03 January 2017

The Restricted Center

Dutch versus the English

My interest in the English Opening has been revived lately. As a consequence, I've been looking at some games in Anatoly Karpov, How to Play the English Opening (2007); Vladimir Kramnik, and Iakov Damsky, Kramnik: My Life and Games (2000); and S. Tartakower, and J. DuMont, 500 Master Games of Chess (1952). There are a handful of Kramnik's instructive games in both his book and Karpov's. These merit study. Tartakower and Dumont offer a mere seven games with the English Opening.

The first of these seven in Tartakower and DuMont is Staunton -- Horwitz, London 1851. As Staunton's endorsement of 1.c4 is the reason the opening bears the name English, it is a fitting beginning. The authors describe this game as "a methodical blockade" (626). Staunton's systematic exploitation of weaknesses in Black's position and Horwitz's reduction to spectator status because of the passivity of his position probably merits more study than I have given it so far. I ran through the game and annotations yesterday. On the second pass through this morning, I found myself caught up in the opening.

There was clearly something wrong with Horwitz's effort to transpose into a Dutch Defense against Staunton's English, but it is less clear that his opening moves were fatal.

Staunton,H -- Horwitz,B
London 1851

1.c4 e6

There have been times, especially in 2016, when I have advocated that Black can play 1...e6 against any first move by White. One of my own former students beat me badly in a tournament game a few months ago that began 1.d4 e6. I was White. He played a Dutch Defense. My effort to deploy the Raphael variation blew up in my face.

2.Nc3 f5

Tartakower and DuMont comment:
Trying to revert to the Dutch Defence. But White, instead of playing 3.P-Q4, decides on a restricted centre (5.P-Q3), with action on the wings. (626)
This restricted center is more commonly known today as a small center. According to Hooper and Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess, 2nd ed. (1996), "[a]s a strategic weapon for White the small centre was pioneered by Staunton" (375).

3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 c6

It is this offbeat move that removes most reference games while looking through this game with a database open.* It certainly appears that Black is making too many pawn moves. However, I found an interesting reference game that reveals another way that Black might have proceeded (see below).


Black to move


5...d5 would transpose to my recommended reference game, Gashimov -- Moskalenko, Internet 2006. That game began 1.c4 f5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 d5 (playing this move before c7-c6 could have served Horwitz a little better) 5.d3 c6 6.Nf3 dxc4! 7.dxc4 Qxd1 8.Nxd1 and was drawn after 58 moves. Moskalenko's idea to eliminate the queens early worked well for him in this blitz game and might be worth considering should a player find him- or herself in a similar position.

6.a3 Be7 7.e3

"The restricted centre" (Tartakower and Dumont).

7...O-O 8.Nge2

In most games that resemble this one even slightly, this knight goes to f3. Perhaps, however, Staunton anticipates a need to support e3-e4 with the bishop.

8...Nc7 9.O-O d5

Black has been preparing this move.


It is clear that Staunton had seen Moskalenko's game and had no wish to exchange queens.**

Black to move


Tartakower and DuMont condemn this move as "aimless". They recommend e6-e5 "after due preparation." Annotations by Raymond Keene at Chessgames.com urge 10...e5 immediately.

While studying this opening and the rest of the game, I wonder whether the Dutch Defense is a viable way of meeting the English Opening. According to Tartakower and DuMont, the idea is flawed because White is not obligated to play d4. On the other hand, Black's f7-f5 was not the flaw in his opening. After ten moves, it is clear that Black's pieces are less mobile than White's even though White has made more pawn moves.

*I played through this game on the dining room table with Tartakower and DuMont open, but then went to my computer for further work on the opening. Thanks to a now defunct website, I have all of this book's games in a separate database.

**This nonsensical statement should be understood as irony.

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