Marin's Solution 1.Nf3 - Part 1
With this database, GM Mihail Marin marks the beginning of a new ambitious opening project - Marin's solution to 1.Nf3. The repertoire is divided into three databases. We can say that the so-called Hedgehog Setup is the cornerstone of the repertoire. Of course, in his repertoire databases, the author also deals with White's attempts to sidestep the Hedgehog. These systems are covered in Part 3, while Parts 1 and 2 are dedicated to the subtleties of the Hedgehog System.
Here is what the author has to say about the Hedgehog:
The Hedgehog is a very transpositional opening where knowing the general plans is as important as the concrete theory. In the early phase, it is useful to know the best move orders. Then, however, everything gradually becomes a matter of individual choice. This is why in many lines I have given alternatives for Black to the main lines as my aim is to give a complete picture of the possible plans. One final warning: Engines are very optimistic for white in the beginning probably due to his space advantage. But they tend to come back to reality in the early middlegame. So don't be discouraged if at any time you read "+0.50"!
Since knowing the general plans is as important as the concrete theory, before diving into the theoretical subtleties, Marin makes a complete overview of the arising pawn structures. Let's take a look at them.
Structure 1 - Black Plays b6-b5 in English Hedgehog
In this article, GM Marin makes an introduction to the English Hedgehog structure. Here is what he has to say as a general overview of the structure:
We cannot argue about the fact that the Hedgehog system (be it in the Sicilian or in the English opening) is one of the most paradoxical. It may appear that Black is playing awfully timidly, mainly aiming at defending on three ranks only. But this impression is false. In most cases, Black intends to outplay his opponent in the (possibly late) middlegame, by avoiding early exchanges and forced variations. White cannot convert his space advantage into something concrete that easily, while Black has several plans to create counterplay at his disposal. Among his main resources I would quote the pawn breaks ...b6-b5, ...d6-d5, ...e6-e5 (the latter usually with a white pawn on f4) or, if White refrains from e2-e4, a massive kingside expansion.
All these plans need separate investigation, even though they sometimes interfere. The first article deals with ...b6-b5.
Since White's normal development involves having knights on d4 and c3, this plan requires thorough preparation. One way or another, by creating minor threats against White's slightly over-extended position, Black could "convince" one of the knights to retreat, when his plan would become more realistic.
As a typical example of successful realization of the b6-b5 advance, Marin provides the following game:
This article consists of 8 extensively annotated games in which the author explains all the subtleties related to the b6-b5 pawn advance.
Structure 2 - Black Plays d6-d5 in English Hedgehog
As usual, the concept of the article is best described by the author himself. In the introduction, he says:
It may seem that preparing and carrying out ...d6-d5 is simpler than ...b6-b5 as examined in the previous article. Black can coordinate many of his pieces to control d5 and advance the central pawn under normal circumstances whereas with ...b6-b5 certain tactical premises are needed in most cases.
But the problem is that ...d6-d5 opens the position in an area of high interest for both sides, namely the center. White may have many of his pieces playing a part in the initiated fight as well, so things can turn tactical here, too. On top, the pawn contact is also more complex than after ...b6-b5.
In principle, if White does not have enough resources to simply win the d-pawn with a double capture on d5, his main chance for retaining an advantage is e4-e5. This is an important issue as he typically needs to keep an indirect control on e5 (for instance by doubling major pieces on the e-file). We know already that playing f2-f4 is double-edged, as after ...g7-g6 Black would threaten ...e6-e5, a pawn break examined in the next article.
In the first example, White seemed to be well prepared for the central break, but he overlooked a subtle tactical detail:
As the first structure article, the survey on the d6-d5 break consists of 8 annotated games, as well.
Structure 3 - Black Plays e6-e5 in English Hedgehog
This is the last important structure article. Marin presents it in the following way:
The pawn breaks examined in the previous two articles (...b6-b5 and ...d6-d5) are mainly aimed at questioning White's stability on the light squares. Since White's central space advantage is ensured by the c4- and e4-pawns we may call these the main pawn break plans.
