A TIMID OPENING MOVE ... DESERVES A VIGOROUS ANSWER
By René Gralla, Hamburg, Germany
One aspect of the Screen Horse-Defence against the Central Cannon-Opening is the strategic question who will control Red Line no. 2 - that is Black line no. 8 - by Chariot in order to put pressure on the opponent.
There is no doubt what Black has to do after, say, 1.C2=5 H8+7 2.H2+3 R9=8 3.R1=2 H2+3 4.P7+1 P7+1 5.R2+6 ... namely 5. ... C8=9! 6.R2=3 C9-1 7.H8+7 A4+5 8.H7+6 C9=7 and so on.
But how should the Screen Horse-side react if the Central Cannon-side does not confidently cross the river with 5.R2+6 ..., but meekly stops at the river bank with 5.R2+4 ... (the latter attitude being inexplicably popular among German players whereas Chinese players prefer the more aggressive 5.R2+6 ...!)?
Should the Screen Horse-side just ignore the opponent's Chariot at the river bank? Or should the Screen Horse-side offer the exchange of Chariots? The latter plan is the advice that has been given to us by Professor David H. Li, just compare his 2nd volume ("Syllabus On Cannon") of the "Syllabus On XiangQi"-series.
Professor David H. Li's advice seems to be valid. If the Central Cannon-side accepts the exchange, then this player will lose one tempo, namely by exchanging his Chariot that has moved twice against the Chariot of his opponent that has just moved once. Alternative: if the Central Cannon-side refuses to exchange Chariots, then this player is forced to immediately cede control of Red's vital line no. 2 (that is Black's line no. 8).
The loss of control over that vital line will soon turn out to be fatal - as it has been demonstrated during an instructive game that has been played during the last round of the open cup tournament "The Horse of Hansa 2013" that has been the parallel event to the German XiangQi Championship 2013 at Hamburg.
The opponents of that game - René Gralla (Red) from Hamburg, Germany, versus Guido Freyer (Black) from Steinwiesen, Germany (the latter has been the winner of last year's cup "The Horse of Hansa 2012") - play the Central Cannon-Opening versus the Screen Horse-Defence with colours reversed.
An extra bonus of that game: After losing control over Black's vital line no. 8 (that is Red's line no. 2) Mr. Guido Freyer tries to trap his opponent by answering 8.R2=3 ... with 8. ... P7+1?!? because of betting on 9. ... C5+4 and 10. ... C2=7 after 9.R3+1! ... . But he fails to see a counter-trick (10.H7+5! ...) that outsmarts him. Plus: There are some nice "quiet" moves by Red Cannon that complete the mating net, namely by starting with 23.C7-2 ... , and in the end there is a beautiful position that forces Black to resign because of being face-to-face the deadly task-force of Red Horse & Red Cannon.
[Event "The Cup 'The Horse of Hansa' 2013"]
[Site "Hamburg, Germany"]
[Red "Gralla, Rene"]
[Black "Freyer, Guido"]
1.H8+7 C8=5 2.H2+3 H8+7 3.P3+1 R9=8 4.R1=2 R8+4 (!?!?) 5.C2=1 R8=6(??) 6.A6+5 H2+3 7.R2+6! P7+1 8.R2=3 P7+1? 9.R3+1! C5+4 10.H7+5! C2=7 11.H5+4 C7+5 12.E7+5 C7=2 13. C1=8 R1=2 14.C8=7 P3+1 15.P7+1 R2+7 16.R9=7 H3+2 17.P7+1 H2+1 18.C7+7 A4+5 19.H4+6 A5+4 20.P7+1 H1-2 21.H6-7 R2-1 22.R7=6 E7+5 23.C7-2 A6-5 24. H7+8 A5+6 25.C7=8! P1+1 26.C8+1! resigns 1-0
re --> 4. ... R8+4 (!?!?): A rather timid approach - that is very popular among German players in the case that they have to battle the Screen Horse-Defence. Black should have crossed the river instead with 4. ... R8+6
re --> 5.C2=1 ... : Red follows the advice that has been given by XiangQi-author David H. Li and offers the exchange of Chariots. That would be a bargain in Red's favour - since Red Chariot has only moved once while Black Chariot has already moved twice.
re --> 5. ... R8=6(??): Black makes things worse by avoiding the exchange - thus ceding Black line 8 (=Red line 2) to Red.
re --> 7.R2+6! ... : Now it is Red's turn to cross the river, and Black is in trouble.
re --> 8.R2=3 ... : Red Chariot exerts deadly pressure on Black's Left-wing Horse.
re --> 8. ... P7+1?: Black wants to trap Red - but Black has not calculated deep enough.
re --> 9.R3+1! ... : Red eliminates Black Horse - since he has found a move that will outsmart Black.
re --> 9. ... C5+4 : That is the "trap" that Black was betting on - after the Check by Black Cannon (whilst killing Red Pawn on Red line 5) the discovered attack by Black's Right-wing Cannon on Red Rigth-wing Chariot on Red point 3 viii (Black point 7 iii).
re --> 10.H7+5! ... : That is the counter-trick by Red that outsmarts Black's "trap" - after Black Left-wing Horse has destroyed Red Cannon, the attack by Black's Right-wing Cannon on Red Right-wing Chariot on Red point 3 viii (Black point 7 iii) is neutralized by the attack of Red Horse on Red point 5 iv (Black point 5 vii) against Black Chariot on Red point 4 vi (Black point 6 v). Attention: it has been vital for Red that he has struck with his Left-wing Horse against Black Cannon on Red point 5 iv (Black point 5 vii) - since, if Red had foolishly struck with his Rigth-wing Horse against Black Cannon, just have a look at the eventual goof 10.H3+5?? ..., then Red would have been knocked out with 10. ... C2=7 11.H5+4??? C7+7#. That was the trap that had been the bet by Black!
re --> 11. ... C7+5: Now Black Cannon has no frame to jump against Red Right-wing Elephant in order to eliminate that defending unit and to execute the checkmate.
re --> 14.C8=7 ... : Red wants to exert pressure on Red line 7 (Black line 3) against Black's remaining Right-wing Horse.
re --> 19.H4+6 ... : Red Horse moves against Black General - the menace is 20.H4+7 K5=4 21.R7=6 A5+4 22.R6+7#
re --> 19. ... A5+4: A desperate try by one of the Black bodyguards to defend his Commander-in-chief.
re --> 24. ... A5+6: One more desperate try by Black to open an escape route for his General.
re --> 25.C7=8! ... : The first "quiet" move by Red Cannon ...
re --> 26.C8+1! ... : ... and the second "quiet" move by Red Cannon - there is no adequate defence against the menace 27.H8+7# (26. ... H2-4 27.C8-5 and winning Black Chariot, and the game will soon be over anyway.
(Editor's note: we thank Dr René Gralla for sending us the above interesting game with comments)