Or perhaps I should say Bird Fight. There are two Bird systems that have been rolling around in my head since talking with Coach B last night. There is the queenside fianchetto variation (the Bird-Larsen Attack) and the Classical variation (corresponding to the classical Dutch).
Timothy Taylor pushes fairly strongly toward the classical, while Coach B has some experience playing the Bird-Larsen. According to Fritz and the databases, they are pretty much the same in terms of quality. Both lines, with ideal play from black, give black an OK position. Of course, the same can be said of any opening. Hence, because there is no objective way to decide between them, I am going to evaluate the two main tabiyas here using my own limited wits. Any ideas, opinions on the comparison appreciated (with one caveat in the last paragraph of this post).The Classical Bird (1 f4, 2 Nf3)
This is Timothy Taylor's recommendation, though he seems to have experience playing every single permutation of the Bird and is quite proficient in general. The main tabiya in the Classical is shown below.
The classical Bird after 6...c5
In this position, White's main idea is to play e4, and end up with a pawn duo on e4 and f4. This kingside spatial advantage is to be used as a ground for a Kingside attack. Once white has that duo, he has many options. He can push the f pawn to form a battering ram, or the e-pawn (locking in the dark-squared Bishop), maneuver the Queen to h4 via e1. The Knight move Ne5 from White is also thematic. Black, on the other hand, will either aim for d4 or e5, and try to use his queenside space advantage to go for an attack therein.
On the down side, White's Queen Knight is a little awkward, especially since c3 is a natural place to put a pawn to take away activity from black's g7 Bishop. Hence, sometimes the b-Knight ends up on a3 or some such queer square. Also, it can happen pretty quickly in the main lines that the queens are traded off, rooks are traded off, and we have a fairly quiet perhaps even drawish game pretty quickly. Indeed, that crazy planning exercise
which generated so many good comments is a typical position reached in the Bird. By most accounts, it is fairly drawish.
Also, black's Bishops are both better than white's, and that may offset the spatial advantage white enjoys in many lines.
Also, Coach B pointed out that in the same line in the Dutch, getting in e4 (well, e5 for black) is considered equalizing. As white, do I really want to play an opening where meeting my main goal is merely equalizing? Of course white is a tempo up in this variation, and isn't the Classical Dutch halfway decent (I actually don't know, I don't know anything about the Dutch, have no basis of comparison in my mental database)?Bird-Larsen Attack (1 f4, 2 b3)
The second major line I have been thinking about is the Bird-Larsen attack. The major tabiya after black's sixth move is as follows:
The Bird-Larsen Attack
Comparing the pieces to the Classical, we see that white's Bishops are better placed. His dark-squared bishop is a monster. His light-squared bishop is decent, though perhaps not as well-placed as black's light-squared Bishop.
The main fight is for the e5 square, which right now white has clamped down pretty impressively.
On the down side, black still has a spatial advantage on the queenside. White's Queen-Knight again is awkward, especially compared with black's Queen-Knight. This might even be more awkward than in the Classical. Where is it supposed to go? To get it to d2 requires weakening e3. a3 is a strange place for a Knight. c3 jails the Bishop, which sort of defeats the purpose of the fianchetto (or am I wrong about that?).
This position is tough to evaluate. There is a great deal of dynamic tension with the two Bishops facing off.
On the other hand, unlike the Classical variation, I'm not quite sure what the main plans are for white. OK, fight for the e5 square. Great. Now what?
I have control over the square. What's next? What are the main attacking themes? In the Classical the pawn duo suggests all sorts of kinky pawn pushes and kingside attacks, coupled with Qe1-Qh4 and such. I love that shit!
Unfortunately, Taylor spends tons of time orgasming all over the Classical, and gushing about the surfeit of plans, but just badmouths the Bird-Larsen type lines, doesn't talk at all about general plans and such. He says basically of the Bird-Larsen that "This is drawish if black plays well, so don't do it. Plus it's old and overanalyzed, so don't do it."
Coach B gave me some games of his to check out, so perhaps that will give me some ideas about typical plans and attacking ideas. One thing I read last night is that white will often put his light-squared Bishop on d3, and with the other B on b2 that can form a pretty devastating rake against black (especially if black doesn't fianchetto Kingside). That's what I'm talking about. I want to see more such ideas!The verdict
The databases agree that black has decent chances in both positions, the two Birds are statistically equal. Indeed, black actually scores better than white in both lines in my database, and Fritz gives a slight edge to black in both tabiyas, with pretty much the same evaluation to each (around -0.10).
Hence, as I said there is no "objective" difference between the two lines. I am starting to think Coach B has a good point, though. As white, I want to play to win, and if I go into lines where black can pretty much force the trade of all the major pieces, leaving us with a drawish endgame, what does that say for me as a fighter?
Plus, Coach B is my coach, and the whole point of hiring a coach is to put my faith in someone better than me, drink the koolaid and follow him down the yellow brick road to see if I can find chess skills (there should be a fourth character in the wizard of Oz, the crappy patzer Tiger looking for chess skillz). He's rated 2300, has some experience with the Bird-Larsen, so why not take the plunge? That said, he doesn't really strongly prefer either one, and said he would probably prefer the Leningrad Bird (aka Polar Bear, where white fianchettoes Kingside--this is what Tempo plays).
More important than any of that, though, is what is the most fun to play? I've been playing around with the Bird-Larsen, and frankly it is a lot of fun because of the increased piece activity. Coach B pointed out that the Classical is actually a fairly quiet, strategic opening, that if I want a little more fireworks the Bird-Larsen may be a better bet (though it is also fairly quiet and strategic). [Edit: he emailed me to say that he actually thinks both of them are fairly quiet and strategic.]
Frankly I haven't completely made up my mind, so I will play around with both for a bit and see what's going down. Whose koolaid will I drink? Of course, both is an option.
What do you guys think? If your only thought is that at my level none of this matters, you don't need to share it because it is obvious. Yes, I know I could play the 'Hit my head with a stick' opening and it wouldn't affect my rating. My games are typically won and lost in the middlegame. Regardless of such facts, this is fun, so let's talk about the chess, not the meta-chess.
Any people play the Dutch or Bird out there that have good intuitions about this?