Additionally, Black disposes of ...e6-e5, which we can consider as an auxiliary break. The usually favorable circumstances for Black are with the g-pawn on g6 (or else with Nd4-f5 inoffensive) and the white pawn on f4, in order to clear the e5-square for the black pieces or else provoke the opening of the e-file with increased pressure on e4. Sometimes, ...e6-e5 can prove effective even with the pawn on f2, as driving the knight away from d4 would make ...b6-b5 easier to carry out. And of course, it would help if White has played g3-g4, chronically weakening the e5-square. If White plays h2-h3 Black can sometimes try combining ...e6-e5 with ... h5-h4, gaining the control over f4.
All these aspects make us understand that the potential danger of the break on dark squares tends to inhibit the active plan based on f2-f4, or at least, provoke the willingly knight retreat from d4. We had this situation in the previous articles, but now we will examine games in which this pawn break came true.
In the first game, we will see that in such cases not all that glitters is gold actually.
As usual, in this article, you will find 8 games annotated in detail.
After dealing with the typical middlegame positions, Marin dives into the theory of the English Hedgehog.
The main position of the current database arises after the moves 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 e6 4.g3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.0-0 a6 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 d6
In this database, Marin provides a complete repertoire for Black starting from this position. The moves 7.b3, 7.Re1 and the plans with Nxd4 are examined in Part 2. As we have already pointed out, all the lines different from Hedgehog, are dealt with in Part 3.
As it was mentioned in the beginning, move orders are very important when it comes to Hedgehog. The slightest modification of the move order may lead to dramatical consequences. Let's discuss the move order advocated by Marin:
After 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 e6 4.g3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.0-0, instead of the usual 6...Be7, Marin goes for 6...a6
Marin says that he was inspired to go for this move order by the outstanding Hedgehog expert GM Mihai Suba. In order to understand the advantages of the move 6...a6, we shall take a brief look at the line with 6...Be7.
The move 6...Be7 exposes Black to the variation 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 d6 9.Bg5 a6 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Qf4
This variation is known for providing White with a minimal but risk-free edge. The move order chosen by Marin allows Black to avoid this line. For example, after 6...a6 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 d6 9.Bg5, Black is just in time to play 9...Nbd7.
Now, Black is ready to recapture with a knight in a case of 10.Bxf6. You can notice that the move a7-a6 is of a great importance here since White cannot attack the d6-pawn by means of Nb5.
Additionally, in the lines with Nxd4, the move 6...a6 allow Black to keep his pawn on d7. In this way, White cannot make use of some positional ideas related to the weakness of the c6-square.
The main drawback of the given move order can be seen in the line 7.b3 Be7 8.d4 cxd4 9.Qxd4 d6 10.Ba3
Had Black played ...0-0 instead of ...a7-a6, he would have been able to counter 10.Ba3 with 10...Na6 followed by Nc5 on the next move. Nevertheless, in his annotations, Marin proves that after 10...Nc6, Black has a completely viable position. This position is examined in Part 2.
Finally, the moment has come to take a deeper look into the theoretical chapters of the database.
Chapter 1 - 8.Qxd4 d6 - Sidelines
In this chapter, Marin makes an introduction to the system. At this point, he deals with White's attempts to deviate from the main theoretical paths.
Let's take a look again at the main position of the database which arises after the moves 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 e6 4.g3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.0-0 a6 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 d6
At this point, White's main continuations are 9.Rd1 and 9.b3. These moves are dealt with in the next chapters. In Chapter 1, Marin examines three alternatives - 9.Ng5, 9.Be3, and 9.Bg5. In his annotations, the author demonstrates that these moves are not particularly challenging if Black knows what he is doing. It is interesting to point out that in all these lines, at some moment, Black must be ready to deal with the maneuvers Nf3-g5(d2)-e4, thus putting pressure on d6. Of course, Black has enough resources to fight against these ideas.
