Monday, October 1, 2012

The Poisoned b-pawn

Tarrasch wrote in his famous treatise The Game of Chess, "It is very dangerous to make a raid with the queen early on in the game. In particular, the capture of the queen's knight's pawn with the queen often brings its own revenge." Irving Chernev facetiously observed in his 1000 Best Short Games of Chess, "Alvin Cass used to say, “My grandmother, when she was a little girl, told me never to capture the queen knight pawn with my queen.'" The miniature Botvinnik-Spielmann, Moscow 1935 is one famous debacle by a great player who disregarded Cass's granny's advice.

Modern theory is less dogmatic, as evidenced by the popularity of the so-called Poisoned Pawn Variation in the Najdorf Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf2 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6, intending 8.Qd2 Qxb2, a favorite of Bobby Fischer, and later played by the likes of Kasparov, Anand, and even Karpov. According to Larry Evans in New Ideas in Chess, James Sherwin, in capturing Bisguier's b-pawn in Bisguier-Sherwin, New York 1955, observed, "Why should I labor under antediluvian prejudices?" He won in 58 moves.

All of that said, one should not chase after the b-pawn without careful consideration. My opponent in this game joined the millions of players who've done so and later regretted it.

A note on the opening: 3...Qd6 in the Center Counter or Scandinavian Defense is a popular line these days. My 6.Ne5 was nothing special, and is usually met by 6...Nc6. After that, 7.Bf4!? Nxd4 (inferior is 7...Qxd4?! 8.Nxc6, especially if followed up with 8...Qxf4?? 9.Qd8# Mataoussi-Al Khelaifi, Women's Olympiad 2008) 8.Ng6!? Qe6+ 9.Ne5 Qb6 10.Nc4 Qe6+ 11.Ne5 Qd6 12.Ng6 Qe6+ 13.Ne5 led to an amusing draw by repetition in Smith-Serpek, New Zealand Championship 2000.

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