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Hello everyone,
If last time I focused entirely on the 2017 London Chess Classic, this time I had little choice but to analyse the most important theoretical games from the 2018 Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee for you. I also included one of my own games from one of the strongest open tournaments, Gibraltar, in my favourite Open Spanish. The Giuoco Piano remains a popular opening choice for the top players and so you’ll see three games in this important system. Also, note Anand’s Bg5 in both the Spanish and the Giuoco Piano.

Download PGN of February ’18 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish. Anti-Marshall 8.a4 b4 9.d4 d6 10.dxe5 Nxe5 11.Nxe5 dxe5 12.Qe2 [C88]

I would like to start with the theoretically important game Caruana, F - Matlakov, M, Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2018, in the Anti-Marshall system with 8.a4.

In this important diagram position Black played the precise 13...Bd4! Caruana answered it with 14.Bxd4, which after 14...Qxd4 15.Rd1 Bg4! led to an endgame position with roughly equal chances, although some accuracy was required from Black. A well-played game by both players, but currently the ball is in White's court in the 10.a4 line.

Spanish. 5.d3 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.c3 d6 8.Bg5 [C77]

The game Anand, V - Matlakov, M, Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2018, saw an important line with 8.Bg5, which is a headache for many 1.e4 e5 players. The problem is that this move can be played after different move orders, while the best reaction depends on the concrete position.

In the position given above Black played the immediate 9...g5, instead of the 9...Bb6 which we considered earlier, and after 10.Bg3 Black introduced the new move 10...Ba7 instead of 10...Bb6. Anand then played 11.Nbd2 which Matlakov answered with the precise 11...Na5 12.Bc2 Nh5! and equalised. The players continued to play very strongly up to White’s 27.Rf1 and here came first Black’s inaccuracy, 27...Qg5?!, followed by the mistake 29...Nxf5?. Vishy capitalized on his chance and won the game in his trademark style. Maxim's novelty 10...Ba7 requires more practical tests, but it seems that White's best reaction is 12.d4!, instead of 12.Bc2.

Spanish Open variation 9.c3 Be7 10.Bf4 [C80]

In the game Motylev, A - Mikhalevski, V, Gibraltar Masters 2018, Alexander surprised me with a rare system of the Open Spanish, featuring 10.Bf4 instead of the more common 10.Nbd2.

Curiously, I analysed a game of Motylev’s compatriot Grischuk only last summer, but I’d completely forgotten about that game and therefore my recommendations as well! I answered 11.Nd4 with 11...Nxd4, which is better than Mamedyarov’s 11...Na5 from the aforementioned game Grischuk,A - Mamedyarov, S. However, Black has a safer option at his disposal-11...Qd7, the move which I recommended in my analysis of that game. Nevertheless, I managed to equalise and held a draw with some precise defence. A pretty good game, almost free of mistakes, although 11...Qd7 is more accurate than 11...Nxd4.

Giuoco Piano 4.d3 Nf6 5.a4 d6 6.c3 a6 7.Bg5 [C50]

The game Anand, V - Kramnik, V, Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2018, saw another Bg5 from Anand, this time in the Giuoco Piano.

After the rather popular 7...h6 8.Bh4 Ba7 9.Nbd2 Qe7 the players reached the diagram position, which saw a novelty from the Indian. Instead of the common 10.0-0 Vishy introduced 10.h3, which leaves a retreat for the dark-squared bishop on h2. Black’s reaction was accurate, 10...g5 11.Bg3 Nh5!, and after 12.Qe2 Qf6, although 12...g4 is also good for Black. Anand was the first to err with15.g4?!, instead of 15.0-0, although this mistake is far from obvious. White refused to castle kingside with the g-file open and was gradually outplayed - the Russian demonstrated a very deep understanding of the position and showed the vulnerability of the white king on the queenside. The “Tiger” resigned in a position with equal material. A brilliant positional achievement from the 14th world champion. It has to be said that White's novelty 10.h3 doesn't promise him any opening advantage.

