11

The Ulvestad variation starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 b5 Now white's best is 6.Bf1 Nd4 7.c3 leading to this position:


      [FEN ""]
      [StartPly "13"]

      1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 b5 6.Bf1 Nd4 7.c3

Usually play continues 7...Nxd5 8.cxd4 Qxg5 9.Bxb5+ Kd8 10.O-O! Bb7 11.Qf3 and here black has tried both 11...exd4 and 11...Rb8. I have had a game that continued 11...Rb8 12.dxe5 Ne3 13.Qh3 Qxg2+ 14.Qxg2 Nxg2 15.d4 Nh4 16.Bg5+ Be7 17.Bxh4 Bxh4 18.Nc3 Bf3 19.b3 Rb6 and we arrived at this position.


      [FEN ""]
      [StartPly "38"]

      1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 b5 6.Bf1 Nd4 7.c3 Nxd5 8.cxd4 Qxg5 9.Bxb5+ Kd8 10.O-O Bb7 11.Qf3 Rb8 (11...exd4) 12.dxe5 Ne3 13.Qh3 Qxg2+ 14.Qxg2 Nxg2 15.d4 Nh4 16.Bg5+ Be7 17.Bxh4 Bxh4 18.Nc3 Bf3 19.b3 Rb6

I think that this position is almost winning for white after 20.Bd3 since the checkmate threats are covered. For example, black can try 20...Rg6+ 21.Bxg6 hxg6 but 22.Rfd1!! and white should now be winning.


      [FEN ""]
      [StartPly "43"]

      1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 b5 6.Bf1 Nd4 7.c3 Nxd5 8.cxd4 Qxg5 9.Bxb5+ Kd8 10.O-O Bb7 11.Qf3 Rb8 (11...exd4) 12.dxe5 Ne3 13.Qh3 Qxg2+ 14.Qxg2 Nxg2 15.d4 Nh4 16.Bg5+ Be7 17.Bxh4 Bxh4 18.Nc3 Bf3 19.b3 Rb6 20. Bd3 Rg6 21. Bxg6 hxg6 22. Rfd1

So my question: is the Ulvestad in trouble, or is there some other variation that makes it playable? The only real alternative that I have found to the variation I gave above is 12...Nb4!?, but I have had several games as white where I won with 13.d4! Qg6 14.d5! Bxd5 15.Rd1! Rxb5 16.Nc3 followed by Rxd5.


      [FEN ""]
      [StartPly "31"]

      1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 b5 6.Bf1 Nd4 7.c3 Nxd5 8.cxd4 Qxg5 9.Bxb5+ Kd8 10.O-O Bb7 11.Qf3 Rb8 (11...exd4) 12.dxe5 Nb4 13.d4 Qg6 14.d5 Bxd5 15.Rd1 Rxb5 16. Nc3

Is there another option for black that keeps the Ulvestad alive, or should black be playing 5...Na5 or 3...Bc5 instead?

  • 1
    From the last diagram, after Bd3, would ..Rb4 work? it hits d4 and renews the threats at g4, haven't checked with a program though – PeskyGnat Jun 1 '12 at 16:56
  • @PeskyGnat 20...Rb4 is indeed interesting, off the top of my head 21.Be2 looks like the best way for white to continue. White should keep a significant edge there. If you do some more analysis, then by all means, post it as an answer! – Andrew Jun 1 '12 at 17:17
  • 10. ... Rb8 and 10. ... exd4 look like possible alternatives to Bb7. I'll post something later if someone doesn't beat me to it. – Eve Freeman Jun 1 '12 at 17:48
  • 10...Rb8 is bad as white plays Bc6! and black has lost counterplay on the long diagonal, but 10...exd4 11.d3 Nf4! 12.Bxf4 Qxb5! is an interesting approach. I'd love to see what you come up with! – Andrew Jun 1 '12 at 17:51
  • Have you looked at 20. ... f5? (after 20. Bd3) – Eve Freeman Jun 1 '12 at 18:05
14

First, I think this is an excellent question for this forum, so thanks for posting it. I'm going to use a mix of computer analysis with stockfish and crafty, and the chesstempo game database to respond.

Your main question: Is Ulvestad playable for black? I think is a definite yes. There are many options unexplored still, but I think even in your specific game black can at least draw with 20. ... f5 to counter 20. Bd3, and it's not a picnic for white, either--they have to play fairly precisely to keep it even. I'll get back to this at the end.

