SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
You are what you eat, so be very careful of those poison pawns!
The Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defence is not for players with weak stomachs. Often the White side must be willing to part with material to try to hold on the initiative. Just as often, the Black side must be willing to riskily gobble it all down just to stay alive…
This is especially true in the sub-variation known as the Poison Pawn Variation.
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6!?
Most players know that Bobby Fischer did a lot to popularize this line. He believed in it, and used it in his 1972 match with Boris Spassky. It served his purposes well.
BUT what most players don’t realize is that much of the theory of this line was worked out before Bobby even got his hands on it! In the 1950’s top Soviet grandmasters took a close look at Euwe’s theoretical writings and extended our knowledge of the line. What Fischer did is make very slight improvements in a small part of the theory.
Theoreticians love this line, and today the Poison Pawn is considered Black’s most pragmatic chance in the Najdorf. While extremely risky for the Black pieces, even ultra-positional players have little qualms of playing this way, relying on their excellent memories. Chances are the White side is just doing the same thing!
HOWEVER, sometimes a new idea appears and when it does having an excellent memory does not help! You need to work things out over the board, and in complex positions such as arise in this opening that is often the whole problem: not every Sicilian player is suited to such problem solving!
Witness two Black disasters in a topical line of the Poison Pawn just days apart: the game Berg vs Vachier LaGrave (Gibraltar) and Bobras vs Maksimenko (Bundasliga)
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 h6!? 8. Bh4 Qb6
Black throwing in …h6
is one of those little twists that is popular at the moment. I don’t trust it, personally, but lacking an outright refutation, who can argue against fashion? Readers will recall Hou Yifan’s victory over Alexi Shirov from Gibraltar: in that game this twist was seen, and Shirov went down in flames after 9.Qd2
(play over game here
This very logical move (eyeing the weakened g6 square) was played in both the Berg game and the Bobras game. It is remarkable how quickly information gets around these days and even more so how chessplayers take advantage of this to try to win a point , hoping that the opponent is a little less studious.
9… Qxb2 10. Rb1 Qa3 11. f5! Be7 12. fe fe
As stated, there is very little theory on this position. The only 2 games I can find in my database both saw the immediate 13.e5, which failed to impress .
A very logical move! As in many lines of the Poison Pawn, White’s best successes come from calmly completing development and tucking the King into the corner before looking to crash thru the Black defences
12…fe 13. Be2 O-O 14. O-O Kh8 15. Kh1
Ok, the first phase has been completed. Curiously, Black finds it difficult to find a reasonable continuation, his weakened g6 square costing him dearly in numerous lines. For example: if 15… Nc6 then 16. Nxc6 bc 17. e5 de 18. Qg6! leaves Black defenceless; Or 15… Qa5 16. e5! Qxe5 17. Bf3!; or 15… b5 16. e5 de 17. Qg6! once more.
Black tried his best practical shot
Trying to get to e5 without being exchanged…however, there is a problem:
16. Nxe6! Ne5
No doubt Black is hoping for the tame 17. Qh3 when 17… Bxe6 18. Qxe6 Qxc3 19. Qxe7 Qxc2 simplifies Black’s task.
Calling Black’s bluff and putting the entire line commencing with 7…h6 into doubt! For the Queen White will get a Rook, a minor piece and a hugely favourable attacking position because of the co-ordination of White’s pieces!
17… Nxd3 18. Ng6 Kh7 19. Bxd3
THIS POSITION WAS REACHED IN BOTH THE BERG AND BORBAS GAMES
Curiously, both of White’s Knights are en prise ! However, the constant threat of e5 is a serious problem for Black…
The Berg vs Vachier-LaGrave game continued:
19… Kxg6!? 20. e5! Kh5 [ no better is 20… Kf7 21. ef Bxf6 22. Nd5 with a crushing bind]
21. ef Bxf6 22. Bxf6 gf
Every single one of Black’s pieces are off-side. The Black King soon becomes easy prey to the White pieces.
23. Rb3!? Qa5 24. Rxf6 Bd7 25. Ne4!
The end is near…
25…. Bg4 26. h3 Rg8 27. hg Rxg4 28. Be2 Qe1 29. Kh2
The Bobras vs Maksimenko game continued
A noble idea, defending the Bishop, but it solves no real problems. Perhaps Black was counting on 20. e5!? de 21. Ne4 Nxe4 22. Bxe4 Qa4 23. c4 Qxc4 24. Rbe1 Bxh4 25. Nxe5 Qxe4 26. Rxe4 Bf6 27. Nc4 b5 28. Nd6
where Black has some remote drawing chances; but even so, the position is not easy: 28…Bd7? 29. Rxf6 winning a piece.
Bobras has other ideas….
No doubt the best try for Black now is 20… Nxd5 21. ed Bxh4 but after 22. Nxh4 Kg8 23. Ng6! White has a clear advantage and every chance to win the game.
20… b5?! From here on Black’s game goes downhill quickly 21. Nge7! Bxe7[21… Nxd5? 22. ed Kh8 23. Rf8#] 22. Nxe7 Bb7
Atleast Black has succeeded in developing, but now the flood gates open
23. Bxf6! gf 24. Rxf6 Qxa2
What else can Black do?
25. Rbf1! Kg7 26. Rg6 Kh8 27. e5
To avoid the immediate mate, Black must give away his pieces.
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