I observed that after

[fen ""]

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.g3 Bg7 7.Bg2 O-O 8.O-O Nxd4 9.Qxd4 d6 10.Qd3

In many games, Black played the strange move 10...a6!? It has been played by top players like Kasparov, Anand and Carlsen.

What is the point of 10...a6? Is it a waiting move for White to reveal his hand? It seems like a preparation for a future b5, but why at this particular moment when Black could simply develop the bishop on f5 (10...Bf5)? Also, in some variations, the pawn could be useful on a5 so that Black's knight can rest comfortably on c5, so 10...a6 could be a waste of a move.

  • Here is the link to the question describing how to create chess diagrams. I think that my answer and response made to the member RauanSagit's comment will be helpful to you. Best regards. Feb 9 '14 at 3:40
  • Perhaps Black targets Qc7 + Be6 + Rc8 lineup to pressure c4 pawn and wishes to protect himself from Nb5 jump. Also, in some cases Black can play b5 to open lines which should give him compensation for the sacrificed pawn in view of active piece play. Just a thought... Best regards. Feb 9 '14 at 7:48

This position is discussed in many books, the consensus being that 10... a6 is the best and most flexible move. As you say, black waits for white to reveal their hand, and a6 is generally useful. Play could continue 10... a6 11. Be3 Bf5 or 10... a6 11. Bd2 Rb8.

The move 10... Bf5 is a serious alternative since it provokes 11. e4, blocking the diagonal for white's bishop. In this variation white would ideally like to hold back e4 to keep the diagonal open. Still, white can keep an advantage in various ways. Marin in Grandmaster Repertoire 5 says that white should try to emulate Smyslov-Timman, Moscow 1981.

White often chooses a set-up with Bd2, b3 and Rac1, leaving black's Bg7 bishop with nothing to attack. In such a position black needs the b5 break to create active play. Therefore playing a5 is usually not a good idea.


The starting position is the following (including the two options 10...a6 and 10...Bf5)

[FEN ""]
1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. g3 Bg7 7. Bg2 O-O 8. O-O Nxd4 9. Qxd4 d6 10. Qd3 a6 (10...Bf5).

Why did white choose Qd1-d3? First of all, this prepares to increase the control over the d-file with Rf1-d1 or Ra1-d1. Second of all, this protects the c4-pawn against Bc8-e6. Next, white is planning Rf1-d1 and c4-c5 to attack the d6-pawn. If black places the Queen on c7, then white has Bc1-g5xf6 followed by Nc3-d5xf6, ruining the enemy pawn structure.

Black's Bc8 has to guard the b7-pawn. Another piece has to take over this role, if the Bc8 wants to move to a better square. Black could try Qd8-b6 to protect the b7-pawn and put pressure on the enemy b2-pawn. Yet, 10...Qb6 is met by 11.Nb5 followed by 12.Be3. Black also has the thematic Nf6-d7-c5 or -e5. The problem is that white might have time with Nc3-d5 and Bc1-g5, which would cause trouble for the e7-d6 pawn chain. Black can also try Qd8-a5-h5, planning a kingside attack with Bc8-h3. Yet, 10...Qa5 is also met with 11.Nb5. Thus, 10...a6 prepares 11...Qa5 or 11...Qb6.

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