The last European Chess Club Championship was a nightmare tournament for Peter Svidler. I don’t recall another case of an elite grandmaster losing four games in a row against mostly lower-rated opponents!
Only in the last round we could finally see why the grandmaster from St. Petersburg is rightfully considered one of the best players in the world. The world champion Magnus Carlsen had to use all his skills to survive in a very unpleasant endgame.
It was not the most exciting game I ever saw, so I might have forgotten about it very quickly if not for GM Golubev’s tweet. In that tweet written in Russian, GM Golubev suggested that GM Svidler didn’t play 9. Ne2 because of 9…h5. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. You mean Carlsen was going to play 9…h5? Seriously, 9…h5??
Magnus Carlsen at the European Club Cup. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
You see, I played this system for White long time ago and even won a very short game in one of the most memorable tournaments of my life:
The 9…h5 move looks so outrageous that I didn’t even consider it. Indeed, White is about to castle queenside to start a pawn storm on the kingside and Black makes his king more vulnerable? Are you kidding me?
A quick database check revealed that this new move appeared only recently and became quite popular in 2017. In fact Black has a positive score in the games played with 9…h5!! Here are two examples from U.S. tournaments:
So, what’s going on here? What’s the method in this madness? Well, surprisingly it turns out that it is very difficult for White to create an attack after 9…h5! I don’t know who the first player was to introduce this shocking move, but I tip my hat to him or her.
This episode only proves the wisdom of David Bronstein, who wrote about the following position:
As soon as I have a convenient opportunity I will try to work out a harmonious plan of attack even, say, with a move so illogical at first sight as 4. Qd2. One needs only to be aware of all the pluses and minuses of this idea and everything will be fine.
Indeed, 4.Qd2 looks weird, but Tigran Petrosian managed to turn a similarly foolish looking move into a system that bears his name.
Look at the moves 5…Qd7 and especially the unprovoked retreat 6…Bf8. Don’t they look really stupid? And yet, they are the main elements of the Petrosian variation in the French Winawer!
So, I recommend you to follow Bronstein’s advice and from time to time look at random moves that look really stupid.
Try to find a potential hidden point of such moves. Chances are that 99.9 percent of the foolish-looking moves are indeed stupid. But you have a chance to uncover a real gem.
Besides, thinking outside the box can broaden your chess horizons!