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Dolfing - Anikeev

Dolfing - Anikeev

With 3...20-25, Iurii Anikeev (left) plays the so-called Vos variant against Martin Dolfing. This strategy will grow into a great success. Photograph: Zainal Palmans

From Dibman to Anikeev

Author: Alexander Baliakin

1.32-2818-232.33-2923x323.37x2820-25 The Vos variant (1.32-28 18-23 2.33-29 23x32 3.37x28 20-25) seemed to have in recent years gradually disappeared from the opening repertoire of top grandmasters. But suddenly this variant is back in the foreground this year. Before we get into a game played from this opening, I would first like to answer the question why grandmasters with black play this opening in the first place. Surely they know that white has a better position? Personally, I see the following advantages to play the Vos variant with black: - White cannot quickly exchange pieces. - White cannot switch to an equal classical game. - White has to play active and principal to avoid getting a passive position. - The positions resulting from the Vos variant are complicated and require a lot of calculations (which will be evident from the game I am about to discuss). - Grandmasters who play this opening with black can prepare themselves well for their opponent's counterplay (again, see the game below). Draughts has a large draw margin. The aim of an opening is therefore often not to get a better position, but rather exciting and complicated play, where the opponent cannot exchange pieces quickly. The Vos variant is an excellent variant for this.4.41-37...Let's take a look at the statistics. Anikeev played this opening with black in only 3.5 per cent of his games (by comparison, I like the Vos variant and used this in almost 8 per cent of my black games). The first tentative conclusion we can draw is that if someone does not play the way he is used to in an important tournament, it may mean that he has prepared this variant well at home. It is also interesting to compare how Anikeev plays with white in this position. His duel with Arnaud Cordier (European Championship 2022) went as follows:4.38-3312-185.29-2419x306.35x247-127.41-371-7What would Anikeev have done on14-20? Would he play8.34-29instead of an exchange?8.37-3217-219.46-4121-2610.41-3716-2111.34-29Played remarkably early. In the game Anatoli Gantwarg - Alexander Dibman (Minsk 1983) 10.34-29 was also quickly played. In an attempt to understand whether or not 34-29 is good so early in the game, I analysed this game a few years ago. I did not come to a clear conclusion. I only noted that black is more constrained by this move than white.14-2012.31-2711-1613.43-38Compare this position with a position from the famous game Alexander Getmanski - Ton Sijbrands (European Championships 1999). The difference is the piece on square 18. For Sijbrands' original plan, piece 18 must be absent.10-1414.40-3414-1915.45-4019x3016.29-2318x2917.33x35The position now on the board is disappointing and certainly not something you strive for when playing the Vos variant with black.4....17-21I prefer the much played alternative12-18, because after5.39-33After5.29-2419x306.35x247-127.37-32black has a small problem: the attack14-20isn't attractive because white can simplify.7-126.44-39black has the option of exchange with19-237.28x1914x235.29-24...The difference between 4...12-18 and 4...17-21 becomes clear if white stays on its own territory. After5.39-33black can switch to another game type with15-206.37-3219-24The great specialist in this is Alexander Shvartsman.5....19x306.35x2414-20Black can, of course, play old-fashioned without attacking the outpost on 24, as in the 1964 game Anatoly Pylaev - Andris Andreiko. But that is not really promising for black. The last time Martijn van IJzendoorn played that at a high level was against Hein Meijer (2022), but honestly it was not a success for the black player. Black has to attack, but the