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I’m very pleased with the range of Queen’s Gambit ideas I’ve seen in the last month of super-GM praxis, and it was not easy to single out eight variations to focus on! There have been significant developments in some lines that I hadn’t got around to analysing deeply in my previous updates, which I cover here. We also greet some old friends this month, seeing that there is scope for innovation even in some heavily analysed variations. Now let’s get our opening repertoire ready for the New Year!

Download PGN of December ’17 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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4.Bg5 Exchange Slav [D10]

If you haven’t noticed any games with the tricky sideline 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Bg5, you’d better learn what to do fast! White has been scoring extremely well with this Trompowsky-style move this year, which is why I have shown a novel (but rather obvious) way to counter it.

This position is the main focus of our game Meeting 4.Bg5 with 4...f6!? - Analysis, and you might consider how you would play here as Black before checking out my ideas. The analysis could surely be exhausted further, but for now it seems that 4.Bg5 isn’t a theoretical problem at all, and White is mainly relying on catching Black unprepared. Granted, you might find the arising positions a bit simple, but I’d prefer that to the riskier options (with ...Qb6 or ...Nf6) Black has often preferred in practice, and scored poorly with.

6.Bf4 Nh5 Exchange Slav [D13]

The reliability of Black’s position in various e3 Slav lines has led White to explore options within the Exchange Slav, including with the old-fashioned 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bf4. Now 6...Nh5 is a variation I’ve recommended before as a decent winning try, and in Carlsen, M - Nepomniachtchi, I from the recent London Chess Classic, Black was doing fine before the game got very complicated:

This is the position after Nepomniachtchi’s first erroneous move. So, what is the correct continuation for White? You can check the game for the answer, but for now, we can say that Black remains in reasonable shape, though the lines with 0-0/Rc1 instead of e4 require some precision from the second player.

6.Bf4 Bf5 7.e3 e6 Exchange Slav [D14]

When I first saw the game Lim C - Giri, A from the Palma de Mallorca FIDE Grand Prix, I just knew I would include it in my update! That’s because the 6.Bf4 Bf5 7.e3 e6 8.Qb3 Bb4 9.Ne5 variation is proving a difficult one for Black to equalise against in practice, though I have a nice idea for Black in the notes. Anyway, the critical position of the game was:

The game shows how Black should have played, and meanwhile you may like to test your defensive ability against the computer as Black, to get an idea of the practical strength of White’s idea. This is not even the only option up White’s sleeve, so Black needs to take this 8.Qb3 variation seriously in his preparation.

Chebanenko Slav (Hybrid Line) 4...a6 5.e3 Bf5 [D15]

Continuing from a recent update, the game Vitiugov, N - Fedoseev, V from the recent Russian Championship proved critical for the final standings. In the 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 a6 5.Nf3 Bf5 variation, White has been doing all right with 6.Qb3 Ra7 7.Nh4 Bc8, and now my favourite option is actually 8.a4!? e6 9.a5:

I haven’t found a way for Black to fully equalise here - the idea of Qb6 is quite annoying. In fact, I had noticed this idea many years ago, but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have! You can check the actual game for a nice execution of White’s model plan in the Meran Semi-Slav, but it is not that hard to improve Black’s play. Anyhow, the discussion will surely continue!

Blackburne QGD 6...c5 Main Line [D37]

The Blackburne QGD with 6...c5 continues to be popular, and it is hard not to notice Aronian’s fresh idea in the main line of this variation. Theoretically speaking, the key position for the evaluation of his new 16.Nxd5!? idea is:

In the game, Nakamura went a bit astray and could have experienced serious problems, but a later slip by Aronian brought the game to a draw anyway. What improvement would you propose for Black here? See Aronian, L - Nakamura, H for my analysis, showing the current state of play in this hot variation.

Ragozin 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 Main Line [D38]

It is difficult to neglect the Ragozin in our update, which was seen in quite a few games of the recent IMSA Elite Mind Games (rapid/blitz). I was particularly intrigued by the 7.e3 0-0 8.Rc1 Nc6!? of Korobov, A - Harikrishna, P, keeping the pieces on the board:

In the game, White failed to get castled and paid the price, but to make sure you understand the position, let’s ask two questions: a) What is Black’s idea against quiet moves by White? b) What should our plan be in the cxd5 exd5 Carlsbad structure? You can check my notes in the game to see if you have remembered the key points, which allow Black to achieve comfortable equality.

Semi-Tarrasch 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.g3 [D41]

At the present time, the trend seems divided evenly between 4...c6, 4...Be7 and 4...Bb4 after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3, but we shouldn’t forget the Semi-Tarrasch, which continues to have a solid reputation. A further example of that is Ivanchuk, V - Wei Yi, where Black demonstrated that 4...c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.g3 can be fully neutralised by 6...cxd4 7.Nxd5 Qxd5 8.Qxd4 Qb5!, keeping an eye on the e2-pawn to slow White’s natural development. The game continued 9.a3 Nc6 10.Qc3, when we reach an interesting position:

What is the move for Black to play? The game has both the answer and Wei Yi’s move in the game, and you’ll also find how to deal with the ostensibly critical 9.e4.

The 5...c5 6.0-0 Nc6 Open Catalan [E04]

In the past I have been a little bit sceptical about grabbing the pawn with 4...dxc4 in the Catalan, but Black has shown a lot of promising ideas in the second half of the year. There isn’t the scope to cover all of them here, but I note that 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 c5 6.0-0 Nc6 7.dxc5 Qxd1 8.Rxd1 Bxc5 is looking less and less like a try for an edge, with most games ending in very solid draws for Black. A good example is Wojtaszek, R - Naiditsch, A from the European Club Cup:

This seems to be the most White can extract from the endgame variation, but even here Black has a couple of ways to maintain the balance, and you might compare your analyses to the game notes. The experts to follow as Black are Harikrishna, Naiditsch and Wojtaszek.

On that note, another game is Le, Q - Harikrishna, P, where Black neutralises the 11.Ne1 variation without any trouble. Still, blitz has its own properties and the following position will be a nice puzzle to round out the update:

It’s White to play. How should we handle the tension between the rooks, fighting for the only open file? See the linked game for the answer.

Looking back, we covered a lot of ground in 2017, and uncovered many of our own interpretations to the modern trends. Of course, it’s not possible to cover every single development, and next year I will make sure to keep you up to date with the hot lines, while fleshing out the details of any neglected variations. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance! Max.

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