Thursday, 8 May 2008

The Lion: Roars, Claws and Very Few Draws

The famous book ‘The Lion: The Black Weapon’ is due to be revised and reprinted by New in Chess towards the end of 2008.

Inspired by the original book, I used the system as my main weapon for Black over the course of 2006-7. I recently surveyed my Lion experiences and this resulting article may be of interest to club players looking for a new and/or surprise weapon.
I make no claim for presenting perfect play in the following games (far from it) but will hopefully show that one can reach fresh and interesting positions using The Lion.

My first attempt came in a local league match, against a lifetime 1 e4 devotee. However, I was surprised to see 1 d4 appear on the board. Fortunately I had been preparing various ideas after 1 d4 d6 so gave it a try. White then replied 2 e4 so we back in the territory I was originally hoping for.

Richardson,D - Marsh,S
Elmwood v Hungarians
Cleveland League

1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.f3 e5 4.d5 c6 5.c4 Nxe4 6.fxe4 Qh4+ 7.Kd2 Qxe4 8.Nc3 Qd4+ 9.Ke1 Qb6 10.Nf3 Be7 11.Bd3 f5

After many adventures Black went on to win 0-1 (58)

I subsequently tried the sacrifice again but it didn’t turn out very well.

Sams,J - Marsh,S
SME League of Champions (2)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.f3 e5 4.d5 c6 5.c4 Nxe4 6.fxe4 Qh4+ 7.Kd2 Qxe4 8.Qf3 Qd4+ 9.Bd3 cxd5 10.cxd5

I should have tried 10...Bg4 here. Perhaps 9...f5 was an improvement too.

10...Be7 11.Nc3 0–0 12.Nge2 Qb6 13.g4!

Now it took a lot longer to organise …f5 than I’d have liked. Jonathan kept the lid on the Black tactics and went on to win nicely. 1-0 (37)

I concluded it was too risky for anything other than blitz but was surprised to see a further example, in the recent book by GM Joel Benjamin. (

The specific position I was especially keen to test is:

This variation is known as The Lion's Yawn. Yet care must always be taken with big cats, whether they are yawning or growling.

I had some very enjoyable games in this line.

Edmunds, D - Marsh,S
Cleveland Individual Championship 2005-6 (5)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bc4 Be6 7.Bxe6 fxe6 8.f4

(A model game for Black was played over a decade ago and formed part of my preparation. Many of Black’s aims are perfectly demonstrated, particularly with the advance of pawn mass in the ending. I found it one of Brian Stephenson's ( tournament bulletins.

Edmunds, D - Wall, T Sheffield Open (3), 14.04.1995
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bc4 Be6 7.Bxe6 fxe6 8.Be3 Bd6 9.0–0–0 Ke7 10.f3 Nc6 11.Nge2 Rhf8 12.Nb5 a6 13.Nxd6 cxd6

14.Rd2 b5 15.Rhd1 Rfd8 16.Bg5 Rac8 17.a3 Na5 18.Rd3 Nc4 19.Nc3 h6 20.Bxf6+ gxf6 21.Nb1 Rc6 22.b3 Nb6 23.Rc3 Rxc3 24.Nxc3 f5

25.exf5 exf5 26.Nd5+ Nxd5 27.Rxd5 Ke6 28.Rd2 Rc8 29.Rd3 h5 30.Kd1 Rg8 31.Rd2 Rc8 32.Rd3 f4 33.c3 Rg8 34.Rd2 d5 35.Rb2 e4 36.fxe4 dxe4 37.c4 f3 38.g3 e3

39.cxb5 Rd8+ 40.Ke1 f2+ 0–1 )

Black is already better! Dave said that after the Wall game he had concluded that the Black centre must be attacked as early as possible. Yet such trouble can rebound on the lesser-developed forces.

9.Bd2 exf4 10.e5 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Ne4 12.Bxf4 Nxc3 13.Ne2

Hoping that the development will compensate for the loss of the pawn. Black is very well off here though, with no weaknesses (e6 can't be attacked!), a better Minor piece and a target on e5.