question is whether to do so with 14-19 or 14-20 and whether to do so once or twice. The attack 14-19 looks less attractive because the white passive piece on 45 then comes into play, but Black really has no choice if he has done 4...12-18.7.39-33...7.37-32The disadvantage of 6...14-20 is that white can play20x298.34x23Today this option is not popular, unlike forty years ago, as in, for example, Vadim Virny - Alexander Dibman (Kislovodsk 1982). Dibman analysed this position extensively after this game. He wanted to understand whether black should play 21-26 here immediately, or only after 8...10-14 9.46-41 21-26 If I remember correctly, he concluded that the black surrounding is more promising if 21-26 is postponed for a while. The Virny-Dibman duel developed as follows:21-269.39-3326x3710.42x3110-1411.44-395-1012.46-4116-2113.41-3721-2614.47-4213-1915.31-278-1316.37-3126x3717.32x4115-2018.41-3720-24There is now an interesting starting position on the board for a strategic battle between attack versus surrounding.7....20x298.33x2410-149.44-3912-1810.39-337-1211.37-321-712.46-41...White now makes a strategically important decision. The alternative is to abandon the march from 46 to 37 by playing on the other wing. Kingsrow has no preference. Personally, I usually don't like it when my opponent, as in this game, moves piece 46 to square 37.12....21-2613.41-3711-1714.50-445-10Against C. Leontiev, Dibman played18-22That was Dibman's move.He only looked at 18-22 and 17-21 plans in such structures, with a clear preference for the first continuation. Modern draughts programmes criticise this move because black lets white perform the dream exchange 31-27x27 with development of the piece on 36. But about forty years ago we saw no better option to create sharp (counter)play. Tip: check out this wonderful game in Turbo Dambase!15.44-3914-20This second time attacking piece 24 with 14-20 is more or less mandatory.16.49-4420x2917.33x249-14This move was the subject of a long discussion between Dibman and me forty years ago. I was not in favour of this construction, because I think that with 3-9 black plays up his important piece on 3 too quickly. Moreover, I think this base piece is going in the wrong direction, because black might be able to make good use of piece 3 later for an attack on the other wing. But there are also good reasons to do 9-14 and 3-9: black might be able to go with 18-23, but more importantly, in 3-9 black has a final waiting move. Had black played 17...10-14, he would have had to make a decision immediately afterwards.18.38-333-9Let's take a closer look at the structure chosen by black. Of course, Anikeev is not the first to play like this with black. Remarkably, he suddenly started regularly adopting this structure about six months ago. For example, look at the position from his game against Sven Winkel (World Championship 2023) after 17...3-9. The black structure is the same (except that piece 10 is on 1)! Therefore, we can conclude that such a structure has general significance and cannot be used only in the Vos variant. Shvartsman also chooses such a structure in positions where white has a piece on 15.19.31-27...Not a mistake, but this move forces white to make serious and crucial decisions later. After19.42-38it's possible to play18-22That may not be the best positional continuation, but it is the sharpest. Perhaps Dolfing did not want to allow this move and therefore played 19.31-27.17-2220.28x1712x21He could only fight for a draw after that:21.31-277-1122.47-428-1223.33-2812-1724.38-3317-2225.28x1711x3126.36x276-1127.33-2811-1728.43-3818-2229.27x1813x3330.39x2814-1931.24x139x18and so on. Galperin played a good game with his center strategy. Three years later, he managed to beat Alexey Chizhov (Hierden 1989) with a similar strategy. By the way, the position after 18...3-9 marks the turning point for me in my relationship with the Vos variant. I had this