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Hello everyone,
This update will be unusual in some ways, as in at least three of the games the players introduced surprising and strong novelties very early in the opening. Meanwhile, Caruana is still faithful to his Petroff Defence, which he feels very comfortable with, especially after the Candidates and despite his loss to Karjakin.

Download PGN of April ’18 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish, Anti-Marshall 8.d3 d6 [C88]

The game Caruana, F- Aronian, L FIDE Candidates 2018, saw a very interesting idea in the well-known diagram position given below:

Here Caruana followed a new idea of Grischuk, who introduced it a few days earlier against Aronian, 9.Bd2!? This time Aronian was better prepared and answered the text with 9...Bg4, instead of 9...Kh8, which he played against Grischuk. However, after 10.c3 d5 11.h3 Bh5 12.Qe2 Rb8! 13.Bg5 he was the first to err with 13...dxe4?!, when instead 13...Bxf3 was better, and soon found himself under pressure. The idea of 9.Bd2 is interesting and will definitely be tested in the near future. Black's best way to meet it is probably 9...Bg4, but then he should deviate from the game with 13...Bxf3!

Spanish, Smyslov Variation 3...g6 4.d4 exd4 5.Bg5 Be7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.Qxd4 Nf6 [C60]

The last round game Burri, Q - Mikhalevski, V Grenke Open 2018, saw an important line of the Spanish with an early 3...g6.

In the diagram position White played 12.f3, instead of the 12.h3 which was considered on our pages 18 years ago. We followed the online blitz game Guseinov,G-Carlsen,M for the next few moves: 12...Be6 13.0-0-0 b6! 14.g4 Nd7!, but now my opponent played the slightly inaccurate 15.Rhe1, instead of 15.h3!? from the aforementioned game of Carlsen's. His next move, 16.Rh1?, was already too much and allowed me to take the initiative and then to almost put him in a zugzwang position with many pieces left on the board. It seems that 4.d4 doesn't promise much for White, although I always considered it to be the critical test of 3...g6.

Italian Four Knights 5.d3 a6 [C50]

The game Kramnik, V - Aronian, L FIDE Candidates 2018, saw the Russian player deviate from the main line in the following diagram position:

Once again we see an early surprise in the opening here, the pretty rare 6.Nd5 instead of the more common 6.Bg5. After the natural reaction 6...Nxd5 7.Bxd5 d6 we're only seven moves into a game between two top players, but the position on the board is already brand new. Aronian solved his opening problems and even obtained some edge, but underestimated White's attack on the kingside and soon had to defend. He was up to the task for most of the game, but blundered in time trouble, 36...Qc7??, when instead 36...Rg7! Allowed him to retain the balance. A dramatic end to this extremely complicated game, in which both sides where on top form for most of the game, and it deserves our appreciation. 6.Nd5!? doesn't promise any opening advantage, but leads to some less-explored positions.

Italian 4.d3 Nf6 5.c3 0-0 6.0-0 d6 7.h3 a5 8.Re1 h6 9.Nbd2 Be6 10.Bb5 [C54]

In the game Bacrot, E - Ding Liren China vs World Teams 2018, the players tested an important theoretical position.

In the diagram position Black played 10...Qb8, instead of 10...Ba7 as in Karjakin, S -Tomashevsky, E/Wijk aan Zee NED 2016 [Mikhalevski,V], which we considered before. In fact, the Chinese player has already defended Black's position after 10...Qb8 and it's an important line. Bacrot answered this with the extremely rare, but nevertheless pretty strong 11.Nh4!?, which has been seen in only one correspondence game. Surprisingly, after a few natural moves: 11...Ne7 12.Ndf3! c6 13.Ba4 Qc7 14.d4 Ba7 15.Bc2 Black found himself under pressure. A very interesting and well-played game by both players, especially taking into account the rapid time control. The idea of 11.Nh4 is interesting and deserves further practical tests, while Black should probably prefer 12...Qa7 to 12...c6.

Italian, the modern line 6.0-0 a6 7.a4 0-0 8.Re1 h6 9.h3 Ba7 10.Nbd2 [C54]

The game Bacrot, E - Bu Xianzhi China vs World Teams 2018, saw an important modern line of the Italian.

Earlier we considered 10...Be6 and 10...Re8 in the diagram position, but the Chinese player preferred 10...Ne7, and after 11.d4 introduced a new idea: 11...exd4!? 12.cxd4 Nc6! However, he then met 13.d5 with 13...Ne5, which looks inaccurate, and indeed was soon outplayed, although he later won the game. The idea of 11...exd4 is interesting, but it has to be combined with 13...Nb4. After 13...Ne5 Black still has problems to solve.

Scotch Four Knights 8.exd5 0-0 9.0-0 [C47]

In the game Wei Yi - Vidit, S China vs World Teams 2018, the young Indian player introduced a surprising, but nevertheless extremely important novelty in the following well-known position:

Here Vidit played 9...Bg4!, instead of the common 9....cxd5 which would reach a position which has been seen more than 2000 times! The text has only been tested in one correspondence game. After the moves 10.f3 Bh5 Wei Yi played 11.dxc6, while the correspondence game saw 11.g4. In both cases Black seems to equalise without any effort. A short, but theoretically important game. It seems that 9...Bg4! equalises easily and so this entire mainline is now being questioned.

Petroff Defence 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Qd2 Be6 9.0-0-0 Qd7 [C42]

The game Karjakin, S - Caruana, F FIDE Candidates 2018 saw another early deviation from the main theory.

In the well-known diagram position Karjakin played the extremely rare 10.a3, instead of the most common 10.Kb1. Caruana reacted with 10...h6 11.Nd4 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Rg8, where the last move is inaccurate. Instead 12...0-0, as Mamedyarov played in the 10.Kb1 line, looks better. Soon the American allowed a positional exchange sacrifice and obtained an unpleasant position, practically speaking. According to Kasparov this was the best game of the 2018 Candidates. Petroff experts should still try to understand what the differences between 10.Kb1 and 10.a3 are, but anyway, 12...0-0 would be safer than 12...Rg8.

Petroff 3.d4 Nxe4 4.dxe5 d5 5.Nbd2 [C42]

The game Vitiugov, N - Caruana, F Grenke Chess Classic 2018, saw the most surprising novelty of this year.

In the diagram position, only five moves into the game, Black introduced the mind-blowing 5...Qd7!! However, after 6.Bd3 Nc5 7.Be2 his 7...g6?! looks inaccurate. Instead, I prefer the simple 7...Be7 with equal chances. Fabiano's opening idea of 5...Qd7 is brilliant and will definitely be seen again in the near future.

See you next month, Victor.

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