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Hello everyone,
This time I decided to cover the Airthings Masters, which was the only top tournament to took place recently. As usual, there were many interesting opening ideas and fighting games and the participation of Daniil Dubov only adds to the entertainment. You’re going to enjoy no less than four of his games, and his novelty 9.c3 in the game Dubov,D-Giri,A is particularly interesting.

Download PGN of January ’21 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish, Yurtaev System 10.axb5 axb5 11.Na3 0-0 12.Nxb5 Bg4 [C78]

The game So,W - Dubov,D Airthing Masters Preliminary Rapid 2020, featured a relatively rare line in the well-known diagram position given below:

The American player went for 13.Re1. Dubov was well-prepared, as usual and answered with the standard 13...Bxf3 14.gxf3 Nh5 15.Kh1 Qf6. The position on the board is still known and has seen some practical tests at the top level roughly ten years ago. Here Wesley decided to surprise his opponent with the extremely rare 16.Be3, which, in fact, transposes to 15.Be3. Daniil reacted with the critical 16...exd4 17.cxd4 Ba5 18.Rg1 Rxb5 19.Ba4! Rxb2 20.Bxc6 Bb6 and as a result of the tactical battle a balanced position had been reached. Despite Black's loss in the game the Yurtaev Variation is alive and this game is further proof of this statement. White should look for alternative ways to set problems in this system.

Spanish, Yurtaev System 10.a5 Ba7 11.h3 [C78]

In the game Vachier-Lagrave, M - Dubov, D Airthing Masters KO 2020, the players had a discussion in another line of the Yurtaev System, 10.a5.

In the position given above Dubov chose a rare alternative to 11...0-0, 11...Bb7. MVL reacted with 12.Re1, when 12.Be3 is an interesting alternative. Black’s reply 12...Ne7 was even more uncommon, it had seen only one practical test back in 2009. Maxime answered with the natural 13.Bc2 although 13.c4!? deserved serious attention. After the standard 13...0-0 14.Nbd2 Ng6 15.Nf1 Re8 16.Ng3 Daniil’s 16...exd4?! was unfortunate and led to White’s advantage. 16...h6 was critical, while 12...Ne7 is playable.

Spanish, Berlin endgame 9.h3 Bd7 10.Rd1 Kc8 11.g4 Ne7 12.Ng5 Be8 13.f4 [C67]

The game Aronian,L - Radjabov, T Airthing Masters KO 2020, saw the 10...Kc8 line.

In the diagram position Radjabov played the extremely rare 13...c5, instead of the more common 13...h6. We have also considered 13...h5 on our pages. After the standard 14.Nc3 Black went for 14...b6 and Aronian presented a logical novelty, 15.f5, where two preceding games featured 15.Kf2. Teimour reacted with 15...Nc6 16.Bf4 Nd4 reaching an important junction. Levon decided to play 17.Kf2, when 17.e6 is an interesting alternative. Black reacted well and won a pawn, but White obtained sufficient compensation for it. However, the Armenian player over-pressed with 23.f6? and was punished. Instead, 23.h4 promised a position of dynamic equality. 20.h4! also deserved serious attention. A well-played game by Radjabov, who proved that the setup with the king on c8 is playable and White shouldn't overestimate his chances against it.

Spanish, Berlin 6.dxe5 Nxb5 7.a4 Nbd4 8.Nxd4 d5 [C67]

In the game Dubov, D - Giri, A Airthing Masters Preliminary Rapid 2020, Dubov surprised his opponent with a virtually new idea in the well-known diagram position:

Here the Russian player came up with 9.c3!? which allows White to recapture on d4 with the pawn in order to strengthen his centre. After 9...Be7 10.f4 Black played 10...0-0, when the only preceding game, Hrebenshchykova,Y (2029)-Doluhanova,E (2293) Lutsk 2019, saw 10...f6. This move led to some edge for White. The game continued 11.Be3 f6! 12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.Nd2 and here Giri went astray with 13...Ba6?! when he had to choose between 13...a5 or 13...fxe5 14.fxe5 a5. After 19.h3 White was better, but Black’s 19...Qc2? made White’s task much easier and after 20.Bc5 White was already virtually winning. A well-played game by Dubov, his 9.c3 is interesting and sets some practical problems. It seems that it would be safer for Black to start with 8...Nxd4.

Italian, Giuoco Piano 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 a5 10.Re1 [C53]

The game Aronian, L - Radjabov, T Airthing Masters KO 2020, saw a popular branch of the Giuoco Piano with 7.Bg5.

