Play the Moscow Variation
IM Renato Quintilliano
We are happy to present the newest big project of the Brazilian IM Renato Quintilliano - Play the Moscow Variation. This top-level opening is suitable for ambitious players who fight for initiative right from the opening.
The database is divided into 2 parts - Moscow Variation and Anti-Moscow Gambit.
The database includes the following components: Typical Pawn Structures, 15 Theoretical Chapters, 36 Interactive Test Positions, 4 Hours Video Running Time, and Memory Booster.
Now, we shall see how the author presents both parts of the database himself.
The starting position of the database arises after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.Bg5 h6!?
The Semi-Slav is a very rich defense, which offers many ideas and possibilities for both sides. This move characterizes the Moscow Variation. White can keep the bishop pair at the cost of one pawn with 6.Bh4 dxc4, entering the sharp Anti-Moscow Gambit. This move will be deeply analyzed in the second part of the database.
The first important tabiya of the Moscow Variation arises after 6.Bxf6 Qxf6.
After only six moves we can see that a complex middlegame is ahead. Black has won the bishop pair but has only made moves with pawns and his queen, which means that White has a visible advantage in development. Also, White naturally enjoys a bit more space for the pieces, which could be increased in case of a timely advance e2-e4. Having said that, I think the Moscow is the right choice for ambitious players for two reasons:
1) Black has already achieved an unbalanced game after the exchange and
2) the triangle c6-d5-e6 makes Black's position very solid, in a way that White can hardly make progress without increasing the tension in the centre - which could open diagonals for the bishops. Speaking about plans, while White tries to increase the space and development advantage by means of preparing the advance e2-e4, Black usually seeks for the right moment of striking in the centre with either c6-c5 or e6-e5, activating the bishops.
In this position, White's main move is by far 7.e3.
In Chapter 1 we analyze some rare moves for White, such as 7.e4?!, opening the centre immediately, but the only way to justify this plan is by accepting the risks of 7...dxe4 8.Nxe4 Bb4+ 9.Ke2, when the weird position of the king on e2 might bring problems for White's development.
7.Rc1 is a normal developing move, but simple analysis reveals that it is not an ideal move order for White, as after 7...dxc4, Black has no problems equalizing. This move and 7.cxd5 are also briefly mentioned in Chapter 1 as slightly inferior move orders, which allow Black to get a good game by simple means.
In Chapter 2, I check all early queen moves for White. All of them have the same goal: to prepare the advance e2-e4. Still, 7.Qb3 seems to be the most serious. I offer two ways of dealing with this line: the solid 7...Nd7 and 7....a5!? which is an interesting counterattack on the flank. Both moves look playable and lead to interesting positions.
Other queen moves look harmless for Black. 7.Qc2 was seen even in top-level games, but after 7...dxc4! the time spent by White to regain the pawn allows Black to get a good game with nice development.
7.Qd2 is probably the most harmless. After the same reply 7...dxc4, White's last move seems pointless.
Finally, 7.Qd3 seems a sensible alternative to prepare e2-e4 while keeping c4 protected, but there are some issues here as well: 7...Nd7 8.e4 dxc4! 9.Qxc4 e5 10.d5
This is a structure that resembles those seen in Chapter 6, but the exposed position of the queen allows Black to develop more easily.
The move 7.g3 is a very interesting way to look for different positions. White aims to exploit the advanced e2-e4 in form of Catalan-type pressure. The critical test of White's idea here is 7...Nd7 8.Bg2 dxc4!, leading to complex and double-edged positions, which are analysed in Chapter 3.
After 7.e3 g6!?, we reach another important crossroads.
Despite some sidelines in which Black develops the bishop on the f8-a3 diagonal, it is fair to say that it belongs to g7 in Moscow. The bishop has many purposes here: It keeps the kingside safe and at the same time helps Black's plans of breaking in the centre by either c6-c5 or e6-e5 at the right moment.
In this position, White's main move is 8.Bd3.
In Chapter 4, we check two ambitious options for White to avoid common theory: the exotic 8.e4?!, when White has spent two moves (e2-e3-e4) to advance the pawn, but on the other hand Black has weakened the dark squares on the kingside with g7-g6, making things more complicated, and 8.Ne5!?, with the ambitious plan of reinforcing the knight in the centre with f2-f4, followed by Qd2, 0-0-0 and a pawn storm on the kingside. The ensuing positions tend to be very tense and double-edged.
After 8.Rc1 Nd7, White can go for a fixed structure after 9.Be2 Bg7 10.cxd5 exd5.
We have the famous Carlsbad Structure on the board when the well-known minority attack b4-b5 is a natural idea for White. Still, analysis and recent games of Chapter 5 prove that Black can deal with this plan.
After the main move 8.Bd3, play goes 8...Bg7 9.0-0 0-0 when we get another important position.
At this point, White's most ambitious approach is 10.e4. In Chapter 6, we deal with the moves 10.Rc1, 10.Qe2, 10.Ne5!?, 10.Qc2 and 10.Re1.
All these moves aim to improve White's position by developing more pieces before going for direct action in the centre. Although it is an understandable strategy, Black has plenty of useful developing moves as well, and in some cases when White plays too slowly, it is Black who takes the chance of striking first.
