Tag Archives: Semi-Slav

Play the Noteboom Variation?

Fond Memories with the Noteboom Variation

I have written before that taking up the French Defense saved my chess career. Well, that was great for facing 1.e4, but I needed something against the closed openings. One day in 1999 my dad brought home a book that helped me solve this task for awhile. Thanks, Dad.

Play the Noteboom is the title of a 1996 book written by Mark van der Werf and Teun van der Vorm, and published by Cadogan Books (now Everyman Chess).

The Noteboom Variation is a cross between the Slav and Semi-Slav Defenses, characterized by the positon after, for example:

 

Black takes the c4-pawn and might hold onto it!

In the main line, black gives back the pawn and a very unusual situation arises:

Black has two outside, connected passed pawns! This single factor made the Noteboom really attractive to me in the late 1990s and early 2000s: as long as I didn’t get mated, I often wound up with winning or nearly winning endgames!

I had a ridiculously high score with the Noteboom Variation, when my opponents allowed it, including some nice upsets. The fun didn’t stop there, however.

 

The Marshall Gambit

White can avoid this situation by playing an Anti-Noteboom system. The most common and best choice is the Marshall Gambit:

This early central thrust is not possible in the Slav or Semi-Slav because Black has a knight on f6. The main line continues:

When White has definite compensation for the missing pawn: open lines for the queen and bishops, and a drafty Black king to target.

I believe the main move here is 8…Na6. But as a firm adherent of the “take and hold” school of chess, I used to play 8…Nd7, threatening to shut out white’s monster bishop with 9…c5.

Four of my tournament games reached this position. My opponents played 9.Bd6 or 9.Qd6. Then I held on for dear life after…

…and won all four games! Now, I was probably losing in three of them, but sometimes Caissa is on your side. My opponents included an A-player, the same Expert twice, and my first master scalp in tournament play.

Um, yeah. Don’t try this at home!

 

Conclusion

Now I view all of this very differently. In the main line Noteboom Variation White has a strong bishop pair and his central play could end up being, shall we say, problematic. 15 years later, I wouldn’t try a “rope-a-dope” strategy against the Marshall Gambit. Not a recipe for success…

Also, amateur players are more familiar with the opening, notably with The Triangle System (2012) by Ruslan Scherbakov.

 

Desperate people do desperate things. I was a weak player without much confidence and relied on a material advantage to win long, drawn-out endgames. I didn’t think I could win any other way. That led me to playing these semi-bluff openings.

Funnily enough, nowadays I have a massive score against the Noteboom on ICC! That’s the great thing about playing an opening: you learn how to play against it, too!

Do you have similar experiences? Please share!

Mainline Chess Openings…Should I Play Them?

What are Mainline Openings?

“Mainline chess openings require lots of study time, which I could use to work on other parts of chess. I’ll choose sidelines instead.”

Definitely a mainline chess opening: the Botvinnik Semi-Slav.

The craziest opening in all of chess? Starting position of the Botvinnik Variation of the Semi-Slav in ChessBase.

It’s a common argument, but a misconception. There’s a difference betwen mainline and cutting-edge. Mainlines are commonly played by grandmasters but can be strategic in nature and not rely on “crazy” lines.  Cutting-edge theory on the other hand can be very sharp and is often based on engine preparation by Stockfish and others.

Mainline Example

True, there’s rarely one mainline per opening. Take the popular Najdorf Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6):

The moves 6.Be3 (6.f3 is similar), 6.Bg5, 6.Be2, and 6.Bc4 are definitely mainlines, all of which have different branches. One could argue that 6.h3 and 6.g3 are nearly mainlines as well. Then of course moves like 6.f4, 6.Nb3 and even 6.h4 are not to be ignored. Surely only professionals should wade into these waters?

I’m far from a professional, and I used to play the Najdorf with success. Even this, one of the most infamous mainline chess openings, is very concept-based. That’s because there are only two main structures for black. The d6-e6 center:

And the d6-e5 center:

In these, black’s piece placements don’t change that much. Not only that, a Najdorf player can completely avoid the second structure based on the variations they choose.

At first, you’ll have to memorize variations and play through a bunch of games to understand what’s going on. Yes, more than you would if playing a sideline. But after a little while, there are few surprises. Even enemy “preparation” can’t neutralize your understanding; at best it can give you specific tactical questions to answer.

Choose WIsely

Which brings me to my next point. If you play something wild in the Najdorf like the Poisoned Pawn Variation (6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 and now 7…Qb6)

Expect fireworks and nasty home-cooked surprises!

But as far as I know, the old line beginning with 7…Nbd7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0 b5 is still playable

In my opinion this is the Najdorf line where you need to remember the most specifics, and it’s not so bad. Of course, there’s no requirement to play the Najdorf Variation, or any Sicilian, but I wanted to show an extreme example.

Remember: there’s a difference between mainline and cutting-edge. Just avoid the latter if you don’t have the necessary time, memory, or study habits!

Okay, what’s the alternative?

Players who aim for sidelines in most or all of their games understand that they can expect less out of the opening. On the other hand, their opening repertoires are lower-maintenance.

But are they making their lives more difficult in the middlegame? I say yes.

Let’s take one of the most popular sidelines today, the London System, which traditionally begins 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4:

White usually follows up with, in some order, c3, e3, Nbd2, Bd3, and 0-0.

It’s a trap!

White can almost close his or her eyes and play these moves, but what can black do? Actually, a lot. For example:

  • The light-squared bishop can go to f5 or g4 on the kingside, or to b7 or a6 on the queenside.
  • The dark-squared bishop can go to d6, e7, or g7.
  • The Nb8 can go to c6 or d7.
  • The Nf6 can stay where it is, go to h5 to attack white’s Bf4, jump to e4, or even d7 if black aims for an …e5-advance.
  • The queen can go to a5, b6, c7 if safe, d6 after a bishop trade there, or e7. Did I forget any?
  • The b-pawn can stay on b7 or go to b6 for …Bb7 or …Ba6.
  • The c-pawn can go to c6 or c5.
  • The e-pawn can stay on e7, go to e6, and maybe even go to e5.
  • The g-pawn can stay on g7 or go to g6 for a fianchetto.
  • And plenty of these options can be combined!

This seems like a lot more study to me! If you don’t want to study at home, you’ll have to study at the board! My advice: play mainline chess openings!