New Zealand Chess Magazine, October 2018

Introduction to The Berlin Defence, by Daniel Han

I first learned the Berlin defence in 2008. I was a junior engineer. For work reasons, I had to live in a holiday park cabin for two months. I became bored and bought a copy of Kramnik's DVD "My path to the top". To an amateur chess player like myself, it was an eye-opener to hear Kramnik talking about his world championship matches, opening preparation, and of course the Berlin defence!

The Berlin defence has a reputation for solidity and drawishness and is sometimes called "the Berlin Wall". In 2000, Vladimir Kramnik used the line as a drawing weapon against Garry Kasparov in Classical World Chess Championship 2000.

The starting moves are  1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 (White's other moves such as 5.Re1, 5.Bxc6 and 5.Qe2 are harmless, and Black can neutralise them easily without much difficulty)  5...Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8

Moves are clickable

When I saw this position the first time, I thought that White must be close to winning because Black has violated all the classical chess laws that I knew of: White has castled and is ahead in development, and has a pawn majority on the king side. Black's king is stuck in the centre with still many pieces left on the board. But chess can be deceptive sometimes, and the general chess principles have to give way to concrete play.

Black's main advantage is that he has the bishop pair. With the queens off the board, it is not too dangerous for his king hanging around in the centre. Black's main objectives are to find a way to bring his rooks into the game (via d8, e8, h5, a5) and delay white's e6 breakthrough for as long as possible.

Black has two ways to hide the king. Either b7 (via c8) or e8. The b7 plan was played in the 1st and 3rd games of the Kasparov - Kramnik match. The e8 idea appeared played in the 9th and 13th games of the match. Depending on what White does, Black normally places the c8 bishop either on c6 or e6, the knight on either c6, g6 or f5.

Although there are no sharp lines in the opening, both players have to be very careful with the move orders, a slight inaccuracy from White can lose his chance to fight for an opening advantage. Black always need to watch out for white's f4-f5-e6 pawn breakthough.

I very much enjoyed playing the Berlin because it offers original and interesting positions to play with.

It should be mentioned that white's most popular move to avoid the Berlin is 4. d3. Anyone wanting to play the Berlin as Black must be prepared to play this sideline.

Two of my games against strong opposition follow.

Steadman, Mike - Han, Daniel Waikato Open 2008

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8

Moves are clickable

9.Nc3 h6 10.Bf4 Be6 11.h3 Be7 12.g4 Nh4 13.Nd4 Bd7 14.Rfd1 Kc8 15.Bg3 h5 16.Bxh4 Bxh4 17.Nf5 hxg4 18.hxg4 Bxf5 19.gxf5 Rh5


20.Rd4 Be7 21.Rf4 Kd7 22.Rd1+ Ke8 23.Ne4 Rd8 24.Rxd8+ Kxd8 25.Ng3 Rh6 26.Kg2 c5 27.Ra4 a6 28.Rg4 Bf8 29.Nf1 b5 30.c4 Kd7 31.Ne3


31...g6 32.fxg6 Rxg6 33.Rxg6 fxg6 34.f4 Ke6 35.Kf3 g5 36.Ke4 gxf4 37.Nd5 f3 38.Nf4+ Kd7 39.Kxf3 bxc4 40.Ke4 c6 41.Kf5 Bh6 42.Ne2 Ke7 43.Ke4 Ke6 44.Nf4+ Ke7 45.Kf5 a5 46.Ng6+ Ke8 47.Nf4



Smith, Robert W - Han, Daniel Waitakere Trust Open-A 2010

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Nc3 Bd7 10.Bf4 h6 11.Rad1 Kc8 12.h3

Moves are clickable

12...Ne7 13.Rd2 Be6 14.Nd4 Nd5 15.Nxe6 fxe6 16.Ne2 b5 17.Bg3 Bc5 18.Rc1 Kb7 19.c4 bxc4 20.Rxc4 Bb6 21.Rdc2 g5 22.a3 Ne7 23.Kf1 Rad8 24.Ke1 Rhf8 25.h4 Rd7 26.hxg5 hxg5 27.Ng1 Nf5 28.Nf3 Rd5


29.Rg4 Rg8 30.Rd2 Nxg3 31.Rxd5 cxd5 32.fxg3 Be3 33.Ke2 Bc1 34.Kd1 Be3 35.Ke2 Bc1 36.Ne1 Rh8 37.Nd3 Rh1 38.Rb4+ Kc6 39.Ra4 Rg1


40.Ra6+ Kd7 41.Nc5+ Kd8 42.Kf2 Rd1 43.Nxe6+ Ke7 44.Nxc7 Bxb2 45.e6 Be5 46.Nb5 Rb1 47.Nxa7


47...Bd4+ 48.Kf3 Bxa7 49.Rxa7+ Kxe6 50.a4 Rb4 51.a5 Ra4 52.a6 g4+ 53.Ke3 Ke5 54.Re7+ Kf6 55.Rh7 Kg6 56.Ra7 Kf6 57.Ra8 Ke5 58.Re8+ Kf6 59.Rh8 Ke5 60.Re8+ Kf6 61.Rh8 Ke5 62.Rh5+ Kf6 63.Rxd5 Rxa6 64.Ke4 Ra4+ 65.Rd4 Ra2 66.Kf4


66...Rxg2 67.Rd6+ Kg7 68.Kxg4 Rg1 69.Kf4 Rg2 70.g4 Ra2 71.Re6 Ra4+ 72.Kf5 Ra5+ 73.Kf4 Rb5 74.Kg3 Kf7 75.Ra6 Kg7 76.Kh4 Rc5 77.g5 Rc1 78.Ra7+ Kg6 79.Ra6+ Kg7 80.Kh5 Rh1+ 1/2-1/2