Chapter 7 deals with the main move 10.e4. At this point, my suggestion is 10...Qd8. The queen has to retreat anyway at some point, and here it supports Black's actions to undermine the opponent's centre.
I also give an alternative plan in the more flexible 10...dxc4 11.Bxc4 Nd7, when despite having a somewhat restricted game, analysis shows that Black can solve his opening problems with the dynamic play.
The main position of Chapter 7 arises after 11...dxc4 12.Bxc4 c5!
We have reached a very interesting position. White's chances of an advantage rely on trying to exploit the small lead in development by active play and exerting pressure in the centre. On the other hand, Black usually keeps a solid position and has some nice resources to solve his opening problems satisfactorily.
Finally, in Chapter 8 we see the small but important differences of 8.Be2 compared to the mainline 8.Bd3, although in many cases it transposes to positions seen in previous chapters.
The second part of the database is dedicated to the so-called Anti-Moscow Variation arising after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.Bg5 h6!? 6.Bh4
After studying the strategic battle that arises after the exchange on f6 in the first part of the database, we need to deal with this more complicated approach. White refuses to give up the bishop pair, even if that means sacrificing a pawn. At this point, my suggestion is 6...dxc4! Although Black has more solid options here, accepting the challenge is, of course, the most principled one. White's main move is 7.e4. The idea 7.a4!? is briefly analysed in Chapter 1, but it isn't in the spirit of the position. Actually, White is fighting to equalize here.
After 7.e4, the main line goes 7...g5 8.Bg3 b5
We have the tabiya of the Anti-Moscow Gambit on the board. White is ready to sacrifice the pawn, but Black had to compromise both flanks in the process of keeping the material advantage. Apart from enjoying his natural lead in development, White can consider many typical breakthroughs, such as a2-a4, h2-h4 and d4-d5. Black's task is to complete his development decently to avoid getting crushed by White's attempts to attack. In the first database, we've seen many positional motifs, manoeuvres and structures, but things become more complex and very concrete now. The positions tend to be very sharp and tactical, and besides remembering some long analysis, Black needs to be aware of typical resources for both sides to handle this opening. I think that it is simply impossible to explain such a variation in a "simple" way, but I've tried to divide the chapters according to different approaches by White.
At this point, White's usual continuation is 9.Be2.
The idea 9.e5!? Nd5 is a commital move by White, as it loses the flexibility in the centre. On the other hand, it gains more space, vacates the e4-square for the knights and prepares play on the dark squares. The drawback is that Black has a solid position in the centre now, which makes it easier to develop the queenside. The interesting positions which arise from this line are seen in Chapter 2.
In Chapter 7 we see 9.Qc2 and other different ideas for White. The main plan is to get full centralization and go for the typical advance d4-d5. Black can be in danger in case of careless play, but in my analysis, I found an interesting novelty, which can change the evaluation of the line.
The knight jump 9.Ne5!? has the goal to exploit some finesses in the move order, as after 9...Bb7 10.h4 White has some extra options compared to Chapters 4-6. Black is fine here as well, but it is important to know the differences. They are seen in detail in Chapter 3.
The most important crossroads arises after 9.Be2 Bb7 10.h4!?
Carlsen has played this way in a recent game, highly influenced by the games of AlphaZero. Therefore, I consider this the modern mainline for White. The goal is to provoke weaknesses on Black's kingside.
In Chapters 4 and 5 we analyse another popular continuation: 10.0-0 Nbd7 11.Ne5 Bg7, and now it looks like White has to find an interesting way to make use of his development lead before Black finishes development. In my opinion, the most promising idea now is 12.Nxf7!?,an idea found by Topalov in 2008, and brought into life by the same AlphaZero 10 years later!
The alternative is 12.Nxd7 Nxd7 13.Bd6
This line is still the most popular, as White tries to keep the Black king stuck in the centre and prepares to open lines with d4-d5. Still, analysis suggests that despite some complicated and tricky lines, Black can solve his opening problems here with a good position, starting with 13...a6! , which is aimed to anticipate d4-d5. White can try many different moves here, but I've covered all of them in Chapter 4 and can say that Black is OK.
After 12.Nxf7, the main line goes 12...Kxf7 13.e5 Nd5 14.Ne4 Ke7 15.Nd6 Qb6 16.a4!?
this was AlphaZero's new idea, which has put new life into the variation. The plan initiated by this move is so interesting that Grischuk - likely the greatest specialist in the Anti-Moscow as White - used it to get a winning position against Ding Liren in the 2018 Candidates. I tried to solve Black's problems in this complex position in Chapter 5, with the help of my friends Stockfish 13 and Leela Chess Zero.
In response to 10.h4!?, Black should play 10...g4 11.Ne5 Nbd7!
Black changes his strategy now, putting development ahead of the material. White can either regain the pawn now or keep playing gambit-style, trying to force further concessions by Black and exploiting his lead in development, which was the plan chosen by Magnus. Again, we have very interesting and complicated positions ahead of us. I went very deep into this line and found some important new ideas, again with the help of modern engines. In the end, it looks like Black is ok, but it is important to understand the ideas for both sides and to avoid ending in a cramped position by going for active counterplay at the right moment. You can see the results of this analysis in Chapter 6.
Additionally, in the database, you will find 36 interactive test positions allowing you to challenge your knowledge and understanding.