Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A trap in the Ruy Lopez, Alapin Defense

Semyon Alapin was a strong Russian master who originated a number of opening lines, such as the Alapin Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Ne2?!, intending to play a sort of King's Gambit Deferred with f4). The only one of much significance today is his line against the Sicilian, 1.e4 c5 2.c3, a solid line that has been played by many grandmasters and causes fits to higher-rated Black players because it's tough to beat. Among Alapin's lesser-known eponymous variations is Alapin's Defense to the Ruy Lopez. Quick, how many of you know what it is?

It's 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bb4!?, a really stupid-looking move that does have the virtues of stopping an immediate d4 and preparing to play ...Nge7 without blocking in the bishop. Alapin did reasonably with it, including draws with Steinitz, Blackburne and Schlechter. It's only been played in 40 games in's 600,000-game database, only 25 of those in the last 30 years. That makes it an even rarer bird, by a factor of ten, than Bird's Defense to the Ruy Lopez (3...Nd4), seen in 502 games, 250 of them in the past 30 years.

For such an obscure line, Alapin's brainchild hasn't done badly, including a 22-move win in A. Ivanov-Lugo, U.S. Championship 2005 and a draw in Anand-Hector, Palma de Mallorca 1989.

On to the trap, which comes from IM Gary Lane at this week. After the natural 4.c3 Ba5, inquiring minds will want to know why White can't just win a pawn with 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.Nxe5, as White played in the above game. Now White could respond to 6...Qg5?! with 7.Nf3! Qxg2 8.Rg1 Qh3 9.Rxg7, since the tempting 9...Bg4 is met by 10.Ng1!, staying a pawn ahead after 10...Bxd1 11.Nxh3. Instead, Black plays 6...Qe7! 7.d4 f6! intending to regain his pawn after 8.Nf3 Qxe4+. But clever Whites will see an apparent flaw in this scheme: 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Nxg6 Qxe4+ 10.Be3 (see diagram) when 10...Qxg6 can be met by 11.Qxa5, e.g. 11...Qxg2 12.Rf1 Bh3 13.Nd2 intending 0-0-0. However, Black rudely surprises White with 10...Bg4!, reaching a winning position. 11.Qxa5 Qxg2 would be fatal, since White's king is not long for this world after 12.Nxh8 Qxh1+ 13.Kd2 Qd1# or 12.Rf1 Qf3. In the game sent in by Lane's reader, Earl Roberts of New Zealand, White tried instead 11.Qh4 Qxg2, and now Lane analyzes 12.Rf1 hxg6 13.Qxh8 Qf3 14.Qxg8+ Ke7 15.Qg7+ Ke6 and Black wins. Instead White stumbled into mate.

Roberts writes that he has lost track of how many times he has been able to reach the position after move 10 in his games, and indeed how many of his opponents have repeated the entire game! Based on this trap and other games submitted by Mr. Roberts, Lane concludes that 3...Bb4 is a good try at club level. Check out Lane's article and give it a shot!