- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2020

It looks no different from its seven peers, it neither covers the flank nor fights for the center, its rarely seen starring turn (1. g4) goes by the ungainly name Grob’s Opening.

But there’s no question the g-pawn — the game’s ultimate wingman — is having a moment.

It turns out in modern praxis that an early and unexpected g2-g4 — either as a gambit or lightning flank attack — can have a disruptive effect in many popular openings, from the Dutch Stonewall and King’s Indian Defense to such well-plowed theoretical fields as the Slav QGD. Players such as Garry Kasparov, Alexei Shirov and Alexander Shabalov have used the g-pawn thrust to unsettle an opponent or whip up an unexpected attack in placid position.

Now Russian GM and trainer Dmitry Kryavkin has come along with an entire book on the subject: “Attacking with g2-g4: The Modern Way to Get the Upper Hand in Chess” (New in Chess, 288 pp., $24.95). Surprisingly, Kryavkin traces the modern embrace of the anti-positional thrust to the great Soviet mid-20th century world champ Mikhail Botvinnik, who was not generally known as a risk-taker or mold-breaker.

But from his earliest days as a candidate master in the 1930s, Botvinnik used the g2-g4 idea repeatedly against unsuspecting opponents to great effect, Kryavkin notes. Botvinnik was still at it late in his career, as can be seen in his fine 1969 win over Dutch star Theo van Scheltinga that is analyzed in the book.

We’re in a standard Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian set-up after 12. Be2 Qe7 (see diagram), when Botvinnik uncorks 13. g4!? (the conventional 13. 0-0 c6 14. Rc1 Bf5 leaves Black with no problems) Nbd5? (the first virtue of an unexpected g2-g4 is the uncertainty bordering on panic it can induce in the second player, who was settling in for a very different type of game; here 13…Nfd5! 14. Ndxe4 Nxc3 15. Nxc3 f5 was the way to go, instead of the complicated — and losing — line Black chooses) 14. g5 Nxe3 fxe3!. Kryavkin speculates that Black may have banked on 15. gxf5?! Ng2+ 16. Kf1 Ne3+ 17. fxe3 Qxf6+, when White has to be careful not to fall for 18. Ke1? Qh4+ 19. Kf1 Bh3+ 20. Kg1 Qg5+ 21. Kf2 [Bg4 Qxe3 mate] Qg2+ 22. Ke1 Qg3+! 23. hxg3 Bxg3 mate.

After 15 … Nd5 16. Nxd5 Qxg5 17. Nxe4! (Bc4? Qh4+) Qxd5 18. Bf3 Kh8 19. Nxd6 Qxd6 20. 0-0, Botvinnik has consolidated with a winning material edge. After carefully turning back Black’s attack, the ex-champ finished in style, using the very file opened up by the g-pawn push 20 moves earlier: 32. Qe3 b6 33. Bxf6! gxf6 34. Qh6+ Kg8 35. Rg2, and Black resigned as the pinned queen is lost.

Modern players have learned look to the g-pawn thrust as a matter of course. The idea played a key role in the critical game of last week’s elite 2nd Prague Masters, as front-runner Indian GM Santosh Vidit suffered a last-round loss to Polish GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Vidit would go on to lose a playoff to rising Iranian superstar GM Alireza Firouzja.

Our new friend make his appearance in this Ragozin QGD on 17. Qf4 Nf5 18. g4!?, initiating a kingside attack that sweeps away Vidit’s defenses. Duda’s kingside pawns break through the Black fortress, with White’s heavy pieces finishing the job.

Thus 26. Re2 Nf4 (exd4?? 27. Qxe8+ Rxe8 28. Rxe8+ Kg7 29. h6 mate) 27. Re3 Nd5 28. hxg6 hxg6 (Nxe3 29. gxf7+ Kf8 30. fxe8=Q+ Rxe8 31. fxe3 and wins) 29. Reh3 Kf8 30. Bxa6 Qxf2, when White misses a put-away volley with 31. Rf1! Qxd4 32. Qxg6 Nf4 33. Qf6 Nxh3 34. Qxf7 mate.

White still brings home the point on 31. Rf3?! Qxd4? (Rb8! makes the job harder for Duda: 32. Rxf2 Nc3+ 33. Kc2 Nxe4 34. Re2 exd4 [Nf6 35. Rxe5 Kg7 36. g5 Nd5 37. Rxe8 Rxe8 38. Bc4 is better for White] 35. Rxe4 Rxe4 36. Rh8+ Ke7 37. Rxb8) 32. Qxg6 Nf4 33. Qf6! Qe4+ 34. Bd3! — White’s bishop and rook on f3 both hang, but Black has no counter to the coming rook mate on h8. Vidit resigned.

Botvinnik-van Scheltinga, Hoogovens Tournament, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, 1969

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Bd3 d5 6. a3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 Bd6 8. Nf3 Nbd7 9. b4 e5 10. Bb2 e4 11. Nd2 Nb6 12. Be2 Qe7 13. g4 Nbd5 14. g5 Nxe3 15. fxe3 Nd5 16. Nxd5 Qxg5 17. Nxe4 Qxd5 18. Bf3 Kh8 19. Nxd6 Qxd6 20. O-O Bh3 21. Rf2 Rae8 22. Qd3 Qh6 23. e4 Re6 24. d5 Rg6+ 25. Kh1 Qh4 26. Qd4 f6 27. Rg1 Rxg1+ 28. Kxg1 Re8 29. Kh1 h5 30. Re2 Bg4 31. Bxg4 Qxg4 32. Qe3 b6 33. Bxf6 gxf6 34. Qh6+ Kg8 35. Rg2 Black resigns.

Duda-Vidit, 2nd Prague Masters, Czech Republic, February 2020

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Qa4+ Nc6 6. e3 O-O 7. Qc2 Re8 8. Bd2 a6 9. a3 Bd6 10. O-O-O Bd7 11. c5 Bf8 12. e4 dxe4 13. Nxe4 Nxe4 14. Qxe4 Ne7 15. Bd3 g6 16. Ne5 Bc6 17. Qf4 Nf5 18. g4 Bh6 19. Nxc6 bxc6 20. Qe4 Bxd2+ 21. Rxd2 Ne7 22. Bc4 Nd5 23. h4 Qf6 24. h5 e5 25. Kb1 Rad8 26. Re2 Nf4 27. Re3 Nd5 28. hxg6 hxg6 29. Reh3 Kf8 30. Bxa6 Qxf2 31. Rf3 Qxd4 32. Qxg6 Nf4 33. Qf6 Qe4+ 34. Bd3 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [email protected].

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