A few columns ago I was writing about the need to vary your chess style when playing under different time controls, i.e., standard, rapid or blitz conditions. Specifically, it is a good idea to have a more aggressive opening repertoire for the faster games. England’s GM Michael Adams, who won a big share of rapid tournaments in the 90s and early 2000s, has always preached that in quickplay your goal is not prophylaxis or solidity — the correct way is to keep your pieces active at all times. The mistakes are going to come, and to have a chance to finish on top your pieces have to have scope.
Back when we were learning the moves of chess one of the opening principles we were taught was that the queen shouldn’t be brought out too early as it might become the target of the enemy pieces, allowing your opponent to gain time by continuously attacking it. Under faster time controls that rule might not be valid — from my experience gained from tens of thousands of blitz and bullet games on the online servers bringing the queen out early is a good idea — it can harass the enemy forces and force your opponent to waste precious seconds facing up to the threats. Just make sure you don’t lose your queen in the process.
Now this is where I trot out my pet line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.Ng5!?
POSITION AFTER 5.NG5
According to GM Krikor Mekhitarian this is “called the Sarratt Variation, that is located inside the Haxo Gambit, itself located inside the Scotch Gambit! What a mix! Jacob Henry Sarratt was a leading English player from the late 18th century and early 19th century, and the first professional player to teach in England. He used this move in 1818 against an unknown player and quickly won the game. Sarratt was also known for his studies in the Muzio Gambit (inside the King’s Gambit).”
I have a very healthy plus score with the “Sarratt” in fast time controls — and that includes victories over titled players including grandmasters. “Caveman” aggression can take down a lot of players in 1-minute games because they do not have the luxury of time, but you should think twice before using it in a standard time control game.
Most of my opponents on encountering the line for the first time would do a double-take and then, after a few seconds, play the most obvious defense 5…Ne5, but it is a mistake, and after 6.Nxf7 Nxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxc5 White has a big advantage, some would say even winning. Material is currently equal but Black’s king is exposed and his pieces undeveloped.
I looked up the position after 8.Qh5+ in the Chessbase Megabase, which supposedly includes all available tournament games since the beginning of time and saw that it has occurred 116 times and White scored 77% with 82 wins 16 draws and 18 losses, with most of the games ending in drastic fashion:
Ladanyi, Zsolt (2155) — Nemeth, Andras (1868) [C44]
HUN-chT2 Charousek 0809 Hungary (2), 02.11.2008
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.Ng5 Ne5 6.Bxf7+ Nxf7 7.Nxf7 Kxf7 8.Qh5+ Kf8 9.Qxc5+ Qe7 10.Qxd4 Nf6 11.Nc3 d6 12.Bg5 Be6 13.0–0–0 Kf7 14.f4 Rhb8 15.e5 dxe5 16.fxe5 c5 17.exf6 cxd4 18.fxe7 dxc3 19.Rd8 1–0
Of course, your opponents would have bruised egos from the bad loss and some of them might even do a little research and analysis, and next time you play they already know what is the best line of defense against the Sarratt Variation.
Chernov, Alexander — Oplackin [C44]
USSR 1972 USSR
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.Ng5?! Nh6!
The reason why this knight move is better than Ne5 is that after 6.Nxf7 Nxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxc5 the d4-pawn is covered and there is no knight on g8 blocking his rook.
If you are in a gambling move you can try 6.Qh5 hoping for 6…Ne5? (Correct is 6…Qe7 with a better game for Black) 7.Ne6!! dxe6 8.Qxe5 Bf8 9.Bxh6 and wins.
6…Nxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxc5 d5!
Even better than 9…d6 10.Qb5 Re8! 11.Qb3+? (11.0–0) 11…d5 12.f3? (12.0–0) 12…Na5 13.Qd3 dxe4 14.fxe4 Qh4+ 15.g3 Rxe4+ 16.Kf2 Qe7 17.Nd2? (17.Bd2) 17…Re3! 18.Qb5 c6! 19.Qf1 (19.Qxa5 Re2+ 20.Kf3 (20.Kg1 Qe3+ 21.Kf1 Qf2#; 20.Kf1 Re1+ 21.Kg2 Qe2#) 20…Qe3#) 19…Bh3! 20.Qd1 Rf8 21.Nf3 Ke8 0–1 Meek, Alexander Beaufort-Morphy, Paul casual game, Mobile, 1855.
