In the first part of The Panther saga, I told the story of how I was introduced to this off-beat opening, which I have since added to my repertoire. Today I offer up a recent game of my own against a 2300+ player as I take my first steps toward mastering it. And it is a difficult opening to master, involving lots of positional finesses that previous master practice does little to reveal.
But while it can be difficult to play, it is not difficult to get. The nice thing about The Panther is that it can arise in a number of ways and so can be a very versatile defense against 1.d4, 1. Nf3, and even 1.c4. Here is a random sampling of opening moves from the PGN file I am putting together on the line:
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nf3 d6 4. Nc3 e5
1. d4 Nc6 2. Nf3 d6 3. c4 e5 4. Nc3 Nf6
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d6 3. Nc3 e5 4. Nf3 Nc6
1. d4 d6 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c4 e5 4. Nc3 Nf6
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Nc3 e5
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 d6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. d4 Nf6
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. d4 d6
1.c4 d6 2.d4 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Nc3 Nf6
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 Nc6 3. d4 d6 4. Nc3 e5
1.Nf3 Nc6 2.d4 d6 3.c4 e5 4.Nc3 Nf6
Of course, there are as many as 64 ways of reaching a position eight-ply deep, and probably all of them have occured at one time or another. The first two lines, however, seem most relevant to me since The Panther offers a way of contolling the game in the Bogoljubow (1.d4 Nc6) and Black Knights Tango (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6) when White plays an early Nf3 to inhibit Black's typical ...e5 pawn push. In A Complete Defense for Black, which recommends 1...Nc6 against all White openings, Keene and Jacobs propose meeting 1.d4 Nc6 2.Nf3 with 2...d5 transposing to some of the less sharp lines of the Chigorin Defense. And in their respective books on The Tango, Palliser and Orlov both recommend 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 e6 transposing to lines of the Bogo- or Nimzo-Indian. With ...d6, Black takes an independent path and basically gets the position he wants.
That's not to say The Panther is always fun to play. As I learned in my recent game with Steve Stoyko in the Kenilworth Chess Club Championship, there are a number of lines for White that try to put Black into a positional squeeze, especially with early pawn advances to g3 and h4 to limit the scope of Black's Knights at g6 and f6 and to prevent him from using the g5 square (with ...h6, ...Nh7, and ...Bg5 for example). Not only is there relatively little in the databases to go on against this White approach, what little there is often features positional mistakes by Black, especially when he pushes his pawn to h5 to meet White's pawn advance to h4. This is generally not a good idea, since it surrenders control over critical kingside squares and makes a future advance by ...f5 very weakening.
Fortunately, there are other ways of learning the positional concepts of The Panther in the absence of specific master practice.
As Steve pointed out to me after our game, The Panther position after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d6 3.c4 Nc6 4.Nc3 e5 5.d5 Ne7 6.e4 Ng6...
The Panther, Closed Variation
...bears a lot of similarities to positions in the Czech Benoni that arises after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e5 4. Nc3 d6 5. e4 Be7 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. Be2 Nf8 8. O-O Ng6:
The Czech Benoni
And this position (and related once from the same opening) is much better known and can offer a lot of insight into Black's plans. I will cover some of the similarities in a future post, but for now here is some analysis of an amateur game with this line where Black gets to have lots of fun, in an article titled "Flight of the Stealth Chess Bomber." Of course, White's play (especially his vacilating Nc3-e2-c3) helped Black a lot. But it does show what these positions can achieve, especially once White's queenside play is contained (as it is more easily in the Czech Benoni due to the early ...c5 advance).
To be continued.