19 December 2007

Opening Symmetry [D40]

I encountered the diagrammed position while working on this month's Every Move Explained, 1907 Lodz - Rotlewi vs. Rubinstein. It occurs after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c5 5.e3 Nc6, although a different move order was used in the Rubinstein game.

Now Rotlewi played 6.dxc5. In 'Rubinstein's Chess Masterpieces: 100 Selected Games', Kmoch criticized this, suggesting 6.Bd3 as 'best'. Kmoch's notes to the game are not particularly helpful, and I'm not sure he was right about this move.

An interesting feature of this position is the skirmish over the capture d4xc5 (or ...d5xc4). Both players are reluctant to develop the King's Bishop before that capture, because the recapture loses a tempo. This means they are both playing a double waiting game: (1) delaying the Bishop's development until the opponent has captured, and (2) delaying the capture until the opponent's Bishop has developed.

Depending on whether one or both players lose the tempo, the same positions can be played reversed. If White loses a tempo, but Black doesn't, then the players essentially switch colors, White playing Black and Black playing White. If both players lose a tempo (or neither player loses a tempo) they continue playing the colors they started with. I saw no examples where Black loses a tempo, but White doesn't, but I didn't look very hard.

After the recapture on c4 (c5), the opponent typically plays ...a6 and ...b5 (...a3 and ...b4), when the Bishop typically retreats Bd3 (Bd6). I found a half dozen examples of these ideas in my old copy of 'ECO D'. One position was duplicated in two different notes -- once with White on move and once with Black on move (where only White had lost the tempo) -- but the annotator gave different evaluations to the same position. This can easily happen because the positions are hard to recognize as identical when the colors are switched.

ECO gave 6.a3 as the standard move in the diagram, with 6...a6 as a popular response. Now White already has trouble finding a good waiting move. Once White accepts losing the tempo with, for example, Bd3 and Bxc4, Black has an easier time finding waiting moves. It is as though White were penalized for having the first move!

One way to avoid losing a tempo is to first play c4xd5 (...c5xd4), before moving the King's Bishop. This leads to an isolated d-Pawn for one side where the opponent has played e3 (...e6) instead of g3 as in the Rubinstein Varation of the Tarrasch Defense. Then a different set of problems arise which I didn't have time to investigate. Of course, the opponent can also answer ...Nxd5 (Nxd4), avoiding the isolated Pawn and leading to a different type of game.

Symmetrical positions have a reputation for being boring, but, like many reputations, it is probably undeserved. It is certainly undeserved for the D40 variation.


Anonymous said...

Certainly an interesting game. I annotated it myself a few weeks ago (see here for the annotations). A quick look in my database gave me the impression that players used to play 6. Bd3 instead of 6. dxc5 just as Hans Kmoch suggested but nowadays both a3 or cxd5 seem to be more popular, but I did not do careful research on this.

Robert Pearson said...

Funny, when I get this line as Black out of the QGD Tarrasch I always feel confident, as it indicates a certain mindset that White ought not to have...even though some very strong players have played this way over the years.