Don’t Be Caught Cold

On Facebook recently, Nigel Davies wrote about his son Sam having a few problems at a recent adult congress, when running up against offbeat opening specialities of his opponents, such as 1.b4, etc. Nigel’s response is to work through each of these lines with Sam and equip him with a line of defence against each.

Recently, a pupil of mine (about ECF 175 strength, or 2100 Elo) had a similar problem. Facing a very experienced and strong opponent in a club game, but one who knows little theory, my pupil found himself surprised by 1.Nc3. Although rarely played, this is a perfectly sound opening, and also very trappy and dangerous. The fact is that, unlike 1.e4 or 1.d4, which prepare to develop a piece but do not actually develop one, 1.Nc3 brings a piece into play at once, and there are many traps waiting for the unwary black player. One such occurred in my pupil’s game.

He replied 1…d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nxe4 and now 4…Bf5. His logical reasoning was that he has a Caro-Kann, where he has saved on …c6 and White on d4, which on the face of it, should favour Black, as d4 looks more useful to White than c6 is to Black. But there are various tactical traps to be aware of. After 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.Nf3 e6?! (OK in the equivalent Caro position, but dubious here). 7.h4 h6 8.Ne5, he suddenly had a problem, since 8…Bh7 9.Qf3 hits both f7 and b7. So now we see why …c6 is not such a useless move for Black after all! He improvised with the ugly 8…Qf6, but after 9.d4 he had another problem, because 10.Bg5 threatens to win the exchange. After 9…Bh7 10.Qe2, he still had all manner of trouble developing his pieces, and within a few moves, his position was a wreck and he lost easily.

So the lesson is that these offbeat openings all need a little bit of preparation. An hour or two is easily enough in most cases, but you should take a bit of a look at them and work out a line of play, so that you are not caught completely cold at the board.

The following game shows another example of how dangerous such lines can be. Black , a 2250 player, is basically lost after 5 moves!

Steve Giddins