Just off the Beaten Path

This is Gurgenidze versus Spassky, 1959. The opening is the Bird Defense to the Ruy Lopez. I like how Spassky acquits himself here. I’ve made some annotations, since I’m an aficianado of the opening. Spassky is one of my favorite players because it’s rare to see someone so skilled play sidelines not highly regarded by theory.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nd4 4. Nxd4 exd4 5. O-O c6 6. Be2 {The bishop can
go just about anywhere. I didn’t see this line in the MCO but white still
enjoys an advantage here.} (6. Bc4 h5?! {There is a creative Indonesian master
who plays this move reguarly. I adopted it immediately after looking at his
games. It leads to interesting play. It’s hard for white to get his queen and bishop into
the game. See the picture below.} 7. d3 Bc5 8. Nd2 d5 9. exd5 cxd5 10. Bb5+ Kf8 {Not Bd7 where white just has a superior endgame. This is a position that I reach a lot and like
very much. I like black’s space and the weakness of white’s light square
bishop. An attack on either wing is possible.})

6… Bc5 {The bishop isn’t so bad here. White usually plays c3 later.} 7. d3 Ne7 8. Nd2 d5 9. e5 {I don’t like this move. By occupying e5, a weak square, with a pawn white loses the
ability to put a piece there. The position is equal now.} Be6 10. Nb3 Bb6 11.
a4 a5 12. Bg4 O-O 13. Bg5 {The knight is misplaced on the queen wing.} Qd7 14.
Bxe6 fxe6 15. Bxe7 Qxe7 16. Qg4 Rae8 17. Nd2 Rf5 18. f4 Ref8 19. g3 Qb4 {Even
though the position is closed the knight isn’t necessarily superior to the
bishop. To get the knight in the game white will have to try a pawn break with
c4, or try to use the h3 square.} 20. Nf3 Bd8 21. b3 Qc3 22. Rac1 b5 23. Rf2
Qb4 24. Rcf1 bxa4 25. bxa4 c5 26. Nh4 Bxh4 27. Qxh4 Qxa4 28. g4 R5f7 29. f5 Qe8
30. f6 Rb7 31. g5 a4 32. Kh1 Ra7 33. g6 Qxg6 34. fxg7 (34. f7+ {!?} Raxf7 35.
Rxf7 Qxf7 36. Rxf7 Kxf7 37. Qe1 Ra8 38. Qb1 Kg6 {I like black here, but the
engine says that he’s lost. It’s hard for me to see how white can prove a win
here. Everything’s defended for black. I’m sure white must have seen this
continuation and rejected it.}) 34… Rxf2 35. Qd8+ Kxg7 36. Rxf2 Rf7 37. Rxf7+
Qxf7 38. Qg5+ {Perpetual check} *

Whether you like my pet line or not, I think we can both agree that the Bird Defense, with its doubled central pawns for black (nearly always), offers imbalances right away. Those of you who follow Silman’s approach to the game may appreciate the clearly drawn lines that the opening creates. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. It’s an interesting theme.

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