Understand The Position 20: “Volga Gambit Under Magnifying Glass.”
Volga Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5) is a very interesting opening. Usually, the side which plays the gambit is looking for a quick, dynamic and tactical counterplay. It is so in the King’s Gambit or Marshall opening. However, it is different in the Volga Gambit – Black obtains a long-term positional pressure for a sacrificed pawn. White pawns on the queenside are under fire through the columns “a” and “b”, as well as through the long black diagonal.
Translated by: Dusan Turcer
Whether Black obtains enough compensation for the pawn in the Volga gambit depends on little things, on a very sensitive understanding of the position. The following diagram is from the game Georgiev – Nenashev, Recklinghausen 1998. Black to move:
In order to withstand such a position against a Grand Master you have to be very familiar with it. And for both sides. Let’s summarize a few basic points:
- The game can have three different scenarios. The most probable is that White will defend bad enough to lose the material and the game. In the second scenario, White, although he defends successfully, his pieces are so passive, that there is no power left for any kind of activity. A position will be as it was “frozen”. White has a material advantage, but he is not able to apply it. In the third scenario, White defends his pawns successfully and he remains with enough strength for attack in the center and the kingside.
- Queen exchange usually favors Black. Why? A counterplay of White in the center and on the kingside is much less dangerous without queens. It is because the black king doesn’t need to be worried about checkmates. On the contrary, the exchange of the bishops through c3 favors White. The bishop on g7 is not only attacking piece, but also defends his king, what is preventing White from having effective counterplay. The standard plans of White are Nc3-d1 and Bd2-c3. If White exchanges his dark-squared bishop for the opponent’s knight it is often in his favour. Because he then places the pawns ‘a’ and ‘b’ on the light squares, where they are not reachable for the opponent’s bishop and he defends them comfortably. Ideally with the knight placed on c4.
- A decisive factor in the position is a destiny of the rook on a1. If this piece remains somewhere on the a1 and b1, it will be defending, but will not contribute to the attack in the center. Moreover, the rook will be vulnerable and thus will allow various tactical maneuvers based on the pin of the pawns in front of it. Thus White would like to transfer this rook to e2, where it not only defends the pawns, but also supports the activity in the center. If he succeeds, Black will not obtain a sufficient compensation for the pawn.
- White must be very patient when playing Volga gambit – first he needs to defend and then to think of a counterplay. It is therefore a very good idea to play Volga gambit against young and active players. On the contrary, it is considered to be a definite suicide to play it against Karpov. Ex-World Champion has no problem to wait for his chance.
In the position on the diagram Black played 16…Ne5? As Igor Stohl wrote, this move is a mistake for two reasons. Firstly, Black loses time because after the exchange on e5 the bishop will need to retreat. White can use this time for activation of the white rook on a1. Secondly, Black exchanges the better placed knight – much more logical would be to exchange the one which is more passive …Ne8 through b5.
Much stronger is 16…Nc7 or 16…Rb4. The rook is attacking the e4-pawn from the side and restricts the activity of white pieces.
The game continued:
17.Nxe5 Bxe5+ 18.f4 Bg7 19. Qf3 Rb4 20. Re1 Rd4 21.Re3!±
After this prevention which avoids the manoeuvre …Qa6-d3, it is obvious, that Black didn’t obtain enough counterplay. White succeeded in placing the rook on e-file and he is much better.
This part would not be created without the great book of Igor Stohl Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces. What I told you today, I mostly learned exactly from this book.