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Hello everyone,
I’ve played quite a few games recently and decided to annotate no less than five of them in this update. The rest will be top level chess, as usual, including an exciting tactical battle involving Ding Liren and Anand.

Download PGN of March ’19 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish 5.d3 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.Nc3 d6 8.a4 [C77]

Our first game in this update will be Smirin, I - Mikhalevski, V 2nd Levant memorial Beer-Sheva 2019.

Smirin played a pretty rare line with 8.a4, which I answered with 8...Rb8, and soon we reached the diagram position given above. Since this was a rapid game, I decided to try the interesting idea of 10...Bg4, rather than the natural 10...h6 of Ponomariov, R – Adams, M, Sofia 2005. After the quite obvious 11.Nd5 Nd4 12.Bxf6 gxf6 13.c3 I played the inaccurate 13...Bxf3?! (13...Nxb3 was better) and then 15...f5?, but White didn’t take his chance, as 16.0-0-0 could lead to a clear edge for him.

10...Bg4 is an interesting attempt to complicate matters, whereas 10...h6 promises equal chances.

Spanish, Aronian System 9.Bc2 d6 10.h3 0-0 11.Nc3 Na5 [C70]

This rather standard position for the Aronian System occurred in the game Bitensky, I - Mikhalevski, V ISR-Tch 2019.

In the diagram position, which I'd already played a few times, my opponent came up with the interesting novelty 12.Ne2, which he'd prepared at home. I reacted with what looked the most natural, 12...c5 13.d5 Nc4, but after 14.Rb1 my 14...f5 was slightly inaccurate. Instead 14...a5 would be safer. However, his 16.Nxe5 and 17.Bb2?! allowed me to equalise. After the correct 16.Ng5! White sets serious problems. White's opening idea of 12.Ne2 is interesting and looks like an improvement on previous attempts to set problems in this line.

Spanish, Smyslov System 3...g6 4.d4 exd4 5.c3 Bg7 6.Bg5?! [C60]

Instead of the main line 6.cxd4, our next game, Gershkowich, D - Mikhalevski, V ISR-Tch 2019, saw the pretty rare move 6.Bg5?!:

White has just played 6.Bg5, which seems to be inaccurate, as Black will soon play ...h6 and White will have to waste a tempo moving the bishop again. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened after 6...Nge7 7.cxd4 h6 when White had to move the bishop, 8.Be3, which I answered with 8...a6. 8...d5 was also a reasonable alternative, which equalises the position. After 9.Ba4 9...d5 was still good for Black, and even 9...f5 promised equal chances. This game proved that 6.Bg5 is wrong and doesn't promise any advantage. Black has at least a few ways to equalise.

Italian with 6. a4 d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.0-0 a5 9.Re1 Bg4 [C50]

The game Navara, D - So, W Champions Shutdown Blitz St Louis 2019, followed my games against Ragger for the first 15 moves:

Here, in the diagram position, Wesley So deviated from them with 15...exd4, which is the main line, whereas I played a new move, 15...f6. Now after 16.exd6 Qxd6 17.Qxd4 Qxd4 18.Nxd4 Wesley played the inaccurate 18...Rfc8?!, and after 19.Nf5! was under pressure and eventually lost the game. A well-played game by the Czech player. The line which occurred in the game is critical for the 6...d5 line. 18...Bg6 is an important improvement on 18...Rfc8? 15...f6, which I tested in a couple of games, also deserves attention.

Italian 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.c3 a6 7.a4 0-0 8.Re1 h6 9.h3 a5 10.Nbd2 Be6 [C50]

The next game, Ding Liren - Anand, V Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2019, is a fascinating tactical battle.

The players discussed a pet line of the French player Vachier-Lagrave, who played it quite a few times with the white pieces. In the diagram position White played the very rare 11.b3 (MVL preferred 11.Bg5, which you can see in Vachier-Lagrave, M - Svidler, P Tbilisi GEO 2017), and after the critical 11...d5 12.exd5 Nxd5 the Chinese player introduced 13.Ne4, an improvement on a correspondence game which saw 13.Qc2. Following the further 13...Bb6 White played 14.Ra2, which led to big complications. Both players played well for most of the game, although they were unable to avoid mistakes towards the first time control. A must see game, which also has theoretical value. 11.b3 deserves more practical tests.

Italian 5.Nc3 d6 6.Na4 [C50]

The game Giri, A - Shankland, S Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee 2019, saw a very rare line from Black.

In the diagram position Shankland played 6...Qe7, instead of the more common 6...Bb6 (as in Karjakin, S - Topalov, V Shamkir AZE 2018). After 7.a3 Be6 8.Bxe6 fxe6 White introduced a new move 9.b4 (instead of 9.Nxc5 in an old game from less-known players). Black reacted pretty well and equalised, but his 14...c5?! was dubious (14...c6 was better and promised equality) and allowed White to seize an edge with 15.exf5 Nxf5 16.Ne4. An interesting game with a surprising end!

Italian 5.0-0 0-0 6.Nc3 h6 7.Be3 [C50]

In the game Haimovich, T - Mikhalevski, V ISR-Tch 2019, a similar line with the knight on c3 occurred.

In the diagram position I played 7...d6, which is the third most popular move in this line - Black can also play 7...Bxe3 and 7...Bb6. After 8.Nd5 I could have equalised with 8...Nxd5, but instead I tried to complicate matters with 8...Be6. Anyway, the position remained equal for a long time and only some inaccuracies later in the game allowed me to seize an edge and slowly convert it into a win. The line with 6.Nc3 leads to quiet positional play with roughly equal chances.

Scotch 4...Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.Nd2 Nb4 9.Nf3 Ba6 10.c4 c5 [C45]

Finally, the game Kobo, O - Mikhalevski, V ISR-Tch 2019, saw the 8.Nd2 line in the 4...Nf6 system.

The critical diagram position arose after 14.0-0-0. Here I castled short, 14....0-0?!, came under serious pressure and was close to a loss. However, luck was on my side in this game as White erred a couple of times in an absolutely winning position and allowed me to turn the tables. 8...Nb4 is probably not the best way to meet the 8.Nd2 line. Anyway, Black had a reasonable position in this game and had to castle long on the 14th move. After 14...0-0?! Black is under serious pressure.


See you next month, Victor.

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