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Hello everyone,
This update is a little different from all the previous updates. This time all the analysed games were actually played on the very same day, March 13, in the same tournament, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group 2021. As usual, all the games were played by top players, although this time the results are: five wins for black and three draws. Surprising, isn’t it? You’ll also see two pretty rare openings, especially for the top level, the Philidor Defence and the King’s Gambit.

Download PGN of March ’21 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish Opening, Open Variation 9.c3 Be7 10.Nbd2 0-0 11.Bc2 f5 12.Nb3 Qd7 [C83]

The first game in our update, Nakamura, H - Anton Guijarro, D Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group, saw a long theoretical line.

In the well-known position given above Nakamura played the extremely rare, 17.Qe2, instead of the main line 17.a4. After the natural 17...Rad8 he continued with 18.Qf2, although it would be interesting to play 18.Be3. Black replied with 18...Qc6 and after White put pressure on the d5-pawn Black doubled his rooks on the d-file and protected it. Hikaru was unable to set any problems and it was a very logical draw. 17.Qe2 is an interesting try to avoid the main theory, but White should try to set some problems by means of 18.Be3!?

Italian Opening, 5.d4 exd4 6.e5 d5 7.Bb5 Ne4 main line with 12...Nxc3 [C53]

The game Pichot, A - Karjakin, S Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group, featured a well-known line of the Italian with 5.d4.

The players followed the game Dominguez Perez,L-Grischuk,A Khanty-Mansiysk RUS 2019 [Mikhalevski,V] for the first 19 moves, but on move 20 the Argentinian GM deviated from that game with 20.Be2, which I suggested in my annotations to the aforementioned game, instead of 20.Bg4. Karjakin reacted with the correct 20...Qd6!, but after 21.f4! his 21...b5?! was inaccurate. White continued with 22.Bd3 and then Black’s next move was also not the best, 22...g6?! White could have taken advantage of the text had he continued with 23.h4! Instead, he played 23.g3 and obtained a slight edge, but Black was able to defend his position. 20.Be2 is a possible way to set some problems in this line, however, Black had to answer it with 21...g6! as after 21...b5 White is better.

Italian Opening, 5.d4 main line with 12...Ba5 13.0-0 Bxf3 14.gxf3 [C53]

In the game Pichot,A - So, Wesley Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group, the players discussed the same line, but a different branch with 12...Ba5.

In the diagram position Black went for 14...Ng5. Earlier we'd considered 14...Nxd4 in a recent game Grandelius,N-Tari,A Wijk aan Zee NED 2021 [Mikhalevski,V] and 14...Nxc3 in in Karjakin,S-Harikrishna,P Jerusalem ISR 2019 [Mikhalevski,V]. After the further moves 15.Kg2 Bxc3 16.bxc3 Black introduced a new move, 16...Ne6, instead of the 16...f5 from the only preceding game. Pichot reacted well with 17.f4! f5 18.Qa4!, but his 22.f3?! was unfortunate and 23.Kh2? was already a decisive mistake. 12...Ba5 is an interesting line, which promises equal chances. White had to prefer 22.Rh1 or 23.Rf2 to retain the balance.

Giuoco Piano, 7...a5 8.Re1 Be6 9.Bb5 Qb8 [C50]

The game Karjakin, S - So, Wesley Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group, featured a popular setup with 7...a5.

Karjakin came prepared with the very rare, 10.Bxc6, instead of the 10.Nf1 from So,W-Ding,L Tbilisi GEO 2017 [Mikhalevski,Victor] The game continued 10...bxc6 11.Nf1 when Wesley deviated from the strong 11...a4 (as in Radjabov,T-Anton Guijarro,D INT 2020) in favour of 11...h6. After 12.Ng3 Re8 13.h3 a4! 14.Nh4 Black missed a chance to set some problems by means of 14...d5! Instead he played 14...Kh7 and this time Karjakin missed a chance to equalise by means of 15.d4!?. The 10.Bxc6 line doesn't promise any advantage and so 10.Nf1 has to be preferred.

