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This month I will continue the exploration of the 'Neo Neo-London' that has recently attracted a new bunch of strong grandmasters.

Download PGN of January '13 d-Pawn Specials games

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The London System 2 Bf4, 4.Nc3 [D00]

The tabiya position results from 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.Nc3 (?!) Qa5!? 5.dxc5:

Thus, instead of the easy equalizer 4...cxd4 5.exd4 a6, Black has conquered the centre but will lose time parrying the opposing main idea of Nc3-b5 prior to recapturing the pawn. Can White take advantage of this?!

The answer could have been curt in Game 1 following 5...Nbd7? Had White not missed the golden tactical opportunity of 6.Qd4! with the idea 6...e5 (winning a piece?!) 7.Bxe5 Bxc5 8.Qa4! Alas:

5...e6?! Is probably not as bad as 5...Nbd7? but is at least seriously dubious - White showed a strong idea in Game 2 which should serve as a guideline in all those configurations where his knight stands on c3 and his bishop on f4: 6.a3! (Forcing Black to lift the pin on the c3-knight) 6...Qxc5 7.Nb5 Na6 8.b4!Qb6 9.Nf3 (9.Be5! immediately is probably more precise) 9...Be7? 10.Be5!

This is White's optimal plan as glimpsed in Georgiev-Zhu Chen in the archives:
-relocate the bad c3-knight to b5 to provoke the misplacement of Black's queen's knight on a6 which prevents his annoying counterpart from being dislodged by ...a7-a6,
-gain control over the c5 square by a2-a3, b2-b4 in order to ensure the stability of the grip,
-be ready to stop the set-up ...Qb6/...Bd7 (attacking the Nb5) with either Qd1-d4 protected by a piece or Be5-d4 directly (which also serves against the harassment ...Nf6-h5),
-and finally attack Black's strong d5-pawn using the liberated c-pawn.

For all these reasons it is clear Black that cannot do without 5...a6.

6.a3!? White has no clear reason to delay this move which is an essential element of his set-up when Black has prevented Nb5 by the symmetric advance of his a-pawn. Indeed, if it is the bishop which takes back on c5, Black will be able to retreat his queen to the safer square d8 and/or his bishop to a7 in addition to the traditional squares d6 and e7 against the threat of b2-b4. Furthermore, the queen on c5 is subject to the attack Nc3-a4 which is important in some lines when it is obviously not the case on a5.

6...Qxc5 7.h3?! however appeared unnecessary at this stage as in game 3 when Black profited from the 'donkey's ears' (a3-h3) time loss by 7...Nc6 8.Nf3 e6 9.Bd3 Bd6!:

as there is no b2-b4 or Na4 because the white king is still on e1.

7.Nf3 is the move, for White has nothing to fear from 7...Bg4?! as in game 4. On the contrary, I do not like this move for Black which loses time in the process of castling kingside as well as the useful extra tempo h2-h3 (or the pair of bishops) granted to White. It also leaves b7 undefended for no great reward in terms of pressure added on the opposing position.

It would be the opposite in case of the exchange ...c5xd4-e3xd4 as we saw last time.

In this case, however, as in the Veresov, Black should concentrate on the 'bad' Nc3 and his own strong pawn on d5 rather than be worried by his locked-in c8-bishop which will always find scope in this non-fixed structure.

7...e6 is normal when basically White has 3 alternatives in these reversed Chigorin related positions:
-Develop his king's bishop to his most active square d3 and prepare e3-e4 which should be rapidly followed by the activation of his f-pawn to f4. One advantage is that the 'bad' Nc3 may recycle via e2. However, the main drawback (in addition to a possible loss of time - 'the donkey's ears': a3, h3... if White has to preserve his London bishop against ...Nh5) is the obstruction of the d-file facilitating the interposition ...Bd6 and the subsequent regain of control of the e5 square by Black.
-Develop the king's bishop to e2 in order to maintain some pressure along the d-file,
-Leave the king's bishop at home, castle queenside after Qd2 and push the kingside pawns, which is at the very least double-edged because of the semi-open c-file for the opponent and the point of contact a3 when Black also sets his pawns in motion on the opposite wing.

White chose the first option in game 5 and was rewarded following 8.Bd3 Nc6 (8...Bd6! Was called for) 9.0-0 Nh5? 10.Bc7! b5 11.Ne5 g6?:

When 12.Ne4!! would leave Black in big trouble.

6.Bxb8?! Rxb8 7.Qd4 e6 8.b4 Qc7 looks like a risky continuation for White with the opponent ready for ...b7-b6 and soon in a position to create threats on the long black diagonal. It inaugurates a great deal of complications after which White might only possibly hold following 9.Na4 Be7 10.Rc1 "Probably the best move, evacuating the rook off the long diagonal with the idea of meeting ...Ne4 with c2-c4." as I mentioned in the past. However, he did not in game 6 after the less precise 10.Nf3 Nd7!:

When play starts with 4...a6 5.dxc5, instead, it opens the way to independent alternatives to the standard 5...Qa5 such as 5...Nc6!?, implying a pawn sacrifice in return for the central possession after 6.a3! e5 7.Bg5 Be6 8.b4 as in game 7.

5...e6?! appears a lot more suspect after 6.Na4!, for apart from the pseudo sacrifice 6...Bxc5 parting with his important dark-squared bishop, it turned out to be a genuine gambit for Black in return for obscure compensations after 6...Nbd7 7.b4 in game 8.

Finally, in the light of the last 2 updates, 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4 may not be such a weak entry to the London universe... Indeed after the recommended 3...c5 4.e3 would transpose. Then it may represent a certain surprise value with the immense advantage of bypassing all the Indian systems after 1...Nf6 2.Nc3...

White did not opt for this in game 9, nor for the hardly cheering 4.dxc5 Nc6 5.Nf3 d4 6.Nb1:

which has been the unexpected subject of one thread on the forum, but instead he went for 4.e4!? an interesting reminder of the Morris Gambit.

See you soon, Eric

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