Would You Take the Pawn?

Imagine you are the General of the black pieces and reach the following position in the opening:
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3 f5 4. Nc3 fxe4 5. fxe4 dxe4 6. Nxe4 Nf6 7. Bd3

Would you take the proffered pawn? Cogitate on the answer a few moments until we come back to it.

Chess players have a style. The choices a player makes signals his style, whether or not he is aware of this fact. Humans communicate with not just what they say, but how they say it. Chess players also communicate, giving information to their opponent not only not only with what they play, but what they do not play.
For decades I have used a position with students in order to discern what type of player he may be. I have also shown the position to groups of students on a demo board, and listened to some lively discussions as each student tries to justify their answer. It is also very useful as a way to teach that in chess it is sometimes possible that there can be more than one way to skin a rabbit. It is from a standard opening, the Caro-Kann. The position arises after the standard opening moves of, 1 e4 c6 2 d4 3 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nf6 5 Nxf6. With which pawn do you capture the Knight?

Statistics show that after capturing with the e-pawn Black draws far more than when capturing with the g-pawn, but also wins much less. Such a simple choice says something about a players style.
Most players would choose one move or the other. The Legendary Georgia Ironman is one of the few who has played both captures, but his predominant choice has been 5…exf6, which is better suited to his style. During a recent conversation about openings Tim mentioned something about liking the Berlin because, “It suits my style.” I would much prefer to undergo waterboarding by Darth Cheney than be forced to sit behind the Berlin. The move 5…exf6 is anathema to me. I cringe at the thought of ever having to play such a move. On the other hand, my eyes light up and become filled with fire at the prospect of playing 5…gxf6! This move opens the g-file, giving the black General something with which to work. It also follows the principle of capturing toward the center, whereas the capture 5…exf6 leaves the black General with an ugly pawn structure with the future prospect of long hours of laboriously striving to hold an inferior position. Where is the fun in that?

The game in question is the first one in the first chapter, “Rare Continuations,” of “The Extreme Caro-Kann: Attacking black with 3. f3,” by Alexey Bezgodov.

Paul Kuijpers (2074) – Harry Van der Stap Sr
Vlissingen HZ op 8th 2004

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3 f5 4. Nc3 fxe4 5. fxe4 dxe4 6. Nxe4 Nf6 7. Bd3
Here the author writes, “A well-founded pawn sacrifice, which Black dare not accept.” I closed the book to sit there for some time thinking about the position, finally coming to the conclusion that I would take the pawn. Then I wondered if this position could also provide a clue into a players style. It is well-known that Bobby Fischer had a fondness for taking material and defending that choice with “machine like defense.” This could be one reason GM Mark Taimanov, in answer to the question, “Do you think that you had chances of winning your match against Bobby Fischer?” answered, “It was the first time I was encountering not a playing partner, but a computer that didn’t make mistakes.” (http://www.chessclub.org/news.php?n=678)

Inquiring minds want to know, so I put the position into my now antiquated Houdi, as I now think of it, dropping the “ni” since it has been passed by Stockfish and Komodo. Houdi took the pawn and it is not close. Taking the pawn leaves Black with an even game, whereas Houdi’s second choice, 7…Nxe4, gives White an advantage of 2/3 of a pawn. Not taking did not turn out well for the General of the Black pieces in this game: 7…Nbd7 8. Bg5 Qc7 9. Qe2 Nxe4 10. Bxe4 Qa5+ 11. Bd2 Qb5 12. Qxb5 cxb5 13. Bd3 a6 14. Nf3 Nf6 15. O-O e6 16. Rfe1 Be7 17. Ng5 Nd5 18. Nxe6 Kf7 19. Ng5+ Bxg5 20. Bxg5 h6 21. Rf1+ 1-0

The Andrew Sisters & Bing Crosby-Accentuate The Positive

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