The Counterattack


Once Artur Yusupov was asked why he played the Petroff and not a more aggressive opening, like for example the French. Well, he said, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 White can play 5.d3 Nf6 6.d4 and after 6…d5 we have the Exchange Variation of the French; or said in another way – White can force the Petroff on the board against the French!

Although I am personally with those looking for unbalanced positions, I do not think there is anything wrong with having a more defensive strategy as Black. Those playing the Petroff, Berlin or similar are not necessarily playing for a draw (unless they are Kramnik anno 2006 that is), but they simply have a more patient approach. The same goes for those happy to take the black side of the Exchange Slav, Exchange/Rubinstein French and everyone playing the dreadful Caro-Kann (sorry Magnus, but come on, real men only play c6 with White – as I once stated on the way to a team match [see the game below]. Naturally the guy neutralised me with the Rubinstein French in our next encounter…).

Even such formerly dynamic players, with their King’s Indians and Sicilians as Polgar and Gelfand have at times played the Petroff. Not to make draws, but to wait for the opponent to take chances.

I do not think there is a great downside to playing for a win in defensive style. It is neither better not worse than going for the initiative. As always it is the quality of the moves that matter. Obviously, if you are looking to win quickly, in order to catch a movie or the transmission of a 15 move draw from India, it is not the right strategy.

Maybe not a greatly original thought, but one I felt like sharing after the weekend.

Finally a small repetition exercise.

Black to play and draw

The solution will be given in the comments section.

And here is the game I spoke of.

29 thoughts on “The Counterattack”

  1. What GM Yusupuv said isn’t exactly true though. Yes against the Petroff, white can create a position that usually arises in the French exchange but if you’re a French player, you don’t have to allow that position unlike a Petroff player. After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 you don’t have to play Nf6. You can either play Fd6-Nc6 with the idea of queenside castling(which is both sharp and sound), you can play c5 to play with an isolated queen’s pawn like Korchnoi or if you want to stay solid and still play for a win ,you can play Bd6-Ne7 and avoid the symmetry even though you’ll castle short. So unlike against the Petroff, white can’t create the boring position with both king’s knights on f3 and f6.

  2. I forgot to write. My point is that the statement “White can force the Petroff on the board against the French!” is not correct because in the French black doesn’t have to put a knight on f6 and a position with the knight on e7 instead of f6 is never the Petroff.

  3. I’m sorry that you see it that way but I was shocked when I read it because it’s completely wrong as you also know and I wanted to point it out.

  4. But 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d3
    The line is harmless, you are playing an improved version of Petroff when the knight on e4 is not a target.
    So maybe I would go with french 🙂

  5. Fat Ghost Cat :
    I’m sorry that you see it that way but I was shocked when I read it because it’s completely wrong as you also know and I wanted to point it out.

    Oh yes! Petroff was russian, not french!

  6. I also think this is a viable strategy to play for a win. The only drawback I can see is that against unambitous white players it is more difficult to win with the Petroff (after e.g. 5.Qe2) than with e.g. the Sicilian, even if they are lower rated. I guess that’s why players like Gelfand have both the Petroff and the Najdorf in their reportoires. As a matter of fact, I’m wondering if there are any IMs / GMs who play exclusively defensive openings such as the Petroff or the Queen’s Gambit Declined?

  7. Jacob, your heart must be really sore having the knowledge that QC have written the most fantastic book about a dreadful opening and to make things even worse the author is a Dane 🙂

  8. I used to find it very bad strategy to just wait for the opponent to come for me. Most games where I did that when I was young ended in miserable passive losses. However, nowadays, I can enjoy playing passive but positionally sound positions just building counterplay more slowly, waiting the opponent to overreach.

  9. As for the position: I would play Rf8+ and then back to c8 and see what white is up to. Then after Rc5 I would play Ke6 and I do not see any black progress.

  10. @KIA Fan
    5.d3 is only good against people who play 5…d5 without looking at the board, this is true. Also 6…Be7 is possible. But again, the point was allegorical and should be understood by another language than logic.