position against Murodullo Amrillaev in the 2008 European Championship and lost. After this game, I decided not to play any more Vos variant against top grandmasters. Only in 2019 did I break the taboo.20.47-4213-1821.34-3025x3422.40x2922.39x30(white wants to reach the strong square 25) is impossible here because of the standard combination17-2123.28x1714-1924.24x228-1325.17x1921-2726.32x2126x50-+Andrei Kalmakov exchanged here against Jean Marc Ndjofang, in a game from 2007, with the exchange that is familiar to us:9-1323.28-2313-1924.24x138x2825.32x234-926.31-2722x3127.36x279-1328.37-3126x3729.42x3114-2030.45-402-831.39-3417-2132.33-2821x3233.28x37It's important that19.43-38Remarkably, Anikeev already had this position with black in 2012: against Ilya Tokmakov.This was then a rare experience of Anikeev with the Vos variant. He did17-2214-2020.34-2918-22(Shvartsman is clearly classically raised. For him,17-2221.28x1712x21is absolutely impossible. Only 18-22! can be considered for him).21.31-2722x3122.36x2710-1423.47-41(logical if you don't want to do23.28-23)17-2124.41-367-11Black plays a similar plan as Sijbrands against Getmanski.25.37-3126x3726.42x3121-2627.48-4326x3728.32x4111-1729.38-3213-1830.43-389-1331.41-3717-2132.39-3414-1933.44-3919x3034.29-23White had a strong temporary sacrifice, known for example from a game in a match for the world title Roel Boomstra - Alexander Shvartsman:34.40-3520-2435.29x2015x2436.34-2918x2935.33x35with advantage for black.20.28x1712x2121.32-2818-2222.28x1721x12with equal play. While preparing this article, I discovered the recently played game between Viktoriya Motrichko and Alexander Shvartsman from Drancy Open 2023. We are seeing a clear renaissance of the Vos variant at top level this year. It continued at19....17-2220.28x1712x2121.33-287-1122.39-3314-1923.34-2919x3024.40-3510-1425.35x2414-2026.43-39...Another step to loss. Two holes (38 and 43) in the center are not pretty, but the white center looks strong and it is now impossible to see how black can use these open squares. But the position on the board is very dangerous for Dolfing. He is under the illusion that his position is better. Therefore, he keeps playing for a win. More compact is26.42-38Black can, of course, switch to defense via18-229-1427.44-404-9Now, for example, the seemingly active28.28-23is in reality wrong:8-1229.43-3929.33-2814-19-+We now see a clear disadvantage of 19.31-27 as the Olympic formation becomes active12-1730.23x1217x831.48-4314-19Black can also opt for the risky2-732.36-317-1233.47-4112-1832.40-3519x3033.35x249-1434.45-4014-1935.40-3519x3036.35x2413-1937.24x138x19and because of his opponent's weak short wing, black has the initiative.27.27x1813x2228.28x1711x2229.47-42etc. But he can also wait a little longer with26....8-1227.45-40...In the game Hein Meijer - Yuriy Anikeev, Riga Open 2023, this position also came on the board via a small indirect route. Meijer now made a terrible mistake with27.28-2211-1728.22x1116x729.27x1618-23-+Strangely, Dolfing was not aware of this game. If he knew this game, he probably would not have chosen this opening variant. Theory knowledge is much less important in draughts than in chess. But sometimes, at crucial moments, theoretical knowledge can determine who becomes world champion.... The game move will determine the further course of the game: a combination to square 45 becomes the core of the black strategy. A big problem for Dolfing is that the number of variants and their depth are enormous.Calculating everything is practically impossible and it is difficult to decide when to stop calculating. Playing by feel isn't possible either, because the game is too concrete. I show just one of the endless variants:27.44-409-1428.42-38Kingsrow advises the inhuman28.37-3126x3729.42x31I will not go into that any further.12-1729.48-424-9And white must use a standard sacrifice for such a build-up:17-2230.28x1711x3131.36x274-932.47-412-733.29-2318x2934.33-28and