Easy Guide to the Lowenthal

Tue, 2013-06-18 10:05 -- IM Max Illingworth

[pgn]{Easy Guide to the Lowenthal One of the most fascinating and reputable
openings in chess is the Sicilian Defence. However, it's easy to get
overwhelmed by the slew of theory associated with this opening, and the price
of a mistake can often be high as Black develops more slowly to achieve some
long-term positional gains. With this post I'm going to offer a solution to
both these issues: Play the Lowenthal Sicilian! This opening is not very
theoretical, and Black obtains an early lead in development almost no matter
what White plays. With this first game I'll present an outline of the lines
I'll be recommending and examining, along with a brief explanation of the
opening ideas.} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 {I won't be covering White's second-move
deviations such as 2.Nc3, 2.c3 and 2.d4, but you can find good coverage of
these in a book like 'Experts on the Anti-Sicilians' by Quality Chess or
'Fighting the Anti-Sicilians' by Richard Palliser.} Nc6 {For a player
inexperienced with the Sicilian, it makes sense to start with a 2...Nc6
Sicilian as Black generally doesn't fall as far behind in development as after
2...e6 or 2...d6.} 3. d4 {This move characterises the Open Sicilian (named so
because the position suddenly opens up!) but} (3. Nc3 {aims to avoid the
Lowenthal by playing d4 next turn, so let's prevent that with} e5 4. Bc4 {,
and then I suggest the system} h6 {with the idea of creating the 'Botvinnik'
formation: ...g6/...Bg7/...d6/...Nge7/...0-0. We'll take a closer look at this
underestimated setup in Swathi-Brown.}) (3. Bb5 {is the Rossolimo, which has a
very solid reputation. I suggest a response in the spirit of our 'low theory/
fast development' approach:} e5 4. O-O Bd6 {, with the idea of playing ...Nge7
and ...0-0 to quickly develop the kingside, while establishing a central
foothold like in the 3.Nc3 e5 variation. We'll see this in Matinian-Jobava.})
3... cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 {The Lowenthal is considered to start with the move 5...
a6, but for our purposes this is the defining position of our repertoire - we
equal White's central occupation with gain of time, meanwhile preparing to
develop the f8-bishop actively if allowed. The price paid is that the d5- and
d6-squares can no longer be defended by a black pawn; unfortunately in chess
you can't have your cake and eat it!} ({By the way, the Pelikan Sicilian (with
} 4... Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 {) can transpose to some of the lines we'll look at here,
such as if White plays 6.Nb3, but there's a ton of theory after the critical}
6. Ndb5 {.}) 5. Nb5 {This is the critical move, eyeing a jump to the d6-square,
but this week we'll look at some alternative knight moves:} (5. Nxc6 {is the
move we'd love to see, since after} bxc6 6. Nc3 Nf6 {Black has very good
central control and can eventually play ...d5 to take over the centre. Since
this is a common reaction in low-level play I take a closer look at this
position in Kofidis-Tzermiadianos.}) (5. Nf5 {can also transpose to one of the
Sveshnikov rarities after} Nf6 6. Nc3 d5 {, when Black needs to avoid a few
traps but can count on an early initiative with best play: Rogers-Volzhin
being a classic example.}) (5. Nb3 {also lets Black take over the centre with .
