Thursday, December 20, 2012

A trap in Philidor's Defense

Philidor's Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6) has experienced a resurgence of popularity in recent years. However, Black often tries sophisticated move orders, such as 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7, to reach the main line. The traditional 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nd7, the Hanham Variation, seen in the game below, has tactical problems. After 4.Bc4!, Black must already be careful. Then 4...Be7? loses a pawn to 5.dxe5 Nxe5 (5...dxe5?? 6.Qd5!) 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Qh5!. So does 4...Nf6?, after 5.dxe5! Nxe5 (5...Nxe4?? 6.Qd5!; 5...dxe5? 6.Ng5!) 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qxd8 Bb4+ 9.Qd2 Bxd2+ 10.Nxd2. Also bad, though complicated, is 4...h6?, when White has 5.dxe5 dxe5 (5...Nxe5 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Bxf7+) 6.Bxf7+! Kxf7 7.Nxe5+! Kf6 (best) and now White's best is 8.Nc3!, offering another piece. Instead, Black usually plays 4...c6!, when the main line is 5.Nc3 Be7 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Ng5! Bxg5 8.Qh5!, winning the bishop pair, which scores very well for White.

An unusual but promising alternative is 5.Ng5!? Nh6 6.a4. Then 6...exd4 may be best, although White won crushingly in Blehm-Popek, 2000. Also possible is 6...a5, although Black fared badly in Pavasovic-Barle, 1997. Nimzowitsch played the eccentric 6...Qf6?!, got a horrid position, but somehow managed to draw in Leonhardt-Nimzowitsch, match 1911.

The most plausible move is 6...Be7?. Amazingly, however, it loses Black's queen by force! After 7.Bxf7+! (again this shot!) Nxf7 8.Ne6! Black has only two squares for the queen. Best is 8...Qa5+ 9.Bd2 Qb6 10.a5! Qxb2 11.Bc3!, trapping the queen, as in Philidor (!) -NN, 1795. Even worse is 8...Qb6 9.a5!, also losing the queen, but for less material. In our subject game, Black resigned after 9...Qb4+ 10.c3! Qc4 11.Nc7+ Kd8 12.b3!

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