1 Nf3 repertoire: The Hedgehog System

While variations on the basic Hedgehog formation can arise from a range of different openings, here we are concerned with the position after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 b6 3 g3 Bb7 4 Bg2 c5 5 0-0 e6 6 Nc3, which can naturally arise from a wide range of move orders. The essential characteristics of the position are:

  • White has put a pawn on c4 and Black has put a pawn on c5.
  • White has fianchettoed his king’s bishop with g3 and Bg2, while Black has counter-fianchettoed with …b6 and …Bb7.
  • Black has played …e6 and is therefore aiming to develop his other bishop on e7.
  • White is likely to play d4, which Black will meet with …cxd4, leading to the classic Hedgehog pawn structure.

When the classic Hedgehog pawn structure arises (after d4 cxd4), the game takes on the character of certain lines of the Sicilian. White has a space advantage, but in order to attack, he must expose his position in some way or other, which will give Black the chance to counter-attack.

White has two basic schemes of development against the Hedgehog:

  • 7 d4 cxd4 8 Qxd4
  • 7 Re1 intending 8 e4, 9 d4 cxd4 10 Nxd4

These are applicable against 6…Be7, 6…d6 and 6…a6, which are Black’s most common choices on move six.

Rather than attempt a comprehensive survey, I am going to have a look at the opening based on my experiences of it. I’ll consider both typical plans and pitfalls for both sides. As all my experience has been in using the White scheme “7 Re1 intending 8 e4, 9 d4 cxd4 10 Nxd4”, I shall concentrate on that.

Black is struck down by e5

Black needs to be careful about the move order he employs in order to reach the standard position. One thing he has to look out for is the e5 tactic, which arises when his bishop on b7 is not protected. An example of this can be found in my game against Dix Roberts this season, which went 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.O-O c5 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Re1 d6 8.e4 Nbd7 9.d4 cxd4 10.Nxd4 a6?! 11.e5! and White wins material after 11…Bxg2? 12.exf6 or 11…dxe5 12.Bxb7 followed by 12…Ra7 13.Nc6 or 12…exd4 13.Bxa8.

Black is struck down by Nd5

Another more complex move order problem occurs when Black fails to play …Be7 and …0-0 quickly enough, allowing White to sacrifice a piece with Nd5. This is not always as clear cut as the problems that arise after e5 described above.

I have one example from my own games of a successful Nd5 sacrifice. I give it below with some notes. In playing the sacrifice, I was only aware of the general possibility, and had to work everything out over the board.

White breaks through on the kingside

The following game almost saw me beat Andrew Greet at the Coventry Open in 2004, although my opponent defended resourcefully and I wasn’t quite able to push my attack home. However, I have decided to give it here as it illustrates White’s various attacking possibilities very well, showing how he can break through successfully on the kingside. It also includes examples of the e5 and Nd5 ideas examined above.

Black plays the simplifying …Ne4

The game given above saw Black playing in classic Hedgehog style, maintaining the tension and hoping to launch a counter-attack. However, Black has a more solid approach, inspired by the Queen’s Indian, which seems him exchanging a pair of knights with a timely …Ne4. My game against Dominic Foord this season is one example, and the following encounter against Andrew Greet, played after the previous game, is another. It is a classic example of how an ill-judged thrust by White can backfire in the Hedgehog.

White over-extends

Here is another example of White over-extension in the Hedgehog. It was played in a correspondence game and was my only loss in that section, which led to my opponent qualifying ahead of me.

Visit the Bibliography for recommended reading relating to the 1 Nf3 Repertoire.
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