What to do with Black?

If we draw with white and lose with black, we score a whopping 25%. This is acceptable if our opponents are rated at least 200 Elo points higher, but overall it doesn’t sound appealing.

Well, do not forget why we were looking at forced draws as a concept for white in the first place. The goal was to cut down the overall number of variations and to only choose the battleground where are well prepared to play for a win!

With black things become even more difficult, because it all comes down to the question: Who chooses the concrete line that will be played in the game? In order to stand a chance, we should be the one to make that decision, because it is also a good idea to reduce the white options as much as possible. How shall we accomplish that? Shall we play the Dutch or the Scandinavian to force the game into our territory on the very first move? How about the Petroff in order to decide matters at move two?

Many years ago, Yermolinsky and Khalifman had a discussion on what to play against Kasparov (p. 159 in Yermo’s book).

Khalifman claimed:

  • when playing the main lines you are standing on the shoulders of giants, repeating moves and ideas that were found by better players than you are, and that automatically elevates you to the next level;
  • main lines go deeper into the middle-game than side-variations, thus the final positions are easier to handle;
  • when this happens your higher-ranked opponent often faces an unpleasant choice between following a theoretical line to the end, where the final position would leave him with no chances to win, and stepping aside (could be dangerous) by making an inferior move in order to avoid simplifications.

Note: One could say that this quote is what this website is all about.

The only viable and reasonable approach is to play main-lines, the sharper the better! The sharper it gets, the less viable choices are left for your opponent to chose from. In the optimal case, your opponent has to play a sequence of only moves that you have all analyzed with your engine beforehand, knowing it’s safe.

Let’s make a list of sharp openings with long forced lines:

  • Marshall Attack
  • Najdorf
  • Sveshnikov
  • French Winawer
  • Grünfeld
  • KID
  • Semi-Slav

There you have it! Just picking two of these openings isn’t enough though, because you also need to consider possible transpositions, especially if you want to play the Grünfeld. Let’s not forget that there are also solid options like the Nimzo-Indian of course.


Update: After Grischuk rolled it out against Topalov in the 2017 Grand Chess Tour in Paris, we can add the Nakamura Variation.

Play it safe!