..d5, namely after} Nf6 6. Bd3 d5 {, when the game Jamalia-Kopinits
demonstrates how to outplay a weaker player from these sorts of slightly
better positions.}) (5. Nf3 {is another move that gives Black an easy
initiative after} Nf6 6. Nc3 Bb4 {, when Bosch-Rogers shows how to treat the
positions where Black grabs a pawn.}) 5... a6 6. Nd6+ Bxd6 7. Qxd6 {I'll
examine this position in next week's post.} * [/pgn]

[White "Swathi, Ghate"] [Black "Brown, Andrew"]
[pgn]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 e5 4. Bc4 (4. Bb5 {transposes to 3.Bb5 e5, with
White having played the harmless 4.Nc3 (as White cannot open the centre with
c3 and d4).}) 4... h6 {I actually invented this move as a kid in 2002, not
knowing that it had been played a few times before!} (4... Be7 5. d3 d6 {is
the main line, but it can be hard for Black to play for a win in the
variations starting with} 6. O-O Nf6 7. Ng5 O-O 8. f4 {, or even 6.Nd2.}) 5. d3
d6 6. Nd2 {The reason White plays this move before castling is to save a tempo
with Nf1-e3 and 0-0 (rather than 0-0, Re1 and then Nf1-e3).} ({Normal
development such as} 6. O-O g6 7. Be3 Bg7 8. h3 Nge7 9. Qd2 Nd4 {leaves Black
with a comfortable position - he can follow up with ...Be6 to ensure
sufficient control of the d5-square and delay castling until White is no
longer eying the h6-pawn. With the centre closed Black can get away with
keeping his king in the middle for now.}) 6... g6 7. Nf1 Bg7 8. Ne3 Be6 (8...
Nge7 {might have been a more accurate move order, when} 9. O-O O-O 10. Ned5 Kh7
11. f4 (11. a3 $142) 11... f5 {saw Black holding his own in the centre, with
good play in Illingworth-Ng, Norths blitz 2012. Maybe 11.a3 with the idea of
queenside probing with b4 gives White a pull though.}) 9. a3 a6 10. Ncd5 {
Generally speaking, if Black is able to eliminate the weakness of the
d5-square, he equalises.} b5 11. Ba2 Nce7 {This looks a bit awkward but it's
hard for White to exploit Black's manoeuvring.} 12. c3 Nf6 (12... Nxd5 13. Bxd5
Bxd5 14. Nxd5 Ne7 15. Nxe7 Qxe7 {was better, when White can't occupy the
d5-square easily with one of his pieces so the position seems about equal.
Black can even consider a ...d5 break later on.}) 13. Nxf6+ Bxf6 14. O-O Bxa2
15. Rxa2 Bg7 16. a4 O-O 17. Qb3 Qd7 18. Bd2 {Now White has definite queenside
pressure, and she went on to win the game.} Qe6 19. Qxe6 fxe6 {Even though the
doubled pawns defend d5, normally it's best to avoid them in this variation,
if possible.} 20. Rfa1 Rab8 21. axb5 axb5 22. Ra6 Rfd8 23. Kf1 c4 24. dxc4 bxc4
25. Bc1 Kf7 26. Nxc4 d5 27. Na5 dxe4 28. Ke2 Rd7 29. Nc4 Nd5 30. Nd6+ Rxd6 31.
Rxd6 Bf8 32. Ra7+ Kf6 33. Rdd7 g5 34. g3 Kg6 35. Ra6 Nf6 36. Rda7 Bc5 37. Rc7
Rb6 38. Rxb6 Bxb6 39. Rc6 Ba7 40. Be3 Bxe3 41. fxe3 Kf7 42. b4 Ke7 43. c4 Kd7
44. b5 Ne8 45. c5 Nc7 46. Rxc7+ Kxc7 47. Kd2 1-0[/pgn]

[White "Matinian, N."] [Black "Jobava, Ba"]
[pgn]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 e5 {While this variation is a perfectly playable
answer to the Rossolimo, you should also learn one of the major main lines (3..