  11. @Indra Polak
    One thing people are quite good at, is asking questions and not even realising that they are asking them. Or at least, being to lazy to attempt to answer them.

    Let’s say 1…Rf8+ 2.Kg5 Rc8 – indeed what is White up to? Understanding the question is a serious part of the answer.

  12. @Jacob Aagaard
    Well, I couldn’t believe it was a draw, until I played it on my board. I first thought white would win easy, but funny point!
    I couldn’t calculate it, so I did have to play it.


  13. The solution is of course:

    1… Rf8+ 2. Kg5 Rc8 3. h5 Rxc7 4. Rxc7 Kxc7 5. h6 g6 6. Kf6 Kd7 7. g4 Ke8 8.Kg7 g5 9. Kxh7 (9.Kf6 Kf8 10. Kxg5 Kg8 11. Kf6 Kh8=) 9… Kf7 10. Kh8 Kf8 11. Kh7 Kf7 12. Kh8 Kf8 13. Kh7 Kf7=

  14. Jacob,

    This counter-attack section is the perfect place for this I think. I fully admit that both Karpov (White in this problem) and You (the author of the book) are significantly stronger than me. But there is one problem in one of your books that even with your explanation, I can’t get over the fact that my answer I think is stronger, and was wondering if maybe I’m missing something.

    In “Grandmaster Preparation: Positional Play”, the Exercises chapter (Chapter 4), problem 51, which is the position after Black’s 27th move of Karpov – Kharitonov, Moscow 1988, why is 28.Nf4 not better than the answer?

    First I tried to make 28.g4 work (followed by 29.Ng3), but 28…f5 gives Black what he wants. However, after 28.Ng3, I’m not so sure that I like what White gets after your proposed 28…Bf5 29.Nxf5 Nexf5 30.Nc5, which you acknowledge is not a lot, but that Black is uncomfortable.

    To me, I would rather have to deal with 28.Ng3 Bf5 29.Nxf5 Nexf5 30.Nc5 Rxa5 31.Nxb7 Nxb7 32.Qxb7 Qxb7 33.Rxb7 Ne7 followed by Kf8 to free the Rook, and Black’s position looks no worse than that of a Queen’s Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation after a successful Minority Attack other than the fact that White has a Bishop and Black has a Knight. Normally, in that ending, a White Knight vs Black Bishop is better for White whereas a Knight for both is better for Black, so I would think that a LSB for White and N for Black has got to be fine for Black.

    Instead, after 28.Nf4, if Black goes for a similar approach in ridding himself of his LSB and taking the a-pawn rather than passively guarding the b-pawn via 28…Bf5 29.Bxf5 Ndxf5 (29…Nexf5 drops the d-pawn due to a Pin on the Queen) 30.Nc5 Rxa5, here, because Black was forced to abandon the d6-square with his Knight, White can keep the extra set of minor pieces on the board, and Black’s backwards c-pawn seems to be more of an issue, by playing 31.Qxb7 Qxb7 32.Nxb7, gaining tempo on the a5-Rook as 32…Rb8 33.g4 can’t be good for Black.

    What am I missing? Or has Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation and the first 161 Pages of Grandmaster Preparation: Positional Play actually made me strong enough to outsmart two GMs? 🙂

  15. @Patrick
    Hi Patrick, Either way, your question is very serious and I will look at the board early next week to give you a good answer. This weekend I will play chess, rather than analyse chess.

  16. @Patrick
    Well, let me give it a try, and let Jacob correct me!

    In your Nf4 variation I doubt Rxa5 is correct. I would give Nd6 a try. Looks like the ideal square to me. And maybe black can play Nb5, which was impossible with the bishops on the board.

    In your variation after Ng3, white can also play Bxf5 instead of Qxb7. Also in your variation, in the end, white looks much better. White can go for g4, h4, trying to create another attacking point. Black can only wait. In practice one will make mistakes in such a position.
    If we learned about making the pieces active, then this position looks like black has forgotten these tips.

    I have done without computer, so sorry if i make a bad mistake in these variations….

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