White is better off just castling and giving up the pawn. See next game. Capturing the pawn is not a good move:
10.exd5 Re8+ 11.Kf1 (11.Kd1 Re5!) 11…b6! 12.Qxc6? Ba6+ 13.Kg1 Re1#, or
10.Qxd5+ Qxd5 11.exd5 Nb4 Black is doing well
11…Nxe5! 12.fxe5 Qh4+ 13.Kf1 Rxe5 14.Qxc7+ Ke6! 15.Bd2 Bd7 16.Qc5 Bb5+! 0–1
White resigns, the point being that 17.Qxb5 [17.Kg1 Re1+ 18.Bxe1 Qxe1#] 17…Rf8+ 18.Kg1 Qf2# is checkmate.
And now comes the latest issue of “New in Chess” Yearbook. no. 129 (the 129th edition of a yearbook, you might say? Does that mean that “New in Chess” has been 129 years in existence? Well, not really — this is probably the only yearbook I know which comes out four times a year, but I digress). In it, the Dutch GM and openings expert Erwin l’Ami writes about this very line. It appears that in last year’s Dortmund Chess Classic (a tournament under classic time control) the Belarussian GM (Grandmaster) Vladislav Kovalev wielded it against no less than former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and could have gotten a good advantage on the 13th move.
Kovalev, Vladislav (2655) — Kramnik, Vladimir (2792) [C44]
Dortmund 46th (7), 22.07.2018
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.Ng5 Nh6 6.Nxf7 Nxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qxc5 d5 10.0–0!
For reasons given in the previous game White is just better off giving up a pawn and completing his development.
10…dxe4 11.c3! Re8
The most logical move. Grischuk played this twice in the 2018 St. Louis Blitz tournament. They continued:
Time control for the game was 5 minutes + 3 seconds delay (not increment), but that did not stop Dominguez from investing a full minute before playing 11…Qd6!? 12.cxd4 Nxd4 13.Qxd6 cxd6 14.Nc3 Bg4! 15.Nxe4 Nc2 16.f3 (16.Rb1? Be2! wins the exchange under more favorable circumstances; I think best for White is 16.Nxd6+ Ke6 17.Bf4 Nxa1 18.Rxa1) 16…Nxa1 17.fxg4+ Ke6 18.Ng5+ Kd7 White is the exchange down but Dominguez managed to find a way to lose the game. Grischuk,A (2766)-Dominguez Perez, L (2739) Saint Louis 2018 1–0 43;
11…Be6 12.Bf4 Qd5 13.cxd4 Qxd4 14.Qc1! Black has to be careful here as his position is very loose. Grischuk,A (2766)-Karjakin,S (2773) Saint Louis 2018 1/2 69.]
L’Ami: 12…Qxd4! 13.Qg5 “was played in the Shumov-Urusov game from 1853! This also gives White long-term compensation on the dark squares. The pawn deficit is barely felt and it can be regained at any moment.” 13…Bf5 14.Bd2 Ne5 15.Bc3 Qd6 16.Qh6 Ng4 17.Qxh7+ Ke6 18.Na3 Re7! 19.Qh4 Rd8? (The losing move. Instead, 19…g5! 20.Qg3 Qxg3 21.hxg3 Kf7 is equal) 20.Nc4 Qc5 21.h3! Nxf2 22.Rxf2 Rd5 23.g4+– 1–0 (28) Shumov, I-Urusov, D St. Petersburg 1853.
L’Ami: 13.Be3!? “would have secured a small but lasting advantage. The key is to destabilize the black knight first. Here” 13…Nf5 14.Nc3 b6 15.Qc4+ Be6 16.Qxe4 Nxe3 17.Qxe3 “may not look like much, but Black’s king is chronically weak.”
13…b6 14.Qc4+ Be6 15.Qa4 c5 16.Nxe4 Bd5 17.f3 Bxe4 18.fxe4+ Kg7 19.Qc4 Kh8 20.b4!
The main idea is to open the long diagonal against the Black king.
