Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why I love the Berlin Defence

Consider this position for a moment:-

OK, I know there are no Black pieces on the board. Just have a look at the White bits for the time being.

It’s pretty sensible I think you’ll agree. White’s advanced a central pawn to gain space, developed both knights to bishop three, castled his king into safety and more or less cleared his back rank. All that’s left to be done is find a home for the Bc1 and then it will be possible to bring the rooks to the d- and e- files. A clearer example of classical chess principles it would be harder to find.

Here, in contrast, it just looks like everything’s gone a little bit wrong for Black. He’s got a knight somewhat clumsily placed on f5 and no other bits have even made it out of the box yet. On top of that there’s doubled pawns, no immediate prospect of connecting rooks and a king that’s wandering about in the middle of the board. It’s true that Black’s got a brace of bishops but since they’re loafing around on their home squares it’s hard to imagine what they’re going to be doing for the foreseeable future.

So White appears to be doing everything right while Black seems to be doing everything wrong. Put these two set-ups together

and White must have a huge advantage right? Well apparently not, and that’s pretty damn amusing to me, but what I really love about the Berlin, though, is that on move nine Black doesn’t rush to make up for the total horlicks he’s apparently made of the opening thus far and after

1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. Bb5 Nf6, 4. 0-0 Nxe4, 5. d4 Nd6, 6. Bxc6 dxc6, 7. dxe5 Nf5, 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8, 9. Nc3

he can consider such wonderful moves as

9. … h6 - time for a small pawn move at the side of the board. Who gives a toss about development?

9. … Ke8 – I like to think Black sends the king home in the hope that if he leaves it there for a bit White might forget it’s already moved and he’ll be able to get away with castling after all.


9. … Ne7 – My personal favourite this one. Black undevelops the only piece he’s managed to get off the back rank thus far (move a piece only once in the opening? Pah. I’ll make half my moves with the one knight and not touch anything else thank you very much) and blocks a bishop's diagonal to boot.

The Berlin Defence. It contradicts everything you learned about chess since you were a nipper and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever … and yet it can break the will of the strongest player who ever lived.

Got to love it. Right Tom?


ejh said...

I also like the way the bishop doesn't go to b7 in the game - just in case you thought Black had actually played a pawn move for the purposes of development.

I think it's great and in retrospect it's amazing that it took until 2000 for people to start playing it on any widespread level. However, as JB knows, I think that in club and tournament chess you're going to see an awful lot of 5.Re1.

Tom Chivers said...

White's optical space advantage is mitigated by the reduced material in the first diagram. I'd say white has more space rather than has a space advantage.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a comparison can be made with the Flohr-Agzamov variation of the Alekhine where one line goes 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3 Bg5 5. Be2 c6 6. 0-0 Bxf3 7. Bxf3 de 8. de e6 and White may play 9. c4 Ne7 10. Qxd8 Kxd8. Here, though, it's clear that the White e5 pawn is a target.


Jonathan B said...

"I'd say white has more space rather than has a space advantage."

Yes I think you're right Tom - that's a better way to put it. I'm must say I'm very pleased to see you've been putting some thought into this position ;-)

I guess you're right - does the king normally go to c7 in that line? It looks like it's already got a nice hole there

ejh said...

If he ever plays me again he may be putting in a whole lot more....