.g6, 3...d6 or 3...e6) at some point, since those positions are very
strategically rich and instructive.} 4. O-O (4. c3 {is the direct way to play
for d4, but Black can play} a6 5. Bxc6 dxc6 {to reach a funny sort of Exchange
Ruy Lopez with Black's c7-pawn moved to c5 and the move c3 thrown in! Note that
} 6. Nxe5 {doesn't win a pawn because of} Qg5 ({or} 6... Qe7 7. d4 f6) 7. Nf3
Qxg2 {.}) 4... Bd6 5. c3 (5. d3 {is a quieter approach that shouldn't trouble
Black:} Nge7 6. Nc3 O-O 7. Be3 a6 8. Bc4 b5 9. Bb3 Nd4 {and Black is fine, as
he will exchange off the b3-bishop (or the e3-bishop should White venture Bxd4)
.}) 5... Nge7 ({Even} 5... a6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 {is interesting, again playing by
analogy to the Exchange Ruy Lopez:} 7. d4 exd4 8. cxd4 Bg4 {and Black's bishop
pair come to life with the opening of the centre. Food for thought!}) 6. d4
cxd4 7. cxd4 exd4 8. Nxd4 {Objectively this position should favour White
somewhat as he has a central space advantage and it's hard to get the
c8-bishop into the game.} a6 9. Be2 (9. Bc4 {has also occurred in Jobava's
practice, but after} O-O {the c4-bishop is vulnerable to ...b5, after which
Black solves the problem of his light-squared bishop with ...Bb7.}) 9... O-O
10. Nc3 Be5 11. Be3 (11. Nf3 Bxc3 12. bxc3 d5 13. exd5 Nxd5 {gives White an
edge because of his bishop pair advantage in such an open position, but Black
has the better pawn structure and can play too.}) 11... d5 12. Nxc6 bxc6 13.
Bd4 Bd6 {Now you'd think White would go for an IQP position with exd5 but
instead White allows ...c5!} 14. Bf3 Rb8 15. Re1 c5 16. e5 Nc6 17. exd6 Nxd4
18. Bxd5 Qxd6 19. b3 a5 {This should still be about equal, but Jobava went on
to defeat his lower-rated opponent.} 20. Rc1 h6 21. Qh5 Ba6 22. Re3 Kh8 23. Ne4
Qd8 24. Bc4 Bxc4 25. Rxc4 f5 26. Nxc5 f4 27. Re4 Rf5 28. Qg4 Rg5 29. Qd1 Nxb3
30. Qxd8+ Rxd8 31. h4 Rd1+ 32. Kh2 Rh5 33. Rxf4 Nxc5 34. g4 Rxh4+ 35. Kg3 g5

[White "Kofidis, Andreas"] [Black "Tzermiadianos, Andreas"]
[pgn]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 (4... e5 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. Nc3 Nf6 {
would be our Lowenthal move order.}) 5. Nc3 e5 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 (7. Bc4 {
looks more active, but the bishop can be hit by ...d5 later:} Bb4 8. O-O O-O 9.
Bg5 h6 10. Bh4 Be7 {and this should be about equal, though Black's position
seems easier to play.}) 7... Be7 8. O-O d6 {Generally speaking it's a good
idea not to rush with ...d5, as Black's centre would then become a target for
attack after exd5. Always be careful about occupying the centre before your
pieces are developed and ready to defend it.} 9. b4 {White tries to expand on
the queenside, but this backfires after Black's central breakthrough.} (9. f4 {
is a move you might get in blitz, but} O-O {is a good reply. For instance after
} 10. Kh1 Qa5 11. Qf3 exf4 12. Bxf4 Rb8 13. Rab1 Ng4 {Black can occupy the
e5-square with his knight, blockading White's IKP (Isolated King's Pawn) in
the process.}) 9... O-O 10. a4 d5 11. Ba3 Be6 12. b5 Bxa3 13. Rxa3 Qd6 14. Qa1
d4 15. Ne2 c5 {I won't annotate the rest of the game as it's fairly clear that
Black dominates the centre and holds a big advantage.} 16. c4 a5 17. Ng3 Rfe8
18. Qc1 Nd7 19. Qd2 Nb6 20. Rc1 Qc7 21. Qe2 f6 22. Nf1 g6 23. Nd2 f5 24. exf5
gxf5 25. f3 Re7 26. Re1 Bd7 27. Qd1 Nc8 28. Qb1 Nd6 29. Nf1 Rf8 30. Ra2 e4 31.