20…Rxe4 21.Bb2 Qg8 22.Rf7 Rf8! 23.Rxf8 Qxf8 24.bxc5 bxc5 25.Rf1 Qe7 26.Qd5 Kg7 27.h3 g5 28.Bc3 a6 29.Kh1 Kh6 30.Rb1 Nb5 Bf6! Qxf6 32.Qxe4 Nc3
This is the sting at the end but unfortunately for Kramnik White has a sting of his own.
33.Qf3! Qxf3 34.Rb6+! Kh5 35.gxf3
White is winning already but Kramnik manages to hold the ending.
35…Nxa2 36.Rc6! Nb4 37.Rxc5 Nd3 38.Ra5 Kh4 39.Kh2 Nf4 40.Rxa6 Kh5
Of course not 40…Nxh3?? 41.Rh6#
41.Rd6 Ne2 42.Rd2 Nf4 43.Kg3 Ng6 44.Rd7 h6 45.Rf7! Ne5
Kramnik does not fall for 45…Nf4? 46.Rxf4 gxf4+ 47.Kxf4 Kh4 48.Ke4 Kxh3 49.f4 Kg2 50.f5 h5 51.f6 h4 52.f7 h3 53.f8Q h2 54.Qf3+ Kg1 55.Ke3! h1Q 56.Qf2#
46.Rf5 Ng6 47.Ra5 Nf4 48.h4! Ne2+ 49.Kf2 Nf4 50.hxg5 hxg5 51.Ke3 Ng2+ 52.Kf2
Misses the win. The king should go forward rather than backward. After 52.Ke4! Kg6 53.Ra6+ Kh5 54.Ra2 Nf4 55.Kf5 Ng6 56.Rh2+ Nh4+ 57.Ke4 Kg6 58.f4! Kf6 59.f5! Kf7 60.Rh1 Kf6 61.Rg1!+ — Kramnik has to give up his last pawn, after which it is a relatively easy win for Kovalev.
The last chance to win. 53.Ke3 would have gotten back to the right track
53…Kg6! 54.Ke3 Ng2+ 55.Ke4 Nh4!
This is important — Black has to control the f5–square in order to hold the draw.
56.Ra6+ Kf7 57.Ra2 Kf6 58.Ra1 Ke6 59.Rh1 Ng6 60.Rh6 Kf6 61.Rh7 Nh4 62.Ke3 Ng6 63.Ra7 Nh4 64.Ra6+ Kf5 65.Kf2 Ng6! 66.Kg3 Ne5 67.Ra8 Ng6 68.Rg8 Ne5 69.Rf8+ Ke6 70.Kf2 Ng6 71.Rb8 Kf5 72.Rb5+ Kf6 73.Ra5 Ne5 74.Ke2 Ng6 75.Ra6+ Kf5 76.Ke3 Nh4! 77.Ra5+ Kf6 78.Ke4 Kg6 79.Ra1 Kf6 80.Rg1 Nf5 81.Rg2 Nh4 82.Rh2 Ng6 83.Rh5 Nf4 84.Rh8 Ng6 85.Rb8 Nh4 86.Rg8 Ng6 87.Kd4 Kf5 88.Ke3 Kf6 89.Ke4 Kf7 90.Rb8 Nh4 91.Rc8 Kf6 92.Rc1 Ke6 93.Ke3 Kf5 94.Rc5+ Kf6 95.Rb5 Ng6 96.Ke4 Nh4 97.Rd5 Kg6 98.f4 gxf4 99.Kxf4 Kf7 100.Kg5 Nf3+ 101.Kf4 Nh4 102.Kg5 Nf3+ 103.Kg4 Ke6! 104.Kxf3 Kxd5 ½–½
The Dortmund tournament was held in July 2018. A month after that, in the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz Event (a part of the Grand Chess Tour) GM Alexander Grischuk used the line against former speed chess world champions Leinier Dominguez (Blitz Champion 2008) and Sergey Karjakin (Rapid Champion in 2012 and Blitz Champion in 2016). He beat Dominguez and drew with Karjakin.
Maybe we will start seeing more of this line? And maybe we should start calling this the “Sarratt-Ang” line? I can dream, can I?
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.