Monday, 23 May 2011

The Return of the Lion

It's quite a while since I posted an article here (and wrote a similar one for CHESS Magazine) about The Black Lion.

Kevin Winter, my long-term friend and former Guisborough Chess Club teammate (back in the 1980s), is also interested in this opening and has played it more than 20 times.

After 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3, Kevin prefers to avoid 'The Lion's Yawn' (3 ...e5 4 dxe5 dxe5 5 Qxd8+) and heads for 'The Lion's Claw' with 3 ...Nbd7 and only then 4 ...e5, preventing the exchange of Queens. The Claw's intention is to rip White to shreds with a Kingside attack (...g5, ...Rg8, ...Nf8-g6-f4 etc).

Beware! This man and his Lion want to rip you to shreds

The Lion has brought Kevin plenty of wins. He sent me a database of his games with the system so let's take a look at some highlights.

Kevin has faced six different White moves from this position, namely: Bc4, dxe5, Be2, Be3, d5 and Bg5.

6 Bc4 was the most common choice, developing a piece to a central location and eyeing up the f7 pawn. I think it's a move Black Lion players can expect to see very frequently over the board.

After 6 ...h6, White may be under the impression that Black is merely worried about Bxf7+ followed by Ng5, or even Ng5 first in some lines. However, Black can happily allow the sacrificial lines (as long he has read the analysis in The Black Lion book). Kevin prefers to cut down on the need to memorize all of those lines and as he intends to play The Lion's Claw anyway, then 6 ...h6 kills two birds with one stone.

White has a choice again. The majority of Kevin's opponents played 7 0-0, which is very sensible. He also faced 7 h3 (the sort of move Lion players love to see - the Kingside attack will have more to bite on) and once he even encountered the exotic 7 g4.

After 7 0-0, Kevin continues with... 7 ...Be7 8 h3 A surprisingly popular choice by Kevin's opponents. 8 ...c6 Now there's another big choice for White. 9 a4 9 Be3 and 9 dxe5 have also been played against Kevin. 9 ...Qc7 and now after either 10 Re1 or 10 Qe2, Kevin likes to establish the typical Lion's Claw position with 10 ...g5

Black's moves up to this point can be played instantly. The potential for a Kingside attack is obvious; Black can play one or more of ...Rg8, ...Nd7-f8-g6,...Nh5-f4, ...h5 and ...g4. White players may now be regretting playing an early h3.

Adopt The Lion - and play with pride

Let's take a look a few moves down the line to see how things have progressed.

What's not to like? Black's attack is rolling on and his own King is remarkably safe in the centre. 17 ...h5 18 f3 hxg4 19 hxg4 Bxg4!

...and Black has a terrific position, although the game was eventually drawn due to mutual time-trouble.

Kevin proving he sometimes plays with White

The ...h5 lunge proved effective in another game too:

17 ...h5! and I'd definitely prefer to be Black here.

It may appear somewhat stereotyped to keep playing the same moves and themes as Black, but when it ends up this good, who cares about that?

Here, after 15 Rb1, Kevin crashed through with 15 ...g4 16 hxg4 Bxg4 17 Be3 Rd8! and the White Queen is struggling to defend the Knight on f3. 18 Bd3 allows the crunching 18 ...Nxg2!

In the game, White played 18 Bxf4 but resigned after 18 ...Rxd1

White sometimes tries to cover all of Black's lunges with pawn moves, but it usually ends badly.

In this game, Kevin could have played the standard 'sacrifice' 14 ...Nf4! He didn't, but he went on to win anyway.

It's not only Knights who can sacrifice themselves. In the next position, a different Minor piece gets in on the act.

21 ...Bxh3! Now both 22 Kxh3 Qd7+ 23 Kh2 Qg4 and 22 gxh3 Rxg1 are clearly winning for Black. The game continued: 22 bxc6 Bxg2 23 Nb5 Rg4 24 f3 and now 24 ...Rg3 was the best continuation, forcing White to surrender the Queen.

Rooks can get in on the act too, as the following snippet demonstrates.

22 ...Rxg2+ 23 Kxg2 Qg5+ with a King hunt. Few people enjoy having their King kicked around.
24 Kh2 Qf4+ 25 Kh1 0-0-0 26 Rg1 cxd5 27 exd5 Bb5 28 Qxb5 Qxf3+ 29 Rg2 Bxf2 ...
and the White King is still uncomfortable.

Kevin in action against David Wise

Here's another position ripe for a Kingside assault.

Kevin crashed through the barriers with 20 ...fxg3 21 fxg3 Bc5+ 22 Kh1 (22 Kg2 is better, but still not very inspiring) 22 ...Ng4

It is clear that White faces great problems and it should be no surprise that Black went on to win.

Inspirational stuff! Come on folks, it's time you added The Lion to your opening repertoire.

Kevin in a good mood. He's just worked out that there isn't a single
White opening move which can prevent his favourite 1 ...d6

For more information on this fascinating opening, head for The Lion's Den.


Anonymous said...

Isn't 5.g4 a la Shirov the most critical line ?

Jerry van Rekom said...


Nice article and good to see the games of Kevin in this way. Probably - if I got some more time - I place an article on about Kevin's games.

Jerry van Rekomn

Sean Marsh said...

@ laramonet: 5 g4 is indeed becoming more popular, but club players - taken by surprise -seem reluctant to try it. Maybe Kevin's next set of opponents will give it a go.

@ Jerry: Thank you! It was good to see The Lion in action again. Kevin's Kingside attacks are inspirational examples.