Strazzabasco, John (1545) - Trowbridge, Jim (1477)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 (D)
For those who are unfamiliar, this type of Sicilian where black quickly sets up pawns on d6 and e6 is called a Scheveningen, named after a small town in the Netherlands where this was popularized in the early 1920s.
Alternatively, the Keres attack with 6.g4 is the "big boy" move here, but it is unnecessary to go into its complications here. The text move is more in keeping with the old classical rules of development.
6. ... Nc6 7.Nb3
I see many club players in this situation play 7.Nxc6?!, which is generally inferior because after 7. ... bxc6 black captures towards the center and can later start steamrolling with e6-e5 and d6-d5.
However, it's also worth noting that the knight on b3 is a very poorly placed piece - all it can do is go backwards to d2! For this reason I would play 7.Be3 instead, developing while protecting the Nd4. There is no immediate ...Ng4 to worry about.
7. ... Be7 8.Bf4 0-0 9.Qd2 (D)
9. ... d5!?
There's nothing wrong with this move - it's perfectly thematic - but usually I like to be a little more developed before playing this break. So I would play a6-b5-Bb7 first and then from there things like ...Nc6-b4 and ...d6-d5 become more attractive.
There was also nothing wrong with 10. ... Nxd5 11.Nxd5 Qxd5= either. Black's decision to accept an isolated pawn makes the game much more interesting.
White does well to castle before his king in the open center becomes a target.
11. ... Be6 12.a3 a6 13.Rfe1 Nh5 14.Be3 (D)
OK, let's pause here. We've developed the pieces and castled, but now what? I think many club players feel a little lost when it comes time to make a concrete plan for the middlegame.
So let's suppose I was playing this position with black. How would I go about evaluating the situation and coming up with a plan?
The first thing to do is take stock and figure out what's important about the position. From there, we figure out what both sides want to do and then come up with concrete maneuvers.
To my eye, there are three factors here which stand out as the most critical:
1. Black has an isolated queen pawn (IQP). Generally speaking, this means that white should want to exchange pieces while black wants the exact opposite - to avoid trades.
2. No pieces have been traded yet. That's very good news for black. More pieces means more opportunities to cause mayhem.
3. Black has some weak squares on the queenside - namely b6 and c5. This is the only bad news for black, and if not for this I would say white was slightly worse.
Usually in these kinds of positions, this exchange actually benefits black. Long-term, the Be6 is black's worst minor piece - it does nothing to help defend the weak dark squares on the queenside and can't control d4. All it can ever really do is defend the d5 pawn, which is a pathetically passive role.
Stronger is 16.N3a4! targeting b6 while dodging the ...d5-d4 fork.
16. ... fxe6 Now black has a wonderful open f-file and d5 is solidly protected.
Although I normally don't detail my thought process in this much depth, I'll be fully transparent just this once and show you what it actually looks like...