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Hello everyone,
This update is based on games from the first super tournament of the year (the Tata Steel in Wijk aan Zee) and the traditional festival in Gibraltar. Yours truly played in the latter and so I’ll share one of my own games with you.

Download PGN of February ’19 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish, Zaitsev Variation 10.d3 [C92]

In the game Shankland, S - Ding Liren Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2019, the players transposed into a rare line of the Zaitsev system with 10.d3 and soon reached the diagram position:

Here Shankland chose the rare 14.Ne3, instead of the much more common 14.Ng3, and after 14...Bf8 played 15.b4, which had only been seen once before, back in 1964! A few moves later it became clear that his opening strategy had failed and that he had to try playing for equality. Instead, he continued with 18.Ng4?!, when 18.Nxd5 was necessary, obtained a worse position and lost the game. A very convincing win for the Chinese player. White's opening setup doesn't promise much, but if White plays 14.Ne3 he should continue with 15.Nh2.

Spanish 6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a3 0-0 9.Nc3 Na5 10.Ba2 Be6 11.b4 [C84]

The game Vachier Lagrave, M - Aleksienko, K Gibraltar 2019, saw a long theoretical line of the Spanish with 6.d3.

Here the Russian GM retreated his knight to a7, 17...Na7, instead of playing 17...Nd8 as in Vachier Lagrave,M – Aronian,L, which I've already annotated. After the further moves 18.a4 c6, instead of the 19.axb5 from Naiditsch,A – Wojtaszek,R, Douglas 2018, the French GM demonstrated the improvement 19.dxc6!. Black was up to the task for the next few moves, but his 25...Ra7? was a mistake which led to disaster. A rare case of when someone wins a game right from the opening. An important game for the theory, Black has to play 25...Nc2! or deviate earlier with 20...Bf6.

Open Spanish 9.Nbd2 Nc5 10.c3 d4 11.Bxe6 Nxe6 12 cxd4 Ncxd4 13.a4 Bc5 [C80]

The game Kramnik, V - Mamedyarov, S Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2019, saw the line with 13...Bc5, which went out of fashion due to its bad reputation.

Here Mamedyarov played 15...Qd5, which was employed by the Hungarian GM Gyimesi. Once I also faced this line, but played 15...Qd7, while 15...Nxg5 is a popular alternative. Kramnik reacted with the dubious 16.Nxe6?!, which doesn’t promise any opening advantage. 13...Bc5 is not as bad as I thought before and seems to be playable. If White wants to set opening problems in this line he has to prefer 16.Re1 to 16.Nxe6.

Spanish 5.d3 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.Nc3 d6 8.Nd5 [C77]

My game Prithu, Gupta - Mikhalevski, V Gibraltar 2019, saw the 5.d3 Spanish, which White used to avoid the Open Spanish.

My opponent played 9.c3 here, which was also played in a parallel game in the same round of the Gibraltar tournament. I reacted with 9...Rb8 and after 10.0-0 0-0 White played 11.h3. This slow move doesn’t promise White any opening advantage in view of 11...Nxd5 12.exd5 (the 12.Bxd5 of Naiditsch,A - Santos Latasa,J, Gibraltar 2019, doesn’t promise much either) 12... Ne7 and soon Black was already looking for more than equality. This game proved that 11.h3 doesn't promise any opening advantage, and White’s best attempt to fight for it is 11.d4.

Berlin Defence 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0-0 9.d4 Bf6 10.Re1 Re8 11.c3 [C67]

The game Nepomniachtchi, I - Kramnik, V Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2019, saw a popular line of the Berlin.

Kramnik played 12...Ne8 in the diagram position, while 12....Nf5 was played in Anand,V (2773)-Radjabov,T (2757) Wijk aan Zee 2019. Now Ian played the rare 13.d5, instead of the main line 13.Bf4, which Kramnik answered with the novelty 13...b6. Both sides continued logically and only 20.Bc4 was probably slightly inaccurate, as 20.Nb5! was more challenging. Nevertheless, White obtained a slight edge and after a couple of Kramnik’s mistakes, probably in time trouble, converted it into a win. A convincing win for Nepomniachtchi, 13.d5 is an interesting way to set problems. If Black wants to avoid this position he can play 12...Nf5, and 13...Qe7 is also worth further practical tests.

Italian with 4.0-0, 6...a6 7.a4 0-0 8.Re1 Ba7 9.h3 h6 10.Nbd2 Re8 [C54]

In the game Radjabov,T - Kramnik, V Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2019, the players discussed a popular line of the Italian with the moves a4 and ...a6.

Here Radjabov played 11.b4, and only eight days later he faced it himself as Black. After the natural 11...Be6 12.Bxe6 Rxe6 he employed the extremely rare 13.Bb2 which had been seen in Van Foreest,J -Radjabov,T Wijk aan Zee 2019, Kramnik reacted with the typical 13...Ne7, but White’s next move 14.c4 was a little premature. Black could exploit this move order by means of 14...Nh5, but instead played 14...Ng6 and they transposed into a position which could have occurred with the correct move 14.Nf1. Kramnik defended pretty well and only 20...Qb7?! allowed White to seize an edge, when instead 20...Nd7 would have equalised. The 13.Bb2 line is not without venom, but 14.Nf1 has to be preferred to 14.c4.

Italian, Giuoco Piano 6...0-0 7.Re1 a5 8.Bg5 [C54]

Another popular line of the Giuoco Piano was seen in the game Van Foreest, J - Ding Liren Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2019.

After a recent painful loss to Vachier Lagrave, the Chinese player prepared an interesting novelty in the diagram position, he played 10...Nh7. The young Dutch player went for the critical 11.d4 Bb6 12.dxe5, but here Ding Liren surprised his opponent with the aggressive 12...h5. Both players were now up to the task, 13.h4! Bg4! 14.Nbd2! Nxe5 and although White soon lost the h4-pawn he kept good counter chances thanks to Black’s vulnerable king. His first inaccuracy was 19.e5?! (19.Bh5 was better) which after 19...Qh4! led to a good position for Black. 10...Nh7 is an interesting novelty which leads to very complicated play.

Bishop’s opening 2...Nf6 3.d3 c6 4.Nf3 d5 5.Bb3 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Bxd2 7.Qxd2 [C24]

And last, but not least, the game Radjabov, T - Duda, J Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2019, saw an interesting line of Bishop’s opening with 3...c6.

The young Polish GM introduced a novelty in the diagram position, 9...Nxd5, instead of the 9...cxd5 which had been seen in a couple of correspondence games. However, the novelty turns out to be dubious. After 10.0-0 f6 11.h3! Be6 12.d4! White obtained an edge which had already become decisive by move 19. However, White then returned the favour with 22.Re3?. Radjabov played a good game and completely outplayed his opponent, but then started to drift in the wrong direction and then repeated moves in a better position. 9...exd5 has to be preferred to 9...Nxd5.


See you next month, Victor.

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