I’m going to come clean here. It’s time to let the cat out of the bag and admit to something strange and weird. It concerns my chess, and it’s about a particular chess move. No, I’m not going to wax poetic about a favorite opening or favorite move in some opening line. And no, I’m not going to point out a particular attacking scheme or a favorite endgame scenario. These things are a dime a dozen. I’m going to admit to having a lifelong affair with the move Qb1 for White. There, I said it! What a relief! I’ve finally come out of the chess closet. The guilt is literally melting away. And yes, it’s true! Qb1 and I have been close for many, many decades.
Not wanting to be alone in the “fetish move” category (I imagined people whispering as I walked by, “There goes that creepy chess dude that loves Qb1!”), I called up a couple of my IM friends and asked if they had a fetish move too, but no, none of them seem to be as unhinged as I am. IM Jack Peters admitted that when he was a kid he loved to play Be3 and Qc1, taking aim at the enemy King. But I view that as a pedestrian attacking setup (crass and lacking any subtlety), not a true fetish move at all. IM Anthony Saidy told me he loved (as White) Na8, but he only played it once in his life, so that makes it a favorite move, not a fetish.
My first contact with Qb1 occurred way back in 1972 vs. the very strong, highly venerated Mexican master, Jose Mondragon.
Silman – Jose Mondragon, [C75] La Mesa vs. Mexico Match 1972
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.0-0 Bd7 6.c3 Nge7 7.d4 Ng6 8.Be3 Be7 9.Nbd2 0-0 10.Bc2 Kh8 11.d5 Nb8 12.Qb1!
I was in awe over this move. In fact, I felt a deep rush of pleasure when I gently slid the Queen to b1. What’s the idea? White’s plan is to push his c-pawn to c5 and overrun black’s queenside. Thus I envisioned c3-c4 followed by b2-b4 and c4-c5. I felt the Queen would be in a good position to help with the queenside festivities. But the other point of Qb1 concerns black’s plan: he will most likely try and seek kingside counterplay by …f7-f5. Thus 12.Qb1 hinders the advance of black’s f-pawn while simultaneously adding to white’s chances on the opposite wing.
12…a5, holding back white’s b2-b4 advance for a while, is probably better. But black’s desire to get in his …f5 advance is understandable.
A serious mistake. Possible was 13…a5 but then 14.b3 (not 14.a3 a4) 14…Na6 15.a3 followed by b3-b4 favors White. He could have also continued with his planned …f5: 13…f5 14.exf5 Bxf5 but after 15.Bxf5 (15.Ne4 is probably even stronger) 15…Rxf5 (15…Qxf5 16.Qxf5 Rxf5 17.Ne4 favors White since without the Queens black’s kingside dreams are just that – dreams) 16.b4 (Note that 16.Ne4?? loses to 16…Rxf3! 17.gxf3 Nh4 and White can resign!) 16…a5 17.a3 the position is quite pleasant for White thanks to his access to the e4-square and his queenside space advantage.
It’s puzzle time! How should White deal with black’s 13…c6?
Okay, I lost that game. But it certainly wasn’t the fault of 12.Qb1. After this game I fell in love with the Qb1 idea. I used it as often as possible – at times it showed its dynamic positional stripes and at other times it helped me ward off difficult situations (positional defense!).
Silman – John Nunn, [B08] London 1978
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0 Nbd7 7.Re1 e5 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Bc4 Qe7 10.Be3 c6 11.Nd2 b5 12.Bf1 Nc5 13.f3 Rd8 14.b4 Ne6
I played the opening like an idiot and was already a bit worse. It was clearly time to batten down the hatches!
Silman – N. Carlin, [D37] San Jose 1982
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qc2 Nc6 9.Rd1 Qa5 10.a3 Re8 11.Nd2 e5 12.Bg5 Nd4
Black has just played his Knight from c6 to d4, offering a piece sacrifice so that his better developed army can get to white’s uncastled King. Is White in trouble? How would you handle this position?
Though I played Qb1 many times in my career, it wasn’t enough. I needed to walk on the wild side more often than Qb1 allowed, so I also embraced another, very similar, fetish move, Qc1. Some of you may say, “But didn’t IM Peters say that was his favorite, and didn’t you say it wasn’t a fetish move at all?”
Yes, yes, I did say those things. But where Peter’s point behind Qc1 was pure attack (backing up his dark-squared Bishop so he could challenge an enemy kingside fianchetto with Bh6), my Qc1 was firmly based on deep positional considerations. My opponent in the next game is a strong English International Master:
Silman – David Strauss, [B08] Phoenix 1975
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.h3 0-0 6.Be3 c6 7.a4 a5 8.Be2 Na6
Black thinks that he is gaining a nice square on b4 for his Knight, but there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
9.0-0 Nb4 10.Qd2 Qc7 11.Rad1 Re8
A short puzzle: White to play in true positional fetish fashion.
POSITIONAL CONCEPTS IN THIS ARTICLE
* Maneuvering a Knight so that it hits weakened enemy squares.
* Taking time to get other pieces (in this case the Queen) out of the way of the Knight’s path.
* Gaining space by advancing one’s pawns. In the Mondragon game we saw White gain queenside space by c3-c4 intending an eventual c4-c5. Black wanted to gain kingside space by …f7-f5. In the Strauss game White gained central and kingside space by e4-e5 followed by f2-f4.
* At times one’s position gets a bit dicey. Don’t panic. Instead, calmly fix all the leaks and, more often than not, your position will suddenly be healthy and happy.
* If you know what the opponent should do, you have a better chance of stopping it. If you have no idea what he should do, it will blindside you and beat you down. A look at the pawn structure (as shown in the Mondragon game) will usually show you what both sides should do.
* It’s okay (and fun!) to have a favorite (fetish) move, as long as it has a firm positional foundation behind it!