Giuoco Piano, 7.Re1 a6 8.h3 Ba7 9.a4 h6 10.Nbd2 Re8 [C53]

Our next game, So, Wesley - Giri, A Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group, saw a very rare move in the diagram position after 10...Re8 given below:

Wesley played 11.Qc2, but soon the players transposed to the main line, 11.b4, after 11...Be6 12.Bxe6 Rxe6 13.b4. After the moves 13...Qd7 14.Rb1 Rd8 15.b5 Ne7 So followed my suggestion, 16.d4, which was already tested in practice in the game Svidler,P-Radjabov,T INT 2020. The game saw 16...Ng6 and then 17.Nf1, when instead, Svidler’s 17.d5 deserved attention. In the game the position was equal for most of the game before White committed an awful mistake, 28.c4?? and after 28...d4! it was all over. A surprising end to a well-played game. It shows that 17.Nf1 doesn't bring any advantage, and probably Svidler's 17.d5!? yields more chances.

Giuoco Piano, 6...d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Re1 Nb6 9.Bb3 Bg4 10.h3 Bh5 11.Nbd2 Qxd3 12.Nxe5 [C53]

The game So, Wesley - Radjabov, T Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group, saw an important line of the Giuoco Piano with the early 6...d5.

Radjabov played 12...Qf5! in the diagram position, which is better than the endgame which ensues after 12...Bxd1. The game continued 13.Nef3! Rad8 14.Qe2 Nd5! 15.Ne4! Bxf3! In the endgame after 16.Qxf3 Qxf3 17.gxf3 Bb6 White could try 18.a4!? but instead he played 18.Bg5 and Black could equalise with 23...Nc6. Instead, he gave some chances with 23...Ng6, but White returned the favour when he didn’t play 29.f6! which would set some problems. The line which occurred in the game leads to a tiny edge for White, who may try to set some problems by means of 18.a4.

Philidor’s Defence 3.d4 exd4 4.Qxd4 [C41]

In the game Aronian, L - Mamedyarov, S Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group, the players achieved a pretty rare position early in the game:

Mamedyarov decided to sidestep the main theory, 4...Nc6, and went for 4...Nf6 in the diagram position. After 5.Nc3 Be7 Aronian played the most popular 6.Bg5, when the computer’s suggestion is the extremely rare 6.b3!? After 6...h6 White’s next move, 7.Bh4, is already inaccurate, although it looks very natural. Black didn’t take advantage of White’s inaccuracy and played 7...0-0, when instead, 7...Nc6 would at least equalise. After the text White obtained a slight edge with the precise 8.h3!

It's hard to believe that the Philidor may offer Black equal chances. The side line 4...Nf6 doesn't promise equality either, probably one should prefer the main line 4...Nc6. In the game though, White could improve his play with 7.Bf4, which yields White the better chances.

Kings Gambit Accepted, 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nc3 c6 5.d4 d5 6.cxd5 exd5 7.Bb3 Bd6 8.Nge2 [C33]

Our last, but definitely not least, game, Nepomniachtchi, I - Aronian, L Magnus Carlsen Invitational Preliminary group, saw a pretty rare guest in top events, the King’s Gambit.

The last time we considered the position after 8.Nge2 was 10 years ago, so the current game is a good chance to revisit it. Levon played 8...Bg4!?, while Kasparov played 8...Nc6 against Short and lost a rapid game in Leuven, which can be found in our Archive. However, my computer suggests 8...Qe7 with roughly equal chances. After 9.Qd3 0-0 10.0-0 Black reacted with the logical 10...f3. 10...g5, which leads to big complications, is the computer’s suggestion, but I like the text better. The game continued 11.gxf3 Bh3 12.Rf2, but Black’s next move, 12...Nbd7? was unfortunate, he had to prefer the more natural, 12...Nc6. After 13.Bg5! White was already clearly better. A complicated game. The line which occurred promises Black equal chances, but, 12...Nc6 has to be preferred to 12...Nbd7?


See you next month, Victor.

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