Saturday, 17 November 2012

ACE OF TROMPS (Part 1)

(with many thanks to Mike McNaughton for this, the first of four articles on the Trompowsky).

When I first started to play chess, if I had played a move like 2 Bg5 I would have had my bumps felt (“Move your knights first, boy, and then your Bishops“). For some time it would have been classified under ‘Irregular and Unusual Openings’. And then a certain Julian Hodgson came along and scored a series of decisive wins with it. And inevitably it became fashionable and everybody had to play it.

Nowadays I suspect the frenzy has subsided a little but the opening does still have its devotees, and it is something which you are likely to encounter every now and then.

From the point of view of the White player, the Trompovsky has its pros and cons.

Firstly, it does carry an element of surprise. On the face of it, White is ‘threatening‘ to play the immediate 3 Bxf6, doubling Black’s pawns. At some stage in our development, we were probably told that doubled pawns are a Very Bad Thing – as indeed they sometimes can be, but not always – otherwise White could never allow the Nimzo. And what research I have done has persuaded me, for one, that Black’s position after Bxf6 is not always all that bad.

Secondly, it neatly by-passes the Indian Defences.

Thirdly, Black has a number of perfectly decent replies. Leaving aside variations which are clearly inferior, I counted six: Ne4, e6, d5, d6, g6 and c5. And the White player needs to know how to meet all of them, or the surprise may be on the other foot.

Fourthly, the Tromp, like the Italian Opening, can produce positions which are comparatively dull and uninteresting; but it can also produce wild, unbalanced positions where normally the stronger player wins. If you don’t like playing that kind of position, and your opponent chooses to reply, say, c5, then you take the risk of getting into a position where you are going to feel uncomfortable. From the point of view of Black, you only need to know one of the six replies and know it reasonably well. You have the ability to steer the game into channels which suit you – and if you know your opponent is bookish and unadventurous, you can easily throw him off stroke immediately.

It became apparent to me that dealing with the Tromp was too big a subject to cover in one article. For the time being I am going to content myself with some general remarks. I will try and produce four articles in total, of which this is the first. The other three will take a more detailed look at the possible replies for Black. The choice of reply is, to some extent, a matter of style. For example, e6 might appeal to French players; d6 can transpose into the Pirc. But there is one fundamental question you need to consider. On the face of it White is ‘threatening‘ to play Bxf6, doubling Black’s pawns. The question is, are you going to let him do it?

I imagine most of you would say 'no', why accept a pawn weakness? But I’m not convinced that Black has too much to worry about. After 2 …g6, White could of course play 3 Bxf6, but in fact the most common move at master level is 3 Nf3. So why is that – unless the general opinion is that Bxf6 is not all that great?

The kind of pawn structure that typically results (after Black moves his doubled f pawn to f5) is shown in the following diagram:
Let’s have a look at it. We all know that in the Nimzo Black tends to exchange his KB on c3, saddling White with doubled pawns, but with the risk that the White Bishops can, if not dealt with, become a fearsome attacking weapon. But I defy you to say that the above pawn structure is weak – particularly as White’s Queen’s Bishop has gone, and the B on g7 has a free run on the dark squares. The pawn on f5 discourages e4 for White; Black can follow up by c5 followed by Qb6, move his Knight to f6 via d7, and suddenly Bxf6 doesn’t look quite so good after all.

I may add, by the way, that it’s probably just as reasonable for Black to deploy the bishop on d6, as one of our illustrative games will show.

So at this stage I want to make a few general remarks about each of the Black options, starting with Ne4 – according to Fritz, the most popular option.

I have to say, I did not like this move. Well, it’s a free country. I can dislike it if I wish! Later on, and to conclude this article, I will give you a game played by the man himself, Octavio Trompovsky, which shows that the opening, if not handled correctly, can become a formidable attacking weapon. I will also give you another dangerous line played by Julian Hodgson, and a more positional treatment by our own Richard Pert, against the more popular 3 …c5.

Well, it’s up to you, but all things considered, I don’t think much of the line, unless perhaps you want a bit of excitement. As some of you will have worked out by now, I prefer stodgy draws to exciting losses!

The 2 …e6 line I regard as one of the safest replies to the Trompovsky. The immediate 3 e4, though not bad, is perhaps too committal but there are a number of possibilities available for the player of the white pieces, which I will look at later. And Black avoids the doubled pawns.

I will be suggesting a line for Black which was played successfully by the Russian GM Vladimir Epishin, which seemed to me to give Black a very reasonable position with little risk, and is a good choice if all you want is a decent line against the Tromp that gives you a satisfactory position without too much book study.

The third alternative is the immediate 3 …d5. I have given three illustrative games; one of them involves a player some readers may know, David Ledger from Bedford. He started off badly, then clawed his way back into the game, and just as things started looking good, his position went south and Nigel Povah, his opponent, finished off with some considerable panache.

The second game I really liked, and I’m sure you will enjoy playing through it. It was played by the incomparable Anatoly Karpov and his opponent was one Sinisa Drazic, no fool by any means, and a Trompovsky specialist. There are no pyrotechnics, just a great player showing impeccable technique. And finally, we have a masterclass from Magnus Carlsen.

The next line for Black is the Benoni-like c5. The word ‘Ben-Oni‘ so I am told, means ‘Son of Sadness‘ and I once remarked in the Norfolk magazine En Passant that sadness is the emotion often experienced by those who play it. But against the Tromp, it has its points.

White can play the immediate Bxf6, and Black counters this by putting the KB on g7, advancing the K side pawns to free the Bishop, and then playing Qb6 to put the White Q side under pressure. The other possibility is 4 d5 and many players would play this automatically and then the fireworks commence.

Well, let’s have a look at the next position, which arises from the 4 d5 line. White is a pawn up, but in a serious mess. And the player of Black was Vlastimil Hort. Taken together, that means big trouble. If you can work the winning move out, you’re doing well. If not – you’ll just have to wait!

And finally, there is the move g6. I’ve already made some remarks about this and will give some games which I hope will demonstrate that Black has good chances after 3 Bxf6, and that the line is a reasonably safe response. And in accordance with the ‘policy‘ of using games by local players where possible, we will have as our tutor a player known to us all, Adam Hunt.

To show you that the Tromp is no pussycat, (tame it’s not!) and to satisfy your schadenfreude, here is a short game where Black got well and truly discomknockerated. Mind you, he had only himself to blame. Mr Cantero probably didn’t feel much like singing after this debacle.

White: O Trompovsky; Black: R Cantero, Montevideo, 1924
Part 2 will follow in a few days' time.

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