I mentioned before, Black’s bishop is slightly misplaced on b7, so here 8…Be6 is the much more logical step going forward. Note how I can still play for …d7-d5 if the opportunity presents itself, but I also get more space on the queenside, while eying the b3 knight for a potential trade. With the bishop on b7, White can play a2-a3 to stop the b-pawn push without worrying about opening the c-file.

Our first game is from the 2013 Tal Memorial, featuring Boris Gelfand with Black against Fabiano Caruana.

One thing you should note about this opening is that unlike my other analysis posts, the calculation must be much more concrete. The Najdorf is not for the faint-hearted, and will punish the tactically weak!

Caruana–Gelfand (Tal Memorial, 2013)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. f3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. Be3 Be7 9. Qd2 O-O

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Thanks to modern computer analysis, castling is the most popular option for Black. While the play is sharp, Black’s king is actually safe with best play.

10. O-O-O Nbd7 11. g4 b5 12. g5 b4!

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The key to handling a race position is to not be afraid to be persistent! Black doesn’t have time to waste and immediately attacks White’s knight, leaving his own under attack.

13. Ne2 Ne8 14. f4 a5 15. f5 a4!

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Same idea again! While White’s attack is scary, Black has also gained a lot of momentum. It’s important to not reward White for simply going first.

16. fxe6 axb3 17. cxb3 fxe6

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What just happened? Black opened the a-, c-, and f-files for his rooks while simultaneously liquidating White’s pawn storm. Black’s queenside pawns were also traded down, but offer Gelfand a lot of tactical opportunities.

18. Bh3 Rxa2 19. Bxe6+ Kh8

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White also gained from the earlier trading. For White to make progress, he must take advantage of Black’s lack of a light squared bishop.

20. Ng3 Nc7 21. Bc4 Qa8

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The computer assesses this position as equal, but one of the great things about the Najdorf is that the positions are very rich, as each side take turns attacking the other.

22. Rhf1 Rxf1 23. Rxf1 Ra1+ 24. Kc2 Rxf1 25. Bxf1 d5!

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Black justifies giving up the bishop pair by making the thematic …d6-d5 push, eliminating his main structural weakness.

26. h4 d4 27. Bg1 Ne6 28. Qe2?

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Who would have thought that this would be the critical mistake? A seemingly innocuous choice from Caruana but this move gives Black a key tempo. By not maintaining pressure on the b4 pawn, Black gets time to put a knight on c5, as well as threaten …d4-d3.

28…Ndc5 29. Qc4 Nf4!!

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Black’s knight’s are both active while Caruana’s bishops have yet to join the fray. What’s wrong with 30. Qxb4? Gelfand must have seen 30…Bf8! protecting the bishop while threatening a discovery. Black is winning in that line after 31. Qc4 Qa2 -+ as Black can’t easily stop the c5 knight from coming into d3.

30. Qf7 Qf8 31. Qc4 g6 32. Bf2 Ne2!!

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Another punishing blow from Gelfand! If White takes the knight, he must be prepared for the black queen to enter the 2nd rank by taking the bishop on f2. Caruana chose the only move to try and hold the fort.

33. Nh1 d3+ 34. Kd1 Qf3

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Now busting through the kingside, Gelfand has managed to win on both sides of the board. At this point, it’s just technical.

35. Bxc5 Qxf1+ 36. Kd2 Nf4!

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A quiet move – Black plans to put the queen on e2 and follow through with checkmate, so White doesn’t have time to grab the bishop.

37. Ng3 Qg2+ 38. Kc1

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38. Bxe7 would have lost on account of 38… Qe8#

38…Qxg3 39. Kb1 Ne2 40. Qf7 Qe1+ 41. Ka2 Nc3+ 0-1

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Caruana resigned. There’s simply no way for White to make use of his active pieces, as a sample line would go 42. bxc3 Qd2+ 43. Kb1 Qc2+ 44. Ka1 Qxc3+ 45. Ka2 Qxc5, and the d-pawn will promote with no three-fold chances for White.

