1 Nf3 repertoire: The Symmetrical English with 2…Nf6 and 4…d5

One of the features of symmetrical positions is that the same basic moves are possible for each side. However, because one side is a move ahead, the same move does not necessarily have the same value. For instance, in the Petroff after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6, both sides are threatening the other’s e-pawn, with Nxe5 and …Nxe4 respectively. However, Black should not meet 3 Nxe5 with 3…Nxe4, because of 4 Qe2, and if 4…Nf6, then 5 Nc6+, winning the queen.

After 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5, both sides will be able to play d4/…d5 for at least the next few moves. I am not recommending that White should generally play d4, but only should Black adopt certain formations. However, we do need to consider Black’s attempts to play …d5 at various junctures.

In this post, we will be looking at 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 d5. As 5 cxd5 Nxd5 gives Black an active position (e.g. 6 Bg2 Nc7 7 0-0 e5), White needs to be prepared to strike back with the sharp 5 d4.

Now 5…e6 6 cxd5 leads to the Tarrasch after 6…exd5 7 Bg2 Be7 8 0-0 0-0 and the Semi-Tarrasch after 6…Nxd5 7 Bg2 Be7 8 0-0 0-0 9 Nxd5 exd5. Both these openings have already been covered in other posts (see here and here).

Apart from 5…cxd4 and 5…dxc4, Black’s main alternative is 6…Nxd5 7 Bg2 cxd4 (rather than 7…Be7). Then plays goes 8 Nxd4 Nxc3 9 bxc3 Nxd4 10 Qxd4 Qxd4 11 cxd4 and we have a fork: 11…Bd6 or 11…Bb4+.

After 11…Bd6, the classic game Kramnik – Lautier, Horgen 1995 show how White can exploit Black’s problems when it comes to developing his queenside. 12 0-0 (White needs both rooks in play) Rb8 13 e4 0-0 14 e5 (cramping Black and keeping up the pressure on b7) Be7 15 Be3 Bd7 16 Rfc1 (threatening Rc7) Rfc8 17 Rxb8 Bxc8 (note that Black cannot take with the rook, and so remains passive) 18 Rc1 Kf8 19 Bh3 (setting up a pin on the Black e-pawn) Ke8 20 d5 (exploiting the pin) Bd7 21 d6 Bd8 22 Bg2 (provoking a further weakness) b6 23 f4 Rc8 24 Kf2 Rxc1 25 Bxc1. White now has a substantial advantage based on his passed pawn.

In view of the above game, 11…Bb4+ looks to easy the cramp in the Black position through exchanges. A natural sequence is now 12 Bd2 Bxd2+ 13 Kxd2 Ke7 14 Rhc1 Rd8 15 Rc7 Rd7 16 Rac1 Kd8 17 Rxd7+ Kxd7. Now White has a lead in development and advantage in space, but the position is greatly simplified. After 18 g4 (aiming to gain space on the kingside and perhaps open lines there) 18…h6, Khalifman quotes Kramnik’s suggestion 19 h4!? Rb8 20 g5 hxg5 21 hxg5 b6 22 Rh1 Ba6 23 Rh7 Rg8 and Black has been forced back into a passive position. However, opening the h-file with 20…hxg5 is a little cooperative. Gyula Sax, as Black against Sergei Krivoshey at Balatonlelle 2004, played instead 20…b6 21 Bc6 Kd6 22 Be8 hxg5 23 hxg5 f6 and the game was agreed drawn. White’s manoeuvre Bc6-e8 seems mistaken; however there is no clear cut improvement for White here. Taking on h6 with 21 gxh6 doesn’t seem to offer anything, so I would suggest that White should simply look to expand further on the kingside by 21 f4.

Going back to move 5, both 5…cxd4 and 5…dxc4 can be seen as more principled responses to 5 d4 than 5…e6, which does rather fall in with White’s plans. After 5…cxd4 6 Nxd4, we have:

