Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Crystal ball

It is generally accepted that the Sicilian Defence did not fully enter the modern era until the early 1950s due mainly to the efforts of Soviet players such as Vsevolod Rauser, Isaak Boleslavsky and David Bronstein.

In this connection many of the theoretical recommendations made before the Second World War look exceedingly quaint from today's perspective. For example, after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 no less a figure than Alexander Alekhine came down strongly in favour of 3.Be2, considering it to be clearly White's best move. If such a dynamic player as Alekhine could be so dogmatic, what then of Dr Siegbert Tarrasch, a classical player whose stubbornness was the stuff of legend?

The position in the diagram comes about after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5. In the game Tarrasch-Mieses, Nuremburg 1888, Black now played 6...a6?!, provoking the following prophetic annotation from Praeceptor Germaniae:

“I would play ...d7-d6 here in order to retain the dark-squared bishop, which is needed for the defence of Black's weaknesses. This move also has the advantage that White's knight would be forced into a poor position for some time: 6...d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Bxf6 gxf6 9.Na3 b5 10.Nd5 f5. Although White has a noticeable advantage here (based primarily on his control of the square d5) Black's chances would have been better than in the game thanks in large part to his much faster development.”

The variation cited above is of course known today as the Sveshnikov Variation, which made its modern appearance in the mid-1960s. Yet Dr Tarrasch wrote this note while preparing his book Dreihundert Schachpartien... in 1895!


Ryan Emmett said...

It's interesting to discover glimpses of modern opening theory in games or analysis from many years before the lines came to prominence.

Over time previous evaluations are overturned and theory shifts in a new direction, but it seems to me (from a patzer's viewpoint!) that fashion also plays a large part in opening theory.

In any case, this is indeed a percipient comment from the great Doctor!

Jonathan Berry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Berry said...

6.Ndb5, not 6.Nd5

Great blog, DS!

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.