Black to play and find a plan:

 [FEN ""]
 [StartFlipped "1"]
 [StartPly "25"]

 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bc5 7. c3 d6 8. h3 O-O 9. Qe2 Bb7 10. d3 Ne7 11. Be3 Bxe3 12. fxe3 Ng6 13. Nbd2

I often find myself in positions like this in blitz games and I think it's only a matter of time until it happens in a long OTB game. I know that I'm playing this wrong, but I couldn't figure out how to approach this position in general. Playing an early d5 is bad because it weakens c5 too much and gives white an excellent square for his knight on e4.

I tried using Stockfish to find a plan here, but it doesn't seem like the engine has a clue about what's going on. Sometimes it just moves about aimlessly and you cannot make out a plan. One move Stockfish suggests is 13. ... a5, followed by 14.a4 c6 and 15. ... Qb6, with the idea of getting play via the b-file. That all looks nice and good, but if white doesn't take on b5 and opens the b-file, black is just sitting there and doing nothing. So, I'm not really convinced yet. My question is thus two-fold:

  • What's black's best plan in this position?
  • Should I maybe avoid taking on e3 on move 11 to keep some more dynamic possibilities?

2 Answers 2


There is a lot to this...some of it is pure chess, and some of it is how you approach the game. I love a practical approach that does not give my opponent the opportunity to really seize the initiative. It is a little like prophylactic thinking for one move, but on the scale of the whole game.

What I mean, and what I am getting at is that despite it being the computer's first choice, I do not like taking on e3 to begin with. In the lines I will give below, black has various plans, but white is going to be able to have too much say in what plans black can choose from, due to the potential for a strong attack by white on on the kingside. In other words, what black tries to do will be the direct result of how white maneuvers. That is true in many positions, but here black may play a5-a4 and is it to slow, or after axb5 cxb5 have to play something else to open the queenside, or in other lines, Qb6 is good, but in others, it looks dangerous. White has a lot of say in that...too much for my liking in a practical situation. In general, I also do not like to give my opponent the chance to attack my king at all. Of course, this whole line is virtually equal per the computer, so from a pure chess standpoint, it is fine to play, but we are human, and one slip-up, and we can find ourselves in deep trouble.

That said, I like the idea of deviating with 11...Ng6!? It sets white some difficult practical positional problems right away, and even the resulting positions seem easier to play for black. White will play a4, and open the queenside, but black will get pressure on the kingside. I will also give some lines that you can look at in the exact variation that you posted.

There are also fairly extensive written notes in the variations below, not just moves, so do not pass them by.

 [FEN ""]

 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bc5 7. c3 d6 8. h3 O-O 9. Qe2 Bb7 10. d3 Ne7 (10... h6 {is more common here, but I like your move better since it does not open the f-file, and make f5 harder to defend after Nh4 by white.} 11. Be3 Bxe3 12. fxe3 Na5 13. Bc2 c5) 11. Be3 Bxe3 (11... Ng6 $5 {This might solve your dilemma by avoiding the positions that you are not having good results in, and setting some pitfalls for your opponents. Personally, I do not favor positions that may give my opponent an attack, so in general, I do not like opening the f-file here.} 12. Bxc5 dxc5 {And c4 is a real positional threat, as well as Nf3, which they are more likely to worry about.} 13. Qe3 $2 {There is no time for this.} (13. g3 $2 {Stopping Nf4, but ignoring the more potent idea.} Qd7 14. Kh2 c4 15. Bc2 cxd3 16. Bxd3 c5 $15) (13. Rd1 Nf4 14. Qe3 Qd6 15. Bc2 N6h5 {With good play on the kingside. I prefer this with the idea of Rad8, and maybe Qg6, Bc8 and f5 at some point. From a practical point of view, this is much easier to play for black.} 16. g3 $2 {Trying to catch a knight.} Nxh3+ 17. Kh2 f5 $1 18. Kxh3 (18. Bb3+ Kh8 19. Kxh3 f4 20. Qe2 Qh6 21. Kg2 fxg3 22. fxg3 Qg6 23. Qf2 c4 $19) 18... f4 19. Qe2 fxg3 20. fxg3 Qh6 21. Kg2 Qg6 22. Qf2 Nf4+ 23. Kf1 Nh3 24. Qg2 Rxf3+ 25. Qxf3 Rf8 26. Qxf8+ Kxf8 $19) (13. Nbd2 $2 Nf4 14. Qe3 Qxd3 15. Nxe5 (15. Qxc5 $2 Nxe4 16. Nxe4 (16. Nxe5 $4 Qxf1+ 17. Rxf1 Nxc5) 16... Qxe4 17. Qxe5 Qxe5 18. Nxe5 Bxg2 $19) 15... Qxe3 16. fxe3 Ng6 $17) (13. Bc2 Nf4 14. Qe3 Qd6 15. Rd1 {Transposes to the Rd1 line.}) 13... c4 $1 14. dxc4 Nxe4 $15) 12. fxe3 Ng6 13. Nbd2 a5 14. a4 c6 15. Qf2 (15. Rf2 bxa4 16. Bxa4 (16. Rxa4 Ba6 17. Bc2 Qb6 {Compared to the note below, I do not mind this as much here since the Queen is denied f3-g3.} 18. b3 d5 {With good play.}) 16... Qb6 {Idea d5.} 17. Nc4 Qc7 {Again, with d5 next.}) 15... Rb8 {Planning axb4, or Bc8/Ba6, or even d5 in some cases.} (15... Qb6 {The computer's first move, but one that "feels" dangerous to me since you would be removing the queen from from the defense of the Kg8. I prefer a move that threatens to open the queenside, but without doing leaving the king's defense.})
  • 3
    For the record, I do not see how you can possibly play on the kingside since white has more space there. Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 14:33
  • P.S. You can play d5, but I discounted that, and did not look at it closely since you did not seem to like it based on your original post. Commented Mar 11, 2020 at 0:34
  • 1
    Thank you for the detailed explanation and lines. I now have two options to consider for future games in similar positions. As I have written below, one of the reasons I previously rejected 13. ... d5 is because I recaptured with the wrong piece after 14.exd5 (you have to recapture with the bishop). Still, I'm not sure I like that position and I'm glad I have an alternative now because of your thoughts! Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 18:15

