Friday, June 14, 2019

Romantic chess part 2

If you consider the year 1997 still as the modern times then likely you aren't that young anymore. So I wasn't surprised at all to discover that the author of the recently published article a romantic opening in modern times is already 53 years old. In the 2 last decades chess made a metamorphose.

Advertisements should never be accepted blindly. The purpose of the article is foremost to sell the new DVDs on the King's gambit produced by the British grandmaster Simon Williams so you don't want to spoil it by giving trivial facts like it hasn't been played in the most recent years in classical chess by the top-grandmasters.

Besides if you are no such super-grandmaster then I am sure you still encounter regularly those romantic openings. There are still many amateurs ignoring the objective evaluation of the openings and believe they will be able to profit from the lack of knowledge and low competence of their opponents (mostly also amateurs). However I do notice a change in the type of player loving to play those risky openings. When I started playing chess more than 2 decades ago it were mainly young players with an aggressive style. Nowadays it are mostly older players using some old forgotten gambits.
In above table, I made a summary of the romantic openings which I met on the board in classical games from +2100 rated players. You can argue what exactly is a romantic opening but the trend is clear. In the first years we see mainly yellow so strong young players below 30 year. In the most recent years we see almost exclusively green so players older than 50 playing those obscure openings.

I see currently a growing nostalgia but also many older players are blaming the youth of not knowing the classics. Young players only study the openings played by today's best players which makes them vulnerable for the traps hidden in many romantic openings. I hear some of those young ones complain as it is lame to win games based on traps instead of real chess. You can't make progress by just trying to score easy points that way and you definitely can't use it twice against the same opponent.

Many older players lack the drive and energy to keep developing and improving themselves. It is no coincidence that almost no +2300 plays a romantic opening in standard chess. Only 3 out of 63 opponents in the table had a +2300 rating. When I discuss this with young strong players then I can't convince them to give a romantic opening a try even if I can show them a fresh idea. Why would they spend a lot of effort for 1 game as next time the opponent will already have prepared an anti-dote with the engine. Time is precious so you better use it for more solid openings which can be used in a repertoire much longer.

Anyway at some point everybody hits their maximum. There is nothing wrong from then onward to choose a romantic repertoire which you enjoy. Eventually fun is the only track to keep playing chess and nobody else can tell you better than yourself what you like or not. Besides if you can stay below the radar of the databases (so mainly below 2300 elo) then it is often possible to become very successful with romantic openings.

A nice example is the expert living in Gent, Nouri Zouaghi. Last year he surprised me in the interclubs with a risky line in the Schliemann-gambit but he was able to compensate the doubtful reputation of the opening by a much better understanding of the position. We created an interesting game.
[Event "Interclub Deurne - KGSRL"] [Site "?"] [Date "2018.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Zouaghi, N."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C63"] [WhiteElo "2309"] [BlackElo "2200"] [PlyCount "71"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 {(Nouri chooses as expected for a side-line. However I didn't manage to guess which one as there are no games from him with it in the database.)} 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. exf5 {(In 2004 I had played Qe2 against Robert Schuermans in the open of Plancoet. Exf5 is considered as more critical.)} 5... e4 6. Ng5 {(I have checked this line before as I remembered Nh4 is also good.)} 6... d5 7. d3 h6 8. Ne6 Bxe6 9. fxe6 Qd6 10. O-O {(Qxe4 is played more often. In most cases it is just a transposition but white has after Qxe6 also the interesting alternative Bxc6.)} 10... Qxe6 11. dxe4 dxe4 12. Bf4?! {(Nouri likely prepared this line but it is for sure a risky choice. Fortunately for black I couldn't remember anymore my old analysis otherwise he could've ran into troubles.)} (12. Be3!? Bb4 13. Qd4 O-O 14. Bxc6 Bxc3 15. Qxc3 bxc6 16. Rae1 Nd5 17. Qc4 Rf6) (12. Re1!? Bc5!? 13. Be3! Bxe3 14. Rxe3 O-O) 12... Bc5 {(In 2 older mastergames the weaker Bd6 was played. I wonder if Bc5 was still part of the preparation or Nouri made it up at the board.)} 13. Qe2 {(White can accept the gambit but black has sufficient counterplay. Ba4 is an alternative but also then black has chances.)} 13... O-O-O 14. Bxc6 Qxc6 15. Rad1 a6 16. Be5 Rde8 17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. Nd5 Rhg8 19. b4 Ba7 20. c4 Qe6 21. c5 c6 22. Ne3 Bb8 23. Nc4 Bc7 24. Nd6+ Bxd6 25. Rxd6 Qe5 26. Rfd1 Rd8?! {(Black is a bit too eager to force the draw. F5 is more active to maintain the balance.)} 27. Rxc6+?! {(I had less than 2 minutes on the clock so I force the draw. I knew that my position was slightly better but I had to take risks. The engines confirm my evaluation. Qe2 and Qe3 are bit better for white but black can defend.)} 27... bxc6 28. Qxa6+ Kb8 29. Qb6+ Kc8 30. Qa6+ Kb8 31. Qb6+ Kc8 32. Qxc6+ Kb8 33. Qb6+ Kc8 34. Qc6+ Kb8 35. Qb5+ Kc8 36. Qc6+ 1/2-1/2
After the game it became apparent how different our styles are. While I was focusing on the defects of the black opening, Nouri considered a 0,6 disadvantage shown as evaluation by the engine, fully acceptable for black.

