17 December 2018


This morning after feeding the dogs and making our coffee, I sat down on the couch and began following a game in the Ukranian Championship. I know nothing about either of the players, but they are playing the Italian Opening, and it interests me.

I considered "live blogging" the game, recording it as it transpired along with my thoughts and efforts to guess the move. I decided against that plan and simply watched. The game had some interest, but the players agreed to a draw before move 20. I was disappointed.

Baklan,Vladimir (2655) -- Kravtsin,Martyn (2608) [C54]
Ukranian Championship Kiev (5), 17.12.2018

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.0–0 0–0 6.h3

Philip Sergeant has been justifiably criticized for the comment, "In nothing was Morphy so fortunate as in the frequency with which his opponents played P-R3" (Morphy's Games of Chess [1957], 44). That comment, however, appeared in a Scotch Gambit game where Black fatally weakened his kingside with such a move. In some lines of the Italian, the move is required to prevent decisive attacks on a pinned knight.

6...h6 7.Re1 d6 8.c3

I spend a lot of time working to get my students to understand how this move can be far more useful than a knight on this square, especially after the prophylactic P-R3.


My database tells me that this move has been played only once before. Of course, my database is not 100% up-to-date. Even so, that confirms why I was not expecting this move. After the move, however, there are five reference games, so the idea has been played via other move orders. Notably, Kravtsin was Black in the highest rated of these games. Baklan might have expected it.

9.Nbd2 Be6

White to move


Keeping the light-squared bishop! This move was played in six of the nine games that reached this position. Clearly, the apparent novelty of 8...a5 was merely a move order nuance.


Wow! This strikes me as a new idea. I'll need to check the database.

Kravtsin played 10...Bd7 in 2015 and went on to win the game.

In my database, I found over one thousand games in the Italian with Black's queen on b8. Most of these featured the move late in the game. There are a few with Black's heavy pieces arrayed on a8, b8, and c8 before move twenty. Even so, in the few dozen that I glanced at, I did not find any that compared substantively to this game.

11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.d4

Black seemed to go into a long think here, and I spent time looking at other games. However, Black used less than a minute on this move and nine on the subsequent move. Sometimes the boards and clocks in the Follow Chess app are not up-to-date.

12...exd4 13.cxd4 Bb6

These were the moves that I expected without a long think. Even so, I'm curious what else Black was looking at. Is Black considering moving the queen up, or lifting a rook and putting the queen on a8 with ideas of swinging the other rook over to the queenside? Years ago, I played a lot of games with my heavy pieces deployed in this manner in the Benko Gambit. Does the idea have merit in the Italian? The half open b-file could offer prospects of attack for Black. On the other hand, White might get a strong kingside attack if Black pursues this plan.


Black to move

Now, Black thought for 41 minutes.

14...d5 15.e5 Ne4 16.Be3 a4

White to move


The first move that I considered, played after sixteen minutes. My fantasy position puts the rook on d3 and drops the f3 knight back with ideas of a bishop sacrifice on h6.

This game has everything that I need of instructive value for my students: classic opening, provocative novelty, and a minor piece imbalance.


Both defends the attacked c-pawn and brings the queen closer to the king.


Maybe my idea of Rd1–d3 and N3h2 is too slow.

18...Nxg3 19.fxg3 ½–½

A draw? I'll grant the position is probably equal, but there is plenty of play left in the position.

There was a lot of talk--mostly complaining--about the twelve straight draws in the recent World Championship, but with one exception those were hard-fought draws from start to finish. Even the one was drawn after slightly inaccurate play by the World Champion. He may have had more dynamic chances a few moves earlier.

I did not embrace these complaints. The string of fighting draws was very satisfying high-level chess of terrific instructive value.

But, this game, it seems to me should not have been drawn so early.

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