1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6?! In my opinion this awkward queen's knight development only makes sense after 2.c4 because of the dynamic counter attack against the d4 pawn. Trying to adapt it to 2.Nf3 is tempting but should lead to an immediate disadvantage, provided that the opponent is not too greedy and has well assimilated the ways to combat the proper Veresov with 3...Nbd7!
To me it is just as if Black, with a touch of casualness, was trying to make the idea of the Budapest gambit work after 2.Nf3, instead of being bothered to become acquainted with another, independent set-up.
Thus, in Game One, White reacted with the subtle and quite interesting 3.Nbd2!?:
Indeed 3.Bf4, for instance, would soothe Black's position by permitting the exchange of the bishops on d6 with a possible recapture by the c-pawn. There followed 3...Bf5 4.c4 e6 5.a3 Nf6 6.e3. White then gradually caught up with development and started to expand in a natural way leaving Black crying out for some dynamism. But there was just not any for him in the position, no plan, no way to strengthen his position, no control of the central tension, no good placing for his heavy pieces, because of the disastrous placing of his queen's knight... just like in the Veresov with reversed colours.
3.e3 Bg4 4.Bb5 is a natural attempt at refutation. In Game Two Black opted for 4...a6?! 5.Bxc6 bxc6 Then came 6.c4, immediately putting his defective structure under pressure.
4...e6 is an easy improvement. (Still, not the best move in the position, which appears to be 4...Qd6!, intending ...a7-a6 to question the premature sortie of the opposing light-squared bishop.) 5.Nbd2! White wants to play h2-h3 while avoiding misplacing his queen after the exchange on f3. (Actually, this transposition may be an argument in favour of 3. or 4.Nbd2!) 5...Bd6 (The critical move is, of course, the odd-looking 5...Nge7) Then 6.c4 forced an abandon of the centre by 6...dxc4 that was magisterially exploited by White in Game 3.
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5 Nbd7 4.e3:
"The Veresov is a little played opening that is ideal for creative, aggressive players. As early as the second move white dares to be different by developing his knight to c3, and in so doing he contravenes the conventional wisdom about queen's pawn openings which states that you must never obstruct your c-pawn.
In fact white has a far more ambitious idea in mind; he wants to play for e2-e4."
Nigel Davies in the very first introductory lines of his 2003 book The Veresov (Everyman).
Everything was already said. As in case of the very similar and often transposing 4.Nf3 h6! 5.Bh4 e6 6.e3?! This idea of playing a sort of a reversed Chigorin, that-is-not-even-a-Chigorin, brings absolutely nothing for White.
In Game Four White added "a few twists to the play" with "the option of going for a Stonewall formation" by 4...e6! 5.f4 but after the evident 5...Bb4! it was clear that, by comparison with what we have just seen in the previous 3 games, White's extra tempo did not make a great impression with this creation of a gaping hole on e4!
5.Qf3?! is Davies's suggestion "which prepares queenside castling but also supports a pawn storm with a later g2-g4" The successful implementation of this plan brought White a brilliant victory in Game 5 after 5...Be7.
However the obvious (but unmentioned...) 5...Bb4! led to a completely different story in Game 6 after 6.Nge2 h6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6!, Since 7.Bh4? g5 8.Bg3 g4 9.Qf4 Bd6 is embarrassing:
It means that to avoid this ridicule White should play 7.Bf4, with the idea 7...g5 8.Be5. Afterwards, the path towards a black advantage is narrow, but seems to have been worked out by some serious analysts. So that has put 5.Qf3?! under a cloud nowadays, but, mysteriously to me, has not altered the popularity of White's poor 4th move!
Indeed, 5.Bd3 c5! 6.Nf3? Qb6? turned into a humiliating demonstration in Game 7 after White took her opponent a bit too lightly... whereas we know from last month that 6...c4! 7.Be2 Bb4 was practically winning for Black.
That leaves 5.a3 as the only move, to which Black can immediately adapt with 5...c5!:
This is the mystery of reversed openings that I have started to penetrate with my move 2.a3!?. How can an allegedly viable defence (the Chigorin) reveal itself to be inferior with reversed colours in spite of an extra tempo??!!
White tried to figure out something with 6.Bb5 in Game 8, intending to take on d7 and install a knight on e5 after the recapture. Ironically, this light-squared "bad" bishop metamorphosed into a beast in the endgame!
So, after Black has seized the central initiative, White has no other choice than transposing into a rather passive Chigorin reversed set-up with 6.Nf3 Be7 Now, when the pin is active at this stage, Black should prevent the irruption of a knight on e5 that can be backed up by a pawn on e5 immediately after. In any case, Black should interpose the useful sequence 6...h6 7.Bh4, now that he has provoked the 'undeveloping' precaution a2-a3 and has no chance to profit from the more exposed situation of the bishop on g5 by the manoeuvre ...Bb4, ...Qa5, ...Ne4 anymore.
7.Bd3 a6!?: "Unless 6...c5 conjures up an indisputable refutation based on an entirely different idea, this is the optimal set-up for Black in this line which synthesizes all the previous attempts. This a-pawn advance is useful in every case and well worth a tempo as the b-pawn stands better on b5 in every case. It is even necessary, as many examples further testify, when White implements the plan of Ne5 and exchanges the bishops on e7 if Black wants to castle queenside against the threat of Nb5-d6+"
This is what I said about this position (with the recommended inclusion of the moves ...h7-h6, Bg5-h4 hence the different move number) in Hector-Larsen some time ago... where White replied with a2-a4 at this moment!
This also rejoins my comment last month in the Alcazar-Mirzoev game: "This move is more interesting now that naturally advancing his pawn to a4 in order to prevent the ...b7-b5 expansion would cost White a tempo!" where White developed his bishop even more poorly to e2 instead of d3.
By reversed similarity to the Chigorin, 8.0-0 b5 9.dxc5 Nxc5 10.b4 Ncd7! 11.e4 allowed the World's top specialist to 'liberate' himself in Game 9, but that was not the end of his worries for all that.
See you soon, Eric