Kindred’s Special: A New Riga Variation View

Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch authored THE GAME OF CHESS, my first chess book. While ancient as instruction books go, I believe the meat is tasty now as when it was written. The good doctor differed in opinion about hypermodern chess theory espoused by Dr. A. Nimzowitsch whose MY SYSTEM and CHESS PRAXIS elevated chess thought to new highs.

Dr. Tarrasch championed the Tarrasch Variation or Open Defense to the Ruy Lopez. It has stood the test of time, being practiced for many years by such stars as Dr. Eduard Dyckhoff, Dr. Euwe, Karpov, and Korchnoi just to name a few. The normal variation goes: 1.e4 e5  2.Nf3  Nc6  3.Bb5  a6  4.Ba4  Nf6  5.0-0  Nxe4  6.d4  b5  7.Bb3  d5  8.dxe5 (or Nxe5, a sub line).  The modern theorists Khalifman, Kortchnoi and Flear have reexamined the Riga Variation of the Ruy Lopez as did many earlier chess greats and all considered it falling short, while Flear in his Open Ruy Lopez treatise considered it sound if controversially complex. Now, after all, isn’t that the nuts and bolts of most opening variations? What is good one year might be put in the trash heap the next due to some remarkable analysis conjured up by theorists.

Such is the case of the recent New In Chess Yearbook 85, starting on page 114-121. by Paul Talsma and Peter Boll, titled Better Than Its Reputation.

As I suggested in my opening column, Openings: A Foundation, it is a good idea to stick to 1.e4 and reply e5 because in that way you gain insight into the needs of the opening moves necessitating development, threats, defense, and counterattacks. You gain experience by playing various gambits or defending against them. It develops your tactical skills and ability to visualize pending positions arising.

1.e4  e5  2.Nf3  Nc6  3.Bb5  a6  4.Ba4  Nf6  5.0-0  Nxe4  6.d4  exd4 7.Re1  d5.

The Riga (6…exd4) according to Keres leaves white with the better chances. And Dr. Euwe thought it was not good but not that bad.  One has to wonder just what these giants of chess meant exactly! In modern terms it may mean: “covering one’s ass” so as not to appear foolish in their assessment. But chess is truth and that truth can sometimes be ornery and fickle.

The common established analysis goes:

8.Nxd4  Bd6  9.Nxc6  Bxh2+ 10.Kh1  Qh4 11.Rxe4  dxe4  12.Qd8+ Qxd8  13.Nxd8  Kxd8  14.Kxh2  Be6.

This continuation was made famous in the Jose R. Capablanca-Edward Lasker, 1915 tournament game that the great Capa managed to produce one of his masterpieces of the chess board. There have been numerous tries by both sides from this position.

Dr. Euwe suggested a continuation I like because it strikes at the center (8.c4) NCO gives 8…Bb4 9.cxd5  Bxe1  10.Qxe1 Qxd5 11.Bb3  Qf5 12.Nbd2  0-0  13.Nxe4; or 10…0-0 11.dxc6 Nc5  12.Qb4 whereas YB85 suggests 11.Qxe4 Re8  12.Qf4  Qxd5 13.Nbd2 a cc game Podkrajsek-Van Perlo, 1994.

Berger’s 1909 analysis of the Riga turned up what I think has perhaps stood the test of time. Again, my sqct theory points to 8.Bg5 because it bites into the enemy position and also follows Capablanca’s belief that one should combine development whenever possible, that is to reach into the guts of the enemy position as much as possible safely.

8.Bg5  Be7 This has been the standard move for over 100 years but now YB85 suggestion is 8…f6.

Two great ICCF GMs Palciauskas-Berliner in 2003 tried instead of either of these possible moves 8…Qd6 but was met with 9.c4  dxc3  10.Nxc3  Be6  11.Nxe4  dxe4  12.Nd4  Qd5  13.Nxe6! (Previously played 13.Nxc6 is weaker.)  If now, Qxe6 14.Qc2  f5 15.g4! Hans took 13…fxe6  14.Qh5+ White adds to his sqct. and forces some structural damage to the King’s position.14…g6  15.Qh4  Bc5  16.Rad1 Not only does sqct prompt this but so does Point Count Chess! 16…Qf5  17.g4!

Now, on 8…Be7  9.Bxe7  Kxe7  10.Bxc6  bxc6  11.Qxd4! Centralization of the Queen ala Chess Praxis! This move gives white the edge because Kf8? 12.Rxe4 wins a piece because of the pin on the d-pawn.  11…Be6  12.Qxg7  Qd6  13.Nbd2  Rag8  14.Qd4  f5  15.b4! h5.  I leave the game at this point which continued with 16.Nb3 but I think a stronger move might be simply 16.Nxe4 to be rid of that outpost Knight. Black seems to me to have problems after either pawn takes the Knight with Ne5!

Finally after 8.Bg5 f6  9.Nxd4  Bc5  10.Nxc6  Bxf2+  11.Kf1  Qd7  12.Nc3  bxc6  13.Nxe4  Bxe1  14.Nxf6+  gxf6  15.Qh5+  Kf8  16.Bh6+  Ke7  17.Rxe1+  Kd8  18.Qf3 With plenty of play and chances for both sides.

For many of you this opening is complex but rich with interesting ideas and should help you improve your analetical ability.  There is a great deal of meat in all but much of the conclusions drawn come down to about equal chances in most cases from the examples presented in YB85.

The amateur eye often looks at chess differently from that of the GM stars that continue to grow on the chess tree of life. Most of us do not have time to devote many hours to honing our skills. The Riga Variation is one which I feel is valuable most because it offers plentiful opportunities to dig into the positions arising after 6…exd4.

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