To avoid making this overly long (I can tell it's going to be long!), I'll just point out some of the unexplored options you don't cover in the question. For example, move 8 isn't set in stone with 8. cxd4, there are also:

8. Ne4
8. Nxf7
8. h4

But we'll continue down your line with 8. cxd4 Qxg5 9. Bxb5+ Kd8, after which the options for white look like:

10. O-O Rb8 11. Bc6 exd4 12. d3 Qf5 13. Re1 Nf6 14. Nd2 Qxd3 ... (+0.80 D25 - stockfish)
10. Qf3 exd4 11. Bc6 Nb4 12. Bxa8 Nc2+ 13. Kd1 Bg4 14. Kxc2 Qc5+ ... (+0.56 D25 - stockfish)

After 8. cxd4 Qxg5 9. Bxb5+ Kd8 10. O-O there are another few potential options:

enter image description here

10. ... exd4 11. Bc6 Rb8 12. d3 Qf5 13. Re1 Nf6 14. Nd2 Qxd3 15. Nb3 Qxd1 ...(+0.60 D29 - stockfish)
10. ... Rb8 11. Bc6 exd4 12. d3 Qf5 13. Re1 Nf6 14. Nd2 Qxd3 15. Nb3 Qxd1 ...(+0.60 D29 - stockfish) (transposes to above)
10. ... Bb7 11. Qf3 exd4 12. d3 Qe5 13. Nd2 Bd6 14. g3 a6 15. Ba4 Qf6 ... (+0.72 D29 - stockfish)
10. ... Qg6 11. dxe5 Rb8 12. Nc3 Nf4 13. Qf3 Bb7 14. Qg3 Nxg2 15. d4 Nh4 ...(+.80 D29 - stockfish)
10. ... Bg4 11. Qb3 Nf4 12. dxe5 Bd7 13. Qg3 Qxg3 14. fxg3 Ng6 15. Nc3 Bc5+ ...(+.84 D29 - stockfish) 

Again, we'll go with your line, 8. cxd4 Qxg5 9. Bxb5+ Kd8 10. O-O Bb7 11. Qf3, to which there are a few ideas possibly worth looking deeper at:

enter image description here

11. ... Rb8 12. dxe5 Ne3 13. Qh3 Qxg2+ 14. Qxg2 Nxg2 15. d4 Be7 16. Be2 Nh4 (+0.72 D26 - stockfish)
11. ... exd4 12. Re1 Be7 13. d3 Qf6 14. Nd2 Rb8 15. Bc4 Nb6 16. Qxf6 Bxf6 (+0.76 D26 - stockfish)
11. ... Qf4 12. Qxf4 exf4 13. Nc3 Nb4 14. Rb1 Bd6 15. d3 Nc2 16. d5 Nd4 (+1.01 D26 - stockfish)

Again we'll go with your line, 8. cxd4 Qxg5 9. Bxb5+ Kd8 10. O-O Bb7 11. Qf3 Rb8 12. dxe5 Ne3 13. Qh3 Qxg2 14. Qxg2 Nxg2 15. d4, and again black has several responses to explore:

enter image description here

15. ... Be7 16. f4 Nh4 17. Nc3 Nf3+ 18. Kf2 Nxd4 19. Rd1 c5 20. Be3 Bf3 (+0.84 D26 - stockfish)
15. ... f6 16. Be2 Nh4 17. f4 Bb4 18. Nd2 Nf5 19. Nc4 Ke8 20. Rd1 fxe5 (+0.92 D26 - stockfish)
15. ... Nh4 16. Bg5+ Be7 17. Bxh4 Bxh4 18. Nc3 Bf3 19. Rab1 Rb6 20. Bd3 Kc8 (+1.01 D25 - stockfish)
15. ... Kc8 16. f4 Nh4 17. Kf2 c5 18. Be3 Bg2 19. Nc3 Bxf1 20. Rxf1 cxd4 (+1.05 D25 - stockfish)

We're almost to the line you left us, but you can see you probably had several other possibilities. We'll continue with the line: 8. cxd4 Qxg5 9. Bxb5+ Kd8 10. O-O Bb7 11. Qf3 Rb8 12. dxe5 Ne3 13. Qh3 Qxg2 14. Qxg2 Nxg2 15. d4 Nh5 16. Bg5+ Be7 17. Bxh4 Bxh4 18. Nc3 Bf3 19. b3 Rb6 20. Bd3, which presents us with an interesting position.

enter image description here

It looks like my f5 idea was pretty good, as it seems to be a solid draw for black if both sides play perfectly (as far as I can tell). Interestingly enough, computers don't tend to see f5 until they get 30 deep or so. The goal being to get the h8 rook involved ASAP. If white slips up, they can be in for some pain.