Black consolidated and went on to win the ending.
13...Nxe2 14.Kxe2 h6 15.Rad1+ Ke7 16.Rd3 Nc6 17.Rb1 Rab8 18.Ke3 Rhd8 19.Rxd8 Nxd8 20.g4 Nf7 21.h4 g6 22.Ke4 b6 23.a4 A reasonable plan - the aim is to destroy the Queenside. However, Black's switch to the Kingside is decisive. 23...Rd8 24.c4 g5 25.hxg5 hxg5 26.Be3 (26.Bg3 Rd2 or 26 ...c5 both highlight the defects in the other Bishop retreat.) 26...Rh8 27.c5 Rh4 28.Bxg5+ Desperation. If g4 drops then e5 goes with it and Dave didn't fancy the passive 28 Rg1. 28...Nxg5+ 29.Kf4 Nf7 30.cxb6 axb6 31.a5 bxa5 32.Ra1

32.…Nxe5 A good simplification. 33.Kxe5 Rxg4 0–1

Stevens,B - Marsh,S
Elmwood v Whitby


1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bg5 Bd6 7.Bc4 Be6 8.Bxe6 fxe6 9.f3 a6

Despite some strange aspects to Black’s position, a deeper investigation of the position reveals a decent choice of middle game plans. In some cases, a sequence featuring…h6 and …g5 could be initiated, with a minority attack on the Kingside. If White castles on the Queenside then Black can consider a plan of action on that side of the board, with, for example, Rooks positioned on a8 and b8 and a general advance of the Queenside pawns. The doubled e-pawns control a lot of central squares and Black’s King turns out to be very happy on e7.

10.Nge2 h6 11.Be3 Nc6 12.a3 Ke7 13.Rd1 Raf8 14.Nc1 g5 15.h3 Nh5 16.N3e2 Nf4

White has played natural enough moves but somehow Black’s pieces have manage a better job of coordination. Black eventually made us of the semi-open g-file (after White exchanged Knights) and kept White tied down with Kingside defensive chores while organising a final break on the Queenside.

Final position after 37...d3 0-1

Stephenson,N - Marsh,S
SME Match Championship SF (2)


1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bc4 A natural sequence for White, hard to resist over the board. 6...Be6 7.Bxe6 fxe6 ...and Black has to put up with some funny looks from bystanders for a little while... 8.Bg5 Bd6 9.Nf3 Nc6 10.0–0–0 h6 11.Be3 11 Bxf6 would help Black. So would 11 Bh4 g5 12 Bg3 Nh5. Now 11 ...Ng4 can be met by 12 Bc5. 11...Ke7

12.h3 a6 13.Nd2 Possibly heading for c5 but highlighting the lack of serious plans available to White. The Knights really struggle! 13...b5 14.f3 e4 needed support but a future ...Nf4 is now more tempting for Black as the K-side pawns are more vulnerable. 14...Nd4 15.Rhe1 Nh5 Black has the initiative and, more importantly, can improve his position more than White can. 16.Ne2 c5 17.Nb1 Hoping to double up quickly on the d-file after 18 c3 Nxe2+ 19 Rxe2 and 20 Red2 17...g5 18.c3 Rac8!
A well-known idea! Black's energy grows... 19.Kd2 Nc6 Planning on rerouting the Knight to c4 via a5. 20.Rg1 With White running low on time he tries to cover the weaknesses. At least g2 will not drop off by accident. 20...Nf4 21.Ke1 Na5 22.Kf2 The culmination of a remarkable King journey! 22...c4 23.Nxf4 Couldn't allow the beast into d3. 23...exf4 24.Bd4 Rhg8 I missed White's clever 25th move! 24...e5 was better.

25.Bf6+ Kxf6 26.Rxd6 With a draw offer. White was low on time but I still had a decent amount in reserve. The extra space, better King, the weaknesses on g2 and d3....all added up to a solid advantage so I played on...

