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This month's update continues my examination of the Tromp with 3.h4.

Download PGN of April '06 d-Pawn Specials games

Trompowsky [A45]

I don't know if any of the material presented this month explains why 'Mr Tromp' dropped the 2...Ne4 3.h4 line but I can affirm that, contrary to what I have read on the forum, it is not the 'solid' line 3...d5, with White "finding no way to fight for a big initiative" that hurts, but rather the thematic response 3...c5!:

It may not be so deadly as to explain the loss of interest in the variation all by itself, but it is damaging enough to make White think twice before conceding his Tromp bishop, much as in the 2...Ne4 3.Bh4 line, by the way.

After 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 Ne4 3.h4?! c5! 4.dxc5 Qa5+ 5.Nd2 Nxg5 (the main line, rather than the fascinating 5...Na6 we studied last month) 6.hxg5:

We start with 6...g6, where Black postpones the recapture on c5 in order to blockade the g6 square, but this may not be critical, as games 8 and 9 testify.

In the first two games White played 7.c3, forcing Black to take, 7...Qxc5 8.Nf3 Bg7 9.a4:

With the original and ingenious idea of a4-a5 to bring a heavy piece to h4 via a4. When only understood as a "an ambitious queenside space-gaining plan", it has worked in some games, after a hasty short castles from Black, White winning the important h-pawn.

In our selection, however, Black was aware of the hidden threat and, in Game 1, retreated his queen to a safer but also less active square by 9...Qc7, when White strangely renounced playing 10.a5 in favour of 10. e3 after which 10...Nc6 controlled the a5-square, and was soon followed by ...b7-b6, robbing much of the dynamism from White's position.

Better is the natural 9...Nc6 10.a5 (profiting from the situation of the black queen as 10...Nxa5?? 11.b4 Qxc3 12.Rxa5) but Black continued 10...d5 11.e4 Be6 12.a6 b6 13.Qa4 0-0! in Game 2, and at the moment White won h7, he might just as well have resigned as he was incapable of reorganizing his pieces against the counter attack developed by his opponent towards his king, left exposed in the centre!

Another rook lift poses Black problem however. White's 7.Rh4!, as in the next 4 games, throws the king's rook into the battle to compensate the annoying loss of the Tromp bishop and resourcefully using the opening of the h-file to indirectly render the c5 pawn immune from capture:

7...Nc6 8.Rc4 d5 What else? While a white c5-pawn is usually easy prey for Black, now it splits his forces in two. Thus, without gambiting something 'for real' this time, I do not see how Black can get organized otherwise. Following 9.exd6 Be6, White played with fire in Game 3 by trying to snatch a second pawn with 10.dxe7?, and although the acceptance of the sacrifice by 10...Bxc4 11.exf8+ Kxf8! was already critical for him, the move 10...Bxe7! offered Black full compensation for just one pawn (since White cannot hang on to g5) of two bishops and a massive lead in development. And this eventually led to a fantastic combination after 20.a3:

For a similar reason 10.d7+?! Bxd7 also proved inappropriate in Game 4, especially after 11.c3 (instead of at least hanging on to the material with 11.Nf3) 11...Be6 12 Ra4 Qxg5 when Black had equalized without much effort, whilst keeping the advantages of the position and without having given any material.

White got closer to the right idea in Game 5 with the sacrificial 10.e3!? Bxc4 11.Bxc4 (11.d7+ gives nothing because the d2-knight is pinned after 11...Kxd7) although Black now played 11...e6!? instead of the safe 11...0-0-0 which would have provided White with only subliminal compensation for the exchange. This greediness allowed White to mount a sort of 'phantom attack' after 12.b4 Qxg5 13.d7+ Kd8:

which is, however, probably easier to refute whilst sitting quietly in front of a computer than at the board! Just as he was nearing the end of the tunnel, worn-out by the opposing initiative and possibly short of time, Black committed the most evident and terminal blunder.

Once again it is 'Mr Trompopoulos' who enlightens us in this variation, HIS variation, in Game 6 with the luminous 10.c3! releasing the annoying pin on the a5-e1 diagonal:

Black replied with 10...exd6, which is probably the best move, actually, as 10...Bxc4 11.Nxc4 Qxg5 12.d7+ Kd8 13.Nf3 Qf5 14.Nd4! (among other tempting possibilities) gives White excellent compensation for the exchange. Later on Black missed an interesting chance of active play with the bishops, instead of a cramped position behind the isolani, and eventually blundered in a difficult position.

Black tried the original 7...Na6 in Game 7, implying the sacrifice 8.Rc4 b6. Although he finally went on to wrest victory, with a bit of luck, after the opponent had declined the offer, I do not think this idea is very sound, precisely because of the knight on the edge of the board. Actually, the same idea transposed to 7...Nc6 by 8.Rc4 b6!? intending 9.bxc5 Qxg5 looks more interesting.

Nevertheless, the main concern for White in this 2...Ne4 3.h4 line of the Tromp is what happens when Black takes on c5 immediately by 6...Qxc5, intending ...g7-g6 next move, but willingly allowing White to "detonate the kingside" with the sacrifice 7.g6 fxg6:

In fact, only a few hours of analysis suffice to reach the limits of this gambit which is the tabiya of this line. And the recipe to refute it is well-known since Black can play on his other assets (his bishop pair, central duo and fast development). What he should not do is be too conservative with his heap of pawns on the kingside (he can happily give one of them back!) but rather seize the centre, castle queenside to put his king in safety, and counter attack while his opponent wastes time recovering his investment.

Black forgot this principle in Game 8 but was fortunate that his opponent wasted a vital tempo in the attack.

Black was doing fine in Game 9 after 8.Nf3 Nc6 9.c3 (I am not sure about this move instead of 9.e3 as the c-pawn is generally kept in reserve for c2-c4 to attack the light squares in case of an early ...d7-d5. Anyway, the game transposed after) 9...d6 (instead of the stronger 9...d5!) and then after 10.e3 Bg4 11.Rh4 Black inexplicably backed down with 11...Be6?! instead of 11...h5! with the idea 12.Bd3 0-0-0! 13.Bxg6 e6 when there would have been a few menacing clouds hanging over White's head: ...Be7, ...Bf5, ...Ne5. Afterwards, Black was not as lucky in defence as in the previous game.

Till next month, Eric