Daily Chess column

The ongoing individual European Championship, a scramble among 344 of the world’s best players, provides us with this relatively brief exploration of the Petroff. Defense. The main line puts Black’s king’s knight on e4, but it can rarely if ever be held there. This game is Sergei Zhigalko (White) of Belarus, former runner-up in the 2009 World Junior Championship, v. Namig Guliyev (Black), a player from Azerbaijan. Black decides to retreat the king’s knight after being confronted with 5. Nc3. He rejects the main line, which is 5…NxN, minimizing loss of time but giving up space in the center.

 In this game, Black never seems to achieve equality as White keeps Black’s queen’s bishop from developing. Black proceeds to fianchetto that bishop. White shuts it in with 12 d5 and follows that move with 15 Bg4, creating a critical pin. Black struggles to find freedom, but his attempts to wriggle out open up his king to destruction.

 a)    The main line is 5…Nxc3 6.dxc3, but Black has gotten tired of defending what tends to be a passively worse position, so people are again experimenting with this move.


b)    Since Black’s queen’s bishop has been denied access to f5 and g4, Black looks to develop it on b7. While this is logical, its drawbacks are that it consumes time and weakens the light squares.

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c)     This is the principled move. By advancing this pawn, White shuts down Black’s bishop, gains space (especially the use of the d4 square), and fixes c6 as a weak square. Of course, in return Black gets counterplay against the d5 pawn, so White must play accurately. For the moment, taking on d5 ends badly for Black: 12…Nxd5 13.Nxd5 Bxd5 14.Bxh7+ Kxh7 15.Qxd5 with a clear advantage for White.

d)    The “normal” move was 15.a4, which allows White to maintain a safe edge. The move played in the game is more enterprising, but also double-edged.

e)    This is an understandable decision, but the weakening of the kingside goes badly for Black. Perhaps 15…b5 right away was better.

f)      This simply pushes the knight to where it wants to go anyway, but it is hard to suggest better, e.g. 20…g5 21.Bxg5 hxg5 (21…Nh5 22.Qf5) 22.Qxg5+ Kh8 (22…Bg7 23.Nf5) 23.Qh4+ Kg8 24.Re3 with a winning attack.


g)    This loses by force, but Black might as well try it since otherwise the threat of 22.Nxh6+ wins.

h)     Very nice! Now since the threat is 25.Qg7# (never mind the queen!), Black must capture the rook.

Zhigalko – Guliyev

European Individual Championship 2012

Petroff Defense

Zhigalko Guliyev

Zhigalko Guliyev

White Black

White Black

1. e4 e5

14. Rxe1 a6

2. Nf3 Nf6

15. Bg5!? (d) h6? (e)

3. Nxe5 d6

16. Bh4 b5

4. Nf3 Nxe4

17. a3 Nb6

5. Nc3!? Nf6 (a)

18. Nd4! Nbxd5

6. d4 Be7

19. Nxd5 Bxd5

7. Bd3 O-O

20. Qf4! c5 (f)

8. h3 b6 (b)

21. Nf5 g5 (g)

9. O-O Bb7

22. Bxg5 hxg5

10. Re1 Nbd7

23. Qxg5+ Kh8

11. Bf4 Re8

24. Re8!! (h) Nxe8 (i)

12. d5! (c) Bf8

25. Qh5+ Kg8

13. Qd2 Rxe1+

26. Ne7+ (j) 1-0

Rich Kassirer can be reached at