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Hello everyone,
This time I've put the emphasis on the Spanish. You will see many theoretically important games from recent top level events and one example from my own practice.

Download PGN of December ’17 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish 6.d3 (5.d3) b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a3 [C84]

The game Vachier Lagrave, M - Aronian, L Palma de Mallorca GP 2017, saw a discussion in an important theoretical line.

Aronian answered 13.Bg5 with 13...Nd7!, which is more accurate than the 13...Qd7, which took place in the recent game Carlsen, M - Ding Liren, Saint Louis 2017. After the moves 14.Bd2 Nf6 the French GM deviated from another recent game between the same players by 15.Re1, instead of 15.Qb1. After a well-played game the French GM made a couple of inaccuracies, probably in time trouble, and let Aronian off the hook. Black's play should be improved by means of 24...Nc5. There are also earlier deviations from the game, such as 15...Re8.

Spanish 8.a4 b4 9.d4 [C88]

Another deviation from the main Spanish took place in the game Inarkiev, E- Ding Liren Palma de Mallorca GP 2017.

Inarkiev has just played 12.Qf3, instead of the more popular 12.Qe2, and this was strongly met by Ding Liren with 12...Bc5! White continued 13.h3 Bb7 14.Nd2 Kh8 15.Qg3 Qe7 16.Qh4?, but missed 16...g5! and got into trouble. 16.Qg5 would retain equal chances, An easy win for Ding Liren, so probably 12.Qf3 promises no advantage because of 12...Bc5, but the only chance to fight for one is by 14.Bg5.

Spanish, Anti-Berlin 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.Nbd2 [C65]

In the game Harikrishna, P - Almasi, Z Bundesliga 2017/18 the Hungarian GM chose a pretty rare line.

After 8.Nb3 (diagram) he played 8...Bxb3, and although this gives Black chances to successfully equalize I don’t like it. Afterwards the character of the play is in White’s favour, as Black’s position is rather passive for the most part. I also prefer 13...Bd6 instead of 13...Bf6. A clear positional win for Harikrishna, but in my opinion, 8...Bxb3 is a rather dubious line as Black gets a passive position and hopes to hold. As the game proved it's not always easy to achieve this so Black should prefer 8...Bb6.

Spanish, Anti-Berlin 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3 d5 [C67]

The game Caruana, F - Grischuk, A Champions Showdown Saint Louis 2017, saw the important central counter attack 5...d5 again defended by the Russian GM.

Caruana employed theory's last word 8.Nbd2, instead of 8.b4 which has been discussed earlier, and after the moves 8...0-0 9.b4 Bb6 deviated from 10.a4 with 10.0-0 and transposed into the 5...0-0 6.0-0 d5 line. After really good play from both sides Grischuk started to go astray with 19...e4?! and then 22...Bh3. It allowed White to obtain a slight edge, which he eventually converted into a win. A very important game, from a theoretical point of view, which was mostly well-played by both players. 19...Be6 seems to equalise.

Spanish, Aronian system 3...Nge7 4.0-0 g6 5.c3 Bg7 6.d4 exd4 7.cxd4 a6 8.Ba4 b5 9.Bc2 d6 [C70]

In the game Khmelniker, I-Mikhalevski, V Shachar Arad memorial 2017 (rapid) White decided to deviate from the main theory of this line.

In the diagram position he played 10.Nc3?!, which is dubious as it allows Black to pin the f3-knight by means of 10...Bg4, which leads to easy equality.

The main line 10.d5 is better, while 10.h3 is also a reasonable alternative. Anyway, 10.Nc3 should be avoided.

Scotch Opening 4...Bc5 5.Be3 Qf6 6.c3 Nge7 7.Bb5 [C45]

The game Matlakov, M - Fedoseev, V Eliseev memorial 2017, featured the 7.Bb5 line, which has been gaining popularity in 2017.

In the diagram position Black deviated from the only preceding game (Artemiev, V - Pashikian, A Minsk 2017, which saw 10...d6) with 10...Ne5. After the moves 11.Bc2 d6 12.f3 Nc4 13.Bc1 f5! Fedoseev equalised. However 12.Bf4! would set some problems. A well-played game by the young Russian players. The line with 7.Bb5 is not without venom, while 12.Bf4! is the only chance to set problems. 10...d6 is a possible deviation from the game.

Italian, Modern Giuoco Piano 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 a6 6.0-0 d6 7.a4 Ba7 8.Re1 0-0 9.h3 h6 10.Nbd2 Re8 [C54]

In Harikrishna, P - Tomashevsky, E Palma de Mallorca GP 2017, the players discussed one of the modern branches of the Giuoco Piano with a4.

In the position given above Harikrishna played 14.Ng3, when saving the queen from a trade by 14.Qc2, as in Giri,A-Caruana,F Leuven 2016, would promise more chances for an advantage. So in the game Black equalised comfortably by means of 14...dxe4 15.dxe4 Qxd1 16.Rxd1 Rd6! A well-played, virtually mistake-free game. Black proved that the endgame which occurred after 14.Ng3 is equal and so White should have preferred 14.Qc2.

Kings Gambit, Falkbeer Counter-gambit 3...e4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bc4 Bc5 [C32]

The game Nakamura, H - Topalov, V Champions Showdown Saint Louis 2017, reached a very rare position after only 5 moves, which has never been seen before at the GM level!

The players followed the game Falkbeer, E - Anderssen, A Berlin 1851(!) by means of 6.d4 exd4 7.cxd3 0-0 8.d4 to reach the diagram position, in which the Bulgarian GM played 8...Re8+. Curiously 8...Bb6!, which was played by Adolf Anderssen back in 1851, was stronger! In the current game Black made a few inaccuracies which allowed White to obtain a slight edge, but Nakamura returned the favour with 16.Qg4? and after 16...Nf6 Veselin was better. The Falkbeer with 5...Bc5 is a good way to meet the King's Gambit and Topalov could have received an edge had he played 8...Bb6! with the idea of 9...c6!

See you next month, Victor.

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