The “Wide Battle” in Attack and Defense
In today’s article I am going to discuss a specific structure which gives a type of position with a complex interplay of attack and defense on opposite sides of the board. This type of structure does not have a specific name, although I am sure most readers have seen it and know what I am talking about. It can be reached from various different openings – the English, the Closed Sicilian, 1.g3, and probably some others. Here is a typical example:
It can also be found with the colors reversed:
Basically, the structure involves one side’s e-pawn advanced two squares, and the other side’s c-pawn advanced two squares. Here is the basic pawn structure in the center, which we will be dealing with:
Note that Black's f-pawn will usually advance to f5, and the white b-pawn will usually advance to b4 and eventually b5. Both sides’ king’s bishops usually get fianchettoed, and it is rare for anyone to castle queenside (although it can happen occasionally, which usually makes the game more intense).
This structure has a very distinct character of its own, and knowing how to play it well can be an excellent weapon. It is a closed kind of opening, yet there are no blocked pawns in the center. There is limited pawn contact in the center, which makes exchanges less likely, leading to a full game with little chance of simplification. The asymmetrical pawn structure indicates that the side with the e-pawn advanced should play on the kingside, while the side with the c-pawn advanced should play on the queenside.
In the following, I will call the side with the c-pawn advanced “White” and the side with the e-pawn advanced “Black” – as in the above diagram. However, this structure could easily be reversed, as in a Closed Sicilian or King’s Indian Attack.
Here are some of the ideas:
1. Black’s theater of operation is generally the kingside, while White’s is the queenside. Black’s attack usually develops by …f7-f5-f4. The most dangerous attacking scheme continues with …Qe8-h5, …Bh3, and …Ng4. Often an exchange sacrifice follows on f3. In the following old game of mine, I managed to carry out this plan:
2. Black’s …f4 can sometimes be followed up with …g5-g4 and even …f3, if the above attacking scheme is not applicable.
3. Black should, however, be careful about playing …f4, since it can give White the excellent e4 square for the knight and remove the fluidity of Black’s center.
4. With or without …f4, Black can sometimes advance the h-pawn to weaken g3 and open lines.
5. Because of the dangers created by allowing …f4, White often plays f4 himself, creating new problems. Black has often advanced …g5 by that point, and can play …gxf4, opening the g-file. Alternatively, Black can capture on f4 with the e-pawn, opening the bishop from g7.
6. It is very important whether White develops the knight on e2 or f3. On e2 the knight puts less pressure on the center, but supports f2-f4 better. However, the lack of pressure on e5 can make Black’s plan of preparing …d5 more logical, as in the following game:
7. White’s plans generally involve b2-b4-b5, to gain space and attack the black queenside. This is especially effective if there is a black pawn on c6 to “latch on to”.
8. c4-c5 is also a key break, opening lines and weakening d6, as in the following game (colors reversed):
Of course, this can only be done if Black cannot respond with …d6-d5, creating a broad pawn center.
9. Occupying d5 with the knight – if Black takes it, White gets a “dead point” on d5 and blocks his light-squared bishop. But he also gets the open c-file. You can see this trade-off in the following game:
10. It is important whether the a-pawns have been exchanged. Often Black slows down the b2-b4 advance by playing …a5. White usually plays a3 to support b4, and as a result the a-pawns are traded. Alternatively, Black can meet b4 with …a6, to slow down the b4-b5 advance. White then supports it with a4, and after b5 exactly the same result is achieved.
When this happens, Black often gets the open a-file for his rook, at least at first. On the other hand, White tends to end up taking over the a-file since he has a vast superiority on that side of the board. The rook can then invade to a7. Additionally, by trading off the a-pawn, Black makes it easier for White to undermine his pawn chain by a b5-b6 move. In general, I don’t like the idea of trading the a-pawns for Black. There is a reason why they say don’t move the pawns on the side of the board where you are worse.
11. If the a-pawns are not traded, Black usually has to play …Rb8 at some moment, and often …b6. Then the a7 pawn can be a target after Qa4-a7 or Rb1-b3-a3-a7.
12. White sometimes (if he gets the opportunity) plays Bg5xf6, to weaken Black’s control of d5 and decrease his attacking chances on the kingside (there will be no …Ng4). On the other hand, he gives up the two bishops, which would become important in this fluid structure.
13. White must always be on the lookout for tactics involving …e4, especially when the knight on c3 is unguarded, and also especially when the above exchange (#11) had been made. See for instance, the following game:
This is just an introduction to the themes of this rich and fascinating structure. I like these positions because you are guaranteed to have a real fight in chess - there are few theoretical lines and few exchanging variations possible. Yet despite the lack of concrete lines, the positions are sharp and the game will be decided by who plays stronger in the middlegame. I will leave you with a beautiful and thematic game in this structure by GM Ilya Smirin: