1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3 Bg4 5. Be2 e6 6. O-O Be7 7. c4 Nb6 8. Nc3 O-O 9. Be3 Nc6

Theory looks unkindly upon Black's ninth move, preferring 9...d5 despite Black's difficulty in obtaining active play after 10. c5. But the theoretical refutation of 9...Nc6 is suspect.

10. exd6 cxd6 11. d5 Bxf3 12. Bxf3 Ne5 13. dxe6 fxe6 14. Bg4

All according to theory, but now Black has a key improvement over the book tries.

14...Qc8

15. b3 d5

The pin against the c-pawn gives Black immediate counterplay. White's tries:

A. 16. Nxd5
B. 16. Bxb6

A. 16. Nxd5

16...Nxd5 17. cxd5 Nxg4 18. Qxg4 exd5 with equality. Kudrin-Levin (Philadelphia Open, 1991) now continued 19. Qxc8 Rfxc8 20. Rad1 Rd8 21. Rd3 Rd7 22. a4 (22. Rfd1 Rad8 23. Bxa7 Ra8 24. Be3 Rxa2 retains equality since White would be mated if he takes the d-pawn) 22...b6 and Black should draw comfortably (though he actually managed to lose from this position).

B. 16. Bxb6 Nxg4 (16...axb6 loses to 17. Nxd5) and now:

B1. 17. Bd4
B2. 17. Qxg4

B1. 17. Bd4

17...Nf6 18. cxd5 Nxd5 (18...exd5 loses material to 19. Bxf6 Bxf6 20. Nxd5 because the potential fork at e7 saves White's rook).

Black's e-pawn is weak in the static sense, but it lends valuable support to his knight. If White takes, Black's weak e-pawn transforms into a passed d-pawn. But Black should be reluctant to trade the knight other than on the d5 square.

White now has:

B11. 19. Nxd5
B12. 19. Qg4

19. Rc1 Qd7 likely transposes to one of these variations.

B11. 19. Nxd5

19...exd5 20. Re1 Qd7 and Black is okay.

B12. 19. Qg4

19...Bf6 20. Rac1 Qd7

Choices for White:

B121. 21. Bxf6
B122. 21. Nxd5

B121. 21. Bxf6

21...Nxf6 (21...Rxf6 22. Nxd5 Qxd5 23. Rfd1 Qf5 24. Qd4 and White is in control) and with the knight soon heading back to the d5 square, Black seems fine.

B122. 21. Nxd5

21...Bxd4 22. Nf4 (22. Nc7 leads nowhere after 22...Rac8 23. Nxe6 Bxf2+ [exploiting the overload of White's f-rook] or 23. Qxe6+ Qxe6 24. Nxe6 Bxf2+) happened in Kreiman-Levin, 1995 World Open. Now 22...Rf6 (instead of the weaker 22...Rae8) 23. Rcd1 Raf8 should be quite satisfactory for Black, as 24. Nxe6 gives White nothing after 24...Bxf2+ 25. Rxf2 Qxe6.

B2. 17. Qxg4

17...axb6 and Black intends to follow up with 18...Bc5 to obtain play against White's f-pawn.

Conclusion: The move 14...Qc8 seems to rehabilitate 9...Nc6.