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The ideal 'd-Pawn Specials' set-up for White with the structure of d4-e3 against Black's d5-e6, with the c8-bishop shut in, is c1-bishop out on f4, g5 or h4, pawn on c3 against an opposing pawn on c5, Nf3, Nd2, and the king's bishop harmoniously placed on d3.
This update puts the accent on the Tromp at a high level, for a change, although various openings may transpose into the same positions, in particular the Torre Attack. As we shall see, there is always a way for Black to thwart White's objective ... unfortunately.

Download PGN of December '08 d-Pawn Specials games

Trompovsky/Torre [D03]

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 e6 3.Nd2 h6 4.Bh4 has long been my suggestion against 2...e6, when 4...c5 is then critical. However, Black continued with 4...d5 in Game One, and after 5.e3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ngf3 had the opportunity to develop his king's bishop to an apparently more active square than usual: 7...Bd6 8.Bd3 0-0 9.0-0. Black seems to have opted for a consistent set-up, but nonetheless, not one of his moves is totally uncompromising.

For instance, White was now getting ready to play e3-e4 with a certain force due to the fork threat of e4-e5 when the mistake 9...e5?! came:

Actually Black may lack any really better options at this stage, but after 10.dxe5 Nxe5 11.Nxe5 Bxe5 12.f4! Bd6 13.e4 White enjoyed a strong initiative, when, rather than 13...c4?! 14.Be2 Qb6+ 15.Bf2 Bc5 16.e5, 13...Be7 is the most stubborn although Black did not demonstrate this in the note to the brief Game Two.

Black can just break the pin by 7...Be7 instead, and after 8.Bd3 0-0 we get another position where the insufficient central cover authorizes a more London System approach by 9.Ne5!:

Game 3 continuing 9...Nxe5 10.dxe5 Nd7 11.Bg3 (With Black having shown the address of his king prematurely, White must keep pieces on the board to attack) 11...Qb6?! 12.Rb1 Rd8 13.Qg4 Nf8 14.Bf4! By weakening both the g6 and h6 squares, it was clear that the move ...h7-h6 did not combine well with ...Be7 against the white attack.

Replace the knight on c6 with one on d7 now, and this is a 3rd set-up against which White delayed my favourite attacking move 9.Ne5 in Game Four to privilege development by 9.0-0!?, but then 9...b6! 10.Ne5 Bb7! (controlling c6) 11.f4 Ne4, blocking the Bd3, highlighted the main feature of Black's development:

Taking on e5 by 10...Nxe5 11.dxe5 Nd7 12.Bg3 can prove too venomous, even in the case of reciprocal short castling, and Black learned this to his cost in Game 5.

Nevertheless, the trickiest set-up for White to meet is the combination of Nbd7+Bd6 with 8...Qc7!, leaving the Bh4 looking 'stupid' prior to short castling:

In Game 6, the simple plan ...c5-c4, ...b7-b5, and ...Bb7 offered Black easy equalization, at the very least.

There exists another problem in relation to the White set-up with a Torre bishop when Black (with a bishop on e7, however) postpones the lateral...c7-c5 attack so that this square may be available for the king's knight via d7 in case of Nf3-e5.

This was brilliantly illustrated by Game 7 where, after following the first five moves of game 1, Black deviated with 5...Nbd7 6.Ngf3 Be7 7.Bd3 0-0 8.0-0 b6 9.Ne5?! - This was the last moment to try to reproduce the treat of game 5 (exactly the same position but with the moves ...c7-c5, c2-c3 added) while the square e4 is still guarded, but instead 9.c3 Bb7 10.Qb1!? is the appropriate adaptation, controlling the vital square e4 with the idea 10...c5 11.b4!? - 9...Nxe5! The best reaction this time, 10.dxe5 Nd7 11.Bxe7 (11.Bg3 Nc5 when without his light-squared bishop, White can forget about attacking on the kingside.) 11...Qxe7 12.f4:

Black is just fine with the plan ...a7-a5, ...Nd7-c5, ...Rfd8.

Anticipating this sort of gridlock of White's most active options, I once tried 7.h4!? myself, in Game 8, trying to take advantage of the fact that Black had not forced my bishop to this square. Unfortunately, this also implied parting freely with him after 7...c5 8.c3 Qc7 9.Bxf6 Nxf6 in order to go forward with 10.Ne5:

However, the dark-squared bishop turned out to be cruelly missing in the development of the attack.

Finally, in some positions where Black takes control of the e4 square by rapidly developing his queen's bishop to b7, White may be free to install his knight to e5 in return, as after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c3 d5 3.Bg5 e6 4.Nd2 Be7 5.e3 b6 6.Nf3 Bb7 7.Ne5. Nevertheless, he has to be aware of the manoeuvre 7...Nfd7!:

8.Bf4 Nxe5 9.Bxe5 0-0 10.Bd3 Nd7 11.Bg3 which brought Black approximate equality in Game 9.

But what personally troubles me most about any early commitment of the queen's knight to d2, as in game 1's mainstream move order, is the combination of the already powerful Nbd7/Bd6 without playing ...c7-c5 by 5...Bd6! 6.Ngf3 Nbd7 where Black prepares to liberate himself with the thematic advance ...e6-e5.

The question 7.c4 is appropriately answered by 7...c5!, so White tried 7.Bg3 with the idea Ne5 in Game 10, but instead of the lame 7...Bxg3 8.hxg3 c6 Black could have at least equalized by 8...c5! 9.c3 Qc7:

The ...e5 advance will soon liberate his position.

See you soon, Eric