Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Polish or Sokolsky Opening

I was not going to write a chess post so soon, as I haven't really been playing lately and it might give the impression that I am either a good player or that I lost interest in other areas, like software developing. (I assure you, I did not, as I still waste spend most of my time at work, coding).

However, this opening seems a natural continuation of my previous post on the Sicilian Wing Gambit. There the b pawn was moved to b4 to counteract Black's attempt to control the center with c5. In the Polish opening, White starts directly with b4, denying Black moves like c5 and even hindering the development of their queen side knight.

The Polish, Sokolsky or Orangutan opening has been successfully used by international master Alexey Sokolsky, hence the name. He was not Polish though :) and I don't even care why someone would name a chess opening from an ugly orange ape (the video below explains it, though).

I will attempt to use several resources in this post. First, a PGN of the opening as a statistic of chess games played starting with b4.

1. b4 e5
(1... d5 2. Bb2 Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. a3 {This line ignores the White pawn on b4 and develops normally.}
(5. b5 {Moving the b pawn forward hinders the development of the queen's knight. Black is forced to either challenge the pawn, easily defended by the a and c pawns, as well as the bishop and knight, or develop their knight to d7.})
(1... Nf6 2. Bb2 e6 3. b5 {With White's pawn on b5 and Black's on d7, the knight on b8 is effectively out of the game.} d5 4. e3 c5 {Taking en passant would be a mistake, as it would free White's knight.}
(4... Be7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. c4 c6 {White has a thematic move: c4, with Black forced to protect the d5 pawn and lose avenues for development.})
5. bxc6
(5. c4 {Now it would be Black's turn to blunder in taking the c pawn and helping the White bishop develop while losing a center pawn. Black is not looking good with most their pieces having reduced mobility.} Be7
(5... Nbd7)
(5... b6)
5... Nxc6 {At this point Black is looking good, controlling the center and having more minor pieces developed.})
2. Bb2 d6
(2... Bxb4 3. Bxe5 Nf6 4. Nf3 O-O 5. e3 {The other common continuation. Black takes the pawn on b4, but loses a center pawn. At the same time Black develops a piece while forcing White to move twice - and later three times, maybe - the strong fianchettoed bishop.})
(2... f6 {Protecting the e pawn and blocking the White bishop's attack diagonal might look good, but it is robbing the Black night of its natural development square and weakening g6.} 3. b5 d5 4. e3 Be6 {Here Black has control of the center with a strong pawn structure, but can they hold it? The knights can only be developed on awkward 7th rank squares, the bishops have to wait for them and the queen has nowhere to go. The computer gives a complete equality between sides, but is it?})
3. e3
(3. c4 Nf6 {Transposing to the English opening} 4. e3 Be7)
(3. b5 {The natural continuation of b4, blocking the Black knight.} Nf6 4. e3 Be7 {Again, an awkward position for Black: everybody has to wait for the knight on b8.})
(3. e4 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bc4 O-O {Two bishops aimes straight at Black's king.})
3... Nf6 4. c4
(4. Nf3 Be7 5. Be2 O-O 6. O-O {Another variation similar to many before.})
4... Be7 {Consider this the main line, yet with less than 100 games played in this move order.} *

What we can see is two major thematic moves for White: b4-b5, blocking the development of the Black knight. The other is c4, protecting b5 and challenging d5. If Black takes (d5xc4), it loses a center pawn and helps develop White's light bishop. Also, after b4 and the dark bishop fianchetto, a common White move is e3, helping in completely domineering the center dark squares.

As Black, one can observe a tendency to go for the light squares. If White's pawn reaches b5, the only real square where the Black queen knight can develop is d7. That means that the d pawn cannot depend on the protection of the queen all the time and the light bishop will have to develop first or remain blocked by the knight. In the last game in this post, for example, one can notice Black immediately sacrificing the light squared bishop for White's king knight, relieving some of the pressure on Black's king side and giving freedom for pawns to occupy e6 of even f5.

A second resource is some real life games:
Sokolsky - Byvshev - 1951
[Event "URS-ch sf"]
[Site "Lvov"]
[Date "1951.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Sokolsky, Alexey"]
[Black "Byvshev, Vasily Mikhailovich"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "1951.??.??"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "19"]
[EventCountry "URS"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1998.11.10"]

1. b4 Nf6 2. Bb2 e6 3. b5 d5 4. e3 a6 5. a4 Nbd7 6. Nf3 Bd6 7. c4 c5 8. d3 O-O
9. Nbd2 b6 10. Be2 Bb7 11. O-O Qc7 12. h3 Rfe8 13. Rc1 axb5 14. axb5 Ra2 15.
Qb3 Rea8 16. Nb1 Qd8 17. Rfd1 R2a4 18. Nc3 R4a5 19. d4 Bb8 20. cxd5 exd5 21.
dxc5 bxc5 22. Nxd5 Nxd5 23. Rxd5 Bxd5 24. Qxd5 Qe7 25. Rd1 Nf8 26. Bc4 R8a7 27.
Ne5 Bxe5 28. Bxe5 Ra4 29. Bd6 Qe6 30. b6 Rd7 31. b7 Rb4 32. Qxc5 Rxd6 33. Rxd6
Rb1+ 34. Kh2 Qe7 35. Bd5 g6 36. f4 Kg7 37. Qd4+ Kh6 38. Rb6 1-0

