Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Notes on the Two Knights with d4

I recently posted a PGN file with some notes on lines in the Two Knights with d4. I have previously touched on The Two Knights Modern and the Two Knights Defense as Black in this blog, the latter posting in response to the first installments on the line by Pete Tamburro at and Tim Harding at Chess Cafe. Tim Harding's recent Kibitzer #115 focused on the lines with White d4 (written for experts) and Pete's latest lecture on various lines of the Two Knights (directed more at younger players) prompt my follow-up and analysis. Since I have analyzed these lines extensively, I thought I'd write a few words and offer up some analysis from my own files. The discussion below follows the order that Harding presents things (from worst to best for White), though my PGN file takes it in the other order.

I have written what is probably the most complete treatment of the Perreux Variation of the Two Knights Defense (not something I'm exactly proud to announce!) which occurs most commonly after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Ng5!? The reason that my treatment is most extensive, of course, is that it is more a duffer's move than 4.Ng5. I think it's playable, as are all openings, below 2000-rating or at fast time controls, but it is not to be recommended for serious games. Black does need to know what he is doing to gain equality or even an edge, however, and most published analysis (which barely scratches the surface) will be almost no use to him. I only began analysing this line (which I myself had never played in a serious game) because it occured in almost all of the Two Knights games from the Dimock Theme Tournament of 1924 which I featured on my Urusov Gambit System site, and I wanted to create a coherent presentation built around the openings that occured in that tournament. It's not really something I recommend for White, but Black needs to know it.

In speed games, few of my opponents have any clue what they are doing and almost all play the difficult lines with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.Ng5 Ne5, where White gets lots of interesting play (though Black should be fine or even better here too with best play, as my analysis shows). As Pete Tamburro points out in his lecture, Black simply should not follow suit with White and waste time moving the same piece twice. Instead, he should break immediately in the center (the best way to meet a flank attack) with 5...d5! 6.exd5 and now best is the Queen check with 6...Qe7+! to which White really has only one good reply, which is 7.Kf1. This generally involves sacrificing a pawn for Black, but White's misplaced King alone is sufficient compensation. No one really played this way until the 1960s, so you know it is not something that's easy to discover on your own. But once you have a little analysis on it (and Pete does a good job of covering Black's best ideas) you should be able to embarrass White for trying it.

One critical line, in my current view, is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.Ng5 d5 6.exd5 Qe7+ 7.Kf1 Ne5 8.Qxd4 h6! 9.Ne4 Nxc4 10.Nxf6+ Qxf6 11.Qxc4 Bd6 12.Qe2+! which occured in the game Szabo-Kostic, Ljubljana 1938, where Black had compensation for the pawn due to White's Kf1 but it was an interesting struggle. Pinski focuses on this line in his analysis but offers only the weakly contested game Bucan-Geller, Bad Woerishofen 1992, as evidence that Black is doing well, even though he liberally sprinkles "?" annotations on White's moves. I'm always disappointed with opening books that give weak games to make their points. Harding gives none of this in his analysis, preferring to focus on the even easier question of why 7.Qe2? is a mistake for White. As I say, you are not generally going to get much guidance on how to defeat these lines as Black, and even Pete Tamburro's lecture simply points you in the right direction. I hope my PGN file gives you more to go on.

In his lecture, Pete covers the lines, like the Perreux, that club and class players are likely to encounter from time to time, including 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nc3 and the more 4.O-O Bc5 5.d4!? seeking transposition to the Max Lange by 5...exd4 6.e5. If only it were that easy to reach the Max Lange (no matter what Chris Baker will suggest)! I have looked at these lines as a way of side-stepping the annoying Anti-Lange lines, but have discovered that Black has pretty good play here, as Pete points out. I will likely discuss them at some point, since there is a lot of forgotten theory I have unearthed. One thing I'll note in passing, though, is that White even has trouble entering these lines after the Giuoco move order 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.O-O because of the "Lost Variation" 4...d6! with good play for Black, as Mark Morss discusses.

Harding sticks to the main lines that follow 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 including 5.O-O and 5.e5. As he writes, White's only good option is likely the Modern Variation with 5.e5, but there is still a lot Black needs to know about the 5.O-O lines, which have been analyzed deeply into the King and Pawn ending! In my PGN, I provide some interesting games (that I have not seen mentioned) of correspondence IM Max Zavanelli, who typically enters these variations via the Urusov Gambit move order 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.O-O. If you look closely through my Urusov analysis, you will see that Zavanelli is something of my "opening hero" in those lines, so I have immediate respect for his ideas. And he does seem to be the player who has found the most ideas for White in the deep ending line that follows 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. Re1 d5 7. Bxd5 Qxd5 8.Nc3 Qa5 9. Nxe4 Be6 10. Neg5 O-O-O 11. Nxe6 fxe6 12. Rxe6 Bd6 13. Bg5 Rde8 (you can always study instead 13...Rdf8!?) 14.Qe1, when all the heavy pieces generally get exchanged along the e-file leaving us in the ending before move 20. But what an ending! Analysis by Soltis suggested that White might be winning. Then analysis by Benko showed that White "struggles to draw." Now Zavanelli's games show that the verdict is still difficult to arrive at, though it is likely equal with best play by both sides. In any case, both sides need to know their stuff since a single slip can be fatal. If you like sharp endgame analysis, check out these games!

Harding simply dismisses these so-called Anti-Lange lines as equal "as is well-known from countless games," but you certainly need to know your stuff as Black to survive this ultra-sharp ending! But he does point us to some of the most important games with the line 8...Qh5! 9.Nxe4 Be6 10.Bg5 Bd6! including Friedel-Onischuk, USA ch, San Diego 2004, which I include in the PGN.

Too bad Black has such good play after 4...Nxe4! or we could steer things toward the Modern Horowitz Variation of the Max Lange and get the edge!

Finally, we arrive at the Modern Variation with 5.e5, which must be White's best by process of elimination. Harding does a good survey of the lines covered by Pinski (The Two Knights Defense) and Davies (Play 1.e4 e5!). There is so much more that has been and could be written on these lines and I may return to them in the future. In my PGN file, I offer only some games from Nakamura (who goes by "Smallville" on ICC, after Superman's home town), including his recent loss against the annoying move 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. e5 d5 6. Bb5 Ne4 7. Nxd4 Bd7 8. Bxc6 bxc6 9. O-O Bc510. f3 Ng5 11. f4 Ne4 12. Be3 Qb8!? which is gaining popularity due to its favorable rating from Fritz and his silicon kin but has not been mentioned by any analysts I have read. Gary Lane covers the equally annoying 12...Rb8!? in his recent The Bishop's Opening Explained, but he is the only one to touch on this alternative treatment.

Enjoy the analysis. Recommendations and revisions are welcome in the comments section.