After a transposition the players reached the diagram position. Previously, we considered 10...Ba7 and 10...Nh7 here, but in the current game Black introduced a novelty, 10...Re8. After the moves 11.Nbd2 Ba7 12.Nf1 Be6 Aronian faced a choice of trading the bishops on e6 and playing 13.Bb5. He went for the latter, while in my opinion 13.Bxe6 was conceptually correct, as it allowed White to exploit the weakening of the f5-square. Anyway, after 13...Bd7 14.Ne3 Ne7 his 15.a4 was inaccurate and allowed Black to equalise when 15.Bxd7 Qxd7 16.a4 still promised a slight edge. An interesting tactical fight, but 10...Re8 might not be the best. The lines 10...Nh7 and 10...Ba7 look better.

Giuoco Piano, 7.Re1 0-0 8.Nbd2 a5 9.Nf1 Be6 10.Bb5 Ne7 11.d4 exd4 12cxd4 Bb6 13.Ng3 d5 14.e5 Ne4 [C53]

A pet line of Nakamura was tested again in the game Grischuk, A - Nakamura, H Airthing Masters Preliminary Rapid 2020.

In the last seven months Hikaru defended Black’s position in this line numerous times with reasonable results. Most of his games continued 15.Bd3 Nxg3 16.hxg3 Bg4 After defending this position against Carlsen in August Hikaru is ready to defend it against anyone else. Grischuk decided to go for 17.Be3, which was previously employed by Ding Liren - Carlsen’s choice was 17.Bc2. After the moves 17...a4! 18.Rc1 Qd7 the Russian player played the mysterious move 19.Kh2, while Ding Liren preferred 19.a3 in Ding,L (2791)-Nakamura,H (2736) INT 2020. Hikaru replied with 19...Bh5, while 19...Bf5 looks like a logical alternative. Alex answered it with the interesting 20.e6 and Black went for the obvious 20...fxe6?!, but it turned out to be inaccurate. Instead, 20...Bxf3! would equalise. 17.Be3 is an interesting way to set problems, with a strategically complicated position which is confirmed by the number of mistakes in this game.

Two Knights, 4...Be7 5.Nc3 d6 6.a4 0-0 7.0-0 [C55]

The game Vachier-Lagrave,M - Dubov, D Airthing Masters KO 2020, featured a very rare line in the 6.a4 side line of the Two Knights.

In the position given above Dubov played 7...h6, which he played twice in his match against the French player. Earlier, there were only a couple of appearances of this move at the GM level. It seems that Daniil wanted to obtain a better version of 7...Be6, which is the second most popular continuation here. After 8.h3 Be6 9.Re1 Daniil went for the spectacular, but nevertheless wrong, temporary piece sacrifice 9...Nxe4? The game continued 10.Nxe4 d5 11.Bb5 dxe4 12.Bxc6 bxc6 13.Nxe5 and here Black deviated from the only preceding game, which saw 13...Bd6, and played 13...exd3. However, the text doesn’t equalise either. The forced play continued with 14.Nxc6 dxc2 15.Qxc2 Qd7. Now MVL had a chance to set some problems by means of 16.Nxe7!, but instead went for 16.Bf4 and soon Dubov equalised. 9...Nxe4 looks like a wrong idea, instead, Black should probably prefer 9...Nb4.

Scotch Opening, 4...Nf6 main line with 8.h4 [C45]

And last, but not least, the game Nepomniachtchi, I - Aronian, L Airthing Masters Preliminary Rapid 2020.

Nepo likes the line with 8.h4, and Levon is not a stranger to this line from the other side of the board either. He also faced it at least thrice against Ian. If last time he preferred 8...f6, this time he went for 8...d6, which was also my choice in a recent online game. The players followed my game for a while with 9.c4 Nb6 10.exd6 cxd6 11.Nc3 Be6 12.b3 d5 13.cxd5 and here Levon correctly deviated from my erroneous 13...cxd5? with 13...Nxd5. That’s also what I recommended in my annotations to the aforementioned game. White reacted with 14.Bb2, when 14.Nxd5 was part of my analysis. In reply Aronian played the logical 14...Qb4 and soon simplified into a slightly worse, but defendable endgame with opposite-coloured bishops, which he held easily. A well-played game by both players. It seems that 8...d6 leads to equality and so the ball is in White's court.


See you next month, Victor.

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