20 December 2011

Annotated Game #23: English Four Knights (4. e3 Be7)

This next game followed Annotated Game #22 and was the last round of the tournament.  My opponent was rated at the upper end of Class D and played the opening well, coming out of it with a space advantage, well-placed pieces and control of the center with a hanging pawns structure on the c/d files.  However, he apparently did not understand the requirements for subsequent dynamic play that the structure required, allowing me (despite some weak moves on my part) to eventually successfully target the pawns and then achieve a dominating position with a material plus.  Incredibly, at this point I dithered and allowed a draw, at the time being too passive and afraid of nonexistent threats on the kingside.  It is exactly this type of play (and attitude) that should be avoided on the path to chess mastery.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class D"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "1995.??.??"] {A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 { a major transpositional decision at this point. The alternative is to go for the closed systems with g3.} Nf6 {entering the Four Knights variation. Other major possibilities include f5 and d6.} 4. e3 Be7 {Karpov's quiet but effective line.} 5. d4 exd4 6. Nxd4 O-O 7. Be2 d5 8. Nxc6 (8. cxd5 Nb4 9. O-O Nbxd5 10. Nxd5 Qxd5 11. b3 {is the other principal line.}) 8... bxc6 9. O-O Be6 (9... Bd6 {is the overwhelming favorite here.}) 10. cxd5 $146 {this liquidates the central tension to Black's favor and strengthens the Be6.} (10. Qa4 { mobilizing the queen was played in 3 of 4 games in the database. Bf3 has also been played in this position.}) 10... cxd5 11. b3 c5 {Black now has a strong hanging pawns structure and dominates the center.} 12. Qc2 Qd7 13. Bb2 Rad8 14. Rfd1 Bg4 {this reduces the support available for the hanging pawns.} (14... Bf5 15. Bd3 Bxd3 16. Qxd3 $11) 15. Bxg4 $14 Qxg4 {the other drawback to the Bg4 exchange, drawing the queen away from the action on the c/d files. However} ( 15... Nxg4 {doesn't work} 16. Nxd5 Qe6 17. Nxe7+ Qxe7 18. h3 $18) 16. Qe2 ({ White should have taken advantage of the opportunity to hit the hanging pawns with} 16. Na4 {with a possible continuation being} d4 17. f3 Qh4 18. exd4 cxd4 $14) 16... Qg5 17. Rac1 $14 {now White's rooks are well-placed for counterplay on the c/d files.} Bd6 (17... Rfe8 18. Na4 d4 19. exd4 $11 {as Black has tactical threats involving a discovered attack along the e-file.}) 18. g3 { simply a waste of time, missing the chance to be active.} (18. Nb5 d4 $16) 18... Rfe8 $14 19. Qf3 {the right general idea (play against the hanging pawns) but slow, Nb5 again was a possibility.} (19. Nb5 Ne4 $14) 19... Bb8 {this immediately allows White to open up against the hanging pawns.} (19... Be5 $5 $11 {and Black holds.}) 20. Na4 $16 d4 21. Rxc5 $18 (21. Nxc5 $6 dxe3 22. Bxf6 Rxd1+ 23. Rxd1 Qxc5 $11) 21... Qg6 22. Bxd4 Ne4 23. Rcc1 h5 {White is now up two pawns and Black has no real compensation.} (23... Ng5 24. Qb7 $18) 24. Nc5 Ng5 25. Qg2 Qf5 26. f4 {a loosening move which really doesn't seem necessary and which leads to White allowing a draw. Why not h4 instead, if White wants to kick the Ng5 away?} Nh3+ 27. Kf1 Ng5 28. Kg1 $4 ({Something simple would have sufficed to consolidate White's advantage, for example} 28. a3 Bd6 $18 29. b4) 28... Nh3+ 29. Kf1 $4 {White loses the upper hand} (29. Kh1 $142 $18 { would have made live much easier for White, says Fritz.}) 29... Ng5 $11 { and the draw was agreed. Not the way for me to win won games, that's for sure.} 1/2-1/2


  1. Hey Chess admin,

    Nice annotations!

    I think the English is a hard opening to play because Black can go ahead and play many of his or her favorite defenses to 1. d4 as well.

    Instead of 26. f4 what do you think you should have played? What about 26. f3 with the idea of getting your knight over to the kingisde or even followed by e4? Or do you think something simpler would be best?

  2. Thanks for the comment. In general, I think the English isn't too hard for Black to meet if he/she plays an Indian-type defense, since a similar (if not identical) structure can then be used. QGD players can also reach similar structures, although through a different move-order than usual (requiring Nf6-e6-d5). In either case, there are sometimes positional subtleties that can render Black's typical plans ineffective or require a change, usually due to the absence of a pawn to target on d4.

    In looking at the game position after move 25, Black essentially has no real threats. The f2 pawn is adequately protected by K+Q, so that annoying knight checks on h3 and f3 don't amount to anything more. Black's h-pawn won't be able to crack White's king position either, even if the Black bishop sacrifices itself.

    My two main candidate moves would therefore be 26. h4, which after Nh3+ 27. Kf1 doesn't lead anywhere for Black, or simply 26. a3 followed by b4 and then a pawn roller (per the note to move 28) on the queenside. White's pieces dominate the queenside space and are ideally placed to support the majority pawn push.