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Hello everyone,
This time you're going to see a large variety of opening lines, some of which are off the beaten track, or at least rather rare for elite tournaments. Some of the games were played under shorter time controls, which can make the fights more exciting, as the players are ready to take more risks.

Download PGN of March ’16 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish. Open variation with 9.Nbd2 (endgame line) [C83]

The game Harikrishna,P-Ding Liren, IMSA blitz 2016, saw a long theoretical line, which was recently played by Carlsen against the same opponent. Pentala decided to deviate with 17.c4 and they reached the diagram position a move later:

Here White played the rather rare 18.Rfc1 (instead of 18.Rac1), but the best one can hope for in this line is equality, and White actually lost. The line with 17.c4 doesn't promise White any advantage, so 17.Rfc1 has to be preferred when Black has to play accurately to equalise. A detailed analysis of this position can be found in my book The Open Spanish.

Spanish. Berlin with 5.Re1 [C67]

In the game Dominguez, L - Fressinet, L IMSA blitz 2016, they repeated a relatively recent game of the Cuban GM for the first 11 moves:

Here Fressinet decided to deviate from the game Dominguez Perez, L - Radjabov, T/Tbilisi 2015, with the dubious 11...Bd6 (instead of the correct 11...Bf6) and quickly got into trouble. An easy win for Dominguez. Black has to play 11...Bf6 with the idea to meet 12.Ne4 with 12...Bd4!

Spanish. Anti-Berlin with 4.d3 [C65]

A rather popular deviation from the Berlin endgame occurred in the game Anand, V - Kramnik, V 5th Zurich CC 2016.

The Russian player tested the recent idea of 9...d5, which the 'Tiger from Madras' answered with the critical 11 Bxf6 (in the above diagram position, instead of the 11.Bc4 from Efimenko, Z - Hovhannisyan, R/Yerevan 2015). After some solid play from both sides the game was drawn. It showed that 8...0-0 is an interesting alternative to 8...c6 and I expect more tests of this interesting line. The ball is in White's court.

Italian with 7.a4 [C54]

This rather rare line of the old opening took place in the game Giri, A - Anand, V 5th Zurich CC 2016.

Here after 9.h3 Anand played the rather logical 9...Be6, instead of the more popular 9...Ba7, which was played in the Women World Championship match Muzychuk,M-Hou Yifan Lviv 2016. The players were on top form for the first 25 moves, then exchanged mistakes on move 26, but the decisive mistake came on move 31, when Anish played 31.f4, and from here on the game went downhill for him. A well-played game by the former world champion. Only 31.f4? led to White's problems, the middlegame position requires some precise play from both sides, though it may look innocent.

Four Knights with 4.Bb5 Bd6 [C48]

The game Anand, V - Aronian, L saw a visually weird line with 4...Bd6, even though it's pretty common in high-class events.

Here Black had at his disposal the interesting option of 7...Nd4, instead of 7...h6, which transposed into 6...h6. Aronian went astray as early as move 9, as his 9...Bxe3 was inaccurate, and his following play was unconvincing as well. A surprisingly easy win for Anand and a rare case where Aronian loses so fast. 7...Nd4 and 12...Nb8 are the ways to improve upon Black's play in this line and I hope to see more practical tests here.

Four Knights with 4.g3 d5 [C47]

In the game Ponomariov,R-Ding Liren IMSA Rapid 2016, the players quickly reached a rather rare position.

In the position given above White played 12.Be3, which had been seen only once back in 1979. Black's reaction was inaccurate, as both 12...b6 and 13...Na5 were dubious and could lead to White's edge had he found 14.dxe5! Bxe5 16.Bc5. However, Ponomariov returned the favour and after numerous mistakes from both sides a draw seems to be a fair outcome. The solid line played by Black has to be followed by 12...Bg4, though this pawn sacrifice requires practical tests.

King's Gambit Declined with 2...Bc5 [C30]

The game Ponomariov, R - Tomashevsky, E IMSA blitz 2016, saw a transposition from the Vienna into the King's Gambit Declined with 2...Bc5.

Here after 7.Na4 Tomashevsky played 7...Bxf3?!, instead of 7...Bb6 or even 7...0-0, and could have found himself in an unpleasant position if White had played 10.Bxf7+! However, Ruslan erred with 10.dxe5 and yielded Black a comfortable position. A fast win for the Russian GM, although the opening line with 7..Bxf3?! is in White's favour. Black should prefer 7...Bb6 or 7...0-0.

Petroff with 4.Nxf7?! [C42]

Our last, but definitely not least game, Ivanchuk,V-Li Chao IMSA Rapid 2016, saw a very surprising opening choice from the Ukrainian wizard.

We don't see this line often, but it's not as bad as it may seem. In fact, Black has to play very precisely not to find himself facing a serious initiative. Here White played the inaccurate 10.Be2, while Black returned the favour with 11...Nc6. The position is so unbalanced and complicated that even two very strong players started to err one after the other. Unfortunately for Ivanchuk he was the last to err (with 32.Qd3) and the Chinese GM never allowed him back into the game. A very interesting fighting game. The piece sacrifice which occurred is not as innocent as it may seem at the beginning, White has his chances and so Black has to be very accurate to extinguish White's initiative. Anyway, the line is more suitable for faster time controls.


See you next month, Victor.

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