Thursday, April 16, 2015

Philidor's Defence

I have to admit, I've had a pretty good run with the Philidor Opening since I started playing it late last year. I prepared the opening for the Australian Masters in December, scoring a loss to FM Bill Jordan, but a win against FM Greg Canfell. At Glen Eira Chess Club I've scored a draw against FM Domagoj Dragicevic while at the MCC club Championship I managed a win against FM Jack Puccini.So 2.5/4 against titled players as black in the past 6 months. I guess most players would be happy with that, and as I've always struggled with black, I have been very pleased.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and it is probably time for me to move on from the Philidor before people start preparing against me. I'll still play it every once in a while, but there are too many openings out there to be always playing the same thing.

It's a funny opening, the Philidor. It has this reputation of being solid but after my game with Jack Puccini I heard people saying they were surprised that such sharp positions could arise so early from the Philidor. The solid line has traditionally been the Hanham variation which is now more often than not being entered by the Pirc move order: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.d4 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7.
White's obvious choice is 5.Bc4, though there are some other options. One of these is a Shirov speciality, 5.g4!? The game Shirov-Azmaiparashvili from the European Teams Championship 2003 was a volatile game that ended in a draw.

After 5.g4, the variation 5..Nxg4 6.Rg1 is undoubtedly the most popular line and white scores an impressive 59% in my database with 347 games. In the latest Informator, number 123, there is an amazing game played by Swedish GM Pontus Carlsson. The game shows a typical piece sacrifice by white to open the position and activate his pieces while black's king sits in the centre.
White has control of the g-file and has doubled on the d-file. With black's king in the centre, and lack of development, white is fully justified with the move 11.Bxb5! In this particular game, black was mated 10 moves later!

Funnily enough, when I downloaded TWIC this week, the first games I looked at were those under the ECO code (C41) for the Philidor. And whose name should I see playing a game, but none other than Pontus Carlsson. So my thought was, I wonder if he played that crazy 5.g4 move again? I wasn't disappointed. Have a look at this position:

Carlsson as white followed up his Bxb5 sacrifice in the last game, with another sacrifice here. 16.Nbd5!, another justified sacrifice against an uncastled king and an under developed position.

These games show that the Philidor is anything but a solid option. Of course there are solid lines, but in the hands of certain players, the Philidor can transform into an exciting opening and middlegame. And Pontus Carlsson is just one such exciting player, who has had an interesting life. His story is a great read.

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