03 December 2016

An improved version of the Fajarowicz Gambit?

As part of my current improvement plan, I'm (slowly) working my way through Mastering Opening Strategy by GM Johan Hellsten.  One of the exercise games (#43) in the chapter "The Nature of Development" intriguingly reminded me of an improved version of the Fajarowicz Gambit.  For those not familiar with it, it is an audacious variation of the Budapest Gambit that, unfortunately, is also not quite sound.  Below are a couple of the critical lines stemming from the initial gambit, where Black, instead of 3...Ng4 as in the Budapest, plays 3...Ne4 (evaluations by Komodo 10):
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "?"] [Round "?"] [White "Fajarowicz Gambit"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [ECO "A51"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin"] [PlyCount "26"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ne4 4. a3 (4. Nf3 Bb4+ 5. Nbd2 d6 6. exd6 Qxd6 7. a3 Bxd2+ 8. Nxd2 Nc5 9. Nf3 Qxd1+ 10. Kxd1 Nb3 11. Ra2 Be6 12. e4 Nc5 $14) 4... Nc6 5. Nf3 d6 6. Qc2 d5 7. e3 Bg4 8. cxd5 Qxd5 9. Bc4 Qa5+ 10. b4 Bxb4+ 11. axb4 Qxa1 12. Qxe4 Bxf3 13. gxf3 Qxe5 $16 *

While the Fajarowicz is a fun gambit for Black to study - I went through Tim Harding's book The Fighting Fajarowicz with great interest - ultimately it doesn't work out as well as Black would like, unless White cooperates by not playing the main lines with 4. Nf3 or 4. a3.  It's not necessarily a loser for Black, but with some rather simple White play, Black's otherwise fascinating tactical possibilities and initiative can be neutralized, which are really the only reasons to play the gambit.  I have to give Harding a lot of credit for not over-selling Black's prospects and providing valuable, candid analysis in the book.  Harding also took another look at the opening after the book was published, if you are interested in his commentary.  (Of course he's not the only writer on the Fajarowicz, you can look up others. The short version would be the Wikipedia article, the long version the Budapest Fajarowicz (A51) webliography posted at the Kenilworthian blog.)

Having somewhat regretfully put away the Fajarowicz as a possible weapon in my opening repertoire, I was surprised and a little fascinated by the following game from Hellsten's book.  It is classified as ECO E37 - Nimzo-Indian Classical, Noa Variation.
[Event "Novgorod"] [Site "Novgorod"] [Date "1994.??.??"] [Round "4"] [White "Bareev, Evgeny"] [Black "Ivanchuk, Vassily"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E37"] [WhiteElo "2675"] [BlackElo "2695"] [PlyCount "62"] [EventDate "1994.08.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "10"] [EventCountry "RUS"] [EventCategory "19"] [SourceTitle "CBM 043"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1994.12.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1994.12.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 Ne4 7. Qc2 c5 8. dxc5 Nc6 9. Nf3 Qa5+ 10. Nd2 Nd4 11. Qd3 e5 12. b4 Qa4 13. Ra2 Nxd2 14. Rxd2 Bf5 15. Qe3 O-O-O 16. g4 Qc2 17. Rxd4 exd4 18. Qd2 Qxd2+ 19. Bxd2 Be4 20. f3 Bg6 21. cxd5 Rxd5 22. Bg2 f6 23. Kf2 h5 24. Bf4 Bc2 25. h4 Re8 26. Rc1 Ba4 27. gxh5 Rxh5 28. Bg3 Re3 29. Rc4 Rd5 30. Bd6 Rc3 31. f4 Rxd6 0-1

The key gambit characteristics for Black arise from his 6th and 7th move choices. With the first, the "Fajarowicz" knight appears on e4 and with the second, Black looks to undermine the White center for quick development.  If you look at the position on move 8, it seems like a classic Fajarowicz structure, with the benefit of White not having any minor pieces developed (just the Queen on c2, which has already been kicked once from c3).  By move 14, the thematic ...Bf5 tactical motif in the Fajarowicz has appeared, with the idea that Black's minor pieces are playing in the center, targeting key squares in White's camp and White's queen.  Could it be that this Nimzo-Indian variation is actually an improved version of the Fajarowicz?  Something to think about for both Fajarowicz fans and players who want a rock-solid opening that still has gambit possibilities.

It's fascinating to see some of these ideas for Black appear across different openings and at high levels, which reinforces several different training ideas for improving players:
  • Studying and annotating master games
  • Varying your opening study and looking outside your current repertoire for ideas
  • Studying everything - nothing you do is wasted time, if you approach the material with a critical eye and look to better understand chess principles and patterns. I doubt I'll ever actually play the Fajarowicz, but having studied the opening I can now recognize key themes about development advantages resulting from gambits, along with particular tactical ideas for Black in related structures. 

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