fxe4 fxe4 32. Bxe4 Rxe4 33. Rxe4 Bf5 34. Ng3 Nxe4 35. Nxe4 Qf4 0-1[/pgn]

[White "Rogers, Ian"] [Black "Volzhin, Alexander"]
[pgn]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 (4... e5 5. Nf5 Nf6 6. Nc3 d5 {is
our move order.}) 5. Nc3 e5 6. Nf5 {In his active playing years Rogers was
very successful with a range of tricky lines (like this one) but Black
answered in exemplary fashion in this game.} d5 {It's very important to play
this break before White can clamp onto the d5-square with Ne3.} 7. exd5 Bxf5 8.
dxc6 bxc6 9. Qf3 Qd7 {The correct square for the queen.} ({Make sure you avoid
the trap} 9... Qc8 10. Ba6 Qxa6 11. Qxf5 {which favours White. His advantage
could increase even more if Black played the natural} Bd6 {which loses to} 12.
Bh6 $1 {.}) 10. Bg5 {This approach fell out of favour after this game; instead}
(10. Bc4 {sacrifices a pawn for a lead in development; Black can get away with
taking the pawn but} Be7 11. O-O O-O 12. Rd1 Qc8 {is fine for Black too. He
will try to break with ...e4 to increase his central space advantage and can
always tuck his bishop away on g6 should the kingside come under attack.})
10... e4 11. Qe2 Be7 {This move entails a pawn sacrifice, but it's extremely
risky for White to accept.} 12. Bxf6 (12. Rd1 {would be more circumspect but
isn't consistent with White's plan of luring Black's centre forward.}) 12...
Bxf6 13. Nxe4 O-O 14. Nxf6+ gxf6 {Despite the doubled pawns around Black's
king, it is actually White's king that is in grim danger because he's so far
behind in development.} 15. Qd2 Rfe8+ 16. Kd1 Qc7 {This is the key improvement,
preparing ...Rad8 but also opening up ideas of ...Qe5 or ...Qf4 at a good
moment.} 17. Bd3 Rad8 18. Kc1 c5 19. b3 Qe5 20. Rb1 {White has played the best
defensive moves but even that's not enough after Black's next:} c4 $1 {A
powerful pawn sacrifice to pry open White's king.} 21. bxc4 Rb8 {Black takes
the newly opened b-file. This is not a position where the White rook is best
placed on h1!} 22. Rxb8 Rxb8 23. Qe3 Qb2+ 24. Kd1 Bg4+ 25. f3 Qa1+ 26. Kd2 Qxh1
27. Qf4 Qxg2+ 28. Kc3 Re8 29. Qxg4+ Qxg4 30. fxg4 Re5 {The rest of the game is
a technical affair of converting the extra exchange; Black proved up to the
task.} 31. Kd4 h5 32. c5 Kf8 33. h3 h4 34. Be4 Ke7 35. c3 Kd7 36. a4 a5 37.
Bf5+ Kc6 38. Be4+ Kc7 39. Bd5 Re2 40. Bxf7 Rh2 41. Be6 Rxh3 42. g5 Rf3 43. Ke4
Rg3 44. gxf6 h3 45. Bd5 h2 46. Kf5 Rxc3 47. f7 Rxc5 48. f8=Q Rxd5+ 49. Ke6 h1=Q
50. Qf4+ Kb7 51. Qf7+ Ka6 52. Qg6 Rc5 53. Qd3+ Ka7 54. Qd4 Qc6+ 55. Ke7 Qb6 0-1[/pgn]

[White "Jamalia, N."] [Black "Kopinits, A."]
