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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: Crushing The Double Fianchetto On The Flanks


2021-08-01 10:37:33
Crushing The Double Fianchetto On The Flanks

There are many openings which utilize a Bishop fianchetto, but it is only a matter of time before some opponent (usually with the Black pieces) decides to fianchetto both Bishops. I will not claim that all “double fianchetto” (plural for fianchetto is actually “fianchetti”) openings are objectively trash, but I will at least say that it seems like that side is asking a bit much out of the position. In the same way that interior design of a home tries to minimize furniture “competing for attention” with each other, the “double fianchetto” in chess seems to be competing with themselves over which long diagonal to pursue.

In the example of interior design: a television, billiard table, poker table, fireplace, or chandelier all could potentially serve as the “key piece” to a room, but we seldom see ALL of these in the SAME room! It would simply be too much clutter. Even if these all take the spotlight individually: even a mansion allowing for the space usually won’t have them all together. The same principle applies for any sports team. The best team is the one which works well together - this is even better than all “star players” as sports history has displayed. We want that same coordination in chess for our “star pieces.”

In an opening with only one Bishop taking the role of the fianchetto, it is common to deploy pieces (and especially Knights) to influence squares in coordination to the Bishop on the long diagonal. If Black has a fianchetto Bishop on g7, then that Bishop controls squares all along that long diagonal and notably the central squares e5 and d4. It might then make sense to develop Black’s b-Knight to d7 with …Nbd7. Why? Although not a rule set in stone, …Nc6 might be misplaced because the c6 Knight would then influence the central squares e5 and d4. These are the same squares the Bishop already controls! It would make logical sense to instead move the Knight somewhere (like …Nbd7) to cover squares the fianchetto Bishop doesn’t influence (with …Nbd7, the Knight would be on route to a square such as b6 or c5; from there, the Knight would ONLY influence light-squares that the dark-squared Bishop can never touch) so that the overall team is better balanced.

The fianchetti plan of both Bishops is not only competing with its friendly Bishop counterpart, but this is typically too slow as well. Perhaps one fianchetto is acceptable if the position calls for it, but from my experience: the time factor might even be the worst element here! Many players facing a fianchetti will simply develop pieces soundly in accordance with chess opening principles. This is probably fine for a playable position, but if we do not shy away from sharp and attacking chess, then I’ve realized that quickly launching pawns on the flanks gives the attacker a decent advantage because the army employing the Bishop fianchetti must invest too many moves to contest both long diagonals. Naturally, there are other concepts at work such as weak squares, or pawn levers, but let us dive into the game; some things are simply easier to convey with an example.

This was a 2021 online chess game where I had the White pieces and my opponent (I’ll perhaps refer to as “N.N.”) had the Black pieces. This game is dominantly one-sided, so I will not name names; my goal is to give an instructional example in how to exploit some double fianchetti setups - not to shame one player for a simple online game. For reference purposes, both players were rated circa 1900 at the time of this game.

1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 b6? Black’s third move practically shouts the intentions of a fianchetti opening, but this gives White an immediate advantage if they act quickly. Moves by Black, that contest the center, are tougher to play against. A few options that spring to mind:

3…c5 strikes at the center and the opening will probably transpose into a Benoni Defense or Leningrad Dutch.

3…Nf6 appears to play into the popular King’s Indian Defense with moves like 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O to follow and we are in a mainline opening.

3…e5!? is even possible. If White accepts with 4. dxe5, then 4. Nc6 sacrifices the pawn and creates an interesting game for the sacrificial type of chess player.

What these options and others share in common is that they contest the center and …b6? is simply too slow and neglecting opening principles.

4. e4! White does best to give what the opponent is gifting them; if Black won’t fight for the center, then White should happily gain ground before the chance leaves.

It is worth captioning that “hypermodern” openings (such as the Grunfeld Defense) play a risky strategy where they invite the opponent into taking the center early on, so that they may target it later throughout the game. This aggressive play-style might work in some cases, but the double fianchetti is not one of them. In those respected hypermodern openings, the play is typically sharp and a single tempo is precious in value; the fianchetti idea is simply too time-consuming to be effective.

c6 There was still time to return to some normalcy with 4…d6, but 4…c6 isn’t as terrible as it looks with …Bb7 soon coming. The …c6 move deters White into advancing in the center with d5 and the b8 Knight wanted to go to d7 instead of c6 anyway. The opening may not be outright refuted instantly, but White already has a decent advantage and certainly has the easier game ahead.

5. h4! Thematically to these fianchetti positions, I discovered this sharp idea. Naturally, developing moves according to chess opening principles were also good for an advantage: 5. Nf3, Be2, Bf4 all work. However, this pawn move also has merit.

Surprisingly, 5. h4! or even 5. a4 maintain the advantage for White. The reason these flank pawn moves work is because of the pawn levers available due to the jutting enemy pawn. In this position, this would be White’s h-pawn advancing to h5 (g6 pawn jutting out) or White’s a-pawn advancing to a5 (b6 pawn jutting out). The goal for the attacker is to rip open lines of attack; the Kingside flank move h4! deserves an exclaim while a4 does not because of the simple fact that Black’s King is likely to castle to the Kingside and succumb to an attack. The ambitious idea basically launches a pawn storm before the opponent castles to that side of the board. Why then is White able to make this prediction of Black castling Kingside? It is all because of the small pawn move 4…c6; certainly Black’s time consuming alternative of Queenside castling would be a more exposed shelter already (compared to that pawn back on c7). It makes more sense for Black to castle Kingside.

