The Modern, North Sea Variation

I came across a copy of a monograph on the so-called “North Sea Variation” by Jim Bickford while rifling through Fred Wilson’s new arrivals. This variation may have received a wave of attention recently after Carlsen employed it against Adams at the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. You have got to applaud Carlsen’s bravery for whipping out such an incredibly offbeat line against such a strong player as Adams, who himself was once 4th in the world. Indeed, in the following game, Adams demonstrates his keen attacking ability with a “quiet” Bishop retreat, which sets up the final tactical blow. Adams gave Carlsen the opportunity to go into an inferior ending, but the more Carlsen soldiered on in the middle game the more clear White’s advantage became.

Jim Bickford gives the mainline as follows:

In exchange for the pawn, black secures himself a lot of play and a wild ride. It’s a good indication of just how much play black gets for the pawn that Micky Adams declined to accept the gambit in the above game with Carlsen, choosing instead the staid 5.Nf3. Many of the game fragments in this variation lead to positions that are decidedly unclear. I think this makes it a valuable weapon to the wily tactician who wants to escape book and simply play chess. Because of the relatively unstudied nature of the position, there are many moves that are playable for both sides and my engine often begins to reel when thinking about the positions without settling on a line. One common continuation, which shows how black quickly gets pressure with his queen, is the following:

Below, find a game collection featuring this interesting variation demonstrating some themes for both sides. There are 13 games, and every one of them decisive. It may be extraordinarily risky and fraught with imbalances, but you certainly cannot call it drawish.

If this variation interests you at all, I highly recommend Jim Bickford’s monograph on the subject. It’s essentially a game collection ordered according to variation, and contains ideas for black to all logical white replies.