Monday, February 17, 2014

Tricky Bishop in the Bird Defense (C61)

I have annotated the game Balakrishnan - Goeller, Garden State Chess League 2014, played last week at Rutgers University.  It features the Bird Variation of the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4), which has long been a favorite of mine. In fact, I have played the line that we reached in the game well over a hundred times in tournaments and online blitz: 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.O-O Bc5 6. d3 c6 7. Bc4 d5. So it was quite a surprise to see the tricky Bishop retreat 8.Bb3! which was completely new to me.

Position after 8.Bb3
As my analysis shows, this move poses some very difficult problems for Black in the 5...Bc5 line of the Bird.  For one thing, Black cannot get rid of his doubled pawns with 8...dxe4? due to 9.Bxf7+ or 9.Qh5 with a big edge for White.  And the natural 8...Ne7 (which I played without thinking) will directly transpose (after 8.Bb3! Ne7 9.f4! f5) to a line that usually arises by the move order 5.O-O Bc5 6.d3 c6 7.Ba4 Ne7 8.f4 f5 9.Bb3 d5.  This has long been known to give White a big edge.  

Despite my set-back in the opening, which eventually cost me a pawn, I managed to get some play on the king-side by opening up the h-file.  In fact, late in the game I had a chance to win with a surprising shot (see diagram).  I missed it, but I regained my pawn for a draw with 28....Qe7, threatening Qh7 and Qxb4.  What was the stronger move?

Black to play and win after 28.Qf2.

Praveen recently won the Kenillworth Chess Club Championship for the second time in a row (see 2013 and 2014). That is an impressive achievement for a sixth grader!  The game I've annotated was the third we have played in as many years. All three games have featured the Bird Variation of the Ruy Lopez and are included in my notes. 

Previous posts on the Bird Defense:

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