Tuesday, September 20, 2011

100 Years Russian Petroff Defence

The Petroff Defence, sometimes called the Russian Defence, is one of those openings that changed a lot over the past 40 years. In my early years it was hard to find anyone who would champion this opening as Black. Most games in books were White wins, unless you were studying games by masters who had died decades before.

Around 1900, Harry Pillsbury played it some during his short but brilliant career. Then along came Frank Marshall who played the Petroff regularly for thirty years. Why was his Marshall Attack in the Ruy Lopez such a surprise to Jose R. Capablanca in 1918? Because Marshall had played the Petroff six of the most recent eight games that he had Black vs Capablanca; the other two were French Defences.

Sure, thousands of other players used 2...Nf6, but generally they were not the LEADING players who had the kind of frequently published Black wins that everyone hopes to copy. For the next thirty years Petroff players included Boris Kostic, David Bronstein and C.H.O'D. Alexander, which brings us up through World War II.

The top frequently published Petroff players from 40 years ago were Smyslov, Dvoretsky, Benko, Kholmov, Morgado, and Bisguier. Indeed, GM Arthur Bisguier lost some famous Petroffs in the US Championships: Bisguier lost Petroffs to Larry Evans in 1958 (beautiful game!), to Robert Fischer in 1959 and to Walter Browne in 1974. The Browne game was often quoted; I am sure it kept a lot of players from jumping to this defence.

As a frequent 1.e4 e5 player from both sides, I have been in the Petroff Defence about 500 times to date, more often as Black than White. Today we have one of my early games. Back in 1974 I was already over 20 years old and not a very good player. I made some strides later that year. But when I went back to college I quit playing until 1977.

Why? Because the first time I went to university, I mostly played chess instead of doing my school work. When I went back to college in late 1974, I took my schooling much more seriously. For me I had to stop playing, but I would reappear. I am an example of a player who IMPROVED later AS an ADULT, not as a scholastic player.

Here is a game from my early days, about 40 years ago. Nice mate. My game vs Kirk Rideout begins 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 (This is my favorite, but I've also played the moves 3.Nc3, 3.d4 and 3.Bc4.) 3...d6 (Looking at my statistics nowadays, I see that in those games my opponents fell for the famous trap is 3...Nxe4? 4.Qe2!, I scored 25-0.)

Our game continues 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Bd6 (Two other options are recommended for Black: 6...Be7 and 6...Nc6.) 7.0-0 0-0 8.Re1 Re8 9.Nc3 Nxc3 10.Rxe8 (I unknowingly follow through my 13th move the game Burn-Marshall, Karlsbad 1911... Yes, exactly 100 years ago.). I missed some moves in this game, something I still do all these years later. Hope you like the checkmate combination at the end.

Sawyer - Rideout, Ft Fairfield, Maine 02.04.1974 begins 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Bd6 7.0-0 0-0 8.Re1 Re8 9.c4 c6 10.Nc3 Nxc3 11.Rxe8+ Qxe8 12.bxc3 Bg4 13.Bd2 g6 14.h3 Bd7 15.Qb3 b6 16.Re1 [16.cxd5+-] 16...Qd8 17.cxd5 cxd5 18.Bg5 Qc7 19.Ne5 [19.Qxd5+-] 19...Be6 20.f4 Kg7 21.f5 gxf5 22.g4? [22.Bxf5! Bxf5 23.Qxd5+-] 22...fxg4 23.Nxg4 Bxg4 24.hxg4 h6? [24...Be7=] 25.Qxd5! Nc6 26.Bxh6+! Kxh6 27.Qh5+ Kg7 28.Qh7+ Kf6 29.Qh6# 1-0

You may also like: Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6) and Queen Pawn (1.d4 d5)
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