What does this game tell us about the Be3 lines of the Najdorf? Well, it’s extremely tactical, and Black can’t play submissively if he has any aspirations of winning. Another aspect I will mention is that to play the Najdorf takes a lot of preparation – for each side; working with computers, reading manuscripts, analysis far deeper than the post I have provided you with today.

I stopped playing the Najdorf shortly after breaking 1900, because I found that it simply put too much emphasis on opening knowledge when playing 2000+ rated opponents, and the Bg5 lines alone gave me enough of a headache to stop. If you’re looking for a fun, easy opening to learn, this definitely isn’t it.

Live Chess: Psychological Factors

Don’t believe that psychology plays a major factor in chess? Watch this video to see how my mentality changes after a mouse slip from my opponent … and how it almost cost me the game!

I didn’t think the level of chess was anything special this game, but after re-watching the video, I thought the shift in my mindset was very visible and a distraction to my calculation process. Take this as a lesson – the game isn’t over till its over!

Live Chess: Bad Pawns and Weak Squares

For today’s video, I played a G/15 ICC game which reached an instructive conclusion. After completing my opening development with relative equality, I just solidified my position while I allowed my opponent to create weaknesses of his own. Unlike my last Live Chess video where I was able to push the a-pawn to expose Black’s queenside weaknesses, this game was unique because I never really needed to establish a plan. I think the main takeaway from this game is when your opponent makes a move, you should not only ask why they make each move, but if their intentions put your position at risk. Once my opponent played Bc1-d2, Qd1-e2, White’s position became passive while I continued to expand on the queenside. Enjoy!

Winning with the a-pawn!

I played an interesting game earlier this week on the Internet Chess Club (ICC). After reaching a position similar in nature to my game against Jennifer Yu, my opponent deviated from the line, missing my one crucial resource – my space-grabbing a-pawn. Watch my video of the week as I manage to use this pawn to dominate the half-open c-file!

Enjoy this video? Check out my gofundme page to learn about my journey to the 2016 US Junior Open Chess Championships!

Beating a Cramped Opponent

I made a video this morning of a Live Chess G/15 game against a higher rated opponent. The position got interesting and became a mess when I played exf5 and let my opponent’s light squared bishop into the game. Overall, I think this was a fun game with a lot to learn from.

This weekend I have the Potomac Open, in which I will play my 700th USCF rated game. Should be a fun event, and a lot to look forward to with the looming Washington International.

Countdown to the State Championships

This past weekend I finished 2/5 at the Baltimore, tacking on a couple more rating points. With my last major tournament of the month completed, I am dedicating all of my time to prepare for the short time controls of the Virginia Scholastic State Championships next month.

To do this, I’ll be playing a lot of G/15 games to prepare, as well as a DC Chess League match next week. Why is this good for you? I’ll be uploading more Live Chess videos on my Youtube Channel! You can check out my first video of the month here.

A Diamond in the Rough

I’ve been preparing for my next tournament, the National Chess Congress in Philadelphia, and with a little less than a week to go, I’ve been playing a lot of games on the Internet Chess Club (ICC) to prepare. I’ve had a bunch of bad games, but this game against a Women’s International Master is definitely promising.

Me – loafyyy (WIM) – Internet Chess Club (G/15)

1. c4 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. Nc3 d6 5. d3 O-O 6.e4 Nbd7 7. Nge2 e5 8. O-O c6 9. h3 a5 10. Be3 Qc7 11. Rc1 Nc5

12. b3 I didn’t see how Black could stop my d4 push or render it useless, so I just strengthened my position before opening up the position.

12…Nfd7 13. d4 exd4 14. Bxd4 Nf6 15. Qc2 Re8 16. Rfd1 Qe7

17. f3 I couldn’t find any other moves that I liked, trading the bishop on f6 is too committal, and with this move, now Black has to deal with the d6 weakness.