However when I met again Nouri this year with the same colors in the interclubs, I was again surprised by the same risky line of the Schliemann-gambit. How? Well I couldn't imagine somebody playing twice the same risky line against the same opponent. I don't know if it was ignorance of Nouri or something else. Anyway I am not the person to avoid a challenge (see a theoretical battle in the Svechnikov.)
[Event "Interclub Deurne - KGSRL"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Zouaghi, N."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C63"] [WhiteElo "2304"] [BlackElo "2200"] [PlyCount "46"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. exf5 e4 {(It was a big surprise for me that Nouri didn't try to surprise me in the opening. I did consider the possibility but estimated the probability very low that somebody with about 2200 elo would risk to play the same risky line twice against the same person.)} 6. Nh4 {(The computer has a slight preference for Nh4 to Ng5 which I played last year in our mutual game. Besides I always think it is interesting to deviate first. However there is one big disadvantage to Nh4 as it is more difficult for white to find the right moves. With a knight at the rim, you need to play more accurately.)} 6... Bc5 {(Nouri played this move after a long reflection so I guess my last move surprised him. During the game I was cursing myself not having studied this logical move more deeply at home. I had checked other logical moves but that one went of my radar.)} (6... Be7 {(I noticed at that Nouri has played this a few times.} 7. Nxe4 {(This novelty refutes the line spectacularly.)} 7... Nxe4 8. Qh5+ Kf8 9. Ng6+ hxg6 (9... Kg8 10. Bc4+ d5 11. Bxd5+ Qxd5 12. Nxe7+ Nxe7 13. Qe8#) 10. Qxh8+ Kf7 11. Bc4+ d5 12. Qxd8 Nxd8 13. Bxd5+ +- {[%eval 508,29]}) (6... d5 {(Also this move was tried by Nouri at I think it is black's most important try in the position.)} 7. d3 exd3 8. O-O {(I had seen this sacrifice in my preparation.)} 8... dxc2 (8... Be7 {(I also checked this logical move in case Nouri wouldn't take my bite.)} 9. Bxd3 O-O 10. Bg5 Ne5 11. Nf3 Nxd3 12. Qxd3 c6 13. Rfe1) 9. Qxc2 Be7 10. Bg5 O-O 11. Rad1 {(The engine gives a clear advantage for white but things remain complicated.)}) 7. O-O O-O 8. d3 exd3 9. Bxd3!? {(I treat the position similarly as I had prepared for the line 6...d5 7.d3 exd3 8.0-0 Be7. An interesting alternative is Qxd3.)} 9... d5 10. Bg5!? {(I saw no good reason not to continue with my previous mentioned idea. A good alternative is Bf4.)} 10... Ne5 11. Nf3!? {(Again I follow the familiar scheme. Here Qe2 is worth a try.)} 11... Nxd3 12. Qxd3 c6 13. Ne2?! {(Black's black-squared bishop is stronger on c5 than e7. Nevertheless it was still good to continue with Rfe1 as the complications still favor white. Also I had missed black's next strong move.)} (13. Rfe1! Qb6!? (13... Qd7!? 14. Bxf6 Rxf6 15. g4 g6 16. Ne2) 14. Bh4 Ng4 15. Qd2 Qc7 16. Bg3 Qd8 17. Na4 Bd6 18. h3 Nh6 {[%eval 109,38]}) 13... Qb6 14. Bxf6 Rxf6 15. Ned4 Bxd4 16. Nxd4 c5 {(Nouri proposed a draw which I refused as I wasn't risking anything with Ne6.)} 17. Ne6?! {(I sensed that this was not enough for a win but Nf3 was too complicated for me.)} (17. Nf3! Rxf5!? 18. Rae1 Be6?! (18... Bd7! 19. g4 c4 20. Qd1 Rf6 21. Qxd5+ Be6 22. Qe4 Bf7 {[%eval 49,39] (White won a pawn but the ugly pawn on g4 will definitely give some practical counter-chances to black.)}) 19. b4 {(This beautiful move clears the square d4 for the knight and fortifies an advantage for white.)} 19... c4 20. Qd2 Qd6 21. Nd4 Rf6) 17... Bxe6 18. fxe6 Qxe6 19. Rfe1 Qd6 20. Rad1 Rd8 21. Re2 Re6 22. Rxe6 Qxe6 23. b3 {(Initially I wanted to play Kf1 till I discovered the double attack with Qe5 between the pawns b2 and h2.)} 23... Re8 {(The second draw-proposal of Nouri couldn't be refused anymore. I can only keep the balance with h3.)} 1/2-1/2
The top-engines prefer 6.Nh4 to 6.Ng5 but it is not simpler for white at all. Black again had a better nose for the complications and afterwards I could only admit that refuting a romantic opening isn't always easy.