Chapter 2 - 9.Rd1 Be7 10.Ng5 - Part 1
As we have already pointed out, the maneuver Nf3-g5-e4 is one of the ways White can put big pressure on d6. In the first phase it will look as if he will have the initiative but in the long run, he risks being pushed back by the black pawns.
The main line goes 10...Bxg2 11.Kxg2 Nc6 12.Qf4 0-0
Instead of 12.Qf4, the author also deals with the somewhat passive 12.Qd2.
Let's take a look at the diagram. White has some choice. He can immediately put pressure on d6 by means of 13.Nge4 or 13.Nce4. At the same time, he has the option to go for a flexible strategy by playing 13.b3.
In this chapter, Marin examines White's most direct approach - 13.Nge4. In this case, Black should play 13...Ne8
This is a typical way of keeping the game tense. By keeping the knights on board, Black intends to play ...f7-f5 in the near future, gaining space and causing White some coordination problems. After getting familiar with Marin's comments to this position, one can easily understand that White's initiative is temporary.
Chapter 3 - 9.Rd1 Be7 10.Ng5 - Part 2
In this Chapter, the author analyzes the move 13.Nce4.
This is more flexible than 13.Nge4 as it keeps the possibility of the harmonious regrouping with Nf3. Once again, Black's reaction is quite typical - 13...Ne8!. At this point, it is important to know that the move 14.b3 is well met by 14...Ra7.
You should always keep in mind the rook-lift when playing the Hedgehog. From d7, the rook protects the d6-pawn and in some cases supports the advance d6-d5. It is important to point out, that the advance d6-d5 works best when Black had previously played b6-b5. After ...Rd7, another idea could be Nc7 followed by f7-f5. This is possible since the d6-pawn is protected. In his analysis, Marin demonstrates that Black has more than sufficient counterplay in all the lines.
Chapter 4 - 9.Rd1 Be7 10.Ng5 - Part 3
This chapter is dedicated to White's most flexible move - 13.b3
Abstractly the most consistent move. White continues developing and keeps both knight jumps to e4 in reserve. After 13...Ra7 14.Bb2, Black should clarify the situation with the move 14...h6.
Here, White faces a choice. After 15.Nge4, Black plays 15...Ne8 followed by Rd7. In this case, the arising positions are similar to the previous chapter.
White's main move is 15.Nf3. As always, Black should respond with the thematic 15...Rd7. Later on, Black can start gradually preparing the thematic advance b6-b5. The move ...Qb8 can be very useful in that direction. In the arising positions, Black keeps excellent chances.
Chapter 5 - 9.Rd1 Be7 10.Bg5 & 11.Bxf6
In this chapter, Marin starts dealing with the move 10.Bg5.
This is an active developing move leading to a series of important tabiyas. The main crossroads is being reached after the move 10...Nbd7.
In this position what has three different approaches - 11.Bxf6, 11.Nd2, and 11.Qd2.
In this chapter, Marin deals with 11.Bxf6 which looks a bit strange since Black recapture with a knight. Nevertheless, White has something in mind. After 11...Nxf6, his idea is to put pressure on b6 by means of 12.Na4
The b6-pawn seems vulnerable but Black has 12...Rb8!, defending the pawn indirectly. In his annotations, Marin proves that Black is in a very good shape in the complications arising after 13.c5.
Chapter 6 - 9.Rd1 Be7 10.Bg5 & 11.Nd2
The starting position of the chapter arises after the moves 10.Bg5 Nbd7 11.Nd2
After completing the neutral developing moves with a direct or indirect pressure on d6, White finally transfers the knight to e4. Next moves are rather natural - 11...Bxg2 12.Kxg2 0-0 13.Nde4 Qc7
Black has completed the development and his rooks are already connected. After playing ...Rfd8, Black will try to carry out the thematic d6-d5 or b6-b5 pawn breaks. In all the lines, Black keeps decent chances in a typical Hedgehog battle. In his analysis, Marin proves that 14.Nxd6?! is well met by 14...Rfd8. Subsequent analysis shows that the d6-knight is vulnerable because of the pin along the d-file.
