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The four pawns attack as black likes it March 7, 2009

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, personal.
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The four-pawns attack of the Alechin defense arises after the sequence 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.d4 d6 5.f4. White goes all in for a direct attack, exploiting the wandering black knight to gain space in the center. This variation has received a lot of attention since the early days of the Alechin Defense, and it has seen in particular some interesting developments during the seventies, by the sapient hands of Jugoslav players.

I play the Alechin defense as black, and I often find myself struggling in extremely sharp positions when the four-pawns attack is played. It is white’s choice to enter that variation, and one should be prepared well on the main variations, since one faux pas may be fatal. However, these days I cannot afford the luxury of spending time on chess openings, so I have to rely on my experience on the general ideas of the positions that arise.

This evening I played a game that turned out to be a clear (although most probably not clean) example of the thematic tactical motives of the positions that arise in the four-pawns attack. It was a 5′ blitz game on the ICC, so I should be forgiven (as should my unnamed opponent) for any unchecked blunders -I have not fed the moves to a chess engine yet. So here are the moves of the game, with minimal commentary.

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4 dxe5 6.fxe5 Nc6 7.Be3 Bf5 8.Nc3 e6 9.Nf3 Be7 (see diagram below)

We have reached a tabiya, a standard position in the four-pawns attack. Here white has the choice of the solid, positional play that arises after 10.Be2 0-0 11.0-0 f6 12.exf6, or the more aggressive, bold play involving a central push and a swift assault on the black kingside. My opponent chose the second way.

10.d5 exd5 11.cxd5 Nb4 12.Nd4 Bd7 13.e6 fxe6 14.dxe6 Bc6 15.Qg4 Bh4+ 16.g3 Bxh1

We are still playing moves that are in most chess textbooks. White has given up the exchange -the difference in value between a rook and a light piece- but he has a positional advantage and the initiative for it.

17.0-0-0 Qf6 18.gxh4 0-0 19.Be2 Qe5!?N 20.Bh6

Here I vaguely remembered a game I played six or seven hundred years ago, at a national tournament, when I was taken by surprise by the last move of the white pieces. The most used move here, I recalled -and the only one I was prepared to answer- is 20.Bg5. I tried to squeeze my brains for the textbook variation, but I only recalled that the black rook used to end invading the second rank. The move 20….Rf2 did not look that bad, so I played it, letting my opponent spend time to think on its merits. However, I was wrong. The move 19….Qe5 was a mix-up of two variations, and turns out to be a novelty in this position: not a bad move, however.

20…. Rf2?! 21.Rxh1 Kh8 22.Bg5?

Black’s twentieth move was not good, since now, instead than 22.Bg5, white could have acquired a sizable advantage by 22.Nf3!, attacking the queen while she is still forced to defend the g7 square. Instead the move chosen by white justifies black’s sortie on the seventh rank: black has free hands to attack now.

I felt pretty sure of what I needed to do. The pivot of the white position is the Nd4: it is an octopus rather than a knight, but kick it away from there, and it causes white more trouble than benefits. The move I played is a thematic push in this position, aimed at taking control of the center, defending the black Nb4 from horizontal attacks by the white queen, and caressing ideas of a pawn storm of the white king. I felt it in my bones that this move should be played. Of course a computer might prove it a blunder: but at blitz, these moves bring home a lot of points.

22…. c5! 23.Nf3?

This move is very bad, and is the cause of white’s loss. Now, disregarding the attack on the his queen, black takes total control.

23…. Nxa2+! 24.Kc2? Rxe2+ 25.Nxe2 Qxe2+ 26.Kb1

And what now ? The black Na2 is under attack. Black is a pawn up, but he needs to be precise. On 26….Nb4 27.Qf5 white seems capable to hold. But here comes a silent killer:

26…. Nc4!

White is powerless: he has no means to defend the b2 square from the simple threat of Qxb2 mate. White played

27.Bc1 Nxc1 28.Kxc1

but after the precise


he had to resign. There is no way to avoid Qb2 mate, other than sacrificing the queen. Note that 28…. Nb4! would also have been an excellent move. Here many continuations win for black.

I was pleased with this short game, which shows that the position arising from the four-pawns attack is dangerous for white just as much as it is for black!