Kindred’s Special: Tempoing the Petroff Defense

Historically, the Ruy Lopez has been a predominate feature of double KP openings and over the years a host of defensive deployments have emerged. But two Americans chess giants, Pillsbury and Marshall, great tactical stars from the past, embraced a defense that has attained great popularity among today’s ‘creme of the crop’.

The Petroff Defense presents an instant counterplay in the center and comes about by 1.e4  e5  2.Nf3  Nf6 counterattacking the e4 pawn rather than setting up a defense of e5. There are various ways to conduct both sides in this interesting and challenging Knight move. The one I am interested in illustrating here is a popular choice of mine. After 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4, I think 5.Qe2 psychologically deflates Black’s hopes and aims for a complex struggle whose sharpness is blunted as often seen in the more common 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 line for example. It also carries with it historical tidbits that makes it a system of deployment that merits attention and awareness of its possibilities. Understanding the nuances of 5.Qe2 provides a comprehensive recognition of Black’s chances as well as those of the White forces.

In the 1895 St. Petersburg tournament, Harry Nelsen Pillsbury won against Dr. Lasker, World Champion, who essayed 5.d4 and later when faced with this same defense came up with 5.Qe2 which he used a number of times with success against the Petroff. Capablanca likewise used 5.Qe2 with considerable success. So distaught was Frank Marshall that, in his MY FIFTY YEARS OF CHESS declared that 5.Qe2 took all the fun out of the opening because of its drawish appearance. Yes, leave it to Lasker to play the opponent! Indeed, he noted in his famous MANUAL OF CHESS that after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qe2 Qe7 6.d3 Nf6 7.Bg5 Qxe2+ 8.Bxe2 Nd5 with a very complicated endgame to ensue. Again in the Kotov and Yudovich classic THE SOVIET SCHOOL OF CHESS who declared that Black does better to avoid the Queen exchange and play Be6 declaring that Black can obtain equal chances.

Here I present two games handling the defensive duties differently.

                          First Match Game, Havana, 1919

        Capablanca  (White)          vs         B. Kostich  (Black

                                    Petroff Defense

1.e4  e5  2.Nf3  Nf6  3.Nxe5 d6 Black must avoid a trap here 3…Nxe4? 4.Qe2 Qe7 5.Qxe4 d6 6.d4 f6 7.Nc3 with White in control. NCO, page 299 gives 6.d4 dxe5 7.dxe5 Nc6 8.Bb5 Bd7 9.Nc3 0-0-0 10.Bf4 (+).

4.Nf3  Nxe4  5.Qe2  Qe7  6.d3  Nf6  7.Bg5  Qxe2+ 8.Bxe2  Be7 9.Nc3  Bd7

In order to stop Nb5. If 9..Nc6 10.Nb5 Kd8 11.0-0 a6 12.Nbd4  Nxd4 13.Nxd4 c5 14.Nf3 Be6 15.Bd2 h6 16.b3 (Kashdan vs Mikenas, Folkestone 1933).

10.0-0  Castling Q-side is less sound and led to about equal chances in Fine vs Kashdan, New York, 1934.

10…0-0  11.Rfe1  Nc6  12.d4 Rfe8  13.Bb5

Another example of Capa’s compound development and coincides with my own square count.

13…a6  This and the follow up gain space on the Q-side but seems to weaken the Q-side pawn structure and while stopping the threat to win by 14.d5, Black could have achieved the same result with Kf8.

14.Ba4  b5  15.Bb3  Na5

In a correspondence game C.W. Warburton who had followed the moves as White now was faced with a new move by Black, namely 15…Rac8 and I give the game here as played for your interest. Play continued: 16.h3 Nd8 17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Nd5 Rxe1+ 19.Rxe1 Ne6 20.Nxf6+ gxf6 21.d5 Nc5 22.Nd4 Re8 23.Rxe8+ Bxe8 24.Kf1 Bd7 25.Ke2 Kg7 26.c3 f5 27.Bc2 Kf6 28.f4 h5 29.b4 Nb7 30.Kf2 Nd8 31.Bd1 Kg6 32.Kg3 c6 33.dxc6 Nxc6 34.Kh4 Nxd4 35.Bxh5+ Kg7 36.cxd4 Be6 37.a3 Bd5 38.g4 Be6 39.gxf5 Bxf5 40.Bf3 Bc8 41.Kg3 Kh6 42.h4 f6 43.Bg4 Bb7 44.Bf5 Kh5 45.Be6 d5 46.Bd7 Kh6 Black finds himself in Zugswang (required to move which leaves no defense) 47.h5+ 1-0.

