The Saemisch Variation by Jan Werle
A review by Philipp Hillebrand
Those who open with 1.d4 as White are usually aiming to control the game as much as possible. This usually happens thanks to a space advantage. There are many good answers against the d-pawn advance available, but in my experience the King’s Indian Defence has a popular status among club players, since the attacking scheme in closed structures is mostly clear-cut and often very deadly for a white king on g1.
Moreover, a King’s Indian player likes to play its first moves on autopilot. The black player usually advances his pawns on the kingside, and if a black pawn appears on g3, it usually becomes almost impossible to save the white king. Black usually voluntarily neglects the queenside, since the mate attack is a priority for both sides. In my experience, these are the reasons for the popularity of the King’s Indian Defence.
The Saemisch Variation is aimed precisely against such scenarios because, on the one hand, the white player not infrequently plays long castle or even leaves his monarch in the centre! The strong pawn chain on g2-f3-e4-d5-c4 justifies this admittedly risky strategy.
The initial position of the DVD arises after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3. This pawn move, named after the successful German player Friedrich Saemisch, characterizes the theme of the space advantage with a white pawn on d5. After 5…0-0 the Dutch author prefers to continue with the knight move 6.Nge2, since it is not apparent whether the white bishop is most effective on e3 or g5. The strength of the Saemisch Variation is proven by the fact that Robert James Fischer also had his difficulties with it and suffered a total of five defeats against this system — two of them are included in the sample games section.
The DVD is divided into the setups available for Black.
- The Panno Variation: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 Nc6
- The Byrne Variation: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 a6
- Variations with …Nbd7: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 Nbd7
- Classical setup with …e5 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 e5
- Benoni structures: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 c5 7.d5
This DVD has a structure that is relatively new to me, but which makes an excellent impression. In the first section, all the games considered are introduced employing short videos, so that one gets a first feeling for the variations discussed later in the video. The other subchapters offer hyperlinks to analyses and sample games. Then the theoretical studies are presented. This is followed by short videos called ‘Memory Markers’, in which the aim is to repeat the variations presented. Then two to three sample games are presented on the topic, and the whole thing ends with interactive video lessons — this is the part that was offered at the end of many other DVDs under ‘Bonus’.
I think this kind of structuring is excellent, as the listener is challenged to become active earlier, which should make it easier to memorize what has been learned! At the very end, training options are offered via apps, which allows you to use the study material extensively and practically.
Already at this first part, the repertoire presented by the author is pleasing, since several setups and general ideas are presented — as is the case around the question of the bishop development to e3 or g5. The Panno Variation is characterized by the fact that the black player wants to prepare …b5 with …a6 and …Rb8:
This position arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 Rb8
Now the Dutch GM offers two playable continuations in 9.Rc1 and 9.Nc1. The rook move, however, is more subtle and the real recommendation, since here one is also confronted with the topic of prophylaxis. If the black player now continues consistently with 9…b5, after 10.cxb5 axb5 11.Sxb5 he loses a pawn because of the x-ray effect of the c1-rook against the c6-knight. Thus, Black must first cover the knight, e.g. by playing 9…Bd7.
Now White again continues shrewdly with 10.Nd1!?. This move is again directed against Black’s idea of pushing the b-pawn, since now it is possible to play c5, after which White has an advantageous pawn structure. In addition, the white knight can move to f2, where it does excellent service. On the one hand, it supports the central point e4 once more, and it supports an aggressive approach around g2-g4.
The approach on the kingside with g2-g4 and h2-h4 is one of the possible main ideas in the Saemisch setup, which, however, does not always need to be played for an advantageous position, as playing in the centre can also be very promising.
The end of the main game under this recommendation looks as follows.
White is very well-developed, and his minor pieces have secure bases behind the pawn phalanx.
If you followed the World Cup recently, you probably noticed the following position in a game between GM Sam Shankland and GM Peter Svidler.
The preceding moves were 1.d4 Sf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4!? Bg7 4.Nc4 d6 5.e4 Nc6 6.Nge2 0-0 7.f3 e5 8.d5 Nd4 9.Be3 c5 10.dxc6 bxc6 11.Nxd4 exd4 12.Bxd4 Rb8.
Shankland won a brave and well played game. Werle explores a very similar setup with 9.Nc1 instead of 9.Rc1:
One of the differences lies in the position of the white queen on d2 and the advancement of the h-pawn by White. GM Werle examines the position which arises after 1. d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 Rb8 9.Nc1 e5 10.d5 Nd4 11.Nge2 c5 12.dxc6 bxc6 13.Nxd4 exd4 14.Bxd4.
