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In a London system course, when explaining the following line, the author mentions that with 4.Ne5 "White is creating a big positional threat of Nxg4."

[FEN ""]
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 Bg4 4.Ne5

I don't understand what's the threat. Even if White plays aggressively, let's say with

[FEN ""]
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 Bg4 4.Ne5 e6 5.Nxg4 Nxg4 6.e4 Nf6 7.e5 Nfd7

Sure, White has more space, but I don't see it being dramatic. In fact, in the only masters game in which Black left the bishop in g4, White didn't take it https://lichess.org/8fgM6xR1.

What's the positional thread?

1 Answer 1

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Bishop pair

When White plays Nxg4 he gets the bishop pair. While it doesn't translate into an immediate breakthrough, this is a valuable positionnal plus that will be felt later on, when the game opens up. Having it as early as move 5, without making concession, is a small but clear achievement for White.

You might argue that this gain costed White 2 tempi (Ne5-Nxg4), but actually Black will lose time with their stranded knight on g4 too (most probably Nxg4-f6).

Concretely, after 4...e6 5.Nxg4 Nxg4, White can either :

  • try to exploit the floating Ng4 as you mentionned: 6.e4 Nf6! 7.e5 Nfd7 8.Bd3, intending c3, Nd2-f3, h4...

  • try to exploit the slight weaening of the light squares: 6.c4 intending Nc3, either e3 or e4, possibly Db3 hitting b7 and d5. This is riskier but may succeed in opening the center faster.

  • continue slowly as if nothing happened : e3, Bd3, Nd2, 0-0... expecting the stength of the light-squared bishop to reveal itself later in the game, possibly after c2-c3 and e3-e4.

In any case, Black's position doesn't collapse immediately but any grandmaster would gladly take White. That's the kind of position we used to evaluate as +/=, althought nowadays it's probably just +0.15...

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    Amusingly, after 5...e6?!, the computer plays the standard whack-the-bishop I'm fond of too (Caro-Kann): 6.f3 Bh5 7.g4 Bg6 8.h4 h5/6 9.Nxg6 with +1.2 advantage. 6.Nxg4 Nxg4 is only +0.4 :-) Jul 21, 2023 at 20:14
  • @HaukeReddmann : you're right, 4...e6? is losing outright for another, tactical reason. I should have concentrated instead on another way for Black to ignore the positional threat of 5.Nxg4, possibly 4...c5, 4...c6 or 4...Nbd7. But I was lured away because 4...e6? is considered in the question itself...
    – Evargalo
    Jul 23, 2023 at 10:51

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