17…Bd7 18. Qd2 Rad8 19. Bxf6 Qxf6 20. Qxd6 Ne6 21. Qd2

21…Ng5!  I missed this move in my analysis, and now the position becomes interesting as I only have a pair of knights against a pair of bishops.

22. Qe3 Nxh3+ 23. Bxh3 Bxh3 24. Rxd8 Rxd8 25. Rd1 Be6

26. Kg2 Makes efforts like …Qa1+ useless and offers protection for f3. This was more of a prophylactic measure.

26…Rxd1 27. Nxd1 Qd8

28. Ndc3 I was tempted to look at Nf2 with the idea of trading queens one d3, but Ndc3 move stops any queenside counterplay with the b-pawn. I also want to point out that even with a queen trade on d3, the knights are awkwardly placed.

28…h5 Threatening h4. Black wants to weaken my pawn structure and make my king unprotected in a quickly opening position.

29. e5?! This is probably not the best move, but I thought locking down the g7 bishop was crucial for me to having any winning chances. I didn’t really have any other practical moves so I opted for this instead.

29…Kh7 30. f4 h4

31.Ne4 I might not be winning, but I definitely have some sort of initiative. The bishops in this position are obsolete, and my knights are very strong.

31…hxg3  32. Ng5+ Kg8 33. Nxe6 fxe6

34. Nxg3 My plan is to park my knight on e4 and control d6 and f6. My opponent’s remaining bishop is very poor, thanks to my e4-e5 push from earlier.

34…Bh6 35. Ne4 Qd1

36. Kg3 Both my opponent and I have about 3 minutes left, so I really liked this move because my opponent has no checks in this position. It also frees my queen a little bit, because now there is no fork on the 2nd rank. Black is going to have to be more creative to draw this game.

36…Bf8 Relocating the bishop to a better diagonal, this leaves the f6 square very weak.

37. Ng5 Not my original plan, but I needed the Black queen to be inactive to have a chance to win.

37…Qd7 38. Qe4 Kg7

39. Nf3 Relocating my Knight to h4, I want Black’s queen off the open file. Black’s position is becoming harder to defend as her pieces are becoming quite tangled.

39…b6 40. Nh4 Qe8 41. Qd3 Be7 42. Nf3 Bc5

43. Ng5  I only have 30 seconds left, but I want to maneuver my knight back to e4 to have a better position.

43…Qe7? Pressed for time, my opponent made this mistake, inviting ideas like Nf6 followed by an advantageous queen trade. I think even if my opponent had more time from this position, it wouldn’t change the outcome of the game.

44. Ne4 Bb4 45. Nf6 Be1+ 46. Kg4 Bb4

47. Qd7 This wins, but I missed the cruel 47. Kg5 Qf7 48. Qh3 Kf8 49. Qh8+ Ke7 50.Qc8 c5 making the Black bishop useless and Black defenseless. I only had 20 seconds left, so I didn’t see this idea until after the game.

47…Qxd7 48. Nxd7 Kf7

49. Nb8? I think I needed to be more careful here. 49… c5 and the position is no longer clear. I think in this case I have to play 50. Na6 with the idea of moving to c7 and b5 to not get trapped, even in that case, it isn’t clear how the knight is useful to me. Meanwhile 49. Nxb6 is clearly winning!

49…Ke7 50. Nxc6+ Kd7 51. Nxb4 axb4 52. Kg5 With 8 seconds left, my opponent resigns. I had 16 seconds left at the game’s conclusion 1-0

This is probably one of the best games I’ve played in a while. A key takeaway from this game is how to make a knight v. bishop ending a thematic good knight v. bad bishop position. In this game, I did that by locking the center and creating outposts. Once I traded minor pieces on e6, my opponent was lost because I could use e4 as a vantage point for my knight, and my opponent could never attack it with her bishop.

With the National Chess Congress starting on Friday, I think I can aim for another Candidate Master Norm with play like this.


Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!