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Hello everyone,
This time I mixed games from the top tournaments with a couple of my own recent games. As usual, you’ll see a lot of interesting new opening ideas.

Download PGN of December ’18 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish with 5.d3/6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a3 0-0 9.Nc3 Na5 [C84]

In the game Yu Yangyi - Ding Liren 2nd Du Te Cup 2018, a long theoretical line was discussed.

The players followed the game Vocaturo,D (2620)-Diermair,A (2507) Batumi 2018, which saw 16...Nb6 17.Nc1 Rf7 18.Nb3 Raf8 19.Rf1?! (although I think that 19.Rac1 may actually set more problems). However, the novelty only came with 21.c3, instead of 21.h3 in the aforementioned game. After a complicated strategical battle, which including an exchange sacrifice, a draw was eventually agreed. Both players were on top form and so a draw is a fair outcome. 19.Rac1 is worth some practical tests.

Spanish with 5.d3/6.d3 9...Bg4 [C84]

The top Chinese GM played another game in the same system, but this time in the 9...Bg4 branch. See Giri, A - Ding Liren, 2nd Du Te Cup 2018.

Ding has already reached the diagram position earlier this year, when Karjakin tried to set him problems with 16.b3 and Anand with 16.Re1, but the Chinese number one player held both opponents to a draw. This time Giri tried to improve White’s play with 16.g3. Black’s play looked rather logical, but White obtained some edge, which he could have increased had he continued with 28.Kh3!, instead of 28.Qxg6. However, Ding returned the favour, as his 33...Rf1? was inaccurate and could have lead to serious problems after 34.Re1! Giri passed by this opportunity and Black was able to draw the game again... However, theoretically White managed to set some problems, so the ball is in Black's court.

Open Spanish 9.c3 Be7 10.Re1 0-0 11.Nbd2 Nc5 [C83]

The game Yu Yangyi - Vitiugov, N Du Te Cup 2018, saw the line with 10.Re1, which hasn’t been a frequent guest on our pages.

The diagram position given above was reached after the relatively rare 12...Qd7 13.Bc2 Bg4 14.f3 Bh5 15.Bf5 Ne6 16.N2b3.

Now Vitiugov played 16...Rfd8?! and came under pressure. Instead, Kortschnoj’s 16...Ncxd4 was necessary, but even in that case Black doesn’t seem to achieve full equality. A rather one-sided game: if Black wants to play 12...Qd7 he has to proceed with 16...Ncxd4. Nevertheless, I would recommend 12...Nxd4 instead.

Open Spanish 9.Nbd2 Nc5 10.c3 Be7 11.Bc2 d4 12.Nb3 d3 13.Bb1 [C83]

In the game Zanan, E - Mikhalevski, V ISR-ch, Maalot-Tarshiha 2018, the players discussed a long and critical line of the 9.Nbd2 Open Spanish.

Here my opponent tried to improve White’s play with 26.Ra1. Earlier you could see 26.Rd5 in the games Caruana,F-L'Ami, 2012 and later Bruzon Bautista,L-Mikhalevski,V. In my annotations to the Caruana game I briefly looked at 26.Ra1, but couldn’t remember much of that during the current game. I reacted with 26...Qe6 27.Rd5! f6!, but then instead of the critical 30...Bxd6 my 30...Rfd8? was a mistake, and in the game I reached an unpleasant rook endgame a pawn down. A very interesting fighting game, which is also important for the theory of the Open Spanish. 26.Ra1 is an interesting novelty when 26...f6 is probably Black's safest bet, although 26...Qe6 also seems to hold.

Spanish, Smyslov System 4.d4 exd4 5.c3 Nge7 6.cxd4 d5 [C60]

The game Naiditsch, A - Nakamura, H IoM Masters 2018, featured an interesting line of the Smyslov system with 5.c3.

The players reached the diagram position after a series of rather logical moves. It has to be said that the diagram position has already been seen many times in tournament practice. Naiditsch now introduced a strong novelty, 18.h3! and White obtained a comfortable position from the opening. The c-pawns are weak, the queen on b6 is misplaced, the white knights are very strong, and on top of that Black also has to consider the idea of g4. After 18...Nf6 19.Nb3 Rd5?! things became even worse. 19...h5 was needed. It seems that in the line with 4.d4 exd4 5.c3 Black experiences some problems.

Spanish, Smyslov System 4.c3 Bg7 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 a6 7.Bxc6!? [C60]

I also faced serious problems in the Smyslov system in the game Steinberg, N - Mikhalevski, V ISR-ch 2018, Maalot-Tarshiha 2018.

I met White’s last move 8.Nc3 with the dubious 8...Nf6?! and it turned out that my knight is misplaced here. Even though I managed to equalise Black has to prefer either 8...Ne7 or 8...Bg4. This game demonstrated that 7.Bxc6!? is an interesting attempt to set problems in the system with 3...g6.

Giuoco Piano 4.d3 Nf6 5.0-0 0-0 6.Re1 d6 7.c3 [C54]

The game Vachier Lagrave, M - Ding Liren , 2nd Du Te Cup 2018, saw a very rare line in the popular diagram position given below, but one that is gaining in popularity.

Here Ding played 7...a5, which is gaining popularity in different lines of the Giuoco Piano and has the point of stopping b4 and securing the dark-squared bishop. MVL answered it with the critical 8.Bg5, but after 8...h6 9.Bh4 g5 10.Bg3 Ba7 11.Na3 Black surprised his opponent with 11...Nh7, instead of 11...Bg4 and 11...Ne7, which had been seen before. It has to be added that 11...Kg7 is also an interesting alternative. Both players continued to play very precisely, but Black’s 16...d5? turned out to be a mistake. The French GM obtained an edge and won the game in good style, thus beating the 'unbeatable' Chinese player after a streak of 100 undefeated games. 16...gxh3 was correct, but it didn’t promise equality either. A very interesting struggle, in which the French player was more precise. It seems that Black's novelty 11...Nh7 doesn't promise full equality and so the ball is back in his court, perhaps 11...Kg7 is a possible way to improve.

Petroff 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nd7 9.0-0-0 Nf6 10.Bd3 c5 11.Rhe1 Be6 [C42]

The game Carlsen, M - Caruana, F WCh game 11 London 2018, saw an important theoretical line of the Petroff with 5.Nc3.

Magnus followed the recent game Sasikiran,K (2671)-Miroshnichenko,E (2606) Saint Louis USA 2018, with 12.Kb1 and after 12...Qa5 13.c4 Qxd2 14.Bxd2 the players reached a slightly more pleasant endgame for White. After 14...h6 the critical position occurred on the board. Now Carlsen played 15.Nh4, which soon led to massive exchanges and an equal endgame with opposite-coloured bishops, but an interesting improvement was demonstrated by the youngest GM Praggnanandhaa, 15.h3! A comfortable draw for Caruana, but as we know Carlsen probably didn't mind it. 15.h3! is the only way to set some problems.

See you next month, Victor.

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