A more recent game, Kutuzov (2277) - Burkmakin (2571) - 2004. Kutuzon wins with the Polish.
[Event "RUS-chT2"]
[Site "Sochi"]
[Date "2004.04.28"]
[Round "9.1"]
[White "Kutuzov, Denis"]
[Black "Burmakin, Vladimir"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[WhiteElo "2277"]
[BlackElo "2571"]
[PlyCount "87"]
[EventDate "2004.04.20"]
[EventType "team"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "RUS"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2004.07.06"]
[WhiteTeam "13"]
[BlackTeam "02"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "RUS"]
[BlackTeamCountry "RUS"]

1. b4 e6 2. Bb2 Nf6 3. a3 d5 4. e3 Bd6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. c4 c6 7. Be2 e5 8. cxd5
cxd5 9. O-O O-O 10. Nc3 a6 11. Qb3 Nb6 12. Na4 Nc4 13. Bc3 b5 14. Nc5 e4 15.
Nd4 Qc7 16. h3 Re8 17. a4 Bxc5 18. bxc5 bxa4 19. Rxa4 Nd7 20. Bb4 Rb8 21. Qc3
Nde5 22. f4 exf3 23. Nxf3 Nxf3+ 24. Bxf3 Bb7 25. Qd4 Rbd8 26. Bc3 f6 27. Rb1
Ne5 28. Bh5 Nc6 29. Ba5 Qe7 30. Bxd8 Rxd8 31. Qb2 Bc8 32. Qb6 Ne5 33. c6 Nc4
34. Qd4 Qc7 35. Rc1 Rd6 36. Bf3 Kf8 37. Qc5 Nxd2 38. Bxd5 Qe7 39. Kh1 f5 40.
Rd4 Ne4 41. Bxe4 Rxd4 42. Qxd4 fxe4 43. Rf1+ Ke8 44. Rf4 1-0

We must have a loss. Meijers (2507) - Naiditsch (2641) - 2005.
[Event "BL2-Ost 0506"]
[Site "Germany"]
[Date "2005.10.23"]
[Round "1.1"]
[White "Meijers, Viesturs"]
[Black "Naiditsch, Arkadij"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A00"]
[WhiteElo "2507"]
[BlackElo "2641"]
[PlyCount "67"]
[EventDate "2005.10.23"]
[EventType "team-tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "GER"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2006.11.23"]
[WhiteTeam "Nickelhuette"]
[BlackTeam "Bindlach"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "GER"]
[BlackTeamCountry "GER"]

1. b4 c6 2. e3 Nf6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Bb2 Bg4 5. h3 Bxf3 6. Qxf3 Nbd7 7. a4 e5 8. b5
Bd6 9. g4 O-O 10. Be2 Ne4 11. Qg2 Bb4 12. Bd3 Nd6 13. O-O e4 14. Be2 Qe7 15. f4
exf3 16. Bxf3 Nc4 17. Bd4 Nde5 18. d3 c5 19. Bxe5 Qxe5 20. dxc4 Qxa1 21. Bxd5
Qe5 22. e4 Rad8 23. g5 Ba5 24. h4 Kh8 25. Rf5 Qd4+ 26. Kh1 g6 27. Rf1 f5 28.
gxf6 Rxf6 29. c3 Bxc3 30. Nxc3 Qxc3 31. Bxb7 Rdf8 32. Rxf6 Rxf6 33. Kh2 Qd4 34.
Qg3 0-1

Note that even if I have a huge database at my disposal, most of them are not annotated at all (like these three). There is a lot of chess knowledge out there that just waits to be analysed, digitized and shared. Help me out if you can!

In this game Black quickly realizes the light bishop is going to be hindered by the queen side knight and trades it off immediately, then develops the knight to d7 while the d pawn is protected by a pawn chain.

And the final resource, a video from YangsterNo9, who, despite the gangish nickname, has some decent chess videos. This one has some annoying sound clicks on it, but it is one of the few embeddable videos on the Polish I could find on short notice. In this video, Yangster is explaining how one should play against the Polish, from Black's perspective.

As a conclusion, I liked this opening. It is uncommon for a reason, as it is rather slow and risky. White has the advantage of the first move, they should not waste it on side pawns. However it does seem more manageable than the Sicilian Wing Gambit and can easily transpose in the English opening, which I haven't played, but is in heavy use. What I did't like at either this or the wing gambit is a lack of traps. There probably are a few, but I would have to find them myself. I hope you liked it, too.

Please let me know which formula for a chess blog post you like more. I've tried several and I will continue to try in the future, but I would like some feedback from people who read about chess on my blog. Thanks!

Update October 2014:
Sergio Zaina, from Brazil, sent me this trap in the Polish:
1.b4 c6 2.Bb2 Qb6 3.a3 a5 4.c4 axb4 5.c5 Qxc5 6.axb4 1-0


Anonymous said...

Hi, I know a trap:
1.b4 c6 2.Bb2 Qb6 3.a3 a5 4.c4 axb4 5.c5 Qxc5 6.axb4 1-0. Thank you - Sergio Zaina - Brazil.

Siderite said...

Thank you! I added it to the post.