[pgn]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 5. Nb3 {This move should not scare
us.} Nf6 6. Bd3 {This move keeps the game in Lowenthal waters. Instead} (6. Nc3
Bb4 7. Bd3 ({should be met by} 7. Bc4 O-O {; we'll look at similar positions
in the next game}) 7... d5 8. exd5 Nxd5 9. Bd2 Bxc3 10. bxc3 O-O 11. O-O f5 {
is slightly better for Black, whose better pawn structure and control of the
centre outweigh White's bishop pair, which are out on guard duty defending the
doubled c-pawns. Black can follow up with ...Be6, ...Qe7 and any of c8, d8 or
e8 will be a good position for the a8-rook.}) 6... d5 7. exd5 Nxd5 8. O-O Be7 {
Although the players in this game weren't especially high-rated, the game
shows some typical ideas for this middlegame structure.} (8... Ndb4 {might be
more precise, to try and win the bishop pair. If} 9. Be2 Bf5 {is a problem.})
9. c3 O-O 10. Qe2 Be6 11. Rd1 Qc7 12. Be3 Nxe3 13. Qxe3 {White has played a
bit too languidly and Black would have had a clear advantage with the bishops
and central domination had she played 13...f5 followed by 14...e4.} b6 14. N1d2
Rad8 15. Be4 f6 16. Nf1 Rxd1 17. Rxd1 Rd8 18. Qf3 Nb8 19. Ne3 Rxd1+ 20. Qxd1 {
Now the position is equal, but in the end Black's greater experience told.} Qd7
21. Bd5 Bxd5 22. Qxd5+ Qxd5 23. Nxd5 Bd8 24. Kf1 Kf7 25. Ke2 Ke6 26. Ne3 h5 27.
Nd2 f5 28. a4 Nc6 29. b4 g5 30. Nc2 Be7 31. Nc4 g4 32. f3 Bg5 33. b5 Nb8 34. a5
bxa5 35. Nxa5 Kd5 36. c4+ Kc5 37. Kd3 Nd7 38. Nb3+ Kb6 39. Nb4 Nf6 40. Nc2 Nd7
41. Nb4 Nf6 42. Nc2 Bf4 43. h3 Bh6 44. hxg4 hxg4 45. Na3 Bf8 46. Nc2 g3 47. Ne3
f4 48. Nf1 Bc5 49. Nfd2 Nd7 50. Ke4 Be3 51. Kd5 Nf8 52. Ne4 Ng6 53. Nc3 Nh4 54.
c5+ Kc7 55. Kxe5 Nxg2 56. c6 Bb6 57. Ne2 Ne1 58. Nxf4 Nd3+ 59. Nxd3 g2 60. Ndc5
Bxc5 61. Nxc5 g1=Q 62. Ne6+ Kc8 63. f4 Qe1+ 64. Kd6 Qb4+ 65. Kd5 Qxb5+ 66. Kd6
Qd3+ 67. Kc5 Qc2+ 68. Kd6 a5 69. Nd4 Qd3 70. Kc5 a4 71. f5 a3 72. f6 Qf1 73.
Nb5 Qxf6 0-1[/pgn]

[White "Bosch, Jeroen"] [Black "Rogers, Ian"]
[pgn]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 5. Nf3 {Finally we have a game with
our move order!} (5. Ne2 {is what I'd recommend as a low-theory answer to the
Lowenthal, with the idea that after} Nf6 6. Nbc3 {we've transposed to the
Anti-Sveshnikov line (6.Nde2) recommended in 'Dangerous Weapons: The
Sicilian'! I'll give you a taste of how play can continue:} Bc5 7. Ng3 h5 8.