26...Nc6 27.Rgd1 White gained a few quick, easy moves to help the time situation. 27...Rgd8 28.Rxd8 Rxd8 29.Rxd8 Nxd8 30.b3 cxb3 31.axb3 Nc6 32.Ke2 Ke5 33.Kd3 Interesting...the White King feels obliged to patrol the centre and Q-side - but g2 is left to its fate! 33...Kd6 34.Nd2 Ne5+ 35.Kd4 Ng6 36.c4 e5+ 37.Kc3 Nh4 38.Kb4 Kc6 49.Ka5 Nxg2 40.Kxa6 b4 Once I'd found the idea of ...b4 and ...Kc5 it was clear that Black has the win. 41.Nf1 Ne1 42.Nh2 h5 43.Ka5 Kc5 44.Ka4 Nd3 45.Nf1 Nf2

45 ...Nb2+ and 46 ...Nxc4 was another way to do it 46.h4 g4 0–1

Hartston,W - Marsh,S
Yarm School Simul.

I was delighted to be able test out The Lion against IM Bill Hartston, formerly England’s top player.

1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8 6.Bc4 Be6 7.Bxe6 fxe6 8.Be3 Bd6 9.f3 a6 10.0–0–0 Ke7 11.Nge2 Nbd7

12.Kb1 b5 13.Rd2 Rhb8 14.Nd1 Nb6 (Heading for c4; if White stops it with 15 b3 then Black’s Queenside advance will have a weakness to bite on. White‘s own Knights will continue to struggle to find employment.) 15.Bxb6 Rxb6 16.c3 16...c5 17.Ne3 c4 18.h3 Bc5 19.Nc2 Rbb8 ½–½

Black seems very comfortable in the final position and perhaps the draw was agreed a shade too early, but you know what simuls are like…

4 Nf3, officially leading to a Philidor Defence, is another very popular choice. True Lion fans will be pleased to try out The Lion’s Claw - an ambitious Kingside attack.

Wise,D - Marsh,S
SME Match Final (1)


1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 h6 6.0–0 Be7 7.Re1 c6 8.a4 Qc7 9.b3 g5

The plan of attack is clear to see. Moves such as …Rg8, and…Nf8-g6-f4 are clearly on the agenda. Black’s King may have to stay in the centre but it’s not all that easy for White to get to it. Over the board, with the clock ticking and Black playing the first dozen or so moves very quickly, it’s easy to see that a lot players in the White position could certainly feel the pressure.
Later in the game we reached this interesting position.

I played 17...Rd8 to defend d6. Later I discovered that 17...0-0-0 is better, clearing the way for the Queen’s Rook to eventually join in on the Kingside. 18 Qxa7 would be bad due to 18...d5! with threats of 19...Bxa3 and 19...Nf3+ with 20...Qxh2+ to follow.

The game was drawn some time later; a decent enough result as Black in the first game of a tough match.

Price,B - Marsh,S
SME League Of Champions (6)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 h6 6.0–0 Be7 7.h3 c6 8.a4 Qc7 9.a5 Nf8 10.Qe2 g5

White has played good, natural moves but 7 h3 - a common mistake - has granted Black a convenient target. Indeed, it proved to be fairly easy to crack open the g-file and create serious pressure.

11.Be3 g4 12.hxg4 Bxg4 13.Qd1 13...Rg8 14.Be2 Bh3 15.Nh4 Ng4 16.Bxg4 Rxg4 17.Kh2 Rxh4 18.gxh3 exd4 19.Bxd4 d5+ 20.e5 Qd7 21.Qd3

Here I missed a speedy conclusion with 21...c5 (with 22 Be3 d4 to follow). I thought 21...Ne6 (still hoping for 22 Be3 d4 but with the added threat of 22...Nf4) was doing the same sort of thing but missed that 22 Ne2! not only protected f4 but meant that the Knight and Bishop could no longer be pawn-forked. Bernie continued to defend very resourcefully but Black eventually won in a Rook and pawn ending. 0-1 (62)

Trotter,A - Marsh,S
Elmwood Ch. 2006-7 (3)

Playing against a King’s Indian structure made it tough to get the Kingside attack going…

1.e4 d6 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d3 Nbd7 4.g3 e5 5.Bg2 c6 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.0–0 Qc7 8.Re1 h6

Indeed, Alan kept the Lion at bay throughout the middlegame and it was only later on that the Black Knights were able to spring into action…

…helped by the pawn sacrifice 31...e4, clearing the critical e5 square for equestrian manoeuvres. 0-1 (46)

I won another couple of games against more unusual White tries.

