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This month’s update has a particularly personal touch, as half of the annotated games are my own! Through these games you’ll see how I set players rated around 2450-2500 problems using my old ChessPub analyses, but more importantly how to think about the arising middlegame positions - and how to avoid the mistakes I made in my encounters. Naturally, I have also updated the coverage of various lines, most significantly the Stonewall and 4...Bg4 vs. the Slow Slav, and I also discuss the durability of the Janowski Variation craze. Learn and enjoy!

Download PGN of February ’16 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Slow Slav vs. the Stonewall [D30/A84]

Recently on the Forum a subscriber asked for an update of the coverage of 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 e6 4.e3 f5, as the other Slow Slav lines have been covered in some depth already. As it turns out, there haven’t been many games played here since Avrukh showed a convincing path to a White edge in his GM Repertoire 1B -- 1.d4 The Queen’s Gambit, but Matlakov recently beat some weaker players in the line, such as in the main game Matlakov, M - Richter, M:











White (to move) has an obvious positional advantage due to his space and the d4 outpost for his knight, but what plan should he employ to increase his positional advantage? You can check the game for the answer, where White’s play speaks for itself.


Stonewall/Catalan 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 Rare Lines [E11/A92]

Like with the previous game, while ChessBase automatically classifies the game under the Stonewall ECO code, it fits with general Catalan theory. Although the main game Illingworth, M - Ly, M against my fellow ChessPub columnist set up my becoming the Australian Open Champion, the game itself is not that flattering as I didn’t really understand the arising Stonewall structure and miscalculated a lot of variations. For instance, take the following position from the game, after my opponent Stonewalled my Catalan with ...Ne4/...f5:











It’s Black to play. His position felt very suspicious to me during the game due to the lack of development and White’s obvious plan to open the queenside with b5. What do you think is Black’s best plan in this structure?

You can check the game for my general conclusion that after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bb4 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 c6, White’s sidelines are pretty harmless, whereas after 8.Qc2, Black’s rare tries are more interesting, with both the game’s 8...Ne4 and 8...b6 without the knight going to d7 immediately being quite hard to crack despite the machine’s initial optimism.



Slow Slav 4...Bg4 5.h3 Bh5 6.g4 Bg6 7.Ne5 with ...Bd6 [D11]

Another key win in my Australian Open campaign was against the young Uzbek IM Temur Kuybokarov, which allowed me to take the outright lead in the tournament. In spite of gaining a considerable time advantage with the trendy 4.e3 Bg4 5.h3 Bh5 6.g4 Bg6 7.Ne5 e6 8.Nd2 Nbd7 9.Nxg6 hxg6 10.Bg2 Bd6 11.0-0 g5 12.Re1, I stumbled badly in the first critical position of the game:











What move should White play here?

For the answer see Illingworth, M - Kuybokarov, T.

As for theoretical conclusions, I am no longer sure that this line secures an advantage for White, as I found several resources for Black (some quite computerish!) in the 11...Qe7 variation.


Slow Slav 4...Bg4 5.h3 Bh5 6.g4 Bg6 7.Ne5 with ...Be7 [D11]

While the recent speed game Matlakov, M - Shirov, A was a great demonstration of what White is aiming for with his bishop pair advantage in this line, I show in my analysis that Black is not forced to play this passive ...Be7/...Nf8 setup, and I would go for my previously recommended move order 7...Nbd7 as a way to move order White out of his desired setup, based on the 9...e6!? novelty by Girya:











Somewhat amusingly, the natural 10.Bg2 Qb6 11.Nc3 transposes to the 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.Nc3 e6 7.Nh4 Slow Slav variation, which was obviously not White’s intention when playing 5.h3. Therefore, while White continues to score superbly with the h3/g4/Ne5 setup, theoretically the ball is back in White’s court.

Slow Slav 4.e3 Bg4 5.Qb3 [D11]

In a later game in the 2017 Oceania Zonal, Illingworth, M - Smirnov, A, I decided to switch within lines in the Slow Slav to avoid my opponent’s preparation. But in spite of the opening inaccuracy 4.e3 Bg4 5.Qb3 Qc7?! 6.Ne5!, my opponent defended well to reach the following position:











Here both players underestimated a particular continuation for Black, what do you think it is? You can check the game for the solution. While the whole game is not the most theoretically important, it demonstrates one of the main practical advantages of the Slav Defence - that even if Black mixes up his lines, the position will still be solid and hard to crack.



Blackburne with 6...Nbd7 7.c5 [D37]

In my game Izzat, K - Illingworth, M from the penultimate round of the Australian Open, I demonstrated how to play very safely as Black to neutralise White’s first-move initiative. I have done a general update on this 7.c5 variation, and I would say that 7...c6 and 7...Nh5 tend to be quite drawish if both players are well prepared, whereas my 7...Ne4 generally leads to a more fighting position. My game doesn’t offer any special puzzles as it never deviated from equality, but I find the following middlegame position quite interesting:











Now I invite you to find what Black should play: a) to hold the draw b) to unbalance things and play for a win. As it happened, Adams managed to win with the ‘holding’ move, showing that these positions are never as simple as the mass of draws at the elite level might have you believe.


Janowski Variation 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 a6!? [D37]

I had promised last time that I would cover this trendy variation, and it seems that Carlsen’s success has inspired Fedoseev and other strong GMs to repeat the line! In any case, in the main game Riazantsev, A - Carlsen, M, both sides could be happy with the arising middlegame - White had a tiny edge against the IQP while Black’s position was very robust and holdable. In the end Carlsen exploited his opponent’s time trouble (bear in mind this was a rapid game) to win, but I think the most critical test of the whole 4...a6 variation can be found in the following untested, critical position:











If White plays the best move here, I think he can count on some advantage, but what exactly should White’s approach be? For what it’s worth, I think the success of this variation has mainly to do with the surprise element, as I found a few novelties that seem to give White a modest plus.



Catalan/QID Hybrid 4...Bb4 5.Nd2 0-0 6.Ngf3 b6 7.0-0 Bb7 [E16]

Technically speaking, the game Li, C - Topalov, V is classified under the Queen’s Indian, but usually arises via. a Catalan move order in practice, so given the absence of earlier coverage I decided to undertake a detailed analysis of the ‘Nd2 Catalan’. While Black should objectively not experience any problems, you would be surprised how many times players ranked in the world top 100 make positional concessions in practical games from this variation. To give one example, let’s take the following position which is essentially the main trend of the last couple of months:











Can you find the move Black needs to equalise the game? Once you’ve checked the answer, why exactly are Black’s other moves less effective? Because the positions have a tendency to simplify down, I’m not sure we will need to return to this variation anytime soon, however you could certainly use this game in conjunction with my game against Ly as the basis for a solid, low-theory Black repertoire against the Catalan.



There were many other lines I was keen to cover, but I ran out of space! Next time I will cover some variations I haven’t thoroughly examined in a while, to keep up with the latest developments in certain dynamic lines. One of those will be the Ragozin, as Richard Pert recently published his second book Playing the Ragozin. My initial impressions of the book are extremely favourable, and I look forward to exploring these and other lines next month! Max

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