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If last month’s update featured many Black wins, this month is all White on the scoreboard! Four of the seven heavily annotated games are from the last week, and you’ll find a broad overview of most of the year’s developments I hadn’t already covered. A common theme of the game selection is that Black is objectively OK, but faces practical problems finding the best moves if he is not fully prepared. Now let’s open the Christmas presents a bit earl :)

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

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Exchange Slav with 6...a6 7.Be2 [D10]

Black has encountered some trouble facing the Exchange Slav this year, and one area where Black has faced fresh problems is 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Bf4 Nc6 5.e3 Nf6 6.Nc3 a6 7.Be2, which was played recently in Bai, J - Jovanic, O. Dreev recommended this in his Bf4 against the Queen’s Gambit and Slav and he’s right that White is better in this line, although I’ve offered some ideas of my own. Anyway, this was the critical position of the game:

It’s Black to play - what should he do about the c-file, if anything?

Vienna Variation with 5.e4 [D24]

Recently Caruana started playing the Vienna in tournaments, even twice playing a line I recommended on ChessPub, as we’ll see in Nakamura, H - Caruana, F from the recent Saint Louis exhibition event. It’s not so much that the 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.e4 Bb4 6.Bxc4 Nxe4 7.0-0 gives White an advantage by force, but rather that it is a lot easier in practice to attack well than defend well. So if you want to play the Vienna as Black, you absolutely must remember the engine lines in what are mostly non-forcing positions. The position below from the game shows the danger of forgetting the move:

What should White play against the natural 12...Nd7?

For what it’s worth, I also covered the new approach with 5...b5!?, where I haven’t proven a clear route to an edge for White. I expect it to receive plenty more tests in 2017 as it becomes better known.

Queen's Gambit Accepted 7.Nc3 b5 8.Be2 [D27]

Forgive the unusual move order, but Karjakin, S - Carlsen, M started as a Slav and transposed into a rare line of the QGA! After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 a6 5.Bd3 dxc4 6.Bxc4 e6 7.Nf3 c5 8.0-0 b5 9.Be2 Bb7 10.dxc5 Carlsen surprised Karjakin with the rare move 10...Nc6!?:

If you didn’t already see the game, here’s your chance to improve on Karjakin’s play - what move should White play to obtain a small edge? Check the notes for my analysis of the game as well as various Slav ideas too rare to require a separate game.

To cover Black’s more common options after 10.dxc5, I have included the game Wang, Y - Wang, H where the following position arose:

What plan should White play to achieve an advantage? In the notes I show what Black should play instead to gradually equalise the play, though an appealing feature of this line is that White risks nothing in the endgame.

Blackburne QGD with 6...Nbd7 7.Be2 [D37]

I’ve covered the 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 variation many times, as it continues to be one of the big trends of 2016, however I’ve waited until now to examine 7.Be2, as recently played in Khismatullin, D - Jakovenko, D. We should take this move seriously as Dreev showed some ideas for White, although the game was not that interesting as Black showed good preparation to equalise effortlessly. So I would rather give you the opportunity to find an important novelty:

It is Black to play. What would you recommend Black plays? See the note to move 8 in the game for the answer!

Ragozin with ...Nbd7 and ...h6 [D38]

The game Nakamura, H - Anand, V from the recent London Chess Classic ended up as a Ragozin, but the actual move order was 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Nbd7 (which is almost as popular as 4...Bb4 these days) 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Bb4 7.e3 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Ne4 10.Nd2 Nxg3 11.hxg3 c6, when Nakamura tried a new idea with 12.a3 but didn’t obtain any edge against Anand’s very harmonious plan. The following position was quite a critical one in what was to be the start of much excitement:

What would you do here as White? You can check the game not just for the ...Nbd7 Ragozin coverage, but also as an update of the 4...Nbd7 system for Black, including another Anand game in the London Chess Classic!

Open Catalan with 7.Qc2 [E06]

Our final game is also from the London Chess Classic, and gives us a great opportunity to overview various Catalan lines in 2016. In So, W - Adams, M White showed a nice idea in 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6 10.Bg5 a5 11.Nc3 Ra6 12.Qd3!?,with the idea of retreating the queen to c2 and keeping the option of playing e4 in one go. Now after 12...Rb6 13.Qc2 h6 I invite you to find the move So played in the game:

After the move played, White was better and went on to win a very classy game.

Last time I promised to make some predictions as to what variations in the Queen’s Gambit will take centre stage in 2017. I’ve shared my thoughts on a lot of variations in the notes, and I’d say that 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 will continue to be the usual move order by top players to reach Queen’s Gambit positions, as Black has some problems to solve in the main line QGA and 3.e4 variation, whereas Black is currently under a bit of pressure in both the Slow Slav and Exchange Slav. I have a feeling we’ll see the Catalan continue to be trendy, but the big question is what will emerge as the main answer to 4.Nc3.

The current trend is 4...Be7 and I expect that to continue with some slight variance within systems to avoid being too predictable (e.g. 6...c5 as well as 6...Nbd7 in the Blackburne). Although the Semi-Slav wasn’t at the height of fashion so much in the second half of 2016, possibly due to the popularity of 4...Nbd7, I expect the Semi-Slav to keep its place as the big main line of our section, along with the classical 4...Be7 approaches. It’s hard to say what will be the main Semi-Slav battleground, but perhaps a shift toward 4...c6 5.Bg5, with a divided camp between 5...h6 6.Bxf6 and 6.Bh4, will be the next trend. Max

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