Warning: It is helpful to know chess notation and some chess terminology before engaging this write up.

Introduction

Two chess players sit down at a board. White plays the strong 1.e4. Black is prepared for this. There are many lines he can choose, such as the Caro-Kann defense, the French Defense, or the Sicilian defense. However, black replies with 1..a6!?. White's usual reaction is to cock an eyebrow and say, "Wow, you're really new at this game, aren't you?" Of course, the white player can not be blamed for his ignorance. Players who study the St. George are fully capable of winning most of their games, yet many masters just simply dismiss this opening as crap that is unworthy of analysis. As a result, many amateur players have no idea what to do when they are faced with this bizarre defense. The truth is that the St. George is a highly underrated opening. It deserves a lot more credit than the majority of chess players offer it.



Brief History

The definite origin of this opening is unknown, but the first known games were played on December 11, 1868 in London. It was this time that an amateur named J. Baker simultaneously beat masters Blackbourne and former world champion Wilhelm Steinitz using the St. George Defense. It was not seen for one hundred years until the 1980's. It was this time that Michael Basman and Tony Miles started using this defense. It first became "widely" recognized when Miles defeated Anatoly Karpov in his first attempt at using his homemade universal opening. Basman then named that opening after a myth called Saint George and the Dragon. In this myth, St. George is a knight who slays only one dragon. Tony Miles defeated "Russian Dragon" Karpov just this one time. With a name and two strong players advocating its use, the St. George was ready to be used in serious tournament play.



Theory

When most players face the St. George they're oblivious to black's plan. If they think that black is just screwing around, they will probably be swept off the board by their opponent. However, if they treat it like any other opening and try to understand black's plan, then they will have a successful game.

1....a6 is not a ridiculous move. Black would like a pawn on b5, but the white bishop controls this square. So, black must play a6 to allow b5. Black wants to play b5 for two reasons. Moving this pawn allows a queenside fianchetto. Also, the pawn on b5 hinders white's development (see Traps below). By now, white has built up a pawn center with e4 and d5. Black attacks the e-pawn with Bb7 and Nf6. After white defends, black plays e6 and c5 to attack the d-pawn as he would in the French Defense. By now we have a normal position in which we enter the middle game.

Lines of Play

Like most openings, black is responding to white's moves. Therefore White usually determines the type of game that is played. The St. George begins...

1.e4 a6!?
2.d4 b5

Here, white can branch of into different variations. Some of the less popular moves are f4, e5, d5, or a4. All of these are playable, but they violate opening principles. And God forbid we do that.

The main variations are as follows:

Main Line
3.Nf3 Bb7
4.Bd3 e6
5.0-0 Nf6

Black pressures the e-pawn. He will soon switch his focus to the d-pawn with moves such as c5 and Qb6. It is somewhat similar to strategies of the French Defense only black has a much more active Bishop and white has a much more active center.

Three Pawns Attack
3.c4 e6!?
4.cxb5 axb5
5.Bxb5 Bb7

Also called the St. George Gambit, this is a sharp line of play. Black parts with a pawn in order to pressure e4 and g2. He will also take advantage of the displaced bishop at b5.

A common method to St. George play is to use transposition to reach the above positions. Basman prefers to play 1...e6. This prevents nasty traps which I will discuss in the next section, and it returns to the main lines after 2.d4 a6 3.Nf3(or c4) b5. If white plays 1.d4, black can play b5 immediately. After 2.e4, black may play a6 or switch over to Polish lines (a reversed Solosky) with Bb7.



Traps!

Basman claims that the St. George is not a trick opening that is filled with traps. I disagree. Basman's handling of the opening happens to avoid most of the traps for both players. There are many possible traps which both players must look out for.



The E-Pawn

One of the main advantages of the St. George over the similar Owen's Defense (1...b6) is the extra space on the queen side. The advanced b-pawn hinders white's natural development of the queen's knight. The main trap behind the St. George demonstrates this concept.

1.e4 a6
2.d4 b5
3.Nf3 Bb7
4.Nc3? b5!
5.Nd5 e6!

Black wins the e-pawn with the bishop as the b-pawn is defended by the other bishop!

Weak f7

Basman plays 1...e6 mainly to defend threats on f7 from a bishop on c4. Otherwise, he may fall into two main traps associated with this weakness.