Giuoco Piano 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.0-0 d5 [C54]

In the game Mamedyarov, S - Kramnik, V, Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2018, the Russian played the bold line with 6...d5.

The players reached the diagram position after 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.a4 Here Black played only the fourth most popular move in the position, 8...Bf5, which was analysed by Kramnik very deeply, as usual. The Azeri reacted with the natural 9.Re1 and Vlad replied with9...Nb6! 10. Bb5 Ne7! which is typical for this line. Now after 11.a5 c6 12.axb6 cxb5 Mamedyarov improved on his compatriot’s game, Mamedov, R - Dominguez Perez, L, Doha 2016, with 13.Be3! instead of 13.Rxa7?! Only now Kramnik introduced the strong novelty 13...axb6!, although the 13...Bxe3 in Heinemann, J - Kantor,G, Caleta 2017, also leads to a position with roughly equal chances. A short, but well-played game by both players. Once again Kramnik demonstrated his great opening preparation and equalised without any visible problems. I don't see how White can improve his play after 9.Re1 and so it makes sense to try 9.Nbd2.

Giuoco Piano 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.Bg5 [C54]

The game Kramnik, V - Matlakov, M, Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2018, demonstrated that Kramnik has studied positions with the bishop on g5, as well.

After the moves 6...h6 7.Bh4 Be7 the players reached the diagram position. Now Kramnik played 8.Nbd2 instead of the 8.Bg3 from Salem, A - Inarkiev, E, Moscow RUS 2017. However, this couldn’t come as a surprise to Matlakov, who followed the recent game Vachier Lagrave, M - So, W, Paris FRA 2017. Kramnik was the first to deviate from that game with 9.Bxe7, instead of 9.Bg3, but this time he achieved no advantage, as Maxim was well-prepared. After 14.g3?! Nh3 Black was already slightly better, but some inaccuracies allowed the more experienced player to first equalise and then outplay the young Russian. White's opening setup doesn't seem to set problems, while the immediate 11...Nf4 looks like the most accurate defence.

Four Knights Rubinstein 4...Nd4 5.Bc4 Bc5 6.d3 d6 7.Na4 [C48]

The game Wei Yi - Caruana, F, Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2018, saw a popular tabia in the Four Knights opening:

Here Caruana met 7.Na4 with the most popular 7...b5, although earlier we only considered 7...Nxf3. After 8.Nxd4 bxc4 the Chinese youngster played the best move, 9.Nf5. Only nine days earlier Svidler had tested 9.Ne2, but it doesn’t promise any advantage either. After the rather forced sequence 9...Bxf5 10.exf5 cxd3 11.Nxc5 dxc5 the players arrived at an important juncture. Wei Yi chose 12.cxd3, while 12.Bg5 and 12.Qxd3 were also tested in practice. Fabiano’s reaction was good, 12...Qd7, and he managed to equalise with some precise play. Another short but well-played game, which proves that White doesn't have many winning chances in the 7.Na4 line.

Petroff Defence 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Bd6 7.0-0 0-0 8.c4 c6 9.Qc2 Na6 10.a3 Bg4 11.Ne5 [C42]

The game Anand, V - Caruana, F, Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2018, saw an important theoretical line of the Petroff Defence.

Caruana answered 11.Ne5 (diagram) with 11...Bf5, which is the modern alternative to the 11...Bxe5 which we considered many years ago. After 12.b4 the American introduced the novelty, 12...Nc7!?, instead of 12...f6 and 12...Qh4, and after the critical 13.f3 Fabiano demonstrated a very interesting idea 13...Bg6, which has a tactical justification. Anand’s 14.c5 was slightly inaccurate, as instead he should have tried 14.cxd5!? However, Black was the first to err when he played the aggressive 16...d4?, when instead 16...Bxd3! promised equal chances. A very well-played game by Vishy Anand! Caruana's opening idea, 12...Nc7!? is interesting, probably White's best reaction is 14.cxd5 and that’s the only moment where White’s play can be improved.

See you next month, Victor.

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