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

Dolfing - Anikeev

From Dibman to Anikeev

Author: Alexander Baliakin

1.32-28 18-23 2.33-29 23x32 3.37x28 20-25

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.


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:

4.38-33 12-18 5.29-24 19x30 6.35x24 7-12 7.41-37 1-7 What would Anikeev have done on
7...14-20 ? Would he play 8.34-29!? instead of an exchange?
8.37-32 17-21 9.46-41 21-26 10.41-37 16-21 11.34-29 Played 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. 11...14-20 12.31-27 11-16 13.43-38 Compare 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. 13...10-14 14.40-34 14-19 15.45-40 19x30 16.29-23 18x29 17.33x35 The position now on the board is disappointing and certainly not something you strive for when playing the Vos variant with black.

I prefer the much played alternative

4...12-18 , because after 5.39-33 After
5.29-24 19x30 6.35x24 7-12 7.37-32 black has a small problem: the attack 7...14-20 isn't attractive because white can simplify.
5...7-12 6.44-39 black has the option of exchange with 6...19-23 7.28x19 14x23

The difference between 4...12-18 and 4...17-21 becomes clear if white stays on its own territory. After

5.39-33 black can switch to another game type with 5...15-20 6.37-32 19-24 The great specialist in this is Alexander Shvartsman.
5...19x30 6.35x24 14-20

Black 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.

7.37-32 The disadvantage of 6...14-20 is that white can play 7...20x29 8.34x23 Today 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: 8...21-26 9.39-33 26x37 10.42x31 10-14 11.44-39 5-10 12.46-41 16-21 13.41-37 21-26 14.47-42 13-19 15.31-27 8-13 16.37-31 26x37 17.32x41 15-20 18.41-37 20-24 There is now an interesting starting position on the board for a strategic battle between attack versus surrounding.
7...20x29 8.33x24 10-14 9.44-39 12-18 10.39-33 7-12 11.37-32 1-7 12.46-41

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...21-26 13.41-37 11-17 14.50-44 5-10

Against C. Leontiev, Dibman played

14...18-22 That 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!
15.44-39 14-20

This second time attacking piece 24 with 14-20 is more or less mandatory.

16.49-44 20x29 17.33x24 9-14

This 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.

18.38-33 3-9

Let'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.


Not a mistake, but this move forces white to make serious and crucial decisions later. After

19.42-38 it's possible to play 19...18-22 That 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.
19...17-22 20.28x17 12x21 He could only fight for a draw after that: 21.31-27 7-11 22.47-42 8-12 23.33-28 12-17 24.38-33 17-22 25.28x17 11x31 26.36x27 6-11 27.33-28 11-17 28.43-38 18-22 29.27x18 13x33 30.39x28 14-19 31.24x13 9x18 and 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.
20.47-42 13-18 21.34-30 25x34 22.40x29
22.39x30? (white wants to reach the strong square 25) is impossible here because of the standard combination 22...17-21! 23.28x17 14-19 24.24x22 8-13 25.17x19 21-27 26.32x21 26x50-+ Andrei Kalmakov exchanged here against Jean Marc Ndjofang, in a game from 2007, with the exchange that is familiar to us:
22...9-13 23.28-23 13-19 24.24x13 8x28 25.32x23 4-9 26.31-27 22x31 27.36x27 9-13 28.37-31 26x37 29.42x31 14-20 30.45-40 2-8 31.39-34 17-21 32.33-28 21x32 33.28x37 It's important that
19.43-38 Remarkably, 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 did 19...17-22
19...14-20 20.34-29 18-22!? (Shvartsman is clearly classically raised. For him,
20...17-22 21.28x17 12x21 is absolutely impossible. Only 18-22! can be considered for him).
21.31-27 22x31 22.36x27 10-14 23.47-41 (logical if you don't want to do
23.28-23! )
23...17-21 24.41-36 7-11 Black plays a similar plan as Sijbrands against Getmanski. 25.37-31 26x37 26.42x31 21-26 27.48-43 26x37 28.32x41 11-17 29.38-32 13-18 30.43-38 9-13 31.41-37 17-21 32.39-34 14-19 33.44-39 19x30 34.29-23?! White had a strong temporary sacrifice, known for example from a game in a match for the world title Roel Boomstra - Alexander Shvartsman:
34.40-35! 20-24 35.29x20 15x24 36.34-29
34...18x29 35.33x35 with advantage for black.
20.28x17 12x21 21.32-28 18-22 22.28x17 21x12 with 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 at
19...17-22 20.28x17 12x21 21.33-28 7-11 22.39-33 14-19! 23.34-29 19x30 24.40-35 10-14 25.35x24 14-20! 26.43-39?!