Gee-Smith,M - Marsh, S
SME KO Championship

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.d5 c6 5.Bg5 Be7 6.dxc6 bxc6 7.Bxf6 Bxf6

Craven,L - Marsh,S
Elmwood Ch. 2006-7,

1.e4 d6 2.Bb5+ c6 3.Ba4 Nf6 4.Nc3 e5

Black’s position was highly satisfactory in both cases.

By now, I was enjoying playing 1...d6 against all White openings, regardless of whether or not an early e2-e4 was on the agenda. The fresh positions can lead to confusion in the White ranks…

Creaney,M - Marsh,S
SME League of Champions

1.d4 d6 2.c4 e5 3.d5 f5
4.g3 Nf6 5.Bg2 Be7 6.Nc3 0–0 7.e4 a5 8.Qc2 Na6 9.exf5 Nb4 10.Qe2? Bxf5 11.Be4 Qd7 12.a3 Na6 13.Bxf5 Qxf5 14.Be3 Ng4 15.Rd1 Rae8

16...e4! 17.Qxe4 (17.Nxe4 Bg5! ) 17...Nxe3 Black will win at least a piece, so… 0–1

Garnett,J - Marsh,S
Elmwood Club Championship 2006-7 (5),

1.c4 d6 2.g3 e5 3.Bg2 f5 4.d4 Be7 (I'd grown accustomed to Queenless middlegames so didn't fear 5 dxe5.) 5.e3 Nf6 6.Nc3 0–0 7.Nge2 Qe8

Black is officially shaping up for a Kingside attack but the system is not a one-trick pony. Indeed, Black’s winning plan emerged on the other side of the board, demonstrating the system’s flexibility.

22...a4 and 0-1 (61)

Stop Press:

Here’s a (3-minute) game against Fritz 11 played just after this article was written:

Fritz 11 - Marsh,Sean

1.d4 d6 2.e4 Nf6 3.Bd3 e5 4.c3 Be7 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.0–0 c6 7.Be3 Qc7 8.Nbd2 h6 9.h3 g5 10.a4 Nf8 11.a5 Ng6 12.Qc2 Rg8

A very typical Lion’s Claw - and all played very quickly by Black.

13.dxe5 dxe5 14.a6 b6 15.Bc4 Nf4 16.Bb3 h5 17.Nc4 Nd7 18.Rad1 g4 19.hxg4 hxg4 20.Nh2 Bxa6 21.g3 Ne6 22.Qe2 Nf6 23.Bc2 Nf4

I’m sure most humans would rather be Black in this position.

24.gxf4 exf4 25.Bd4 f3 26.Qd3 0–0–0 27.Nd6+ Bxd6 28.Qxa6+ Kb8 29.e5 Bxe5 30.Bxe5 Qxe5 31.Rxd8+ Rxd8 32.Ra1 Qc7 33.Nf1 Rg8 34.Bf5 g3 35.Bd3 35...g2 36.Nh2

Hmmm…perhaps I should have won from here.

36...Nd5 37.Bf5 Nf4 38.Nxf3 Rh8 39.Nh2 Ne2+ 40.Kxg2 Rxh2+ 41.Kf1 Nf4 42.Be4 f5 43.Bxc6 Qh7 44.Ke1 Qe7+45.Kf1 Qh7 46.Ke1 Qe7+ 47.Kf1 Qh7 48.Ke1 ½–½

Inspirational material for 1...d6 players:

The Lion: The Black Weapon by J. van Rekom and L.B. Jansen
Visit The Lion website:

An Explosive Opening Repertoire For Black by J Yrjola & J Tella
Roman’s Lab VOL. 6: Opening Repertoire for Black by Roman Dzindzichashvili
Foxy Openings DVDs: Win With 1..d6 Parts 1 & 2 by Andrew Martin
A Black defensive System with 1...d6 by Andy Soltis
An opening repertoire for the attacking club player by Ray Keene and David Levy

Fritz Trainer: 1...d6 Universal by GM Nigel Davies (See the review here: )

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