12 July 2007

The Alternative Winawer

Returning to Smyslov's Sparklers, the next game is the ninth from the 1954 Smyslov - Botvinnik World Championship match. The diagram shows the position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 (the Winawer variation) 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Ba5, which is how the game started.

My first question here was, 'Does anyone still play this?' I looked up the position in Chesslab and found more than 50 games with 5...Ba5, where at least one player was rated over 2600. The statistics indicate that Black is no worse than after the the more common alternative 5...Bxc3.

(After 5...Bb4-a5)

The Smyslov - Botvinnik game continued 6.b4 cxd4 7.Qg4 Ne7 8.bxa5 dxc3 9.Qxg7 Rg8 10.Qxh7 Nd7. While Smyslov's 6.b4 is the most popular move, the alternatives 6.Qg4 and 6.Bd2 are also played frequently. Somewhat more popular than 7.Qg4 is the alternative 7.Nb5, but 8.Nb5 is far less popular than Smyslov's 8.bxa5. The moves from 8...dxc3 through 10.Qxh7 are forced.

Kasparov gave Botvinnik's 10...Nd7 a '?!', saying, 'It is more active to play 10...Nbc6', and mentioning the famous Fischer - Tal game from the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad. Smyslov's comment to 10...Nd7 was 'Black brings another piece over to the defense of his Kingside. This is very necessary, as White is already threatening to build up a formidable assault on the Kingside by Nf3 and Ng5.'

So which is right, Kasparov's '?!' or Smyslov's 'very necessary'? Since the move 10...Nd7 is never played by modern masters, it looks like Kasparov is right. After 10...Nbc6, White continues 11.Nf3 or 11.f4. After 10...Nd7, Smyslov played 11.Nf3, when Kasparov commented, 'Smyslov rejected 11.f4!? since "the scope of the dark squared Bishop is restricted".' Why is it restricted after 10...Nd7, but not after 10...Nbc6?

My little research raised more questions than it answered, and will require more investigation. As for my original question -- 'Does anyone still play this?' -- I could have answered it by reading Kasparov: 'At the end of the last century [i.e. the 20th century] a great contribution to the revival of the 5...Ba5 variation was made by grandmasters Vaganian and Lputian. It also began to be played in super tournaments: mention should be made, among others of two Anand - Khalifman duels, where instead of 11.Nf3, White played 11.f4 [...] with chances for both sides'; all of which I confirmed from my Chesslab sample.

1 comment:

Robert Pearson said...

I love it when World Champions disagree!

I'm really enjoying this series--it seems that the more you look into these games the more questions there are and the less clear it all becomes, which is the nature of chess and why we stay interested in it.