21 July 2013

Deviating from Book

Book moves have proven themselves through many games over many years. Although Grandmasters labor to extend the book with improvements over prior play, most chess players do well to follow a course that is well charted.

Consider this position from the Italian Opening after the normal moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4. This position has appeared on a chess board somewhere in the world every day since the bishop was given the power to move anywhere along a clear diagonal in the fifteenth century (or before).*

Black to move

Black has many possible responses. No less that thirteen appear in the Chess.com database of Master games. However, two moves are mainlines (clearly "book), and two or three others are worthy of mention (arguably "book").

The Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO) employs the code C50 for all Black responses other than 3...Bc5 and 3...Nf6. In addition, after the most popular response, 3...Bc5, all White responses other than 4.c3 and 4.b4 are classified C50.

In C50, 3...Be7 is given two lines. 3...g6 and 3...d6 are mentioned in a footnote.

3...h6 is a non-book move that should be considered suspect, and yet the Chess.com Master database contains 29 games with this move. Czech Grandmaster Pavel Blatny had Black in five of these games, scoring three wins and two draws.

White should play 4.d4, and this move generates quite a few more games played by Pavel Blatny, including losses to Peter Svidler, Senff Martin, and Velicka Petr.

As White, I have faced 3...h6 on several occasions, playing 4.Nc3 at least twenty times before opting for the correct move in 2008. A few times since then, I have tried 4.c3, and sometimes get a very good position very quickly. The resulting position is in the diagram below.

The moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 appeared in a considerably number of Gioachino Greco's games, and they have remained popular through the ensuing four centuries. These moves are classified C53 in ECO. In such a position, 4...h6 is rarer than 3...h6.

White to move

The next few moves almost play themselves:

5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3

Black to move

Black is already worse, but his 3...h6 has served to prevent White's use of g5, which was a theme in Greco's games. 7...Nf6 seems best.

A recent opponent tried 7...d6, and his game slid downhill quickly.

8.Qb3 Nf6?

8...Bxc3+ led to a draw in Baranyai -- Horvath 1995.

9.Bxf7+ Kf8 10.Bg6 Qe7

Black still had the option of Bxc3 or d5.

White to move


White's material advantage is a single pawn, but his positional advantage is overwhelming.

*See H.J.R. Murray, A History of Chess (1913), and Marilyn Yalom, Birth of the Chess Queen (2004) for the transformation of this piece into the modern one.

ECO Code is a trademark of Chess Informant

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