The exact moment I fell in love with the Berlin Defense for Black in chess

I have a confession to make.

For the last thirty years of my life, I have considered the Berlin Defense in chess to be boring. As a result, even as a child, I refused to play the main line as White, and I certainly never played it as Black. The quick Queenless middlegame that results from the main line did not appeal to me for either side.

I didn’t play chess or follow chess news from around 1988 to 2004, so I returned to chess bewildered by the apparent popularity of the Berlin Defense among the world elite. I learned that Vladimir Kramnik had used it successfully as a drawing weapon for Black against Garry Kasparov in 2000. Just hearing that made me even less interested in the opening for either color.

My awakening

But everything changed for me this year on April 17, when, while following the Chess Improver blog (which I now contribute to), I saw an amusing post by GM Nigel Davies, “Not In Front Of The Children”, in which he gave some amusing and brief annotations to a game from 1992 that, when I played over it, totally fascinated me, because it was so unusual that he was basically saying, young novice chess players might not understand what went on.

This was a game in which Black won, not drew, with the Berlin Defense, and won in such fashion that I felt compelled to analyze the game for myself to see where exactly White had gone wrong. In analyzing the game, I felt I learned a lot about the subtleties of this defense, and even so, realized how just how much more there could possibly be to it, because of the obvious asymmetries between the two sides and the lack of Queens on the board.

I even discovered that there are even entire books devoted to the Berlin Defense, e.g., John Cox, “The Berlin Wall”, from 2008 and Igor Lysyj and Roman Ovetchkin, “The Berlin Defense”, from 2012. I have not read them, but the game I saw definitely led me to realize that what I thought was boring, I simply did not understand. When I understood more, I found it less boring.

Why I am writing about the Berlin Defense now

I offer my analysis of this old game below, as a supplement to my analysis of the recent exciting round 4 game of the World Chess Championship between Anand and Carlsen.


White did not have a clear plan in this game, and wasted a lot of time on Knight maneuvers that led nowhere. Also, he weakened his Queen side. The result was that Black got play on both the Queen side and King side with an unusual pair of Rook lifts. A beautiful game to behold and study!

The game

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