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Hello everyone,
This month we continue to review the games played in the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee 2020. Additionally, I’ll analyse a couple of games from the 2nd Prague Masters and the Pro League. You’ll also be able to enjoy no less than four games from the former Iranian star Firouzja Alireza, including two wins over top players. As usual, we will focus on the Spanish and Giuoco Piano Openings.

Download PGN of March ’20 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish Opening, Yurtaev Variation 8.d4 Bb6 9.Be3 0-0 10.Nd2 h6 11.h3 Bb7 [C78]

The game Vitiugov, N - Firouzja, A 82nd Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee 2020, saw an important line of the Yurtaev Variation.

In the diagram position White played 15.a4! and obtained an edge after 15...bxa4 16.Bxa4 b5 17.Bc2 Ng6?! 18.Bd3! Instead Black had to play 17...Nd7 with a playable position. It seems that Black is under some pressure in the line which occurred in the game and so the ball is in Black's court.

Spanish, Chigorin system with the rook on f1, instead of e1: 5...Be7 6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.d5 [C84]

Our next game Firouzja, A - Harikrishna, P 2nd Prague Masters 2020, saw a rare version of the Chigorin Variation with the king’s rook on f1, instead of e1. This arose from 6.d3, but it can also be reached after 5.d3.

In the diagram position Harikrishna improved the position of his knight by means of 12...Nc4. Play continued logically: 13.b3 Nb6 14.a4! c4! 15.axb5, but here Black committed a mistake, 15...axb5? and came under pressure. 15...cxb3! was better with roughly equal chances. A convincing win from the former Iranian player, who completely outplayed his strong opponent. Black's play in the opening was reasonable, but he should have met 15.axb5 with 15....cxb3.

Spanish, Open Variation 6...Be7 7.Re1 b5 8.Rxe4 d5 9.Nxe5 Nxe5 10.Rxe5 bxa4 11.b3 [C84]

In the game Vitiugov, N - Dubov, D 82nd Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee 2020, the players discussed the sideline of the Open Spanish with 6...Be7, which is gaining in popularity.

Vitiugov played an extremely rare move in the position given above, 12.Rxe7, when instead, 12.Ba3 is much more common and was played last December, see Vachier Lagrave, M - Carlsen, M.

The subsequent moves are forced: 12...Qxe7 13.Ba3 Qg5! 14.Bxf8 Bh3! 15.Qf1 Kxf8 16.Nc3. Up to now the players followed the game Relange,E (2490)-Benjamin,J (2595) Mermaid Beach 1998. Now Black played 16...axb3, while Benjamin preferred the immediate 16...Re8. However, the drawish idea demonstrated by the American GM was repeated despite the exchange on b3. A well-played game, which confirms that 12.Rxe7 promises no advantage.

Spanish, Berlin Variation 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.Nbd2 [C65]

The game Caruana, F - Firouzja, A Pro League 2020, featured a well-known line of the Berlin with 4.d3.

In the Diagram position Firouzja played a rather rare move, 6...Bd6, instead of the more common 6...Be6, 6...Nd7 or 6...0-0. After 7.Nc4 Nd7 Fabiano played 8.b3, but one of the preceding games, Zhigalko,S (2671)-Petkov,V (2515) Rome 2016, saw a very interesting option of 8.h4. In the current game play was more standard, 8...0-0 9.Bb2 Re8 10.0-0 b6, but 10...f6 was also worth consideration. However, 11.g3?! was inaccurate and allowed Black to equalize. Alireza returned the favour with 12...Ba6?!, but the American didn’t have a good day, committed a few mistakes and eventually lost. Firouzja's 6...Bd6 doesn't promise full equality. 11.Re1 yielded White better chances.

Giuoco Piano 7.a4 h6 8.Re1 0-0 9.h3 a5 10.d4 [C54]

In the game Anand, V - Vitiugov, N 82nd Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee 2020, White decided to test a line he played with the black pieces against Aronian in 2019.

The Russian player didn’t mind following in his opponent’s steps and repeated 10...Bb6 (instead, Karjakin played 10...Ba7 against Giri in Shamkir 2019). For the next few moves the players repeated the aforementioned game of Anand’s, but 13...Nb4 was new as Anand preferred 13...Nxd5. Vishy continued 14.Nc3 which was met by 14...Bf5, but, in fact, the immediate 14...Nfxd5 is more accurate, as it prevents the 15.Bf4! which occurred in the game. After 15...Nfxd5 16.Nxd5 Nxd5 White played 17.Bxd5?!, which threw away chances for an advantage - 17.Bg3! promised the better chances for White. 10...Bb6 looks like a safe way of playing, and White should probably try 11.Bb5, while Black has to meet 14.Nc3 with 14...Nfxd5 to have equal chances.

Giuoco Piano 6.Nbd2 a6 7.Nf1 [C54]

The game Duda, J - Carlsen, M 82nd Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee 2020, saw a rare line of the Giuoco Piano with 7.Nf1, but later transposed to more popular lines of the system.

The diagram position has been tested at the GM level and White’s next move, 16.Nhf5, is the main line, although it looks risky - 16.Qh5 is a safer option, which leads to equality. Black replied with the natural 16...Qf6 and then Duda continued with 17.Qf3, White also tested 17.Qh5? and 17.Qg4. Here it seems that Carlsen played the inaccurate 17...g6?! and could have had problems, but the Polish GM returned the favour and the game was eventually drawn. After the correct 17...Kh8 White has to look for equality. A very interesting game, which also has theoretical value. The position after 15...Qe7 is about equal, while 16.Qh5 looks safer than the 16.Nhf5 of the game. Black could try to prove this by means of 17...Kh8!

Giuoco Piano 6...h6 7.Nbd2 0-0 8.h3 a6 9.a4 Re8 [C54]

In the game Firouzja, A - Navara, D 2nd Prague Masters 2020, White introduced an early novelty in the diagram position given below:

Here Alireza introduced 10.Qb3, instead of the more common 10.Re1 which we've already analysed for you on a couple of occasions. Navara was up to the task and answered it with the natural 10...Be6. Play continued 11.a5! b5!? 12.axb6 cxb6 13.Bxe6 Rxe6 14.Rd1 and David equalised with 14...d5! Soon Black missed a chance to set some problems and it was White, who equalised with some precise play. 10.Qb3 doesn't seem to set any serious problems, Navara managed to solve them easily and so the ball remains in White's court.

Scotch Four Knights 7...d5 8.Bd2 [C47]

Our last but not least game in this update is So, W - Carlsen, M 82nd Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee 2020.

Instead of the main line, 8.exd5 Wesley decided to surprise the world champion with a side line, 8.Bd2. Magnus answered it with the main line 8...0-0, instead of the 8...Bg4 which we analysed in Vitiugov, N - Yu Yangui Porto Carras GRE 2018. After 9.0-0 he chose 9...Bxc3, when 9...Rb8 is more popular, and then 10.Bxc3 dxe4, instead of the 10...Nxe4 from Karjakin, S - Aronian, L, Saint Louis 2019. White had no choice but to simplify with 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.Bxe4 Bxb2 13.Bxc6 Rb8 and then even more with 14.Rb1. The ensuing endgame wasn’t too difficult for the world champion to hold and the game ended in a logical draw. A quiet positional game, in which Black proved that 8.Bd2 promises no real chances for any advantage.


See you next month, Victor.

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