The Clarendon Court Defence
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What to do as Black when facing 1. d4 and you need to play for a win? Most club strength players tend to be reasonably well prepared to meet 1. e4 because usually we learn the open games as beginners. Thus we are reasonably familiar with various 1. e4 e5 openings and, since we tend to open 1. e4 ourselves, we eventually see our fair share of Sicilians, French, Caro Kann and even the occasional Pirc/Rat. But if your opponent opens 1. d4, then the odds are that the usual Queen's Gambits, King's and Queen's Indians, the Dutch, Benoni and probably even the Benko Gambit will not be a surprise to them. However, there is a good chance that they will not be "booked up" on the Clarendon Court Defence. Have a look ...

[Event "Club Championship"] [Site "Kingston, Canada"] [Date "2003.03.24"] [Round "?"] [White "Profit B"] [Black "Coppin W"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A43"] [Opening "Clarendon Court"] 1. d4 c5 {Here is a bit of a disclaimer - my experienced opponent in this game is known to play the Benoni Defence and even received some tutoring as a Junior in the opening from then Canadian Olympic Team member IM Milan Vukadinov. Often players become uncomfortable facing openings that they prefer and will play less challenging sidelines to avoid their "go to" opening. However, White didn't even blink and confidently reached out to push his d-pawn.} 2. d5 f5 {Here is the real point of Black's home preparation. British IM J. Levitt recommends this rare offshoot of the Old Benoni - the Mujannah variation - if Black wants to play for a win. He calls it the Clarendon Court Defence. Most GMs and IMs dismiss it as unsound although as far as I know, there has been no direct tactical refutation. One thing is sure - most club players will either be completely surprised or at the very least, will not have much if any experience in playing the line and the unusual middlegames that tend to arise from it.} 3. c4 {Of all the ways to meet the defence, this is perhaps the most "responsible". As IM Levitt writes: "White has a number of different approaches to this position - I split them into three: A) attempts to smash the opening flat; e.g. 3 e4, 3 h4 and 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 f3 or B) the sharp main line: 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Qb6 and C) positional lines with g3 (with or without c4). In these lines play can resemble the Leningrad Dutch - Black often gets a weakness on e6, but has active and aggressive piece deployment to compensate. In my experience so far, the positional approach has been the most common (but usually only after a 20 min think)."} 3... g6 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. g3 d6 6. Bg2 Bg7 {Black's "hybrid" system is not easily cracked. From the Benoni, Black gets the strong Bg7 and the plan to play an eventual ...,b5 while from the Lennigrad Dutch Black gets play around e4 and the chance for aggressive kingside attacks using the f-file. In this game, White correctly takes dead aim at the weakness of e6. Obviously my opponent was familiar with the opening.} 7. Nh3 Na6 {Depending upon how the opening unfolds, Black's critter may go to b4 pressuring c2 and d5 or it may slip back to c7 overprotecting e6 and supporting a later b5.} 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 {Apparently White's prep. ended with both sides having castled. White's obvious intent is to play the seemingly attractive push to e4. However, in my personal opinion, this plan is dubious. The combination of g3 and e4 does not go well together because of the delay in development and the exposed Nh3. Now against the more consistent 9. Nf4 Black usually plays 9...,Nc7 10...,a6 11...,Rb8 and 12...b5. I should also note that 9. Rb1 intending a quick push to b4 also makes good positional sense for White. Anyone choosing to play the Clarendon Court would do well to pull out the databases and study the games featuring both those tries with White. In light of White's obvious (and arguably dubious) plan to play e4, I decided to offer a pawn for a messy position.} 9... Rb8 10. Nb5 Bd7 11. a4 {After 11.Nxa7,Qb6 Black recovers the pawn and has excellent play against b2 and d5. White can now win the a7 pawn outright, however the pawn chasing has cost him valuable time and distracted from the more critical tries to test Black's opening.} 11... Nb4 {The aggressive b4 outpost is just the start of Black's compensation.} 12. Nxa7 Ne4 {Now White cannot contest e4 either, underscoring the dubious 9. Re1. Needless to say, swapping on e4 would be positional suicide. Black would have the Two Bees, an open f-file, a tempo on the Nh3 and weak light squares around White's King to target. Meanwhile, the move prepares a nasty trap by taking d2 away from White's Bc1.} 13. Nb5 Qa5 14. f3 {This is the "natural" move in the position and it loses immediately. After the nonintuitive 14.Rf1 White can probably consolidate the booty but Black would still enjoy active aggressive piece play... more than enough to compensate for the pawn investment.} 14... Nc2 {Much stronger than the attractive 14...,Bxb5 15.cxb5,Nc3 when White simply plays 16.bxc3,Bxc3 17.Bd2 and laughs all over the dark squares.} 15. Qxc2 Qxe1+ 16. Bf1 Nxg3 {Exposing White's King is the quickest way to win.} 17. hxg3 Qxg3+ 18. Bg2 f4 {Now White either coughs up another Ex. or gets mated.} 19. Nxf4 Qe1+ {White resigned. Black has a dozen wins including the obvious ...,Rxf4. If you are looking for a super aggressive way to meet 1. d4 then the Clarendon Court may be just what the doctor ordered. However - do your homework first. This sword can just as easily cut both ways! The games below may help get you started.} 0-1

An Inspiring Miniature

[Event "Cup Rilton"] [Site "Stockholm (Sweden)"] [Date "1999"] [Round "5"] [White "Matros A 2391 (KAZ)"] [Black "Ehlvest J 2592 (USA)"] [Result "0-1"] [Eco "A43"] 1.d4 c5 2.d5 f5 3.e4 fxe4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.g4 g6 6.g5 Nh5 7.Nxe4 d6 8.Ng3 Nxg3 9.hxg3 Nd7 10.Nh3 Qb6 11.f4 Qb4+ 12.Kf2 Qd4+ 13.Be3 Qxb2 14.a4 Bg7 15.Rb1 Qa2 16.Ng1 Nb6 17.Bd3 Kd8 18.Ne2 Qxd5 19.c4 Nxc4 20.Bxc4 Qxc4 21.Rc1 Qe4 22.Bxc5 Bg4 23.Nc3 Qf5 0-1

Levitt gets a reality check

[Event "It"] [Site "New York (USA)"] [Date "1994"] [Round ""] [White "Alburt L 2560 (USA)"] [Black "Levitt J 2425 (ENG)"] [Result "1-0"] [Eco "A43"] 1.d4 c5 2.d5 f5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Qb6 5.Qd2 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.O-O-O d6 8.e4 g6 9.Bb5+ Nd7 10.exf5 Qxf5 11.Bd3 Qf7 12.Nb5 Kd8 13.Nf3 Bg7 14.Rhe1 Rf8 15.Kb1 g5 16.Re4 Qf6 17.c4 Qf7 18.Rde1 Ne5 19.Nxe5 Bxe5 20.f3 Bf6 21.Re6 b6 22.Be4 Bd7 23.Qd3 a6 24.Nc3 Qg7 25.Nd1 Kc7 26.g4 Rfb8 27.Ne3 b5 28.Qa3 Bxb2 29.Qa5+ Kc8 30.Kc2 Bf6 31.Nf5 Qf8 32.Bd3 Bxe6 33.Rxe6 Qd8 34.Qe1 bxc4 35.Nxe7+ Bxe7 36.Bf5 Kc7 37.Rxe7+ Kb6 38.a4 Qh8 39.a5+ 1-0

Levitt outplays his Master rated opponent

[Event "It"] [Site "Calcutta (India)"] [Date "1997"] [Round "2"] [White "Gokhale J S 2285 (IND)"] [Black "Levitt J 2440 (ENG)"] [Result "0-1"] [Eco "A43"] 1.d4 c5 2.d5 f5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d6 5.Nh3 g6 6.b3 Bg7 7.Bb2 O-O 8.O-O Na6 9.c4 Nc7 10.Nc3 Rb8 11.a4 b6 12.Nb5 Rb7 13.Nf4 a6 14.Na3 Rb8 15.Nc2 Qe8 16.b4 g5 17.Nd3 e5 18.f4 gxf4 19.gxf4 e4 20.Nde1 cxb4 21.Nxb4 Bd7 22.Qb3 a5 23.Nbc2 Na6 24.Nd4 Nc5 25.Qg3 Qg6 26.Qh3 Ng4 27.Rb1 Nxa4 28.Ba1 Nc5 29.Nec2 Bf6 30.Ne3 h5 31.Nec2 Kh7 32.Qc3 Rg8 33.h3 Nh6 34.Ne3 h4 35.Qe1 Qf7 36.Qf2 Rg3 37.Kh2 Qg7 38.Rbd1 Rg8 39.Rg1 a4 40.Kh1 Nb3 41.Nxb3 axb3 42.Bxf6 Qxf6 43.Nf1 R3g7 44.Qxb6 Qc3 45.Qd4 Qxd4 46.Rxd4 b2 47.Nd2 e3 48.Nb1 Ba4 49.c5 Bc2 50.c6 Bxb1 51.Rxb1 Rxg2 52.Rb4 Rxe2 53.R4xb2 Rxb2 54.Rxb2 Re8 55.Re2 Re7 56.Kg2 Ng8 0-1

The solid Pia Cramling gives Kevin a positional lesson

[Event "Ch Spain"] [Site "Spain"] [Date "1994"] [Round ""] [White "Cramling P 2525 (SWE)"] [Black "Spraggett K 2530 (CAN)"] [Result "1-0"] [Eco "A43"] 1.d4 c5 2.d5 f5 3.c4 d6 4.Nh3 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Nf4 Na6 7.h4 Nc7 8.g3 Rb8 9.a4 b6 10.Bg2 a6 11.e4 Bg7 12.h5 Kf7 13.h6 Bf8 14.Nh3 b5 15.axb5 axb5 16.cxb5 Bd7 17.Ng5+ Ke8 18.exf5 gxf5 19.Bf3 Ng4 20.Qe2 Qc8 21.Bxg4 fxg4 22.Nce4 Nxb5 23.Nf6+ Kd8 24.Nf7+ Kc7 25.Nxd7 Qxd7 26.Nxh8 Qf5 27.Qe6 Qf3 28.O-O Nd4 29.Ra7+ Rb7 30.Rxb7+ Kxb7 31.Qd7+ Kb8 32.Qd8+ Kb7 33.Qd7+ Kb8 34.Be3 Ne2+ 35.Kh2 Qxd5 36.Qxg4 1-0