If 4…d6 instead of 4…c6, then White would not gain as much with 5. h4 and it might make more sense to simply develop a piece with opening principles instead of a pawn move. 4…d6 5. Nf3 appears better for White with a solid grip on the center. The h4 move would then possibly be too eager because Black may reasonably castle Kingside or Queenside and then it would be disastrous to invest into a Kingside pawn storm only to have to opponent casually castle Queenside in one move.

Bb7 The fianchetti is now official, but more prophylactic was 5…h5 to stop White from playing h5 themselves. Not addressing White’s threat of h4-h5 is playing with fire already, but even after 5. h4! h5, White still maintains the advantage by switching to “positional mode” and developing pieces while making use of their center and space advantage. One line could be 5. h4! h5 6. Nf3 d6 7. Be2 Bg4 and White is ready to castle Kingside safely or continue developing pieces first with options like 8. Be3.

6. h5 d6 7. hxg6 fxg6 8. Be3 Nd7 Anything reasonable seems losing to White’s decisive edge already, but perhaps a small improvement would have been 7…hxg6 instead, but Black likely wanted to avoid the exchange of Rooks.

If 7…hxg6 8. Rxh8 Bxh8 then White still holds a slight advantage due to the center control and Black’s castling dilemma unresolved, but at least this exchanges off potential attackers (Rooks) White might have engaged into battle.

9. Nh3!? After a little time considering how to proceed, I landed upon this move. The Knight is planning to hop into f4 or possibly even g5 and then to the e6 square in some dream variations when it blocks the e7 pawn from moving and gets in the way of Black’s piece development. These are just hopeful ideas, but sometimes those dreams can come true.

Ndf6 10. Nf4 Qd7 11. d5 c5?? With 11…cxd5 12. cxd5 opens up the c-file and makes Queenside castling even less appealing for Black. If the King doesn’t want to castle Kingside and doesn’t want to castle Queenside, then where can it safely go? Certainly the center is too dangerous; the King has no safe haven and this will never be resolved.

Maybe 11…c5 was an attempt to close the position and make castling Queenside more attractive, but now reality hits.

12. Ne6! Look at that outposted monster on the sixth rank. It’s a beast!

Bf8 Forced unless Black wants to try 12…Kf7. Every other move realistically is worse. The octopus Knight on e6 influences eight squares (f8, g7, g5, f4, d4, c5, c7 and d8) and unfortunately for the g7 Bishop, the current location is under fire.

13. Nb5 In these closed type of positions, Knights are dominant and since White already has an amazing Knight outposted on e6, it is natural to now think about how to improve the other White Knight. This move has the threat of Nbc7+ and winning material. This prompts …Rc8 so that the Knight leap doesn’t hit the Rook on a8, but then…

Rc8 14. Nxa7 Rb8 15. Nb5! White has done much more than simply winning a flank pawn; now the b5 Knight is outposted and can’t be removed by a pawn!

Rc8 16. Qf3 h5 17. Bd3 Nh6 White’s space advantage cramps Black. Therefore, White has all the time in the world to slowly improve their position. Meanwhile, Black is trying to untangle somehow; Black should also seek to exchange pieces to free up their cramped position, since less clutter on the board will help give them room to move around in.

18. Qg3 Bxd5? Desperation to try and remove the outposted (e6) monster’s support, but Black had to address the Queen eyeing g6 with check. 18. e5!? was interesting with unleashing the d3 Bishop. 18. e5!? Nfg4 19. Bxg6+ Nf7 20. Bxf7# would have been a pretty finish.

19. exd5 Nf7 19. Qxg6+ was also strong, but then the Queen may be kicked out of g6 and White prefers to lead with the expendable Bishop.

20. Bxg6 Rg8 21. Bxf7+ Kxf7 22. Qf3 Ke8 White has all the play and White’s King is paradoxically safe in the center, since the pawn mass in the center is locked closed and Black has no pieces near White’s King to attack with. Compare this to Black’s King caught in the center, unable to castle and with White pieces surrounding from every side.

23. Rxh5 Qb7 24. Rf5 Kd7 25. Bd2 Bg7 26. Bc3 Qa6 Now that White has repositioned a bit, they are free to begin the assault and exchanges which favor them by exposing Black’s King indirectly via removing potential defenders.

27. Bxf6 Bxf6 28. Rxf6 Qa5+ 29. Nc3 Rh8 30. O-O-O exf6 The point of castling is to get the a1 Rook into play as much as it is to evacuate the King out of the center - something the enemy King no longer has the option of doing.

31. Qxf6 Rhe8 32. Qf5 Ke7 Checkmate in 3 now.

33. Rh1 Winning, but not the fastest route. More efficient was 33. Qh7+ Kf6 (forced and White can choose which mate in 2 including) 34. Qh6+ Kf7 35. Qg7#

Rf8 34. Rf7+ 1-0 Black resigned one more away from the inevitable - not wanting to see 34…Ke8 35. Qxf8# or 34…Rf7 35. Qxf7#

All of this really began with the questionable fianchetti setup by Black and White exploiting the time it takes to position, as well at the Kingside pawn lever (h5 and g6 pawns). Essentially, 5. h4! was launching a pawn storm BEFORE Black castled because it was clear castling in that direction was Black’s best try if they can get castled at all. They never got the chance this game because the e6 Knight cut off those options.

Perhaps this early pawn storm idea can be implemented in similar fianchetto positions with a closed pawn center and the opponent requiring too long to get setup; h2-h4-h5 can strike like lightning when a single tempo is critical in these pawn storms! Why not get a head start if given the opportunity?
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