London System [A46]
An objection to the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bf4 c5 4.c3 is naturally 4...cxd4 5.cxd4 and then 5...Qb6!:
In Game One White correctly defended the pawn with 6.Qc2! but after 6...Nc6 7.e3 Nb4 he went backwards with 8.Qc1?! and Black, in spite of not finding the refutation 8...Qa5! 9.Nc3 Qf5, obtained good play before erroneously opening the position when he was not quite ready.
6.Qb3 is the correct reaction and after 6...Nbd5 7.Qxb6! (instead of the poor 7.Bg3, as in Game 2) 7...axb6 8.Bg3 Nb4 winning a pawn? 9.Na3!:
a fine Novelty and the cornerstone of my preparation in this less common way to support the d4-pawn.
5...b5!? Also appears critical in this situation and I read in John Cox's "Dealing with d4 Deviations" (Everyman 2006) that this move was recommended by Andrew Martin, and it is suggested in ECO too:
I believe 6.Nc3 a6 7.g3 is an adequate approach but White opted for the testing 6.a4 in Game 3 to which the opponent replied 6...b4? When the development of the knight to d2 will perfectly fit in with White's plans. Instead, 6...bxa4! poses problem for, of course, b2 is obviously more vulnerable than a7 and the knight will have a superb square on b4, possibly anchored by a pawn on a5. Then the resulting gambits with White playing for e2-e4 seem insufficient.
6.e3 as in Game 4 (by a charming transposition) is the move White plays almost automatically in this position, regrettably giving up on the idea of playing e4 in one go. Then it is not clear that "White does not have any inspiring options" from here as John Cox states...
On the other hand 4.e3 Qb6? made Game 5 look like Black was committing hara-kiri after 5.Nc3 cxd4 6.exd4 Qxb2 7.Nb5:
Instead, 4...cxd4! immediately is what worries me (although Black regularly makes this move later), when White does not have the occasion to recapture "the good way" after the further c2-c3. My game against Philippe has really vaccinated me against willingly playing against this pawn structure!
Having trained and formed some of the best French players (Bacrot, Fressinet...) with a method based on theoretical preparation, I have acquired a certain knowledge in the domain of fundamental opening mechanisms. That is why I only cover what seems relevant to me at the moment I do it in this section, at a topical average level of over 2400, although my own games may not always reflect this... and so people may complain that they don't see their pet line treated in these columns more often.
Thus, in January of this year, apart from a digression on 2...Ne4 3.h4, I had not dealt with the Tromp for almost a year and a half, which coincided with my dropping of the line in August 2005.
The first reason is that I lost faith in the variation after an impressive series of setbacks of which I will show some examples in the updates to come. And faith is the most important thing when you deal with not entirely correct openings (i.e. the totality of the d-Pawn Specials corpus) since one has to realise that if the World's top chessplayers play 2.c4 or 2.Nf3 and 3.c4 there must be a reason... !
Faith brings you confidence in what you play, and confidence makes you play better, which is essential in non-mainstream openings. That is why you should not analyse them too deeply and rather concentrate on ideas, and a feeling for the position. Because if you do analyse too much it can only bring you questions, and then doubt hangs over your head like the sword of Damocles in some critical lines. Then it is time to change openings and look for something 'new', or rather fresher, which is easy in the static d-Pawn Specials family. Coming and going between the Tromp, the Torre and the London approaches: this is the way I understand my devotion towards the d-Pawn Specials universe.
The second reason is a lot more concrete: today White is experiencing problems everywhere in the Tromp. Problems I had anticipated... and previously mentioned in this section.
And the very first of these problems, which has always been my main concern and the reason why I dealt with it so extensively in these columns, trying to persuade myself I could find a playable position according to my standards, remains 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c5!:
In the next 3 games White tried the Vaganian gambit approach, 3.d5 Qb6 4.Nc3 Qxb2 5.Bd2 Qb6 6.e4 but came up against strong preparation in Game 6 after 6...d6 7.f4 e6 8.Rb1 Qc7 9.Bb5+ Nd7 10.fxe6 fxe6 11.Nf3 a6 12.Bc4 Nb6 13.Rxb6 Qxb6 14.e5 dxe5 15.dxe5 Ng4!:
when Wells disputable choice of 15...Nd7 still awaits the test of practice!
And White also hit a snag in Game 7 with the passed pawn policy 6...e5 7.f4 d6 8.fxe5 dxe5 9.Nf3 Nbd7 10.Rb1 Qc7!? When Black inaugurated a new defensive set-up with the queen here and bishop on e7 leaving the d6-square available for a strong blockading knight.
Like Wells, (and having analysed so many other unsuccessful attempts...) I am also now inclined to consider the kingside bind policy of 8.f5 to be the most promising for White. He says something very interesting about this: "I think it is quite possible that the only barrier to White scoring very heavily here is the gambiteer's psychological or stylistic aversion to this type of blocked position!"
Anyway, in Game 8 Black tried De la Villa's defensive set up with ...h7-h6, ...Nh7, ...Be7, ...Qd8, and ...f7-f6 but this did not prove sufficient to prevent White from breaking through with fatal consequences. As in Bricard-Nevednichy (see the PGN Archive) 8...h5! is the move that considerably slows White down.
Game 9 shows two occasions where my pet line of 3.dxc5 got semi refuted. Reaching the position of the main game after 3...Na6 4.Qd4 (my idea) 4...e6 5.Nc3 Bxc5 6.Qh4 Be7! with lots of similarities to the fascinating 2...c5 3.Nc3 Tromp, and while it is probably OK for White, it does not resemble anything I usually practice with either side.
The result, therefore, was that my feelings about it were not comfortable and that I had already been forced to endure an unusual dose of stress for only 18 moves, which was reflected on my clock. As a consequence, when the position required handling in the same dynamic, energy-consuming style, I was not in full possession of my powers and somehow blew it.
Game 10 introduces the line 3...Bxf6 gxf6 4.d5 Qb6 5.Qc1 f5 6.e3 (which I have not dealt with so far), intending 6...Bg7 7.c3 d6 8.Nh3 Nd7 9.Nf4 Nf6 10.Bc4:
Which seems to acknowledge the idea that White has realized that this set-up may be the only more or less stable one for him in this line.
Nevertheless, the light-squared bishop is defensively placed on c4 and subject to Black's ...b7-b5 when he should be on d3 or h3 to pressure the f5-pawn in the hope that the reply ...e7-e6 or ...e7-e5 would not be possible because of the newly created weakness on d6 - precisely attacked by his knight on... c4!
As a result he lacks a clear course of action to unbalance the position when Black seems the only one to be able to undertake things with that purpose ...
See you soon, Eric