  • 6…e5 7 Nxc6 bxc6 8 Bg2 reaches a reversed Gruenfeld, where White’s extra move means strong pressure on the Black centre. 8…e4 9 Bg5 Be6 10 cxd5 cxd5 11 Bxf6 gxf6 12 Qa4+ Qd7 13 Qd4 looks very good for White, while 8…Be6 9 Bg5 Bb4 (How else to relieve the pressure on d5?) 10 0-0 Bxc3 11 bxc3 Rc8 12 Qa4 Qd7 13 Rad1 is equally unpleasant for Black.
  • 6…e6 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Nxc6 bxc6 9 Bg2 Bb4 10 0-0 0-0 (Instead both 10…Nxc3 11 bxc3 Bxc3 12 Rb1 Bd7 13 Ba3 and 10…Bxc3 11 bxc3 Nxc3 12 Qc2 Nd5 13 Ba3 leave Black with big problems) 11 Qc2 Qb6 12 Ne4 h6 13 Bd2 is slightly better for White.
  • 6…dxc4 7 Nxc6 Qxd1+ 8 Nxd1 bxc6 9 Bg2 Nd5 (After 9…Bd7 10 Ne3 c3 11 bxc3 e6 12 Nc4 Nd5 13 Bd2 White has the more active position – compare the bishops on g2 and d7!) 10 Ne3 e6 (10…Ba6 11 Nxd5 cxd5 12 Bxd5 Rc8 13 Bd2 e6 14 Bf3 leaves Black with the weaker pawn structure) 11 Nxc4 Ba6 results in a typical position from this line, with a weak Black c-pawn. White has various ways to continue; one is 12 Na5!? as played in Kramnik – Timman, Wijk aan Zee 1999, which went 12…Bc5 13 Bd2 0-0 14 Rc1 Bd4 15 b4 Bb5 16 Nxc6 Bb2 17 Rc5 Bxc6 18 Rxc6 Rac8 19 Rxc8 Rxc8 20 Bxd5 exd5 21 f4 and White had a clear advantage. His last move is very important, as it prepares to bring his rook into the game with Rf1-f3, while keeping his king in the centre, where it is needed for the endgame.

The move 5…dxc4 is not really that good, but can be nerve wracking for White to play in the main line, as White has to give up material, admittedly for a strong attack. I have faced this move three times, one over the board, the other two in correspondence chess.

After 5…dxc4, White should play 6 d5. Then Black should go for 6…Nb4, as 6…Na5 just gives White a dominating position in the centre after 7 e4:

  • 7…a6 led to a rapid defeat in Mansson – Barry, ICCF World Cup 13 after 8 e5 Ng4 9 h3 Nh6 10 e6! Nf5 (10…fxe6 11 Bxh6 gxh6 12 Ne5 and the threat of Qh5+ decides) 11 Qa4 b5 12 Nxb5! axb5 13 Qxb5 Bd7 14 exd7 Qxd7 15 Qxd7 Kxd7 16 Bf4 and Black resigned.
  • 7…e6 8 d6! is mentioned by Khalifman.
  • 7…b5 8 Nxb5 Nxe4 9 Ne5 is the critical line, as played in game 5 of the Tal – Timman match at Hilversum in 1988. White now threatens Qa4. After 9…Bd7 10 Nxd7 Qxd7 11 Qa4 Rb8 12 Nc7+ Kd8 13 Ne6+ fxe6 14 Qxa5+ Qc7 15 Qxc7 Kxc7 16 Bf4 Nd6 17 0-0-0 g6 18 Be5 Rg8 19 dxe6 Bg7 White could have continued simply with 20 Bxg7 Rxg7 21 Rd5 Kb6 22 Bg2 and secured a clear advantage.

After 6…Nb4 7 e4 Black’s most challenging move is 7…Bg4, essentially forcing White to sacrifice the exchange. Instead, 7…e6, as I faced in Mansson – Vikoulov, Hastings Challengers 2001-2, is passive and gave White a clear advantage after 8 Bxc4 exd5 9 exd5 Bd6 10 0-0 0-0 11 a3 Na6 12 Nb5 Bg4 13 Nxd6 Qxd6 14 Bf4 Qb6 15 Qd3 Rae8 16 Ne5 Bh5 17 Rfe1. Play then went 17…Nb8 18 g4! Nxg4 19 Nxg4 Bxg4 20 Rxe8 Rxe8 21 Bxb8 Qxb2 (21..Rxb8 22 Qg3 forks g4 and b8 – the point behind g4) and now I blundered with 22 Rf1?? rather than play the simple 22 Rb1, which wins, and I went on to lose the game. This was an extremely frustrating loss as Black was an FM rated 2314 at the time, and it would have been one of my best results.

I have faced 7…Bg4 once. The key variation runs 8 Bxc4 Bxf3 9 Qxf3 Nc2+ 10 Kf1 Nxa1 11 e5. Now Black cannot play 11…Nd7 because of 12 e6, so he has to give up the knight. 11…a6, cutting out any checks on b5, looks like the best way to do this. White naturally plays 12 exf6 and we have the crucial position.

I played a correspondence game as White in this line against Bernard Hanison, which took place in the preliminary round section P511 of the BFCC Open Championship. I give it below with some notes. While White’s attack is very strong, it requires precise play to make it count.

Visit the Bibliography for recommended reading relating to the 1 Nf3 Repertoire.
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One Response to 1 Nf3 repertoire: The Symmetrical English with 2…Nf6 and 4…d5

  1. Pingback: 1 Nf3 repertoire: The Symmetrical English with 2…Nf6 and 3…d5 | James Mansson’s Chess Blog

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