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Hi everyone!
This month’s update showcases the latest trends in the Larsen, Réti and Symmetrical English. Several games show the power of the fianchettoed bishop when it gets to control the long diagonal from b2 or g2.

Download PGN of March ’18 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening, 1...e5, 3 Nf3 [A01]

In Larsen’s Opening after 1 b3 e5 2 Bb2 Nc6, the mainline with 3 e3 followed by 4 Bb5 has been well explored, which has diminished the surprise value of what used to be an offbeat opening. Instead 3 Nf3 (3 e3 Nf6 4 Nf3 is similar) is a trendy idea which has been gaining ground among 1 b3 aficionados. Indeed Baadur Jobava, the 1 b3 godfather, experimented with this approach at last year’s World Cup.

In Naroditsky, D - Vazquez, G Black continued with the logical, space gaining 3...e4 and after 4 Nd4 Nf6 5 e3 maintained the central tension with 5...d5. Note that the alternative 5...Nxd4 was covered in Jobava-So in the October 2017 Update. Now after 6 Nxc6 bxc6 7 d3 the game had already entered almost unexplored territory. The game showed the danger lurking for Black if he doesn’t take steps to control White’s ‘Larsen’ bishop along the a1-h8 diagonal.

Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System, 5 d3, 6 Qe1 [A07]

The Aeroflot encounter Maghsoodloo, P - Sjugirov, S saw White adopting the King’s Indian Attack setup against the ...Bc8-g4 line with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 Nd7 4 0-0 c6 5 d3 Ngf6 6 Qe1 e5 7 e4. This approach was championed by Kramnik a few years back. Here Black usually clarifies the structure by exchanging on the e4-square, but instead Sjugirov opted for 7...Bd6, which has also been played recently by Jakovenko:

With the aggressive 10 g4 and 11 g5!? White grabbed a pawn and liberated his light-squared bishop, but at the cost of loosening his own king's cover. Maghsoodloo followed a 2014 game Kramnik-Sjugirov, only varying on move 18. Black went wrong in a sharp position, leaving his opponent with a better endgame thanks to his powerful light-squared bishop.

Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 g3 [A09]

Mareco, S - Alekseenko, K opened with 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 and now instead of the modern mainline 3 b4, White continued in Réti style with 3 g3 Nc6 4.Bg2 e5 reaching a reversed version of the Schmidt Benoni:

After giving Black a pawn centre, White really needs to achieve one of the key pawn breaks b2-b4 or e2-e3, if he has hopes for an edge. In the game Black clamped down on the b4-square with 5 d3 Bb4+ 6 Bd2 a5. Meanwhile White did manage to get in 10 e3 but Black was well placed to meet this move and was doing well out of the opening.

Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System, White plays c4 and 5 Ne5 [A11]

Another way for White to handle the early ...Bg4 lines (in contrast to the KIA approach from Maghsoodloo-Sjugirov above) is to play an early c2-c4. Wagner, D - Schneider, I explored the critical idea 1 c4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 Bg4 and now 5 Ne5:

After the known, but odd-looking sequence 5...Be6 6 cxd5 Bxd5 7 Nf3 c5 8 Nc3 Bc6 we reach a position discussed by Adrien Demuth in his interesting new repertoire book for White in the Réti. Demuth highlights the importance for Black of gaining space with an early ...b7-b5. In our game, 10.Qc2!? was a fresh attempt to get more out of the position by making it more difficult for Black to expand on the queenside.

Réti Opening, 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 a6 [A13]

After 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 Adams, M - Svane, R featured 3...a6!? This is a rare third move, although Black often inserts ...a7-a6 in Neo-Catalan setups where he plays ...d5xc4. Black hints at taking the c4-pawn and holding on to it with ...b7-b5. Adams avoided this by going for a double-fianchetto setup with 4 b3!?:

Now if both sides develop normally, 3...a6 may not have been the best use of a tempo. Instead, Black grabbed a pawn after all with 4...dxc4 5 bxc4 Qd4. This is double edged, however, as White gets an extensive lead in development and hopes to gain even more time at the queen's expense. Black was OK for a while, but pushed his luck with slow development and gave White a chance to capitalize.

Symmetrical English, Double Fianchetto [A30]

Mekhitarian, K - Mecking, H began with a symmetrical line where both players fianchetto both their bishops:

White’s last move 8 d4 is his best chance to avoid too many exchanges and play for a complex, unbalanced position. Nevertheless, with 9...Nc6 and 12...Ne5, Black did manage to provoke multiple minor piece trades, but ended up in a rather prospectless position with a space disadvantage. With only heavy pieces on the board, White was able to probe for a long time and eventually broke through.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nf3 [A33]

One of the very main lines of the Symmetrical occurs after 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 g3 Qb6. We have covered the main moves 7 Nb3 and 7 Nbd5 many times on the site, but 7 Nf3 is a rare choice. At first sight, it isn't obvious why this should be inferior, but in my database it features in only around 20 games, compared to over 1,000 games with the other moves.

Harikrishna, P - Vachier-Lagrave, M continued with 7...Bc5, which improved over a recent game between the same players. In a theoretically important game, both players had small windows of opportunity before the game reached a peaceful outcome.

Pure Symmetrical, 5...e6 6 d4 pawn sac [A37]

The sharp gambit line 1 c4 c5 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 Nc3 Nc6 5 Nf3 e6 6 d4 continues to pop up in high-level games from time to time. In the last round encounter Mamedov, R - Aravindh, C at the Aeroflot Open, a winner was sure to be placed among the higher prizes, so this was a good choice to create an unbalanced fight. Now the players continued with the most uncompromising line 6...cxd4 7 Nb5 d5 8 cxd5 Qa5+:

White secured typical compensation for the sacrificed pawn, but with 13...Qa5?! was too hasty in trying to relieve the pressure by exchanging queens. Although Black remained a pawn up in an endgame, White got a strong attacking chances with his rook and two powerful bishops.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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