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Dutch Stonewall [A90]
Michel Schmouchkovitsch had a query about how to react against a direct plan for White in the Dutch Stonewall:
I believe that I have found a solution for Black, who must react positively in the centre, either with a rapid ...e5, or with ...c5. This enables Black to accelerate his development whilst setting White some practical problems. On the other hand, settling for routine piece-play doesn't seem to equalize.
Have a look at Game One and see if you agree with me.
Grünfeld Defence - Reader's question [D85]
In Game Two Oliver Wilke has uncovered a slightly obscure idea for Black in the Exchange Variation of the Grünfeld, 8...e5:
Although this pawn thrust hasn't been played very often, some strong players have tried it with success.
I made a valiant attempt to find something advantageous for White, and have frankly failed! I'm wondering why more stronger players haven't taken this up? To avoid this, it is actually possible to play other eighth moves such as 8.Nf3, but then after 8...c5 White has been 'move ordered' away from those lines where he delays Nf3.
So I am concluding that 8...e5 is a rather strong counter!
4.Bg5 Ne4 5.h4 [D80]
Another high-ranking player is willing to try 5.h4, a move that used to have surprise value, but Fabiano Caruana was ready. His opening play against Alexander Morozevich in Game Three demonstrates a safe way to equalize. Later on, the Russian spurned regaining his pawn in the quest for more than equality, but Caruana found a way to obtain a decisive advantage which involved his king rushing up the board to lend support to his passed c-pawn.
4. Bf4 [D82-3]
This month's Game 4, between two of the World's strongest female players, shows how deeply opening preparation can go in certain lines. Viktorija Cmilyte came up with a surprising combination (at home!), but after an initially imprecise reply, an accurate defence later on by Kateryna Lahno earned the top Ukrainian female a draw. Analysis suggests that there were simpler ways for Black to equalize, which should take the sting out of 15.Bg5, that is for those who read their Daring Defences updates!
I have included Game 5, despite a few howlers, because it illustrates a somewhat forgotten line. It was also interesting to see how Black exploited his material advantage in the 'Rook and knight versus two bishops' pseudo-endgame.
The trickiest move here is 9.Ng5 when Black really has to sacrifice material on his way through the resulting complications to get a good game, as pointed out in the notes. Apart from the main line (9.Be2) rarer moves such as 9.Qb3 and 9.Nd4 aren't dangerous.
The move played in the game (9.Qa4) is known from a war-time encounter between Ragozin and Botvinnik. It frankly deserves a '?' as Black is probably better following 9...Ne4, see the game.
Exchange Variation 7.Be3 [D85]
In Game Six Viktor Laznicka is successful again with the quick 9.Nd2 line that has suddenly become the flavour of the year. However, his victory was mainly the result of a surprising combination in the middlegame, that Kulaots clearly didn't see coming.
The opening phase led to some sharp play, which seems to equalize, so after 9...Nd7 here, I can conclude that 10.Qc2 (Laznicka's novelty) doesn't yield any advantage.
As for alternatives, Black hasn't had an easy time after 9...0-0, but, on the other hand, 9...cxd4 seems satisfactory to me.
In Game 7 Hrant Melkumyan follows one of Ian Nepomniachtchi's ideas to diffuse the Be3 and Qd2 set-up. It's noticeable that although Black has a hole on b6, he is not afraid of exchanging queens. Indeed, White never looked like using the b6-outpost in either this game or Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi, which can be found in the notes. Melkumyan's later exchange sacrifice turned out to be better for Black.
Exchange Variation 8.Rb1 [D85]
In Game Eight Le Quang Liem avoids the main lines and just settles for a flexible set-up with 10...Qc7:
Although he was successful in the game, this was because Del Rio de Angelis became over-excited about his kingside attacking chances.
In the notes there have been some ideas where White has managed to keep some pressure, so I'm not sure that this is necessarily the best chance for equality. Even so, it's nice to get in a half-decent surprise move that takes the opponent out of his book. So it definitely has merit from that point of view.
Exchange Variation 7.Bc4 [D87]
In the '...e5 counter variation', Hikaru Nakamura introduces a novelty on move twenty, but even this has been considered by analysts and mentioned in a previous update. So no real surprise in Game 9, nor did Fabiano Caruana flinch, as he steered the game to a safe-looking middlegame. Maybe the most notable move of the game is 30.Ne6 when the American decides to avoid playing passively, preferring instead to ditch a pawn to head for a late middlegame with excellent defensive chances.
As for a summary of the state of theory: it looks as if Black is still holding firm against 13.Bh6, but in the notes you'll notice that after 13.Bg5 he has to be particularly careful.
Russian System, Hungarian Variation [D97]
In Game 10 Kuljasevic introduces a new move, 9.Qa3!, with which he is successful:
White's fourth queen move!
The main question is whether or not 9...c5 is wise. In the game Brkic gave it a go, but despite regaining the pawn quickly, he was left with problems which were tough to solve. Later on, White let his advantage slip a little at one point, but was always better.
So Black needs an improvement, and I somehow feel that 9...Nb6 followed by 10...Be6 is the way. Not that thrilling, but this solid plan of threatening to come to c4 will induce some sort of concession from White.
In Game 11 White plays much more directly with the e4-e5-e6 push. The follow up 11.Ng5 is interesting, as it leads to positions that haven't been worked out that well, due to a lack of practical examples:
I am suggesting tentatively that Black is fine, but I would judge these positions as 'unclear' rather than 'equal'.
In the game White's aggressive attitude continued, and although he obtained a kingside initiative, Black was able to organize sufficient counterplay in the centre. The endgame was won by White due to a couple of errors committed just before the fortieth move, but Black missed chances to be better.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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