16.Re3  c6 17.Rae1 Kf8 18.Bf4  Nb7 19.h3

Occasionally it is wondered why such moves are played and their purpose. Here is an excellent instructional lesson as it provides 3 purposes by keeping Black from freeing his game by Bg4, gives White a flight square to avoid a back row mate, and a safe haven for the Bishop against an attack on it by Nh5.

19…h6 20.Bh2  Bd8  21.Rxe8+ Bxe8 22.a4 c5  23.Ne4  Nxe4  24.Bd5!

Skewering the two Knights.

24…Ra7  25.Bxe4  Be7 26.axb5  axb5 27.dxc5 dxc5

These pawn exchanges have opened lines more favorable to White as his two Bishops are in an attack mode while Black’s pieces are tied more to defense. The game which lasted to move 86 and won by Capablanca is beyond the scope of this article and too long to include here.


                      C.W. Warburton  (White)    vs   Dr. C.S. Hunter

                                        Petroff Defense

1.e4  e5  2.Nf3  Nf6  3.Nxe5  d6  4.Nf3  Nxe4  5.Qe2  Qe7  6.d3  Nf6  7.Bg5  Be6 8.Nc3  h6  9.Bxf6

Warburton follows a game played by Capablanca against Marshall from St. Petersburg, 1914.

9…Qxf6  10.d4  Be7  11.Qb5+ Nd7  12.Bd3  g5

As Capa had won the game with 13.h3 played next, Warburton began to smell a rat that his skillful opponent had unearthed or discovered through his own analysis an improvement for Black. That game had gone 13.h3 0-0 14.Qxb7 Rab8 15.Qe4  Qg7 16.b3 c5 and Capa won with relative ease. Putting on his own thinking cap, Warburton discovered the sharp 16…Nc5! Warburton relates that he felt he was being lured into this specific line where both Marshall and Capablanca had completely missed the move in their own annotations to that game.

Note in the above game, the move h3 was very useful for White. In this game it appears to by unnecessary as Warburton’s analysis suggests with this continuation refuting that given in THE GUARDIAN that supported Capa’s 13.h3 as necessary. After 15..g4 (instead of Qg7) 16.Nd2 Nc5 17.dxc5 Qxc3 18.Qa8+ Bd8 best 19.Qc6+ Kf8 20.Ne4  Qe5 21.Rae1 dxc5 22.Nxc5 Qd6 23.Nxe6 fxe6 24.Qc3 wins.

16.Bb5 Bd8

With the King stuck in the central region he has no time for g4 now. The next is to fix it that the King remain there.

17.Bxd7+ Kxd7 18.Ne5!+ dxe5

This positional sac makes correspondence play such fun. Imagine if the opponent does not consider the move and then receives it in the post!

19.d5! Ke8  20.dxe6  fxe6  21.Rad1

With sq/ct now 14-9 White begins to knock down the door.

21…Rb6  22.Nb5  a6  23.Na7  Rd6  24.Nc6

The result of this Knight ‘walk’ will enhance the effect of the Queen penetrating on the Q-wing.

24…Bf6  25.Rxd6  cxd6  26.Rb1

Another sq/ct type move as it takes up a powerful post on the open b-file with increased sq/ct to boot.

26…d5  27.Qa4  Qc7

Black cannot allow Rb8+.

28.Qxa6  Qd6  29.Rb7  Bd8  30.Rg7  1-0.




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  11. Kindred Says:

    Merlyn Sakry

    Historically, the Ruy Lopez has been a predominate feature of double KP openings and over the years a host of defensive deployments have emerged. But two Americans chess giants, Pillsbury and Marshall, great tactical stars from the past, embraced a def…

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