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Does the "Draw with Black, Win with White" Approach Work Anymore?

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Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 24 July 2013

By GM Lars Bo Hansen, PhD, MBA

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Modern chess differs in many ways from how chess was played just a generation or two ago. The main reason is obviously the influence of computers. Powerful analysis engines allow players to delve much deeper into positions in preparation than in times past. This potentially has serious implications for how to approach the game.

One of the issues is about colors. In the past a common tournament strategy was to strive to equalize with Black and apply pressure as White. But many openings are now so deeply analyzed that it is virtually impossible to get any advantage as White, especially in sharp lines. In many lines Black players (and their computers) have analyzed the game all the way to a draw at home. The position may appear complicated but in reality it has already been solved in preparation. This goes for openings as diverse as the Sicilian Najdorf and the Classical Nimzo-Indian. The burden in modern top chess is clearly on White to prove something.

Kramnik-Mamedyarov, press conference

Two games from last months Tal Memorial in Moscow show Whites problems against well-prepared opponents. In Mamedyarov-Kramnik, a popular Classical Nimzo-Indian with 4. Qc2 appeared on the board and in the sharp position after 13 moves White tested a novelty with 14. Qe4 14. Rd1 had been played twice before in high-level Grandmaster games just a few weeks before. But Kramnik was not surprised, he had it all figured out from home and with a series of powerful moves 14Qb5!; 15bxc5!; 20f5!; and 21Qe4!, he forced Mamedyarov to go for perpetual check.

View the game

Viswanathan Anand

Similarly, in Karjakin-Anand a sharp line of the Sicilian Najdorf Poisoned Pawn variation was debated. Anands 15Bd6 appears to have been a novelty 15Nd7 was tested just two(!) days earlier in the rapid game Hovhannisyan-Andriasian which also ended in a more or less forced draw but Karjakin seems to have been aware of this move as well. After a series of rather forced moves White had the choice between repeating moves with 25. Bg3 or keeping the game alive with 25. Bd4!? He chose the latter option but a few moves later it turned out that this too led to a drawn endgame with bishops of opposite color and a draw.

Sergey Karjakin

View the games

In order for White to solve the challenge of being out-prepared for a draw I suggested in my book Improve Your Chess by Learning from the Champions from 2009 that top players need to have a broad opening repertoire, play strategically (rather than tactically) complex openings, and in general abandon the draw with Black, play for win as White dogma.

Photos of the players are (C) Eteri Kublashvili,

If you like the article, you can learn more about GM Lars Bo Hansen & his books at

Related materials:
Boris Gelfand & maintaining a strong center
How to react to a chess novelty
A lesson from the Ukrainian Chess Champion
Carlsen-Anand @ Tal Memorial
Strategy of Restriction

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 24 July 2013 )
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