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 is

26.42-38 Black can, of course, switch to defense via 26...18-22
26...9-14 27.44-40 4-9 Now, for example, the seemingly active 28.28-23? is in reality wrong: 28...8-12 29.43-39
29.33-28?? 14-19!-+ We now see a clear disadvantage of 19.31-27 as the Olympic formation becomes active
29...12-17 30.23x12 17x8 31.48-43! 14-19 Black can also opt for the risky
31...2-7 32.36-31 7-12 33.47-41 12-18
32.40-35 19x30 33.35x24 9-14 34.45-40 14-19 35.40-35 19x30 36.35x24 13-19 37.24x13 8x19 and because of his opponent's weak short wing, black has the initiative.
27.27x18 13x22 28.28x17 11x22 29.47-42 etc. But he can also wait a little longer with
26...8-12 27.45-40?!

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 with

27.28-22?? 11-17! 28.22x11 16x7 29.27x16 18-23-+ 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:
27.44-40 9-14 28.42-38 Kingsrow advises the inhuman
28.37-31! 26x37 29.42x31 I will not go into that any further.
28...12-17 29.48-42 4-9 And white must use a standard sacrifice for such a build-up:
29...17-22 30.28x17 11x31 31.36x27 4-9 32.47-41! 2-7 33.29-23! 18x29 34.33-28 and winning the piece with 34...29-34? 35.40x29 14-19? loses by 36.39-34! 19x39 37.29-24 20x29 38.28-23 29x18 39.38-33 39x28 40.32x1 21x32 41.37x28+-
30.47-41? 18-22!
30...20x29 also looks advantageous for black after 31.23x34 17-22 32.28x17 11x31 33.36x27 14-19 , but it is not so bad after all: 34.47-41 15-20 35.34-29!
31.27-22 29-34
31...2-8 32.36-31 8-12 33.31-27 29-34 34.40x29 12-18
34...14-19? Better is 35.47-41! 19x30 36.28-23 17x19 37.39-34 30x28 38.32x3 21x43 39.3x49+- The option
32.40x29 14-19 33.29-23 20x27 34.36-31 27x36 35.28-22 17x28 36.32x3 21-27 37.3-8 13-18 38.8-35 26-31 39.37x26 27-32 40.38x27 18-22 41.27x18 16-21 42.26x17 11x13 43.35x8 2x13= trying to stay one piece ahead for as long as possible does not benefit black either:
27...9-14 28.28-23

Let's look again at the move

28.42-38 4-10 29.39-34 A logical move if you want to simplify the position.
29.28-23 12-17 30.23x12 17x8 31.47-42 8-12 32.33-28 11-17 33.28-23? Kingsrow guarantees that the sacrifice
33.40-35! 25-30 34.38-33 30x19 35.44-40 results in a draw. But in such a middle game, a draughts player will never sacrifice a piece in exchange for ghostly compensation).
33...26-31 34.37x26 12-18 35.23x12 17x8 36.26x17 8-12 37.17x19 14x45 with a piece more for black after 38.44-40 .
29.28-22 2-7!! Black again brings the combination to 45 into play. 30.39-34 Again Kingsrow suggests
30.40-35 25-30 with enough compensation.
30...14-19 31.44-39 19x30 32.29-23 18x29 33.33x35 12-17 34.38-33 17x28 35.33x22 7-12 with an advantage for black.
29...12-17 30.47-42 17-22 31.28x17 11x31 32.36x27 6-11 33.44-39 14-19 34.48-43 19x30 35.29-23 18x29 36.33x35 Black is now in a better position. White needs to act actively with 39-33 and 27-22.
28...12-17 29.23x12 17x8 30.33-28
30.42-38 4-10 31.47-42 8-12 32.33-28 11-17! Better than immediately
32...26-31 33.37x19 14x45 34.39-33 20x29 35.33x24 and, according to Kingsrow, white can only save himself with the sacrifice
33.40-35 25-30 34.38-33 30x19 35.44-40 an escape that a flesh-and-blood man behind the board is unlikely to find.
30...4-10! 31.36-31

Still white does not make the decisive mistake, but the correct sequence is 42-38 and only then 36-31.

31.42-38! 14-19
31...11-17 32.40-34! and after 32...14-19 white has the standard development 33.38-33 19x30 34.37-31! 26x37 35.32x41 21x23 36.29x9
32.40-35 19x30 33.35x24 10-14 34.36-31! 14-19 and white performs the same combination as in the game: 35.44-40 19x30 36.39-34 30x39 37.29-24 20x29 38.28-23 29x18 39.38-33 39x28 40.32x3 21x41 41.47x36 26x37 The difference with the game is that the white piece on 40 defends the short wing and after 42.3-8 (in the game, this move is the decisive error) 42...13-18 43.8-26 black has no winning chances. Instead of 31...14-19
31...11-17!! 32.42-38?

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.