In the final position, the black pieces are pointed toward the king side, so logic says that you should attack there. The two obstacles are the bishop pinning the f-pawn and the control provided by the doubled e-pawns. Stockfish pushes the a-pawn to chase away the bishop and uses the queen to apply pressure on e3.

Pressuring and exploiting white's dark-square weaknesses

I prefer the immediate d5. This neutralizes the bishop and forces white to decide between exposing a weak pawn on d3, accepting the isolated and doubled e-pawns, or liquidating the center with d4. It's possible to delay the d5 break with the restraining move c5.

Quick d5 break: challenging white's light-square control & backward pawns.

On move 11.Be3, exchanging bishop seems to be the only move for black. Allowing white to exchange ruins you pawn structure. The weaknesses on e5 and c5 are greater than the exposed d3 pawn weakness.

Trade of bishops on c5 leaves black with 2 weakened pawns.

  • BTW, the Stockfish thinking was based on ideas from this video (youtube.com/watch?v=cNFj3MWZIWI).
    – Mike Jones
    Commented Mar 11, 2020 at 10:21
  • Allowing white to exchange doesn't necessarily ruin the pawns, if you're willing to "sacrifice" a tempo instead with Ba7. That puts the question to white now. If Bxa7 Rxa7 and you're looking at Qa8 with a-file pressure. And whether white exchanges or not, you've got c5 coming.
    – Jeff Y
    Commented Mar 11, 2020 at 20:25
  • 1
    "In the final position, the black pieces are pointed toward the king side, so logic says that you should attack there. " I know I'm the one asked the question, but I'm not sure I agree with that statement. As long as white does not play e4, penetrating with the knights on the kingside is almost impossible. f4 is covered and in the event of Nh5 I could always go Kh2 if I have nothing better. However, I do think I unfairly disregarded d5, but for a reason that may surprise you. After 13. ... d5 14. exd5 it is of utmost importance to recapture with the bishop! Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 18:05
  • That way he challenges white's bishop on b3 and eases his troubles on the a2-g8 diagonal. Re-capturing with the knight would be quite a serious positional blunder, which I often committed in Blitz games Regarding your argument that Bxe3 is basically black's only option, just saying that the doubled pawns are weak is a bit too categorical for me. After all, I still have the f4 square available after Bxc5 dxc5 and a new file to apply pressure on (the d-file). I actually have seen structures like this before being played in Grandmaster games, although I'm not sure how similar the position was. Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 18:08
  • Despite my points above, I still think it's important to point out that I value your input. You made me realize that I was a bit biased about the position, thank you for that! Nevertheless, I'm not convinced by your argument to reject keeping the bishop on c5. Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 18:11

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