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The title refers to a certain degree as to what we are all doing at the moment almost wherever one is in the world. In chess terms, I have found some new ways of defending in certain openings such as the English Defence and Dutch that seem to improve Black's prospects. However, in certain cases, White comes out on top (albeit slightly) and then Black can find himself only playing for two results. Still, there are plenty of new ideas in the notes that you may well be able to employ in your own games, either online or when traditional chess tournaments start up again.

Download PGN of April ’20 Daring Defences games

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English Defence 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 Bb7 5.Nge2 [A40]

The opening in the encounter Kriebel, T - Bartel, M is hard to define with hints of a Nimzo, a Dutch, and an English Defence. Some players like these roundabout move orders as they can throw off an opponent. I'm not sure I can make too many definite conclusions, but in the game Black was fine and held firm throughout, even getting an edge in the latter stages. The big decision for him is what to do with his b4-bishop when it gets kicked as 6...Bxc3+, 6...Bd6 and 6...Be7 would each have their supporters. I suppose that it comes down to what mood one is in(!) but Bartel definitely demonstrated the solidity and reliability of the latter of these.

English Defence 3.e4 Bb4+ [A40]

There is a new way of handling the English Defence as illustrated by Thybo, J - Vallejo Pons, F:

Goodness gracious, what is this? Countering in the centre has to come at some point in the English, but it's rare that Black lashes out this early with one of his central pawns. Can he get away with it? I would say, yes just about, but a close look at the featured game does suggest that White might be able to keep a pull. Note the choice of 10.f4 followed by 11.Nf3 which seems to offer White a few dynamic options. Are there any worthwhile alternatives? Well, yes, see moves six and seven, including the odd-looking 6...Nc6 that has been played four times (twice by each Rapport, husband and wife!) to earn draws against four higher-rated opponents.

Dutch 2.Bg6 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.h4 [A80]

I have to admit that I quite like the opening plan employed by the French GM in Sieciechowicz, M - Edouard, R which resulted in the following position:

In these lines Black has to be very careful when placing his king on the kingside, so why not go long? The set-up involving ...e7-e6 combined with ...Qd8-e7-f7 covers all avenues of attack and a later ...Nd5 significantly restricts White's options.

Black gradually outplayed his opponent, but although it wasn't plain sailing, this opening plan avoids deep water and placed him in 'shipshape and Bristol fashion' (or something like that!).

Dutch 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4 a6 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bd3 c5 [A80]

The game Sivuk, V - Krishna, C led to Black turning the tables late on (in the time scramble, I bet), but for most of the game White retained a pull. This opening variation isn't that easy for Black to handle with even Carlsen getting into a mess not so long ago (in an Internet rapid game).

The typical plan involves 10...Qe7 as in the game (or even one move earlier), but I think that 10...Nb4 is better. It's all a question of timing, as at this point the bishop can hardly run away and simplification can get Black on the road to equality.

Dutch Fluid Center 7...Qe8 8.Re1 [A97]

Black plays an old line in the Dutch in Novikov, I - Polasek, J, but the experienced Novikov just uses classical principles to earn the better game. The bishop pair, safer king, and then a minority attack gave his opponent unpleasant problems to solve.

After examining this line in some detail I have to conclude that I can't find a route to equality, especially after the diagram position had occurred. Nevertheless, I suspect that 8...Qg6 is a shade stronger than 8...Nc6, when White's pull would be more manageable.

Still, if 7...Qe8 isn't comfortable for Black, one can understand why the trickier 7...Ne4 has overtaken it as the modern main line.

Neo-Grünfeld 6.0-0 c5!? [D77]

The idea of a quick ...c5 is known, but as early as move six it's rare. The game and notes to Artemiev, V - Yu Yangyi show some of the possibilities (including transpositions) but the home truth is that, in any open position, symmetrical play is a shade risky for the follower!

In the actual game, Black had to defend long and hard to earn his draw, but my examination of alternatives found it hard to pinpoint a clear route to equality. So it's necessary to go to the early stages to find possible improvements. It seems that both of 7...Na6 and (one move later) 8...Qa5 look like feasible lines that could certainly keep White guessing. So 6...c5 might be worth a try, as it could be more fun than the better established lines, but only if it destabilizes White more than Black!

Neo-Grünfeld 6.0-0 c6 with Qb3 [D78]

It's interesting to see the developments in the fashionable line involving an early Qb3, Qb6; where both protagonists try and seek richer play than a routine early queen exchange, as in our featured encounter Tomashevsky, E - Sarana, A. The choice of 8...dxc4 being particularly notable. In the opening (whilst he had plenty of time on the clock) Tomashevsky made some good decisions, such as 10.Re1, 11.Qb3 and, a little later, 17.d5 and probably had done enough to earn an edge. I don't want to make too much of the latter stages, as it was a rapid game, but White seriously lost his way. So my recommendation is 9...Be6 (rather than 9...Bf5) 10.Qa4 Qa6 which I trust more as a probable route to equality.

Neo-Grünfeld 6.0-0 c6 7.Nbd2 [D78]

In Wang Hao - Alekseenko, K White gamely tried to make something out of 'next to nothing' in the queenless middlegame but, despite everything sharpening up later, Black was not in serious danger.

The theory seems to involve both players coming to terms with the rock-solid nature of the position. Here with White seeking a slightly easier game without hassle, the idea of pushing the a-pawn in response is a sensible way of obtaining chances for counterplay without risking upsetting the fundamental solidity of the set-up. It turns out that 13...Ra6 was a novelty, but I doubt that there is any real problem after 13...Rfb8 either.

Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted 5.dxe6 fxe6 6.cxb5 a6 [E10]

In Bjerre, J - Tregubov, P White sought straightforward development involving e2-e3. As 7.e3 seems to score better than 7.bxa6 (usually followed by g2-g3) it's worth taking a closer look, and indeed White went on to win here. Black's attempt to seek queenside action with ...c4 was probably fine, but it looks like allowing Q-g4 was too risky. The most viable set-ups and move orders are not yet crystal clear, but in the notes I've tried to demonstrate a selection of possibilities. Maybe the most important principle to remember is to get one's pieces out quickly whilst keeping the centre intact, then there is at least 'practical' compensation even if the engine perfers White slightly.

Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted 5.dxe6 fxe6 6.cxb5 d5 7.g3 Bd6 8.Bg2 [E10]

The encounter Bogdanovich, S - Lugosvkoy, M was short and sharp with White coming out on top.

With 10.Nfd2 the intention is to blast open the centre with e2-e4. As this can't be stopped, Black just has to create some counter-action while he can. The critical continuation 10...a6 11.e4 axb5 12.exd5 exd5 13.Nc4! occurred in the game and basically forces Black to give up the exchange. Maybe Lugovskoy then chose the wrong way? Still, even then, matters were very murky until Black blundered.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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