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Hello everyone,
The Open variation of the Spanish is gaining more and more popularity and so I have again annotated two games in this system. You're also going to see a long theoretical line in the Marshall with a dubious novelty on the 32nd move, two interesting novelties in the Petroff, and more. One of the novelties in the game Nepomniachtchi-Sjugirov is especially impressive and sets problems for Black. It's also worth mentioning that all the games in this update are decisive!

Download PGN of June ’16 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish. Open variation with 9.Nbd2 Nc5, 13.Bb1 and 16.Be3 [C83]

I would like to start with the game Caruana, F - Hou Yifan, Vugar Gashimov memorial 2016.

In the diagram position Caruana surprised his opponent with the extremely rare move 18.h4, which had previously only been seen in a correspondence game. Black's reaction wasn't the best and the Women's World champ came under pressure and eventually lost the game. A well-played game by Caruana. In my opinion the main line with 17...d2, which I preferred in my book 'The Open Spanish', is safer than 17...Rfd8.

Another game in the same critical line, Kasimdzhanov, R - Wei Yi, 15th Asian Continental, saw a transposition into 16.b4.

The Uzbek GM introduced a new move in the diagram position, 17.Bf4 (instead of the more common 17.h3) and after 17...Rfd8 played 18.h4. Curiously, we've just seen a similar idea with the dark-squared bishop on d4. This time Black reacted well and the position remained equal for most of the game until Rustam took some risks and was punished. A very interesting game, though I still don't understand the hidden idea behind the advance of the h-pawn to h4. Nevertheless, the line with 13.Bb1 remains a critical test of Black's opening system with 10...Be7 and 11...d4.

Spanish. Marshall with 12.d3 and 14...Re8 [C89]

The game Saric, I - Matlakov, M European Championship 2016, featured a long and important theoretical line, which also occurred in another recent game from the Russian GM.

The players followed two correspondence games for the first 32(!) moves before Matlakov deviated here with 32...Kf7?! The move turned out to be inaccurate and White obtained a slight edge, 32...Rd4, which was played in the aforementioned games, is better. A very important game for the theory of the line with 14...Re8. Even after analysing the game it's difficult to give a precise evaluation of the position and so more practical tests are necessary.

Scotch with 4...Nf6 and 6.Qe2 [C45]

Despite pretty bad results White keeps trying the 6.Qe2 line. The game Bauer, C - Bacrot, E TCh-FRA Top 12 2016, is one such test.

In the position given above White played the extremely rare move 8.Qg4, instead of the 8.c4 from Yu Yangyi-Wei Yi/Taizhou CHN 2015 that I analysed late last year. Black's reaction wasn't convincing and White could have obtained a slight edge if he had played 12.Bxf8, instead of the 12.Qf4 which led to some immediate problems for him. A rather convincing victory for one of the best French players, although Black's opening play can be improved in the interval between his 9th and 11th moves.

Four Knights with 4...Bb4 and 6...Bxc3 [C49]

Our next game, Harikrishna, P - Eljanov, P Vugar Gashimov memorial 2016, featured an interesting move order by Black, 6...Bxc3, which was played by the current World Champion amongst others.

The diagram position saw the extremely rare move 8.Nd2, which was played in an old game Kholmov, R - Smyslov, V/Moscow 1947. Since then it has been seen only once, last year. Eljanov immediately deviated from those games with the reasonable 8...Bd7 and was up to the task for the first 25 moves, but his 26..exd4? was the fatal mistake. An interesting game, in which White's fighting approach paid off. Nevertheless, 8...Bd7 looks like a reasonable move. Black should be able to retain equality with accurate play in the 8.Nd2 line and even has chances for an advantage if White neglects safety.

Giuoco Piano with 7.a4 [C54]

This popular system occurred in the game Mamedov, R - Caruana, F, Vugar Gashimov memorial 2016.

Here the Azeri GM chose the rather rare 8.Bg5 and then started to play very aggressively with 9.d4 and 13.Nxf7. However, Caruana retained his cool and achieved at least equality with his safe play, although probably too safe at some point. Mamedov erred with 19.Qxg5? and was unable to hold the endgame. The rare line with 8.Bg5 shouldn't set Black any problems, though it may lead to some complications, as in the game. 11.Nbd2 looks like a safer choice for White.

Petroff with 5.Nc3 [C42]

The game Karjakin, S - Harikrishna, P, Vugar Gashimov memorial 2016, saw a very surprising novelty in the well-known diagram position below, after 9.0-0-0:

Here the Indian GM played 9...c5, when Karjakin avoided the critical 10.Bf4 and instead played the more solid 10.Bd3. Surprisingly his decision paid off quite soon, when Harikrishna allowed a rather typical sacrifice on h6 by playing 12...h6?? After this move his position collapsed very quickly and White just had to show some technique to convert his material advantage into a win. Black's novelty 9...c5 is interesting and seems to work in case White reacts as the game, however, 10.Bf4 is a serious test of this idea.

Petroff with 5.c4 [C42]

This rather rare system was seen in the game Nepomniachtchi, I - Sjugirov, S, TCh-RUS 2016.

Black has just played 8...Bg4?, a move which was considered perfectly playable before the game. To Black's big surprise the Russian GM demonstrated a beautiful and extremely strong idea, 9.Bxg5 Bxg5 10.Bxh7+!!:

Ian revealed that this idea had been shown to him by the young Russian player, Daniil Dubov, although for the sake of accuracy it has to be added that it already occurred in a correspondence game between two little-known players. A well-played game by Nepomniachchti. The opening idea of 9.Bxg5 with the subsequent 10.Bxh7+ leads to a clear advantage for White and so the ball is now in Black's court.

See you next month, Victor.

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