You can see how up-to-date GM Werle’s material is at this point!
In this chapter two moves are examined, but this time it is the black player who decides between two playable sub-variations. A pawn sacrifice proposed by GM Alexander Grischuk is quite remarkable, and it is helpful to know something about it:
This position arises after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 a6 7.Be3 b5!? and it is comparable to a Benko Gambit — the compensation on the open a and b-files can become very unpleasant. The response suggested by GM Werle relies on a very compact position, which in the end looks like this, where Black has to prove his compensation once and again:
Compared to the Benko Gambit, White still has the light-squared bishop, and thus control over the squares d3 and c4, which is an advantage for him, as it makes it more difficult for the black pieces to settle on these squares.
In the main variation following 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Nge2 a6 7.Be3 c6 the author presents the interesting move 8.c5!?, intending to make the most of the weakened b6-square, which can be the case after …b5 dxb6. Here again one finds game material by GM Shankland, so it is quite possible that he was intensively working around these moves, and it is worthwhile to study his games!
The discussed sample game between GM Dmitry Bocharov and GM Dmitry Kryakvin, 1-0 (44) from Nizhnij Nagil 2014 shows remarkably that White might also win with a direct attack against the opposite king.
This section is characterized by two quite different scenarios. On the one hand, an open central structure when Black continues with …e5 and exd4; and on the other hand, a closed structure following …e5 d5, when as mentioned above White gets a space advantage.
After taking on d4, Black usually has to deal with the Maroczy structure. If he then also places the c-pawn on c6 to generate dynamic potential around the breakthrough with …d5, he runs the risk that the backward or isolated black d-pawn at the end of the variations become a long-term liability. Overall, then, the open structures become more complex, and there is a lot to calculate for both sides.
The last black move was …d5. At first, it seems that the subsequent entanglements are okay for him. But the white developmental advantage and, above all, the undeveloped a8-rook suggest that it is rather White who will benefit from the positional opening, thanks to his active pieces.
An example of how safe the white king can feel behind a stable chain in the centre is shown in the following position.
Standing on c2, the king has very little to fear, especially since White controls the b5-square more times than his opponent. On the kingside, however, the tension looks different, and it is the safety of the black king that seems more at risk.
In general, in this chapter we deal with a closed structure, where Black wants to push his f-pawn. However, as already mentioned, this is less dangerous for the white king if it does not protect itself on the kingside.
The last move was 13…Nh7, and White cannot avoid an opening of the f-file, but he does not need to show too much disinterest in it, since it also makes the black king more vulnerable.
Once again, it is a manoeuvre which White can ‘afford’, thanks to the stable position in the centre around the spearhead on d5. By means of 14.Nd1!?, White can effectively regroup his troops, and despite the c-file being open, to castle long is not excluded from the possibilities — another common motif is to place the king comfortably on b1 or a1 in order to then be able to play with Rc1 along the c-file. After all, the real weaknesses in the black camp are the on c7 and d6!
As one might expect, the ‘best’ comes at the end. In this case, however, it is more a question of looking at the aspects of dynamics and concrete calculation or evaluation.
Not infrequently, the outcome in Benoni structures depends on which strategy can be implemented more effectively. The activity of the black pieces is supposed to outweigh the chronic weakness of the black pawn on d6. Often the white knight on e2 is not in a good position, which is why it should be transferred to other squares. Especially in these structures, c4 is the optimal square for the knight. Another recurring idea is to disturb the white g3-knight with …h5-h4-h3.
The last black move was …h4, and the white knight is compelled to move again. However, this is anything but unpleasant, since via f1-d2 it can end up on the beautiful c4-square.
Another ‘historical route’ is presented in the following diagram.
The white knight on g3 is not very useful at the moment. Therefore, he sets off for other realms with 14.Nh1! — it continues with Nf2 and perhaps even d1-e3 to reach the all-important c4-square.
In my opinion, this is a very strong DVD by GM Jan Werle and certainly an optimal complement to the work of GM Marco Baldauf, who examines 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3(!) intending to make life difficult for a Gruenfeld player.
So you have two very popular openings ‘under control’. On this DVD the Dutch GM explains the typical pawn structures, regroupings, levers and other important strategic elements in a clear and comprehensible way. Especially when one has understood that it is important to use the e2-knight sensibly — i.e. to bring it into more effective positions — one has already learned a lot from this DVD. The discussion of sample games in interactive form makes a particularly good impression!
I highly recommend it, and I think that players with a rating over 1600 cannot go wrong with this product. I give it a 5/5 score without hesitation.