winning the piece with29-3435.40x2914-19loses by36.39-3419x3937.29-2420x2938.28-2329x1839.38-3339x2840.32x121x3241.37x28+-30.29-2330.47-4118-2218x2920x29also looks advantageous for black after31.23x3417-2232.28x1711x3133.36x2714-19, but it is not so bad after all:34.47-4115-2035.34-2931.27-2229-342-832.36-318-1233.31-2729-3434.40x2912-1814-19Better is35.47-4119x3036.28-2317x1937.39-3430x2838.32x321x4339.3x49+-The option32.40x2914-1933.29-2320x2734.36-3127x3635.28-2217x2836.32x321-2737.3-813-1838.8-3526-3139.37x2627-3240.38x2718-2241.27x1816-2142.26x1711x1343.35x82x13=trying to stay one piece ahead for as long as possible does not benefit black either:27....9-1428.28-23...Let's look again at the move28.42-384-1029.39-34A logical move if you want to simplify the position.29.28-2312-1730.23x1217x831.47-428-1232.33-2811-1733.28-23Kingsrow guarantees that the sacrifice33.40-3525-3034.38-3330x1935.44-40results in a draw. But in such a middle game, a draughts player will never sacrifice a piece in exchange for ghostly compensation).26-3134.37x2612-1835.23x1217x836.26x178-1237.17x1914x45with a piece more for black after38.44-40.29.28-222-7Black again brings the combination to 45 into play.30.39-34Again Kingsrow suggests30.40-3525-30with enough compensation.14-1931.44-3919x3032.29-2318x2933.33x3512-1734.38-3317x2835.33x227-12with an advantage for black.12-1730.47-4217-2231.28x1711x3132.36x276-1133.44-3914-1934.48-4319x3035.29-2318x2936.33x35Black is now in a better position. White needs to act actively with 39-33 and 27-22.28....12-1729.23x1217x830.33-28...30.42-384-1031.47-428-1232.33-2811-17Better than immediately26-3133.37x1914x4534.39-3320x2935.33x24and, according to Kingsrow, white can only save himself with the sacrifice33.40-3525-3034.38-3330x1935.44-40an escape that a flesh-and-blood man behind the board is unlikely to find.30....4-1031.36-31...Still white does not make the decisive mistake, but the correct sequence is 42-38 and only then 36-31.31.42-3814-1911-1732.40-34and after14-19white has the standard development33.38-3319x3034.37-3126x3735.32x4121x2336.29x932.40-3519x3033.35x2410-1434.36-3114-19and white performs the same combination as in the game:35.44-4019x3036.39-3430x3937.29-2420x2938.28-2329x1839.38-3339x2840.32x321x4141.47x3626x37The difference with the game is that the white piece on 40 defends the short wing and after42.3-8(in the game, this move is the decisive error)13-1843.8-26black has no winning chances. Instead of 31...14-1931....11-1732.42-38...Now white had to make use of the open square 9 again, which can be done with 32.47-41/48-43, but there is a difference between the two moves.32.47-418-12Threatens 17-22.33.28-23And now two options:12-186-1134.48-43Necessary is34.39-3425-3035.24x3513-1936.42-3819x2837.32x2321x3238.38x2717-2139.27-2212-17and white loses a piece. After34.23x1217x835.48-4314-1936.40-3419x3037.32-2821x2338.29x932.48-43the above doesn't work:8-1233.28-236-1112-1834.23x1217x835.47-4113-1836.42-382-737.41-368-13At first sight, black has a disastrous position: no formations and lots of pieces on the edge. But in reality the position is better for black due to the combination to 45.34.42-3812-1825-3035.24x3513-19is not good at this point because of36.40-3419x2837.32x2321x4138.47x3626x3739.23-1914x2340.29x7+-Correct is35.23x1217x836.38-3314-1937.29-2320x49The sacrifice38.23x5with a win for white.32....8-1233.28-23...Another method to prevent 17-22 is33.39-3414-1934.29-2319x5035.40-3450x2236.27x9, but this looks unclear. Black can maintain his advantage with, for example,17-2237.9-420-2438.4x2724-2939.34-3025x3440.48-4329x1841.27x1334-4042.13-1940-4543.19x512-17and a long endgame follows in which black has a piece more.33....12-1834.23x1217x835.39-33...Dolfing chose to move to an endgame. During the game, he thought his king cost three pieces instead of four. In the