Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Queen's Pawn Game with ... d6

In the mid 1990's, an unusual opening setup for Black sprung to prominence:

1 d4 d6; 2 c4 e5!?

Superficially, after the obvious response 3 de de; 4 Qxd8+ Kxd8 Black has lost the right to castle and consequently White appears to be doing well.

Queen's Pawn Game

Results with the line told a different story though, Chessbase reveals (upto 1998) that Black was scoring a staggering 71% with the line, and the best White could hope for was the occasional grovelling draw. Since '98, White's results, if anything, have been even worse.

A deeper study of the position reveals the reasons behind this:

  1. Black's apparently weak king is under little threat with the Queen's off the board, e.g. after c7-c6 it can be safely tucked away on c7, and in some cases it's central position can even be an asset in quick transitions to a ending

  2. The c4 pawn restricts the scope of White's light squared bishop, Black can latch onto it as an easy target e.g. with ... Be6. Shifting the pawn is a time consuming task that leaves other weaknesses in it's wake

  3. Black has easy development with ... Nd7, ... Bc5 ideas, swapping the dark squared bishops and going into good knight / good bishop vs. bad bishop endings

  4. Any moves of the e-pawn (to e3 or e4) give Black potential invasion squares for a knight on either d3 or d4

  5. Black can play moves like ... f6 securing a strong central pawn on e5

It might not be terminal yet, but it's certainly no fun to play as White, and the opening definitely deserves a better name than "Queen's Pawn Game with ... d6". Suggestions for a name to roger AT 21thoughts DOT com.

So, should we give up playing d4 as White?

Well, perhaps not, Burgess and Pedersen recommend meeting 1 d4 d6; with 2 e4 transposing into a Pirc.

If this is not your cup of tea, my recommendation is not to take the pawn after 1 d4 d6; 2 c4 e5, but instead to play 3 Nf3 transposing into a line from the English opening (Chessbase reveals White scores a healthy 54% with this line!).

Some sample games:

Alexandru Crisan vs. Bartlomiej Macieja, Vidmar Memorial 2001 (a typical Black victory after 3 de de; 4 Qxd8+ Kxd8)

Jeroen Piket vs. Ilya Smirin, European Teams Championship 2001 (handling the White pieces after 3 Nf3 e4; 4 Ng5)

1 comment:

yemon said...

How about 3 e4 transposing into a kind of Philidor? Though White probably just has similar position problems to the line with the queens off, I guess.

Congrats on Hartlepool, by the way.


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Chess Tales by Roger Coathup: A collection of online articles about chess and chess players.