Bg5 Qb6 9. Qd2 Qxb2 10. Rb1 Qa3 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. Rb3 Qa5 13. Rb5 Qa3 14. Nd5
a6 15. Rb3 Qxa2 16. Be2 Nd4 17. Rc3 d6 18. O-O Be6 19. Nxf6+ Kf8 20. Bd3 Qa5
21. Rb1 h4 22. Nf5 Bxf5 23. exf5 b5 24. Bf1 h3 25. Nd7+ Ke8 26. Nxc5 dxc5 27.
Qe3 Qc7 28. Qe4 Ke7 29. Re3 Kf6 30. c3 Nc6 31. g4 Rag8 32. Rg3 Rg5 33. Bxh3 Na5
34. Ra1 Qb6 35. Re3 Nc4 36. Rg3 Rd8 37. Bg2 Nd2 38. Qe2 c4 39. h4 Rgg8 40. Rd1
Qd6 41. Qe3 Ke7 42. g5 Rd7 43. g6 fxg6 44. fxg6 Rxg6 45. Rxg6 Qxg6 46. Rxd2
Rxd2 47. Qxd2 a5 48. Qd5 Qb6 49. Qxe5+ Kd7 50. h5 a4 51. Bh3+ Kd8 52. Qg5+ Kc7
53. h6 a3 54. h7 {and Black resigned in Morozevich-Van Wely, Monte Carlo 2003.}
) 5... Nf6 6. Nc3 Bb4 7. Bc4 {With this move White indicates his willingness
to give up a pawn in return for a lead in development and a small initiative.}
(7. Bd3 d5 {resembles the 5.Nb3 variation and likewise is good for Black.})
7... O-O (7... Nxe4 {is playable, but the lines can get very messy and they
aren't too bad for White either.}) 8. O-O Bxc3 (8... d6 {is one way to decline
the sacrifice, but then White can play} 9. Nd5 Nxd5 10. Bxd5 {and claim a
small edge due to his control over d5. Let's take the pawn and ask White to
show his compensation!}) 9. bxc3 Nxe4 10. Ba3 d6 11. Qe1 (11. Re1 {might be a
better way to attack the e4-knight, but after} Ng5 12. Nxg5 Qxg5 13. Bxd6 Rd8
14. Qf3 Qf6 15. Qxf6 gxf6 {Black has a good game. Both sides have doubled
pawns but White's are more vulnerable than Black's (for instance Black can
play ...Be6 and ...Rac8).}) 11... Bf5 {This move is very sharp, but Ian had
the tactics worked out.} 12. Rd1 (12. Bd3 {is better, but Black then has the
nice resource} Ng5 $1 13. Bxf5 Nxf3+ 14. gxf3 Qg5+ 15. Bg4 f5 {, regaining the
piece with a big attack on White's king. However 13.Nxg5 would keep the
position close to equal.}) 12... Qa5 13. Bb4 Nxb4 14. cxb4 Qc7 15. Bd3 d5 16.
c4 {Suddenly the e4-knight is looking a bit loose, but Black can save himself
with some tricks once again.} Nxf2 $5 (16... Rfe8 17. cxd5 Nd6 {is also good
though, blockading White's newly passed d-pawn.}) 17. Qxf2 Bxd3 18. Rxd3 e4 19.
Rxd5 exf3 20. Qxf3 Qxc4 21. Rd7 Qxb4 22. Rxb7 Qc4 23. Qb3 Qxb3 24. axb3 {
Black's extra pawn gives him the better game, but White's active major pieces
provided enough play to hold onto a draw.} a5 25. Ra1 Rab8 26. Rxb8 Rxb8 27.
Rxa5 g6 28. h4 Rxb3 29. h5 Kg7 30. hxg6 hxg6 31. Kf2 Rb4 32. Kf3 f5 33. Kg3 Kh6
34. Ra6 Kg5 35. Kh3 Rb3+ 36. Kh2 f4 37. Rc6 Kf5 38. Ra6 g5 39. Ra8 Kg4 40. Rg8
Rb1 41. Rh8 Rb2 42. Kg1 f3 43. gxf3+ Kg3 44. Kf1 Rf2+ 45. Kg1 Rxf3 46. Ra8 g4
47. Ra1 Kh3 48. Rb1 Rc3 49. Ra1 Rc2 50. Ra3+ g3 51. Ra1 Rg2+ 52. Kh1 1/2-1/2[/pgn]