variant35.38-3314-1936.40-3519x3037.35x2410-1438.44-4014-1939.40-3519x3040.35x2413-1941.24x138x19at first instance it seems that, thanks to the extra piece on 6, the lock-up should be manageable for white. However, the black material is ideal for the endgame. For white, the situation is just the opposite. A huge number of variants are now possible. I will show only a short gameplay:42.39-3420-2443.29x2015x2444.34-292-845.29x2025x1446.33-2914-2047.48-438-1348.43-3913-1849.47-4219-2350.39-346-1151.42-3811-1752.38-3317-22and white has no more moves. I suspect that the position after 41...8x19 is not defensible for white in practice.35....14-1936.40-3519x3037.35x2410-1438.33-2814-1939.44-3919x3040.39-3430x3941.29-2420x2942.28-2329x1843.38-3339x2844.32x321x4145.47x3626x3746.3-8...Indeed, the first impulse is to play 3-8 to destroy the position 2-13, as that could potentially be used to capture White’s kingout. We also started with this move each time in the post analysis of the game. However, correct is46.3-1425-3047.14x4113-18Played to prevent white from taking control of the line 1-45. After30-3548.41-2313-1949.23x1435-4050.14-2840-4551.28-502-752.48-437-1253.43-39white survives because he is in time to protect his king. The first move after the time check of 45 moves is immediately the decisive error. Dolfing had half an hour to make a decision. After such an exciting middle game, you have to be physically and mentally fit to defend such an endgame. I suspect, also considering it was the 17th round, that Dolfing was very tired at this point.48.41-2830-3549.28-4418-2350.48-4315-2051.36-3123-2952.31-2729-3453.27-22Only a second king can save white.34-4054.44-5040-4555.22-1820-252-856.50-17=56.43-38Immediately56.18-13loses by6-1157.50x645-5058.13-92-725-3057.18-1330-3458.38-32Don't hurry!2-759.13-96-1160.50x645-5061.9-434-3962.6x4450x3763.4-18with a draw. Very complicated.46....13-1847.8-192-7This looks like a weakening. In reality, black goes for a capture position with piece 11.48.19x4125-3049.36-31...Another attempt with49.41-2830-3450.28-44to stop the march of the black piece fails because of7-11Black is on time.51.44-4934-3951.44-49 34-39 And the iron strong piece on 39 brings the decision.49....30-35Anikeev tries to play safe and maintain his advantage of three pieces. Black could make things relatively easy for himself by opting for a clear endgame with30-3450.41-4734-3951.47-297-11(or 18-22, but 7-12? is incorrect)52.29x1239-44and with two more pieces, black wins this endgame.50.41-4718-2351.31-27...Dolfing was able to create much more problems for his opponent with the seemingly strange move51.47-367-11The only move that wins.35-4052.31-2616-2153.26x1740-4454.36-4123-2955.17-127x1856.41-2329-3357.23x1233-3958.12-2144-4959.21-17=52.31-2723-2853.36-4128-3354.27-2233-3955.22-1855.41-2816-2156.28x5021-2757.22x3111-1758.50x116x17-+35-4056.18-1340-4457.13-944-4958.9-439-44It is important that black manages to keep his advantage of three pieces. Because of the piece on 48, white has difficulty finding squares for his two kings. A possible development is59.41-2344-5060.23-4511-1761.4-3649-2762.36x116x17with an endgame with majority of pieces for black.51....35-4052.47-4123-2953.27-227-1254.41-2840-4555.48-4312-1756.22x1116x7White gives up. Did Dolfing play badly? I don't think so. The position he got was very attractive and invited him to counterplay. But at the same time, the position was treacherous for him. White went to the center, neutralised elementary threats in time, but found no adequate defense against the basic threat: the combination to square 45. The position turned out to be too complicated for the human brain. We can also note that Anikeev (a strong positional player, who likes to navigate, see e.g. his win at the World Championship against Heusdens) looked for an active opening with black and found it in the Vos variant. With white he also found such an opening some time ago: he uses 1.35-30 to do so.