There are two reasonable responses to 20. ... f5:

21. Ne2 Rg6+ 22. Ng3 Rf8 23. Rae1 (+0.32 D28 - stockfish)
21. Bxf5 Rc6 22. Nd1 Rf8 23. Ne3 Bg5 24. Bg4 Rg6 25. Bxf3 Bxe3+ 26. Kh1 Bxd4 (+0.00 D28 - stockfish)

The rest look like probable bad news:

21. e6 Rxe6 22. Bxf5 Rc6 23. Rac1 Rf8 24. Bd3 Bg5 25. Rc2 Rf4 (-0.92 D28 - stockfish)
21. exf6 gxf6 22. Bc4 f5 23. Rfe1 Rg6+ 24. Kf1 Rg2 25. Re3 Rxf2+ (-1.53 D28 - stockfish)
21. Rfe1 Rg6+ 22. Kf1 Rg2 23. Re3 Rxf2+ 24. Kg1 f4 25. Rxf3 Rxf3 (-2.14 D28 - stockfish)
21. Rfd1 Rg6+ 22. Kf1 Rg2 23. Rd2 Rxh2 24. Ke1 Bg5 25. Rdd1 c6 (-2.70 D28 - stockfish)

I let stockfish think about this position for several hours, and when it gets to about 30-31 deep, the score for both of the best moves dwindles to 0.00 or 0.08 (which indicates a likely draw). I played out several scenarios which involved different colored bishops and rooks that had easily defended pawns, but that couldn't obviously make progress. Or Rook+Knight vs Rook+Bishop. There were a few times that black had a bishop traded for a couple of pawns, but couldn't do anything with it. Never got to a 6 piece EGTB position--always too many pawns leftover. If someone can find a win for white with 20. ... f5, I'd like to see it!

Update 6-20-2012

21. Bxf5 seems to be a bad choice after 21. ... Rc6 22. Rfc1 Rf8.

enter image description here

I haven't looked at other moves other than 22. Rfc1 deeply yet (such as 22. Rac1 and 22. Nd1), but white doesn't have many good options at 23. 23. Bxh7 looks like it has potential, but after 23. ... g6 the bishop becomes hard to use. 23. Bd3 is in second place so far, 23. Bd4 is in third, and 23. Bb1 is in fourth, but they all score negative with 30 depth.

21. Ne2 looks like it offers white a few chances for draw by repetition several moves in. This line, for example (I need to check some of the others for black to see if there's something better than 21. ... Rg6+, but that seems unlikely): 21. ... Rg6+ 22. Ng3 Rg5 23. Rac1 f4 24. Rc3 Rf8 25. Rfc1 c6 26. Bb5 fxg3 27. hxg3 Bxg3 28. fxg3 Rxg3+ 29. Kh2 Rg2+ 30. Kh3 Rg6 31.Bxc6 Rh6+ 32.Kg3 Rg6+ 33.Kh3 ends with a pretty straightforward draw by repetition drawish looking position:

enter image description here

Another update: 21. Ne2 Rg6+ 22. Ng3 f4 23. Rfc1 Rg5 24. Rc3 Bb7 looks promising for black.

Update: Here is some analysis, if anyone is interested: http://mongochess.skeweredrook.com/ulvestad-variation

  • One's skill must be taken into account when analyzing. It's one thing to objectively state, "This move is bad" or "this move is best" which practically speaking Stockfish is doing (I'd wager none of us can defeat it.) However, the OP's question is "Is this playable?" So, assuming we're not GMs, does the variation create pitfalls for either side which produce an unbalanced and high chance of one side coming out ahead? – Tony Ennis Jun 2 '12 at 14:17
  • Consider a variation where if white plays like an 1800, he wins, but if black plays like a 2200, he can't lose. An "A" or "B" player might like these odds, as white. – Tony Ennis Jun 2 '12 at 14:21
  • First, I don't think any openings produce "an unbalanced and high chance of one side coming out ahead", otherwise everyone would play them (or avoid them). The goals of my analysis were to point out that there were several other possible moves to look at. In fact, going through it, black seemed to have more choices than white, who had to pick from 1 good move most of the time. – Eve Freeman Jun 2 '12 at 14:21
  • No argument and I'm not criticizing your posting (I +1'ed it earlier, in fact) I'm just pointing out that "playable" depends on the skill levels of the player. – Tony Ennis Jun 2 '12 at 14:23
  • I usually play the Na5 variation instead of b5, but I may give this one a go after spending a few hours looking at it. I don't think it requires GM abilities to play, especially if you've looked at these variations in advance (which is something you'd do if you really want to prepare for this opening, or any opening for that matter). – Eve Freeman Jun 2 '12 at 14:29
0

Yes, it is playable in my opinion. The starting position on the diagram may not be reflective of Black's best chances in the Ulvestad because it assumes that 6...Nd4 it best, while it scores much worse than 6...h6. After 6...h6 White scores only 47% according to Chessbase, I don't think you can find many opening lines as playable for Black as this (we're only on move 6).

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