11 November 2011

Castling Queenside in the Queen's Gambit

I won my game in the Turkey Quads last night, but I was not happy with my opening. It seemed to me that Black too easily gained equality, and perhaps even had chances for the advantage. My opponent missed these chances, but lingering doubts concerning my play through the first ten moves or so haunt me. Hence, I was digging into the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings when I found a curiosity: 10.O-O-O.

A search of Chess Informants 1-103 (I need to buy the past two year's issues to bring my collection up to date) turns up two games, both embedded into ECO: Ree - Pfleger 1966 Informant 1/366, and Ftacnik - Zaw 2000 Informant 80/465. Searching the larger databases in ChessBase 11 produces more games, earlier games, and the information that GM Ľubomír Ftáčnik is the "strongest player" who has employed this line. Perhaps Akiba Rubinstein was stronger, but he played prior to FIDE adopting an Elo rating system, and so CB 11 ignores his efforts in the data field reporting "strongest". Alexander Alekhine played it once in a simul, as well, but he lost. Boris Spassky reached a similar position after 8.O-O-O, and the line appears in ECO (Informant 2/507).

ChessBase Online contains forty-seven games with the position from ECO in the image above. White scores a shocking 70.2% in these games. Of course, some of these games in the database are between relatively weak players. Most are interesting games between masters.

White's plan is not difficult to fathom: an all-out assault on the enemy king. Black must seek counterplay that exploits the half-open c-file. White's attack is already better prepared, so Black's task is difficult. There were eleven games 1905-1966 with ten White wins and Alekhine's loss. The first draw occurred in 1971.

Black's most popular replies are 10...Ne4 and 10...c5, but Win Lay Zaw's 10...Re8 deserves scrutiny. Zaw was not the first to play this move, which appears one other time in the ChessBase database. Zaw's novelty came on the next move, 11...Nf8. In the Informant annotations, Ftacnik points out a draw that Zaw missed near the end. Zaw's pawns nearly rolled over the top of White's position down the center.

I am looking through these games, which offer some interesting study material featuring attack and counter-attack.

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