Naturally this is even harder when you get less time for a game. When you lack the time to remember the accurate moves or to calculate the details then a romantic opening can be a very dangerous weapon. It makes a lot of sense not to refute it in such quick games but just try to avoid the complications. A successful example was executed of that strategy in a decisive rapidgame played last year against the Belgian FM Sim Maerevoet.
[Event "Rapidtournament Gent"] [Site "?"] [Date "2018.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Maerevoet, Sim"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C40"] [PlyCount "75"] [CurrentPosition "rnbqkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d5 {(The elephantgambit.)} 3. exd5 Nf6 {(In the Big Database there is only 1 mastergame with Nf6.)} 4. Nxe5 {(Via a transposition we reach a special line of the Petrov which recently was developed by the Georgian grandmaster Jobava Baadur.)} 4... Qxd5 5. d4 Nc6 6. Nxc6 Qxc6 7. Qe2+ {(I like to force the exchange of queens as now the risk is much smaller to miss some tactics. After the game I discovered that this move has been played before by 2 strong grandmasters in blitz and rapid.)} 7... Be7 8. Qb5 Bd7 9. Qxc6 Bxc6 10. f3 O-O-O 11. c3 Rhe8 {(Only here Sim deviates from a blitzgame between the French super-grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jobava Baadur played in Leuven 2017. Black has not enough compensation for the sacrificed pawn.)} 12. Kf2 Bd5 13. Nd2 Nh5 14. Nb3 f5 15. g3 b6 16. Bd2 c5 17. c4 Bf7 18. d5 b5 19. Rc1 bxc4 20. Bxc4 Bxd5 21. Bxd5 Rxd5 22. Be3 Kb8 23. Bxc5 Bf6 24. Rhd1 Rxd1 25. Rxd1 Bxb2 26. Rd7 Nf6 27. Bxa7+ Ka8 28. Rf7 Rc8 29. Bc5 Nd5 30. Ra7+ Kb8 31. Rd7 Nf6 32. Rd2 Be5 33. a4 Kb7 34. a5 Ka6 35. Bb6 Rc3 36. Nc5+ Kb5 37. Nd3 Nd7 38. Nxe5 {(And I won the game easily x number of moves later.)} 1-0
I knew a few things about the Elephantgambit (Quality Chess announced last year to publish a book about it) but 3..Nf6 was for me unknown. Later I discovered that you can also enter the same position via the Russian opening : 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Pxe5 d5 and is one of the many original ideas of the eccentric Georgian grandmaster Baadur Jobava. More than likely Sim borrowed the idea from him.

In the article I mix romantic chess and romantic openings. However we can also split them into a theoretical part (the opening) and a practical part (the middle-game). Jobava demonstrates that romantic chess is still today playable even at the highest level on the condition your opponent hasn't studied yet your new idea. On the other hand the romantic openings (19th century mainly) are only acceptable at the level of the amateur.


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