Thursday, September 20, 2007

The new Najdorf?

One of the least likely chess book titles you could ever wish to see is “Winning with the Petroff”.

Such a book does indeed exist – allegedly authored by one A. Karpov although I doubt whether Anatoly contributed much more to the project than an agreement to the use of his name.

Anyway, back to the point … The Petroff Defence. It doesn’t have a reputation for friskyness does it? In Playing to Win as long ago as 1988, James Plaskett wrote …

“ … I will stick my neck out and predict that because of the excruciatingly bland middlegames which it all too frequently generates it will be thought necessary, in the not too distant future, to proscribe the Petroff ….”

Well that never happened and the Petroff is alive and well, appearing four times in the first four rounds in Mexico City.

But what’s going on?

Anand-Gelfand* in round one ended quickly it’s true but had Black played 22. … Rxf4 instead of 22. … Rxe1 with a draw offer he might have been winning.

In round three Kramnik emerged from the opening a pawn up against Anand (again) and Leko had to defend a dodgy Queen ending for a hundred moves against Gelfand (again) before the point was split. True, Leko had been better before losing the thread some time around the time control and Svidler-Gelfand (again again) in round four was a typical Petroff short draw but now I come to think about it … what about Brissago 2004 when Kramnik gave Leko a Petroff spanking to open their match.

Can the Petroff really have become the way to go if you want to win with Black when playing against 1. e4 at World Championship level???

At the other end of the scale, twenty plus years ago my second ever game with a chess clock, and my first serious club game with the Black pieces, began

1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nf6, 3. Nxe5 d6, 4. Nf3 Nxe4 and now White came up with the not particularly impressive 5. Bc4 to which I responded … d5 and went on to win.

Perhaps I should have stuck with it.

* Anand punted 5. Nc3 against Gelfand though presumably he wasn't hoping to end up on the right side of a six move victory.


ejh said...

The Petroff's fine: it's just that it's almost a dead draw if White wants it. Other than that it's as exciting as any other opening, at club level anyway.

Mind you, the lines with 3.d4 are what always troubled me and I don't understand why they're not seen more often.

Jonathan B said...

I wonder about 3. d4.

Also back when I was playing the Petroff, 8. Re1 and only then 9. c4 was considered to be stronger than the immediate advance of the bishop's pawn - and that seems to be the only line played at the top level.

Whatever - it's certainly working for Bob Gelfand. Who'd have thought he'd be equal first at this stage?