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Part 4: Searching for a novelty

Photo: Lennart Ootes

I will start by looking at two fresh ideas from the Sinquefield Cup 2018. The second half of the post explains how you can find such ideas as well.

For an opening enthusiast like me, the World Chess Championship feels like my birthday. Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen have been preparing for approximately half a year. I am sure both have hired a team of opening specialists who are working day and night to find a way to break the opponent. Imagine having a group of experts like that – serving you opening ideas for breakfast.

In the Sinquefield Cup that wrapped up just recently, we saw that both players were well prepared. Caruana’s novelty against Hikaru Nakamura was impressive.

Fabiano Caruana - Hikaru Nakamura

Diagram-1--1-

In a well-known structure, at least for the elite players, Caruana surprised everyone by castling queenside. 14.0-0-0! It looks like the challenger succeeded in finding the most insecure hideout for the white king. However, Caruana patiently proved that the control of the d-file was more important. After the moves 14…Ng4 15.Rd2 Nxe3 16.fxe3 they reached this position.

Diagram-2--1-

White has the worse pawn structure and a more exposed king, yet he has the advantage. Yes, it’s deep!

To find such ideas, you need a trained eye. All the top players know the first choice of the engines, but the real specialists are those who manage to prove the computer wrong. To be able to do this, you need to have an overview of what already exists and the current state of the theory. No wonder the two players hang out with opening experts like Peter Heine Nielsen and Rustam Kasimdzjanov.

The top players and their seconds have a sixth sense when it comes to feeling that there is hidden potential in a position. Armed by big computers, they study every little nuance of the opening.

In the forthcoming World Championship, the novelties will be primarily directed at the opponent. The idea is to force the opponent into a type of position where he feels uncomfortable. This was what happened in Sinquefield when Magnus managed to put pressure on Caruana.

Magnus Carlsen - Fabiano Caruana

Diagram-3--1-

Magnus has the white pieces, and it is his turn to move. He knew that after the regular 8.Qd2 Caruana has a preference for playing 8…Be6 to prepare queenside castling. This made Magnus decide upon 8.Bc4! - a move that prevents Caruana’s desired setup. It didn’t take long before the American was in trouble. This move from Magnus is not a novelty, but it’s new at the top level. It reminds me of something I read somewhere a long time ago: What is forgotten is also new.

What you are about to read is about to get a bit technical. If you are not into competative chess, I am impressed you got this far, and you are excused to leave the table. Of course, I am happy if you want to stay – we are going to dig into some exciting stuff!

Finding your idea

To find a new and strong move, you need knowledge about the opening and inspiration to go deeper into variations. If you get the feeling there is something hidden in the position, you might be close to finding a new and important idea. I’ll give you an example.

Many years ago, I was playing the Petroff with black. I had studied the theory and knew what to do against the main lines. One day, I reached this position in an online game.

Diagram-4-2

I knew theory recommended 16.Qc2, and with a few accurate moves, black should be okay. Suddenly my opponent blitzed out the move 16.Bxh7+ It came as a big surprise, and the only reason I wasn’t terrified was that I knew it wasn’t the theory`s recommendation. In the game, I managed to defend - and won the game - but I got the feeling I was in danger. I decided to look closer at this position.

To analyze a position, you need access to a computer with a chess engine. If you also use one of the online players' bases, you have enough to do some hard work. This is how it might look like when I study the position.

Diagram-5-1

The engine says that 16.Qc2 has the highest value. However, I was more interested in the alternatives. Of course, I check my opponent’s move, 16.Bxh7, and just like I thought, it doesn’t work. However, according to the engine, many moves look decent, but it was the fifth line that interested me. It says 16.a4.

A trained chess eye sees that 16.a4 is a crazy-looking move. Black can take with two pieces and capturing with the b-pawn would even leave black with a dangerous passed pawn. The engine says the move is close to 0, which is surprising because of how bad it looks. Let’s say black takes it, and after 16…bxa4 we have this position.

Diagram-6-2

Now suddenly the computer says 17.Bxh7+ is close to winning. After the sacrifice has been played, the engine gives the following evaluation.

Diagram-7
The number 1.17 means that white has a clear edge, while 3.06 means that white's advantage is equivalent to an extra knight.

There is no doubt that a new and interesting idea had been found. Of course, I studied this intensely and I concluded that in a practical game black has a hard time after 16.a4. But if he or she manages to find the right defensive moves, white is no worse off.

Even though I found this move approximately 15 years ago, I see the move still hasn’t been played. I'd be pretty happy if you can sneak it in one of your games. The idea is so beautiful that it needs to see the daylight!

You can study all Magnus’ best opening tips and tricks in the Magnus Trainer app.