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Hello everyone,
This update is somewhat unusual, as not only does it include four of my own games, but I also realised that Black won no less than seven of these games and White only managed one draw! A couple of games were played with short time controls, but the games are still interesting from a theoretical point of view.

Download PGN of July ’18 1 e4 e5 games

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

The game Carlsen, M - Mamedyarov, S Stavanger 2018, saw the pretty rare line with 10.Re1 which we haven’t covered for a long time. So, the current game is a good opportunity to fill the gap.

Here Mamedyarov continued with 11...Nxd2, which is slightly inaccurate, in my opinion. White managed to set some problems with the correct 12.Qxd2! and by then building up a battery on the b1-h7 diagonal. In order to solve his problems Shakhriyar had to sacrifice a pawn with the timely 16...d4!, an improvement over a game played back in 1916! However, 22...a5?! was inaccurate and allowed the World Champion to gain an edge. 22...Bd4! would be more accurate.

Black should prefer the safer 11..Nc5, as in Vachier Lagrave, M – Anand, V, Stavanger 2018.

Spanish. Berlin Defence 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3 d5 6.Nbd2 0-0 7.0-0 dxe4 8.dxe4 [C65]

In the game Caruana, F - Aronian, L GCT Rapid Leuven 2018, an important line of the Berlin with 4.d3 featured.

Here Aronian played the move 8...a5, which has been gaining popularity after Jakovenko introduced it at the top level in 2015. Caruana answered with the extremely rare 9.a4, although this already transposed to 9.h3 on the very next move. Here Levon introduced the strong novelty 10...Ne8! and equalised comfortably, although his 20...Nbc4?! was premature. Fabiano returned the favour with 22.Nd5? and soon Black was better and eventually converted his advantage into a full point. A well-played game by Aronian, while his novelty 10...Ne8! equalises.

Spanish. Aronian System 3...g6 4.0-0 Bg7 5.c3 Nge7 6.d4 exd4 7.cxd4 a6 8.Ba4 b5 9.Bc2 d6 10.h3 0-0 11.Nc3 [C70]

The game Zhou Liran - Mikhalevski, V Philadelphia International 2018, saw an important line of the Smyslov or Aronian System with 9.Bc2.

In the diagram position I decided to change the move order and instead of the common 11...Na5 I started with 11...Bb7, which in fact should lead to a transposition after 12.Bf4 Na5. However, I decided to further experiment with the very risky 12...h6?! Despite winning the game I can say that playing without 11...Na5 or 12...Na5 is very risky for Black, while 9...d5 is an interesting alternative to 8...d6.

Spanish. Smyslov System 3...g6 4.c3 a6 5.Ba4 Bg7 6.d4 exd4 7.cxd4 b5 8.Bc2 d6 9.d5 [C70]

The game Caruana, F - Mamedyarov, S GCT Rapid Leuven 2018, saw an important alternative to 9.h3.

White’s last move, 9.d5, is an important option, which is an also an attempt to set some immediate problems. After the moves 9...Na5 10.0-0 the Azeri GM introduced the interesting idea of 10...Nc4. The game continued 11.Nc3 Ne7 12.Bd3 reaching an important junction. Here Black played 12...Nb6, while 12...0-0! deserved serious attention. A very dramatic game with a lot of twists and turns. The opening idea of 10...Nc4 is interesting and requires more practical tests.

Italian. Giuoco Piano 6.Be3 [C50]

The relatively rare 6.Be3 line occurred in the game Akylbekov, N-Mikhalevski, V 11th New York International 2018:

I reacted with even rarer 6...Bb4, planning to create doubled pawns on c3, which worked out perfectly, since my opponent helped me with 7.a3. Now after 7...Bxc3 8.bxc3 Black has a few good options including 8...0-0 and 8...Be6. However, in the game I preferred 8...Ne7 and once again my opponent’s reaction, 9.Nh4, wasn’t convincing, as I answered with the timely 9....d5 and soon seized the initiative.

An instructive game! 6. Be3 is a playable line, but 6...Bb4 shouldn't be met by 7.a3.

Italian. Giuoco Piano 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.a4 a5 7.Bg5 [C50]

The game Peng, DT - Mikhalevski, V Philadelphia International 2018, saw the rather popular line with 6.a4.

Here, after 7.Bg5, I reacted with the new 7...d6 instead of the 7...h6 8.Bh4 Be7 from Caruana, F – Aronian, L, Stavanger 2017. However, it has to be said that after 8.c3 we transposed into a rather popular position, since c3 can be played at an earlier stage of the game. Once again, I chose an extremely rare continuation, 8...Be6, and after 9.Nbd2 my 9...Ba7 was already new, although typical for many similar positions, and in reply White played the reasonable 10.Re1 Re8 11.Bh4!? and obtained a slight edge.

7.Bg5 is an interesting line, which has to be treated with care. I think Black should prefer 7...h6 or 8...h6.

Four Knights with 4.a3 [C47]

The blitz game Caruana, F - Kramnik, V GCT Blitz Paris 2018, saw 4.a3, which is rather popular in the shorter time controls:

Kramnik answered this with the critical 4...d5, and after 5.Bb5 Nxe4 6.Qe2 he played 6...Qd6, which scores extremely well for Black. After a rather forced sequence Vladimir played 10...Re8, instead of Cheparinov’s 10..f5. Now White had to find 11.b4, which is far from obvious, in order to retain the balance. Instead, White played 11.Qe2?! and was worse.

4...d5 is the correct way to meet 4.a3. The best White can hope for in this line is equality.

Scotch with 4...Bc5 5.Nb3 Bb6 6.Qe2 [C45]

Finally, the game Nestorovic, N - Mikhalevski, V, saw a tricky move order in the 4...Bc5 Scotch.

I consider White’s last move, 6.Qe2, slightly inaccurate, even though it was played by Carlsen. The reason is 6...a5! which sets some problems for White. He reacted with 7.Be3 (7.a4 deserved attention) and the game continued 7...a4 8.N3d2 Bxe3! 9.Qxe3 Nf6. Now White’s 10.c4?! was already a novelty, and a dubious one, in a rare position where 10.Nc3 has to be preferred. After 10....0-0 11.Nc3 was also inaccurate and allowed me to seize a clear advantage with 11...a3! I'm pretty happy with this game, despite one mistake. 6.Nc3 looks more accurate than 6.Qe2, as the latter can be answered by 6...a5!

See you next month, Victor.

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