32.47-41 8-12 Threatens 17-22. 33.28-23 And now two options: 33...12-18
33...6-11 34.48-43? Necessary is
34...25-30 35.24x35 13-19 36.42-38 19x28 37.32x23 21x32 38.38x27 17-21 39.27-22 12-17! and white loses a piece. After
34.23x12 17x8 35.48-43 14-19? 36.40-34 19x30 37.32-28 21x23 38.29x9
32.48-43 the above doesn't work: 32...8-12 33.28-23? 6-11
33...12-18 34.23x12 17x8 35.47-41 13-18 36.42-38 2-7 37.41-36 8-13 At 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.
34.42-38 12-18
34...25-30 35.24x35 13-19 is not good at this point because of 36.40-34! 19x28 37.32x23 21x41 38.47x36 26x37 39.23-19 14x23 40.29x7+- Correct is
35.23x12 17x8 36.38-33 14-19?? 37.29-23 20x49 The sacrifice 38.23x5 with a win for white.
32...8-12 33.28-23

Another method to prevent 17-22 is

33.39-34 14-19 34.29-23 19x50 35.40-34 50x22 36.27x9 , but this looks unclear. Black can maintain his advantage with, for example, 36...17-22 37.9-4 20-24 38.4x27 24-29 39.34-30 25x34 40.48-43 29x18 41.27x13 34-40 42.13-19 40-45 43.19x5 12-17 and a long endgame follows in which black has a piece more.
33...12-18 34.23x12 17x8 35.39-33

Dolfing chose to move to an endgame. During the game, he thought his king cost three pieces instead of four. In the variant

35.38-33 14-19 36.40-35 19x30 37.35x24 10-14 38.44-40 14-19 39.40-35 19x30 40.35x24 13-19 41.24x13 8x19 at 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: 42.39-34 20-24 43.29x20 15x24 44.34-29 2-8 45.29x20 25x14 46.33-29 14-20 47.48-43 8-13 48.43-39 13-18 49.47-42 19-23 50.39-34 6-11 51.42-38 11-17 52.38-33 17-22 and white has no more moves. I suspect that the position after 41...8x19 is not defensible for white in practice.
35...14-19 36.40-35 19x30 37.35x24 10-14 38.33-28 14-19 39.44-39 19x30 40.39-34 30x39 41.29-24 20x29 42.28-23 29x18 43.38-33 39x28 44.32x3 21x41 45.47x36 26x37 46.3-8?

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 is

46.3-14! 25-30 47.14x41 13-18 Played to prevent white from taking control of the line 1-45. After
47...30-35 48.41-23 13-19 49.23x14 35-40 50.14-28 40-45 51.28-50 2-7 52.48-43 7-12 53.43-39 white 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.
48.41-28 30-35 49.28-44 18-23 50.48-43 15-20 51.36-31 23-29 52.31-27 29-34 53.27-22 Only a second king can save white. 53...34-40 54.44-50 40-45 55.22-18 20-25
55...2-8 56.50-17=
56.43-38! Immediately
56.18-13 loses by 56...6-11! 57.50x6 45-50 58.13-9 2-7!
56...25-30 57.18-13 30-34 58.38-32! Don't hurry! 58...2-7 59.13-9! 6-11 60.50x6 45-50 61.9-4! 34-39 62.6x44 50x37 63.4-18! with a draw. Very complicated.
46...13-18 47.8-19 2-7!

This looks like a weakening. In reality, black goes for a capture position with piece 11.

48.19x41 25-30 49.36-31

Another attempt with

49.41-28 30-34 50.28-44 to stop the march of the black piece fails because of 50...7-11! Black is on time. 51.44-49 34-39 51.44-49 34-39 And the iron strong piece on 39 brings the decision.

Anikeev 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 with

49...30-34 50.41-47 34-39 51.47-29 7-11 (or 18-22, but 7-12? is incorrect) 52.29x12 39-44 and with two more pieces, black wins this endgame.
50.41-47 18-23 51.31-27?

Dolfing was able to create much more problems for his opponent with the seemingly strange move

51.47-36! 7-11!! The only move that wins.
51...35-40? 52.31-26 16-21 53.26x17 40-44 54.36-41 23-29 55.17-12 7x18 56.41-23 29-33 57.23x12 33-39 58.12-21 44-49 59.21-17=
52.31-27 23-28! 53.36-41 28-33 54.27-22 33-39 55.22-18
55.41-28 16-21 56.28x50 21-27 57.22x31 11-17 58.50x11 6x17-+
55...35-40 56.18-13 40-44 57.13-9 44-49 58.9-4 39-44 It 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 is 59.41-23 44-50 60.23-45 11-17 61.4-36 49-27 62.36x11 6x17 with an endgame with majority of pieces for black.
51...35-40 52.47-41 23-29 53.27-22 7-12 54.41-28 40-45 55.48-43 12-17 56.22x11 16x7

White 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.