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This month's update takes a close look at some hot 2...c5 Tromp theory involving a pawn sac. At the risk of repeating myself, I consider 2...c5 to be the most instructive line.

The reason behind this insistence is simply the economy of time and means devoted to one opening system. When you have studied its lines, picking up its ideas and assimilating its subtleties on the way, and then made up your mind, according to your taste, between the wide choice of White's 3rd and 4th moves, not only are you ready to get a satisfactory position out of the opening with the Tromp (and consecutively 1.d4), but you also capable of orientating yourself, without specific knowledge, in the game's twists and turns, even when they are unfamiliar.

Well, at least it has worked out that way for me!

Download PGN of August '04 d-Pawn Specials games

2...c5 Trompovsky [A45]

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c5 3.d5 Qb6 4.Nc3 Qxb2 5.Bd2 Qb6 6.e4:

There are subscribers of this section who consider that attacking the enemy king is an absolute necessity in chess, at least with White - fair enough, it has always been acknowledged to be the very foundation of the game - and, for that purpose, are ready to "pitch a (central) pawn early in off-beat openings" (Yermolinsky,A)

Importantly it is a side pawn which has been sacrificed and not a central one, but above all, there was no way for the opponent to decline it advantageously: When White had thrown down the gauntlet with his 3rd move, Black had to take up the challenge which leads by force to this position.

So this is really serious opening gambit stuff, which as far as my conception of 'soundness' is concerned, should never go outside these bounds. And, although I would rather be Black (which is just a matter of taste), I believe that the chances are truly balanced here.

Having spoken with various colleagues about this position, including GM Nijboer himself, the hero of the Wijk aan Zee B 2004 Tromp battle, and as I just found out last week, the writer of a dedicated article on this very subject in the last NIC yearbook (which more or less confirmed my general assessment from Black's point of view, although he was more circumspect and less enthusiastic than me!), my intimate conviction is that, first, it is only because of this line that 2...c5 has not become the main line of the Tromp (in terms of the number of games actually played), and second, reciprocally, this is why it is so popular for Black among titled players! Why? Because they believe in the virtues of material and analysis, symptomatic of the evolution of modern chess!

That said, Game one continued 6...e5 (the most promising defence as we already saw last year in the September update) 7.f4 d6 8.Nf3 Nbd7 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Bc4:

This is the normal move for which there are pros and cons: for instance ...Nb6 at some point attacking the bishop. In our previous reference game Kanep developed this bishop to e2!? (after Rb1, Qd8) which was a novelty enabling the typical use of the c4 square for the king's knight, via f3 and d2, but also the counter sacrifice ...c5-c4 for the opponent.

10...Be7 11.Rb1 Qd8 12.Bg5 h6? 13.d6!!

'A thunderbolt in a serene sky', initiating a festival of sacrifices, which looked very much like home preparation, where the opening of the a2-g8 diagonal rapidly proved fatal for Black.

4 rounds later, however, in Game 2, Nijboer improved with 11...Qd8, a good prophylactic move, the idea of which may have been conceived during the game he played in the round in between! To play the same, sharp, non-mainstream variation in 3 consecutives games with the same colour must be an all time record!

Later on White declined a tacit repetition of moves because of his space advantage and a strong protected passed pawn, which, as it was difficult for Black to find an enterprising plan in order to use his extra material, offered him good compensation in practical play. However, White somehow mishandled the position and should have been mated after a terribly slack move... before then coming out with one of the most 'shocking' swindles I have ever seen at this level!

Indeed, 2 rounds earlier Nijboer had been confronted in Game 3 with a slightly different order of moves: 7.Rb1 Qd8 8.f4 d6. Since the inclusion or not of the rook's move does not appear significant, this is one important point of this update: having limited Black's choice of options as much as possible (noticeably the possibility for him to postpone the development of his queen's knight to d7 in order to ensure a better control of the key square d6), White should now take on e5, as played against the Dutch GM in rounds 3 and 7. Instead, the future female World Champion played 9.Bc4, authorizing Black to gain some breathing space by taking on f4, which he did one move later just before castling. After this he eventually won an exchange and the game when White tried to complicate a position where the compensation for the pawn was less obvious than in the 2 previous games.

This idea of taking on f4 as soon as possible was again employed by Black in Game 4, which went 6...e5 7.f4 d6 8.Nf3 exf4!?:

A double-edged move which looks quite playable. The opening of the position presents White with a larger 'tactical space' but, in return, offers Black better perspectives to develop his game and make use of his extra-pawn if he manages to survive White's initiative.

Somehow, however, he did not survive! After conventionally developing his king's bishop to e7 while, in this different structure, the opponent chose the more active square d3 for his, he succumbed to a tricky attack.

In Game 5, with 7.Rb1 Qd8 interposed, as in game 3, Black was more successful, opting for a Benoni development of his king's bishop on the long diagonal after White, as in the previous game, missed the critical 10 Bb5+. Black won effortlessly, facing dull uninspired play from his opponent.

As in the 2 previous games, with the same idea of agreeing to take risks in return for larger winning prospects, 6...d6 7.f4 e6

is another critical line for the system where White has to make use of his mobile centre and advance in development in order to maintain some initiative to compensate for the pawn.

Besides, it is interesting to note that 7...e5!?, which was the actual move order of game 4 (and rather tricky because it is somewhat confusing), presents White with a decisive choice he cannot postpone about the pawn structure and consequently the type of position sought. Thus, both moves, though not played with the same spirit, lead to exactly the same position if White wishes to play 8.dxe6 immediately as in Game 6 where Black recaptured with the bishop: 8...Bxe6:

9.Rb1! (With b7 now unprotected it is a good moment to activate this rook along the open file) 9...Qc7 10.f5!? Bc8?! (Black should have played 10...Bd7) 11.Nh3!:

The whole idea is to keep the g4 square under control, to be ready to throw the g-pawn into the battle. In some variations White also manages to take advantage of the placing of the opposing queen by installing this knight on d5 via f4.

This is exactly what happened, Black got 'steamrolled' on the kingside and dropped a piece!

White followed 'theory' in the remaining 2 games with 8.Rb1:

This is a kind of a mystery for me as I have always been told not to chase away (and therefore replace) an enemy piece that was misplaced. And the black queen does seem, here, to correspond to this rule...

That is why I think that 8.dxe6 fxe6 9.e5 is the critical continuation of the 6...d6 7.f4 e6 variation; and only if 8...Bxe6 then 9.Rb1! as in the previous game.

In Game 7, 8...Qc7 9.dxe6 fxe6 10.Nf3 a6 11.e5?! followed, which seems a bit strange now, in connection with Rb1, and I would not recommend it at this stage. Compared to 9.e5 (without Rb1 & Qc7), given in the note, this move does not have the same effect now for, with a knight already developed on f3, the White queen cannot 'weigh' on Black's kingside the same way... As a result White eventually lost a second pawn on e5 after 11...dxe5 12.fxe5 Nfd7!, and after this Black defended precisely.

Game 8 saw the correct 11.a4 Nc6 12.Bc4:

Now, in connection with the idea f4-f5, White obtains a different type of compensation (to the initiative generated by the central thrust e4-e5), which he transformed into a crushing attack after Black forgot to castle.

Till next month! Eric Prié.