Bologan Stole My Novelty! (Sort of.)
About a year ago, I was preparing to play a match with fellow master Jason Doss for bragging rights (just a figure of speech, of course!) here in Indiana. Jason has a fairly flexible opening repertoire, but he seemed especially loyal to a particular variation in the Accelerated Dragon. So I did what I could to find a little surprise for him, and here's what I found.
After the introductory moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 O-O 8.Bb3 d6 9.f3 Bd7 10.Qd2 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 b5 12.h4 a5,
Doss had faced 13.a4 in a game with yet another Indiana master, John Cole. Cole obtained a small edge in that game, but Doss was able to hold the draw.
Analyzing the position after Black's 12th move, however, I was able to find something very interesting: 13.h5! In the event Doss played 13...e6 and I went on to win a fairly nice game, but the crucial reply is 13...a4, and after 14.Bd5 e5 15.Be3 b4 16.Ne2 Nxd5 17.Qxd5 Be6 Black stands better. So what should White do?
Well, there's my solution and there's Bologan's solution, and the two have some similarities. My find was this:
(A) 15.Bxa8!? exd4 16.Nd5, when 16...Qxa8 17.h6 (cf. Bologan's game), when 17...Bh8?? 18.Ne7 is mate; or 17.Ne7+ Kh8 18.h6 wins the trapped bishop, leaving White with a material edge and a winning attack in many lines. The main variation is the most attractive: 18...Re8 19.hxg7+ Kxg7 20.Qh6+ Kh8 21.Qf4 Kg7 22.Qxd6 Nxe4 23.Qxd4+ Nf6 24.Rxh7+ Kxh7 25.Qxf6, winning.
(B) Bologan's line inverts the moves, but with the same general idea of forcing Black to choose between the loss of the bishop or leaving the king in a mating net. The game Bologan-Moldovan (France 2005) proceeded as follows: 15.h6! Bh8 16.Bxa8 exd4 17.Nd5 Re8 18.Nxf6+ Qxf6 19.Bd5 d3 20.Rb1 dxc2 21.Qxc2 Qg5 22.Qd2 Qg3+ 23.Kf1 Rc8 24.Rc1 Rxc1+ 25.Qxc1 Bd4 26.Qd2 Bc5 27.Qe1 Qf4 28.Rh1 1-0
Ok, so what's the difference? And can Black improve in either case? The answer to the second question is that Black can (probably) improve in both cases, in both cases by eradicating the enemy h-pawn. And that leads in each case to significantly different sorts of positions.
In line (A), Black should play 16...Nxh5! My initial, computer-assisted analysis before the match produced the following: 17.Bb7 a3 18.O-O-O axb2+ 19.Kb1 Ng3 20.Rhe1 Re8 21.Qf2 Qh4 22.Nb4, with a clear advantage for White. Materially Black is fine, but four isolated pawns on the queenside gives White the better prospects for the endgame.
My current hardware/software combo thinks Black can improve earlier, however, with 17...f5!?
This is bold stuff, to put it mildly, but as White's pieces aren't quite coordinated yet for the kingside attack, Black may just have time for this. 18.Nf4 is the obvious and possibly best move, but after 18...fxe4 19.Nxh5 Black has a couple of very nice tactical ideas to maintain (at least!) equality. First, an intermezzo: 19...e3! and after 20.Qd3 gxh5 21.Bd5+ Kh8 22.Rxh5, a trick: 22...Rf5! (22...h6 23.O-O-O gives White the advantage) White can't play 23.Rxf5?? Qh4+ 24.Ke2 Qf2+ 25.Kd1 Bxf5 -+, (26.Qxf5 Qd2#), so 23.Rh2 h6 24.Bc6 Qa5+ 25.Kf1 Be6 26.Kg1 may be White's best, though Black has a small edge.
In line (B), Black might be able to improve with 15...Bxh6!
Some quick human+computer analysis led to the following: 16.Qxh6 (16.Rxd6 isn't so clear: exd4 17.Qxd4 Rb8 18.a3 Nh5 [threatening ...Qg5] 19.Rxh5 gxh5 20.O-O-O with compensation) 16...exd4 17.e5! Re8! 18.O-O-O Rxe5 19.Rxd4 Ra6 20.Ne4 a3 21.b3 Be8 (21...Nxd5 doesn't work: 22.Rxd5 Rxd5 23.Qxh7+ Kf8 24.Qh8+ Ke7 25.Qf6+ followed by 26.Rh8#) 22.g4 Nxe4 (22...Nxd5 23.g5! with the idea of 24.Rxd5 followed by 25.Nf6+) 23.Qxh7+ Kf8 24.Qh8+ Ke7 25.Rxe4 Rxe4 26.fxe4 Kd7 27.Kb1 Qg5 28.Rd1 Qxg4 29.Qd4 Ke7 30.Rd1 Qg5 31.Qc3 Kd8 and White has compensation for the pawn, but nothing more - Black may even have an edge! I suspect that White can improve somewhere, but a few peeks here and there failed to reveal anything impressive.
In summary, while Bologan and I independently managed to find the same idea, there are some key differences. His execution of the idea may be stronger than my own, though even that's not entirely clear, and in any case I suspect there are improvements lurking in both lines. Black's task OTB is a terrible one, but maybe with perfect play Black can save the position after 14...e5. Time will tell.