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This month concludes my look at the 'Vorotnikov-Kogan-Hebden Attack' on a pessimistic note, from the white point of view, bearing in mind the current World champion's well-advised choice against it.
As a matter of fact, unless something radically changes in White's favour here (which I seriously doubt), I don't think that it is realistic for the first player to adopt this set-up on a regular basis, as Mark Hebden does, say.
On the other hand, it can be an interesting surprise weapon against those people (not genuine KID players) who have noticed that you do not feel completely at ease against a kingside fianchetto...
So, my personal advice is ... to keep it for just that purpose, alternating it with the Tromp, the London, the e4 and e3 Torre, according to whichever you estimate will cause the biggest discomfort to your opponent.
In any case, in general I believe this is the correct way to tackle our undemanding openings as White.

Download PGN of February '08 d-Pawn Specials games

Vorotnikov-Kogan-Hebden Attack [D00]

After Anand's 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bf4 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.Qd2 0-0 6.Bh6 Nc6! 7.Bxg7 Kxg7 8.Ne5 Bf5 the move 9.f3 is quite logical and clearly an improvement over last month's 9.e3, as White controls the crucial e4 square and threatens to expand on the kingside with g2-g4, dislodging the annoying bishop from f5.

It led to an interesting struggle after 9...Nb4!? 10.e4 dxe4 11.fxe4 Nxe4 12.Nxe4 Qxd4!:

where, despite Black's victory in Game One, I am inclined to prefer the piece rather than the 3 pawns dispersed in two majorities.

In fact, as it turns out, 8...Nxe5! (unlike Anand!) 9.dxe5 is the critical continuation, which saw 9...Ng4!? in Game Two, by an astonishing analogy, colours reversed, with December's 6...Ne4 7.Nxe4 dxe4 8.Bxg7 Kxg7 9.Ng5! Qd5 10.c4!

However 9...Ne4! 10.Nxe4 dxe4 is the 'forgotten refutation':

Only a glance at this position, where Black is ahead in the 'race of the weaknesses', e5 against e4, with a better bishop, should be sufficient to convince us that there is something wrong with the way White has handled the opening, if not the choice of the opening itself...

Indeed, the 'weakening' of the black king after the exchange of his fianchettoed bishop is misleading. On the other hand, the 2 tempi (Bc1-f4-h6xg7 against ...Bf8-g7) lost by White in addition to one more (Qd1-d2-c3 against ...Qd8-b6) dictated by the necessity to keep the queens on the board in order to defend the e5-pawn, were resolutely felt in Game 3.

After the fiasco of 8.Ne5 (?!), which is therefore entitled to be considered dubious in spite of having been adopted by the strongest ELO rated players against 6...Nc6!, White has to look for something else, if it exists.

Clearly the best chance is represented by 8.0-0-0! because of the trick 8...Ne4?! 9.Nxe4 dxe4 10.d5!, which Black fell into in Game Four, providing the opponent with a superior ending after 10...exf3 11.dxc6 Qxd2+ 12.Rxd2 fxe2 13.Bxe2:

8...Qd6!? is the first enhancement that crosses the mind. However, in order to avoid a possible repetition beginning with Nb5 Black played 8...a6 instead in Game 5 and obtained a strong attack down the b-file against the enemy castle after the recurrently suspect 9.Ne5? Qd6! 10.Nxc6 bxc6.

Initially, I would have thought that the lateral attack 6...c5 would have been the main concern of the VKH Attack, instead, as is often the case in the d-Pawn Specials World:

Nevertheless, having faced it absolutely unprepared with White, I have personally found 6...Nc6! much more worrying!

The following related games that I had selected beforehand for their topicality and the level of their protagonists, survey the important theory of this subline in a rather laconic style.

For instance, 7.Bxg7 Kxg7 8.e3 gave Black a strong attack in Game 6, although down the c-file this time, after 8...cxd4 9.exd4 Qb6 10.0-0-0? when White should have replied 10.Na4 instead.

8.0-0-0!? is interesting although it did not promise White much after 8...cxd4 9.Qxd4 Nc6 10.Qc5 e6 11.e4 Qe7 in Game 7.

Evidently critical is 8.dxc5, in reply to which 8...Qa5?, though 'logical', is a well known and severe inaccuracy, when played immediately, due to 9.e4!:

as in Game 8, taking advantage of the queens' vis-à-vis.

That is why the best move is 8...Na6 and after 9.Rd1 Nxc5 White got an edge in Game 9 thanks to Mark Hebden's discovery of the subtle intermediate move 10.Qd4!, pinning the Nf6 and generally improving the queen's position prior to grabbing the d5 pawn.

It means Black cannot take back on c5 immediately and, instead, should defend d5 preventively with 9...Be6! while parrying the threat of e2-e4 against the pinned d5 pawn:

As a result Black equalized with ease, at the very least, in Game 10 after 10.Qd4 and only now 10...Qa5! 11.e3 with the unexpected wrong footing 11...Nb4! 12.Bd3 Rac8 13.0-0 Qxc5.

To prevent that manoeuvre White should probably satisfy himself with 'only' playing against the knight on the edge by 9.Qd4!? and after 9...Qa5 10.a3! Qxc5 11.e3 Qxd4 12.exd4 with the threat of taking on a6. Black ignored this and lost quickly in game 11. Instead, a normal course suggests 12...Nc7 13.Bd3:

where White may be minutely better because of the awkward placement of the opposing queen's knight, in spite of the inferior pawn structure.

See you soon, Eric