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Two Knights Defence 4 Bc4 Nf6 5 0-0 Nxe4 6 Nc3 [C56]
Earlier this year I was amazed to see the World Champion wheel-out 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 Bc4 Nf6 5 O-O Nxe4 6 Nc3?!:
It looks ridiculous, but it is actually quite dangerous, and to either avoid slipping-up yourself as Black, or to give a higher-rated opponent a nasty surprise as White, have a look at my analysis of Sliwicki, D - Azarov, S.
Incidentally, in the notes you will find some surprising names: World Champions Anatoly Karpov and Mikhail Botvinnik, plus the ultra positional Ulf Andersson!
Two Knights Defence 4 Bc4 Nf6 5 O-O Nxe4 6 Re1 d5 7 Bxd5 Qxd5 8 Nc3 Qa5 [C56]
The normal move is 6 Re1, of course, when the mainline runs 6...d5 7 Bxd5 Qxd5 8 Nc3. Now Black has a large choice of squares for his queen. 8...Qh5 has always been my preference on the few occasions I've reached this position, but it's very drawish. On top of that, the line that was recommended for Black in our Two Knights ChessPub Guide, actually appears to be a bit dodgy!
So, it's obviously time to have a good look at this line again, especially with a strong machine to help.
Jones, G - So, W features 8...Qa5, instead, which would probably be my choice nowadays, and Gawain replied with 9 Nxe4 Be6 10 Bd2 (instead of the more common 10 Neg5).
Amazingly, he was completely winning in only a few moves playing a refutation that has been known for over 100 years!
Two Knights Defence 8 Bd3 Nd5 9 h4 Nf4 [C58]
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Nf6 is the move order Black wants to play, as 4 d3 cuts-down on White's options (the Giuoco lines with c3 and d4), and increases Black's own possibilities (for instance, he might not want to play ...Bc5). The one downside is that White can go pawn grabbing with 4 Ng5 d5 5 exd5 Na5 6 Bb5+ c6 7 dxc6 bxc6, and this is a theoretical problem for Black, and maybe a stylistic one, too.
Looking at the games played over the last few months I couldn't help but notice that White almost invariably plays 8 Bd3 nowadays, instead of the classical mainline with 8 Be2. This trend is very striking, could it simply be fashion or is this move actually stronger? It is slightly preferred by Stockfish 14, on my computer anyway.
The mainline continues 8...Nd5 and now Van Dael, S - Wernberg, H went on 9 h4 Nf4 10 Bf1 h6, Black later introduced a strong novelty and was soon winning, but then first let the win slip, before blundering and actually losing.
Still, this line seems fine for Black.
Two Knights Defence 8 Bd3 Nd5 9 Nf3 Bd6 10 0-0 Nf4 11 Nc3 [C58]
Sindarov, J - Matlakov, M features the mainline 9 Nf3 Bd6 10 O-O Nf4 11 Nc3 Nxd3 12 cxd3 O-O 13 Re1 c5:
The doubled white d-pawns on an open file do look ugly, but opening the c-file has its upside: White will play 14 b3, 15 Ba3, 16 Ne4 and 17 Rc1 to put maximum pressure on the c5-pawn. With 'perfect' play a rook endgame is reached where White has an extra d-pawn but where his kingside is too weak to hope for any realistic winning chances.
Still, not much fun for Black, White is playing for two results, as chess commentators are fond of saying.
Two Knights Defence 8 Bd3 Nd5 9 Nf3 Bd6 10 0-0 0-0 11 Re1 f5!? [C58]
Possibly Black should offer a second pawn? Instead of 10...Nf4 Carlsen preferred 10...0-0 11 Re1 f5!? against Wesley So earlier this year, boldly sacrificing the e-pawn. The immediate threat is ...e5-e4 so White doesn't have a lot of choice:
In the mainline Black wins a piece for one further pawn, but his pieces become misplaced and his king a little exposed and sharp complications ensue.
Have a look at Janik, I - Nasuta, G for the key analysis.
Spanish, Yurtaev Variation 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O Bc5 6 c3 b5 7 Bc2 d5 8 a4 [C78]
Both Victor and French GM Olivier Renet have analysed the sharp variation 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O Bc5 6 c3 b5 7 Bc2 d5 for ChessPublishing in the past, but only with the mainline 8 d4. Instead, if you let Stockfish cogitate long enough it starts to favour 8 a4!?:
The idea is to create a weakness on b5 or b4 before playing d4. This leads to wild complications where Black must sacrifice a piece, and where White simply refuses to develop his queenside.
Don't miss the exciting game Ivic, V - Aronian, L.
Spanish Opening, Anti-Marshall with 8 h3 Na5 [C88]
And, last but definitely not least, the interesting World Championship tussles in the Anti-Marshall.
In the first game of the match Nepo played 8 h3 and the World Champion answered with the surprising 8...Na5!? sacrificing the e-pawn but gaining the bishop pair:
Play later entered an endgame where Black had long-term compensation for the pawn, and drew easily, he even regained his pawn and had a slight advantage at one point, see Nepomniachtchi, I - Carlsen, M.
Anyway, the challenger seemed convinced as he didn't repeat his 8th move again.
Spanish Opening, Anti-Marshall with 8 a4 Rb8 [C88]
In game 3 Carlsen answered 8 a4 with the mainline 8...Bb7, but in games 5 and 7 he preferred the rare 8...Rb8:
This seems like an excellent alternative to 8...Bb7 and 8...b4, and to see why have a look at Nepomniachtchi, I - Carlsen, M.
Until next month, Tony.
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