1.e4 a6
2.d4 b5
3.c4

Why can black not take the pawn on c4 THEN pressure the e-pawn with Bb7?

3...bxc4
4.Bxc4 Bb7??
5.Qb3! Bxe4??
6.Bxf7#

Black must play 3...e6. It is too dangerous to play anything else (although I prefer 3...Bb7!?).

Another trap to look out for...

1.e4 a6
2.Bc4!?

This seems to play right into black's plans. He can play 2...b5 with a tempo, right?

2...b5?
3.Bxf7+! Kxf7
4.Qh5+ g6

Any other move leads to checkmate. 4...Ke6 5.Qd5+ Kf6 5.Qf5#

5.Qd5+ e6
6.Qxa8 +-

White also has ways to attack f7 through the kingside (e5, Ng5, and Qh5). It is a good idea to play g7 to stop this idea, but black should wait for white to play some of these moves so he can get tempos off of his opponent.

Pin-Counter Pin

An interesting variation occurs when white plays 6.Bg5 from the main line position (see above). Basman does not offer very much insight on this move, so I had to improvise. e5 proves to be a weak threat that could lead to white's doom.

6.Bg5 c5!
7.e5!? h6
8.Bh4 g5

It seems that black is being forced to weaken his position. However, unorthodox players learn to love these types of games. Any continuation is in blacks favor.

9.Nxg5!? hxg5

Nice combination, but white is not analyzing ahead. Note that on 9.Bg3 black plays Nh5 then takes the bishop. If white recaptures with the h-pawn, black will advance his king side pawns to open up files. If white recaptures with the f-pawn, black will play to open up the g1-a7 diagonol.

10.Bxg5

The f6 knight is pinned, attacked twice, and only defended by the queen.

10...Rg8!

COUNTER-PIN! If the bishop moves, black will have a powerful attack on g2. White must defend the bishop. Any way he does this, black will play Bh6! If 11.f4, Be7 is more sound.

11.Bxf7? Rxg2+
12.Kh1 -+

The best continuation is 12...Rxf2+ 13.Kg1 Rg2+ 14.Kh1 Rg3+! 15.Rf3 Rxf3!(threatens Rf1#) 16.Kg1 Rxf6 17.exf6 Qxf6 with a decisive advantage for black. However, all good combinations must have a queen sacrifice and a frustrating deception. So, the alternative is 12...Qxf6! 13.exf6 Rxf2+ 14.Kg1 Rg2+ 15.Kh1 Rg3+! 16.Rf3 Bxf3+ 17.Qxf3 Rxf3 18.Be4. Uh oh, white is forking the two rooks. Material might be even. Checking doesn't help because he moves his king to attack my rook....oh, wait 18...Rf1+ 19.Kg2 Rxb1!! 20.Rxb1 d5. Black is up a whole piece and will have a comfortable endgame.

Queen on the E-File

The main line is generally solid for both players. However, if white plays 6.Qe2 in the main line position, the game has potential to take many sharp turns.

6.Qe2 c5
7.c3 Nc6
8.d5 Ne7!

If black takes the pawn, he loses a piece to 9.exd5+ Ne7 10.d6.

9.d6 Ng6
10.d5?! Bxf3!
11.gxf3

Not 11.Qxf3? Nxd5 and 12...Bxd6

11...Nd5

Here black's bishop is trapped at f8, but white's pawns block his pieces out more than black's pieces are blocked in. Plus, black has two very active knights. Tartarkower recommended white should continue 12.c4, but...

12.c4? Ndf4!

Threatening the queen and 13...Qg5+ 14.Kg1 Qg2#

Conclusions

The St. George Defense is an amazing chess opening. It can lead to spectacular lines early in the game. However, we still need to explore this opening to maximize its potential success. We can not stop our analysis after the first move. Players must recognize that openings have deep theory which can extend beyond twenty moves. Can the St. George be defeated? Of course! It is often beaten in competition. But, pushing it aside from our studies will weaken not only the opening, but the entire game of chess. If this beautiful game is to be mastered, it must be mastered in its entirety. Otherwise, we will all be only patzers throwing thirty-two pieces around sixty-four squares. Ask yourself if that is the type of world you want your children to live in.

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