Last time I was up at Golden Lane (for the London I v Wimbledon match), GM Neil McDonald happened to be sitting at the table directly behind me.
I was pleased to take the opportunity to thank him for the work he put into his book on the Dutch which I bought recently. Unlike many of the chess books I've bought over the years, which number far too many, this one happens to be pretty useful. It's not a theory-heavy tome but does a very good job of explaining the basic ideas behind the three main branches of the Dutch Defence.
Good though it is, the book managed to reinforce a confusion concerning one particular position in the Classical Dutch that I've been suffering for around twenty years.
On page 76 McDonald writes that in the line that goes,
1. d4 f5, 2. c4 Nf6, 3. Nf3 e6, 4. g3 Be7, 5. Bg2 0-0, 6. 0-0 d6, 7. Nc3 Qe8, 8. Re1 Qg6
there is no need to prepare e2-e4 with, say, Qc2 because after
9. e4 fxe4, 10. Nxe4 Nxe4, 11. Rxe4
"... Black can't play 11. ... Qxe4? because of 12. Nh4! trapping his queen in the centre of the board!"
I remember reading this little snippet somewhere or other not long after I first started playing club chess in the mid-80s. I confess that at the time I simply didn't understand the claim because even back then I could see that after,
12. ... Qxh4, 13. gxh4 Bxh4 White has to play 14. Be3 to secure f2.
Far from blundering away her majesty completely, Black has rook, knight and pawn in exchange for the queen not to mention pressure along the f-file and the somewhat passively placed White bishop on e3. OK, Black's entire queenside is undeveloped but is this variation really so worrying for him?
I decided to have another look at this position to see whether twenty years on with a few extra resources, and hopefully a bit more chess knowledge, I could finally work out why everybody just dismisses ... Qxe4. Unfortunately, I'm still not much the wiser.
To my surprise Megabase 2007 was really not very helpful at all. It contains just three games in this line the first of these being San Segundo - Cenal Gutierrez from the Spanish Championship of 2000. Play continued,
14. ... Nc6, 15. d5 Ne5, 16. dxe6 Bxe6, 17. f4 Nxc4, 18. Bd5 Bf7, 19. Bf2
and the game was agreed drawn.
In his 2003 book "Play the Classical Dutch", Simon Williams assesses the final position as slightly better for Black. No doubt the fact he was rated a couple of hundred points below his opponent helped persuade Cenal Gutierrez to accept the half point here.
Williams, who has at least given some thought to this position, considers 15. d5 to be worthy of a ? and suggests instead that White play
15. Be4! Bf6, 16. Qd3 h6, 17. Kh1
when he feels that White is clearly better. "It would take a brave or foolish man to try this line again as Black."
Now this makes much more sense to me because White's got everything pointing at the Black king but whether this justifies the claim that Black "can't" play 11. ... Qxe4 I'm not so sure.
Anyway, in one of the two remaining games in MegaBase 2007, Perma (2099) - Van der Veen (unrated) 2002, Black played 16. ... g6 which looks a bit more sensible than opening up the light squared diagonal by advancing the rook's pawn. Again the game was drawn, this time in 45 moves, and in the last game in the database, Winiwarter (2199) - Kuess (2039) 2005, Black played ... g7-g6 on move 14 instead of ... Nb8-c6. Another draw resulted (69 moves).
Of the three games in the database, then, White doesn't win a single one - and this despite the fact that for the two games where both players have a rating he comes out on average 190 points higher rated Black. It's also worth mentioning, I think, that on each occasion the player of the White pieces has not been a total muppet but has been rated well over 2000.
So, is 11. ... Qxe4 really so bad?
I'm sure that 11. ... Nc6 (the theoretically prescribed move) is an improvement for Black but nevertheless the claim that queen takes rook can't be played just doesn't appear to be justified. Williams' "?!" and observation that, 12. Nh4 "is a bit embarrassing for her majesty...." is much more on the money as far as I can see.
It's an example, I think, of something getting written just because it's always be said in the past and not many people stop to think whether it's actually true. It's an all to familiar problem with chess books and even authors who take as much care as McDonald does seem to be affected by it.
Still, don't let all this put you off Starting Out: The Dutch Defence. A few niggles aside, it really is a very good introduction to the opening and I can warmly recommend it to any lower and mid-range players who are interested in investigating the Dutch from either Black's or White's point of view.