Chapter 7 - 9.Rd1 Be7 10.Bg5 & 11.Qd2 - Part 1
This is one of the most consistent systems based on Bg5. White avoids early simplifications and prepares Bf4 more or less forcing the knight retreat ...Ne8. But as we know, this involves a lot of potential dynamism for Black.
The main line goes 11...0-0 12.Bf4 Ne8
Once again, White faces a typical choice. He can try to increase the pressure on d6 by means of the maneuver Nf3-g5-e4. Another option is to keep on improving the position with the move 13.Rac1.
In this chapter, Marin analyzes the first attempt - 13.Ng5. In this case, Black should answer with 13...Bxg2 14.Kxg2 Rc8
This important tempo gives Black the possibility to defend the d6-pawn via the c6-square. Now, when White puts his knight on e4, Black will be prepared to react with Rc6. Marin's analysis shows that White's initiative gradually runs out of steam. Later, Black will start preparations for the thematic b6-b5 advance.
Chapter 8 - 9.Rd1 Be7 10.Bg5 & 11.Qd2 - Part 2
After, 11.Qd2 0-0 12.Bf4 Ne8, practice shows that instead of playing the immediate 13.Ng5, White can wait by playing 13.Rac1.
By delaying Ng5, White invites his opponent to make a useful move while waiting for the opportunity of ...Bxg2 followed by ...Rc6.
At this point, Marin suggests 13...Rc8 14.b3 h6!?
Here is how the author explains the idea of Black's last move:
My favorite among a wide range of moves. Black has a compact way to regroup and simply prevents the knight jump to g5. As usual, White must count with the possibility of ..g7-g5.
In his subsequent annotations, Marin demonstrates the flexibility of Black's position.
Chapter 9 - 10.Be3
Usually, the move 10.Be3 leads to a transposition to Chapters 8 and 9 after 11.Qd2 followed by 12.Bf4. In this chapter, however, Marin examines a line in which this move has an independent value. This line goes 10...Nbd7 11.Ng5 Bxg2 12.Kxg2 0-0 13.Nge4 (the move 13.Rac1 is also covered) Ne8
At this point, the author analyzes five continuations for White - 14.Qd2, 14.Rac1, 14.f3, 14.h4, and 14.g4. Marin's deep examination of these moves shows that Black is doing very well all the lines.
Chapter 10 - 10.b3
This move mainly plans Ba3 followed by e4-e5. That is why Black should play 10...Nbd7. The idea is to meet 11.Ba3 with 11...Nc5. After 10...Nbd7, Marin analyzes the moves 11.Bb2, 11.Ba3 and 11.e4.
The idea of the move 11.e4 becomes clear in the line 11...Qc7 12.Ba3 Nc5 13.e5 dxe5 14.Qxe5
Here, White enjoys a pleasant ending due to the weakness on c6.
In view of this line, Black should answer 11.e4 with the subtle 11...Qc8. After completing the development, he will be in time to correct the position of the queen. As a result, we would reach a typical Hedgehog position in which all the typical ideas can be used.
Chapter 11 - 9.b3 - Uhlmann System
In the final chapter of this database, the Marin examines the so-called Uhlmann System which can be reached via the following move order - 9.b3 Nbd7 10.Bb2 Be7 11.e4 0-0 12.Qe3 Qc7 13.Nd4
This solid and ambitious system was intensively advocated by Uhlmann. However, his wins were alternating with losses showing that the position remains rich in content for both sides. Normally, Black is going for the following setup: Rfe8, Rfd8, Bf8, g7-g6, and Bg7. Later on, Black must seize the opportunity to carry out one of the typical pawn breaks - b6-b5, d6-d5 and e6-e5. Also, we should point out that it is not easy for White to find a constructive plan in these positions.
Traditionally, at the end of each database, GM Mihail Marin provides you with 20 interactive test positions which allow you to test your understanding of the covered material.
You can take a look at 5 of them: