The Contra Iran Variation

Chris Depasquale reveals the most significant opening novelty of the past 30 years.


Author’s note: Under no circumstances is this article to be read by any Americans. If you are an American (or think you might be) please skip to the next article IMMEDIATELY.

The Fourth Stooge

Somebody brought to my attention a review of Kingpin 38 (Spring 2006) posted on the Internet by an American blogger going by the name of ‘Mr Theory’. My contribution to that issue was a review of New in Chess magazine. Mr Theory had this to say:

 ‘The one bit of content that I took issue with was the ‘NEW IN CHESS CHANGES FOR THE BETTER’ by Chris Depasquale. If I want chess information I read a chess magazine… if I had wanted something else I would have read about that something else in some other magazine. I don’t mind content that isn’t strictly chess board or personality oriented in my issues of KINGPIN or other chess magazines but I do have my limits. I don’t think I am being prudish about this and yes I am an American. I really could have lived without this article and the space could have been put to better use anyways. His brand of self-indulgent humor I can live without. But you might find it spot on… each to his own I guess.’

I have spent years trying to understand our American brethren, but they do not make it easy. Mr Theory enjoyed the six pages in the issue about James Plaskett on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ (virtually zero chess content) but a review of a chess magazine somehow lacks chess content?

Mr Theory also professed to enjoy Amatzia Avni’s article listing some of the insults he traded with others while playing Internet chess, and also Tony Kosten’s regular diary. Fair enough: I, too, enjoyed those articles, even though you could describe either one as ‘self-indulgent’. It seems odd to pass over those and instead attach that adjective to an article which includes none of the author’s games and reviews a magazine in which the author has never had an article published. (The Kingpin article didn’t even promote any of my books, despite that particular self-indulgence being a major Kingpin tradition!) Still, I suppose that if Americans knew what ‘self-indulgent’ actually meant they wouldn’t have such a disastrous foreign policy and an economy teetering on bankruptcy!

So, when they finally promote me to Grand Ayatollah I plan to wipe out all the Americans. We will use genuine ‘Smart Bombs’, not like the American ones which cause the so-called ‘collateral damage’ (i.e. killing innocent civilians) but real smart bombs. These bombs will cause instant death to all Americans who admit they are prudes. For Americans like Mr Theory, who are prudes but pretend not to be, they will cause an agonizing death over a 72-hour period. After that the only American left will be Hugh Hefner (and, possibly, Bill Clinton; after all it is vaguely possible he was lying when he said, ‘I did not have sex with that woman’), and we can just march in.

The obvious question, as you are no doubt asking yourself right now is, ‘Why hasn’t he been promoted to Grand Ayatollah yet?’ The reason for this is the timing of my release onto the world stage of the single most important theoretical novelty of the last thirty years, as will become clear shortly. (Just in case any Americans are reviewing this article, or the magazine as a whole, this is an article about OPENING THEORY.) And just in case there are any Americans who ignored the note at the start of this article and are still reading, I need to put them off as I do not want them to benefit from my astounding theoretical discovery. So, for the rest of you, just bear with me while I digress for a moment.

As far as I can tell, the best way to put an American off anything is to include humour with any degree of subtlety beyond slapstick. One of the funniest movies of all time was the 1986 movie Clockwise starring John Cleese. Yet it bombed in the US; generations of movie goers whose idea of comedy was shaped by The Three Stooges simply did not understand the humour. (‘How can that be funny? Nobody got poked in a cranial aperture!’)

John Cleese

It was for this reason that the next major Cleese movie, A Fish Called Wanda, included some totally abysmal scenes of pet animals being crushed to death and somebody being tortured by having French fries forced into their cranial apertures. These scenes were included solely so the Americans would have something to laugh at, and hence the movie would pay its way at the box office over there. (Curiously, US foreign policy seemed to be based on crushing the defenceless and torturing the rest, yet none of the Americans have paused to consider who Cleese and Co were laughing at.)


The Humorous Bit

A man walks into a bar and —

Of course, here I could include any one of a billion jokes that start this way, but this is a chess magazine and (notwithstanding whomever wants to be a millionaire) Mr Theory is adamant its focus should be chess content. So let me start again with ‘a chess player walks into a bar…’.

A chess player walks into a bar, and is immediately signed up for the English Olympiad team.

OK, slightly amusing, slightly subtle (to ‘get it’ it helps to have some background of the British tabloid articles about the English Olympiad team’s drinking sessions) but possibly not enough to put off Mr Theory and others of his ilk. What we really need is some sexual innuendo, most easily achieved with a double entendre.

A woman walks into a bar, and asks for a double entendre, so the bartender ‘gives her one’ (boom, tish!). Now we are getting closer but I am still concerned that Mr Theory will not be put off, particularly with the lure of finding out about that most important theoretical novelty.

Mr Theory describes himself as being in the ‘Education’ industry, as a ‘Chess Coach’. I, too, can put that industry and occupation on my CV. Many years ago I turned up to take a class at a school. The young woman supposedly in charge of the class was at her wits end when I arrived, with two dozen unruly kids driving her to distraction. I soon had them all under control, and a very successful chess lesson was duly completed.

On my way out I gave the teacher an apple, as I always do. (Note to Mr Theory and other chess coaches: this is a great way to be remembered, with fondness, by school teachers.) She responded by giving me a hug, and a peck on the cheek. Later that day I tried to work out if it was the apple that prompted her actions, or just the fact that I had got her class under control. I suspected it was the latter, but couldn’t be absolutely sure. Just in case, the next week I gave her a watermelon!

Success! This one has it all: humour, sexual innuendo and a chess theme. All that is missing is the ‘boom, tish’ at the end, which is always used so the Americans know when to laugh. This is sure to put off Mr Theory and co from reading any further, so we can now get down to the serious business of opening theory.


The Serious Part

This is the critical position and it is White to play:


Although you may have seen the position before, I would like you to know that it has been checked thoroughly. I sent the position off to dozens of Gary Lane’s regular correspondents, and months of painstaking retrograde analysis has proved that it is definitely White to play in this position.

It has been well known for nigh on a century that after 1 e4 ‘White’s game is in its last throes’. Some might consider that a dubious statement, as none of those credited with stating it or publishing it have ever achieved the title of World Champion, or a similar position of authority. Once again, however, I have checked this, and the greatest authority on all things ever written about chess (Edward Winter) confirms it to be so; the statement can be found in his Chess Notes (C.N. number 9) and hence is indisputable.

So, obviously, White must commence with 1 d4 Just in case you are not sure about this, check out The System – A World Champion’s Approach to Chess by Hans Berliner (Gambit, 2004) In this book Berliner proves that this move, followed by 2 c4, pretty much leads to a forced win for White. Berliner has refuted 1 d4 d5The System 2 c4 e6, as well as 2…c6, the King’s Indian Defence, Gruenfeld Defence, the Benoni, etc. They are all gone, busted, and do not stand up to scrutiny. To return to John Cleese, if any of these openings was a parrot it would be an ex-parrot. They are, quite simply, refuted, dead.

There is, however, a gaping hole in Berliner’s work. Black can respond to 1 d4 with 1…d6! According to ‘The System’ White should play 2 c4 here, but after 2…e5! Black is completely equal. After 3 dxe5 dxe5 4 Qxd8+ Kxd8 we get this position:


You might think that White should be better here. After all, Black has lost the right to castle, and what does he have to show for it? But this position is completely equal. Ask Fritz of you don’t believe me and Fritz will confirm for you that White has no advantage at all. The problem is the ‘stupid’ pawn at c4 It reduces the effectiveness of the Bf1 and takes away a possible square for a white knight. Its advance has also weakened the squares b3, b4, d3 and d4, none of which the c-pawn can defend ever again. Also, the pawn on c4 just ‘looks wrong’. Ask any Feng Shui expert if you don’t believe me. In fact, so disruptive to White’s position is the pawn on c4 that if you could return it to c2 to achieve this position:


with White to play, White has a small edge.

The problem for White is that already on move 2 (after 1 d4 d6!) he is in a kind of zugzwang. 2 c4 (the Berliner ‘System’ move) allows 2…e5 equalizing, whereas the alternative 2 Nf3 allows Black to play a King’s Indian Defence structure while avoiding the Berliner refutation: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 f3 (the Sämisch variation).

Hans Berliner

Interestingly, on this point all the greatest chess minds of twentieth-century chess seem to agree. The pioneers of the modern King’s Indian

Defence, such as David Bronstein and Isaac Boleslavsky used to think the Sämisch variation refuted the KID, and they used to commence their games 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 d6 3 Nc3 Nbd7 4 e4 e5 and not commit the dark-squared bishop to g7 until after the Sämisch set-up was not available to White; e.g. 5 Nf3 g6 etc.

Bobby Fischer, a great stalwart of the KID, did not risk this defence in his 1972 match with Boris Spassky, who was a great exponent of the Sämisch variation. In his book Berliner claims to have convinced Fischer that (after 1 d4 Nf6) 2 c4! is superior to 2 Nf3 Fischer may well have agreed with this, at least in part because 2 Nf3 rules out the Sämisch variation against the KID.


Zugzwang or Not?

At this stage you are probably thinking, ‘What a load of twaddle! 1 d4 d6 the most important theoretical novelty of the past 30 years? You must be joking; the move has been known for centuries!’

And you would be right. (Just ask Edward Winter.) The real issue of theoretical importance is what White should play in this position:


 We have already ruled out 2 c4 and 2 Nf3 as possibilities for White to try to gain an advantage, and obviously 2 e4 is sheer folly, transposing, as it does, to the blunder we avoided at move 1 The task is to find the only move that improves White’s position irrespective of whether Black plays 2…e5 or fianchettoes the bishop KID style. The answer is the remarkable 2 h4!! .


This is the all-purpose move that destroys the apparent zugzwang White was facing. It is the missing link in Berliner’s system. When they get around to solving chess this will prove to be the only move that is a forced win for White after 1 d4 d6 (Keep this magazine until they solve chess, just so you can say ‘I read it here first’).

Once the ideas are pointed out it is perfectly logical. If Black tries for a KID structure the standard Sämisch attack is ready to roll; advancing the h-pawn is an integral part of this. Advancing the Black pawn to g6 now or any time soon just gives more bite to the advance h4-h5 If 2…e5 then after 3 dxe5 dxe5 4 Qxd8+ Kxd8 White has avoided the weakening advance of the c-pawn, and has gained space on the King-side. In fact, after 5 h5! Black can pretty well resign (especially if playing a correspondence game against Berliner). Black has nowhere satisfactory to advance, and simply will be squeezed to death with no counterplay.


The Debut

Of course, once you have discovered such a vitally important theoretical novelty the decision on when and where to use it is never easy. This brings us to the 1992 Asian Cities Championship in Dubai. After 5 of the 9 rounds there were four teams in contention for the medals: Jakarta (Indonesia), Manila (Philippines), Melbourne (Australia) and Rasht (Iran). We (Melbourne) were drawn to play Rasht in round 6 and needed a good win to assure ourselves of medals and give ourselves a chance of gold. Rasht was a tricky team; their best player (who won all his other games in the event) was on board 4, avoiding GM Darryl Johansen, IM Guy West and the in-form Tim Reilly (who won the board 3 gold medal), and so it fell to me. It was time to show the world the Contra Iran variation.


Depasquale – Kawiyan

Asian Cities-ch Dubai (6), 1992

1 d4 d6 2 h4!! c6!

Clearly the best try; as discussed 2…e5 3 dxe5 dxe5 4 Qxd8+ Kxd8 5 h5 is hopeless for Black, as is 2…g6 3 h5]

3 Nc3 Nd7 4 g4!



Forced, otherwise Black has no way to develop his kingside; e.g. 4…g6 5 h5 Bg7 6 h6 with a clear advantage, or 4…Ngf6 5 g5 etc.

5 e4 Be7 6 g5 h6 7 dxe5 dxe5 8 Qf3 hxg5?

Fritz suggests 8…Nf8 here, so obviously Black is in pretty bad shape, but this hastens the end.


9 Bc4!+-

Well, I’ll be a Monkey’s Bum!


Played after an hour’s thought. Black is losing a piece also after 9…Ngf6 10 hxg5 Rxh1 11 Qxh1 Ng8 (11…Ng4 12 Qf3+-) 12 Qh5 g6 13 Qh7; or 9…Ndf6 10 hxg5 Rxh1 11 Qxh1 Ng4 12 Qh5 g6 13 Qh7; or 9…Bf6 10 hxg5 Rxh1 11 Qxh1 Bxg5 12 Qh8 Kf8 13 Qh5 Qe7 14 Bxg5.

10 hxg5 Rxh1 11 Qxh1 Nf8

11…Kf8 12 Qh8+-

12 Bxg8

and White won. 1-0


So, there you have it: the missing link in the Berliner system, the single most important theoretical novelty for at least thirty years. With their best player busted on move 9 the Rasht team collapsed; we routed them 4-0 (and in those days board points, not match points, were decisive). It turned out, however, that my opponent that day had friends in high places, which is why my papers have been stamped ‘never to be promoted to the position of Grand Ayatollah’.

I am often asked, of course, how I came up with such an amazing concept, and I have never let on before, but here it is: a Kingpin exclusive. You remember the teacher and the watermelon? OK, go into any primary school chess class and 68% of all games start with 1 h4 (the remaining 32% start with 1 a4)! The lesson I gave that day explained the importance of opening with the central pawns rather than the flank pawns. I know the lesson got through that day because every one of the games played after the lesson began 1 d4 Black invariably replied 1…d6 (they knew they had to advance a centre pawn, but 1…d5 is too scary when you can’t remember how pawns capture) and now they all played 2 h4!!


1 Comment

  1. Couldn’t help noticing that New In Chess is flogging a new book called “Play 1…d6 against everything” by Hickl and Zude despite the fact that it offers no line against the refutation 1.d4 d6 2.h4! given above. The game Depasquale-Kawiyan was published in Schachwoche within days of being played, and the detailed analysis of the refutation has been on the website here for years, so it couldn’t possibly have escaped their attention. Just ignoring inconvenient games and analyses is so typical of what is wrong with the chess book industry these days. What would Edward Winter say? Probably something like, “I have never understood why people go around burning copies of the Koran when they could burn a book like this one and do all chess players a favour.”

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