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English Defence 4.Nc3 Bb4 [A40]
Here I have been looking at a pair of games where White plays an early d4-d5 to stem the influence of Black's light-squared bishop.
In Game One reacting with ...c6 (as early as move 7) eroded the centre and gave Black at least equality. This position deserves a diagram:
It seems that it is White who has to fight for equality. In Battaglini - Sethuraman he didn't achieve it and was comprehensively outplayed.
English Defence 4.d5 Bb4+ [A40]
In Game 2, Bagaturov - Kuzubov, Black also won, but the opening struggle wasn't so straightforward for him. A number of the included game segments are from the early years of the English Defence where experimentation with d4-d5 was in its heyday. The conclusion now, as then, is that Black shouldn't be concerned with the exchange of queens, and that apart from ...c6, the counter-attack with ...f5 should yield decent chances (as here).White's knight stuck on g1 was striking, almost shocking, but illustrates the fact that Bagaturov was so preoccupied with other business he couldn't find the time to get his development up to scratch.
My feeling is that the d4-d5 advance is risky for White, as there is a danger that so many early pawn moves will lead to him suffering from backward development.
Benko Gambit Accepted 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 [A58]
Bogdan Lalic-Sergey Kasparov, Game 3, was analyzed essentially by Lalic and shows an interesting way for White to meet the new revitalized Benko. I was so impressed that the day after I received Bogdan's work I tried the idea myself against local (i.e. the south of France, where I live) junior Clement Meunier. Although I ultimately won the game, Meunier improved on my preparation (OK, I admit, it was largely based on Bogdan's efforts) and indeed on Bogdan's analysis. He may have found a way to equalize for now, that is, until somebody else has a chance to analyze a bit deeper. With the number of games in the Benko these days, it shouldn't be long before this idea (originally played by Pogonina) gets further tests.
In my later game (here, after 14.Qe2), Meunier played 14...d5 (which Lalic and I had anticipated), but after 15.0-0 he innovated with the simple 15...Nbd7 (which we hadn't!).
Classical Dutch Defence 5.Nh3 [A91]
Richard Pert analyzes his tense last-round encounter with his brother from Coventry where they were playing for the title of British Champion. As it happened Jonathan Hawkins won his game and (as all the other key games, including this one, were drawn) picked-up the title of 2015 British Champion. Apart from this battle having importance in the context of the tournament and a historical one (have two brothers been in contention for a national title going into the last round before?) it has theoretical interest. Compare Richard's ideas with the June 2015 update where I looked at 5.Nh3, a fashionable anti-Stonewall move order.
Richard's new handling left him with a decent middlegame and he even obtained good winning chances before it fizzled out towards the end.
This is the diagram from Game Four after 12...Na6 (his novelty).
Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 [D70]
I hadn't previously reported that 8...Be6!? had been played in a rapid game by Aronian last December (against Ponomariov):
Antal takes up this idea in Game Five, but unfortunately he didn't counter the extended centre in the best manner and gets into trouble. Instead of 10...c6, I prefer 10...e6, when I think that Black is OK. Adhiban's vigorous play to press home his advantage was instructive.
Despite the result, the idea of provoking the d-pawn forward with an early ...Be6 is quite fashionable in various lines of the Grünfeld and it could catch on here.
In Game 6, Gretarsson - Cori, a rare move that I had already analyzed was played with success. In April 2015, I already expressed that I couldn't see anything wrong with 14...Ne5:
Cori won this game in convincing style, and in fact after 15.h4 I quite like Black's chances (as I don't believe in White's attack). White might be able to improve with the strange-looking 15.Be2!? but this doesn't shake my belief in Black's position.
In Game Seven Krasenkow was able to employ an interesting a-pawn push against Etienne Bacrot (9...a5!?). Although it goes back half a century not many folk have shown much interest until now:
A good look at White's alternatives has convinced me that the rare 9...a5 is quite a good approach, as it creates some play whilst avoiding more heavily analyzed variations.
Bacrot's slight but significant error came on move 24. He had a possibility which should have left him safe, but in the actual game continuation he lacked a tempo in the complications which proved fatal for him.
Onischuk - Bagi in Game 8 was a different story altogether. The game followed more normal lines and the themes involved will be familiar to regular readers of my column. It's worth comparing with my notes to Giri-Gelfand in the archives where I examined 14...e5 instead of 14...Nbc4. In the present game, White obtained control of some key squares and just pushed Black back. Was this Onischuk just outplaying his lower-ranked opponent or was the whole set-up a bit shaky for Black?
It may be that one day it will be confirmed that 13...Qe8! 14.Qc1, and now either 14...Ne5, or 14...Na5, is the best way for Black to play. So, if you aren't happy with Black's chances in Game 8, then try Game 6 for inspiration.
Kamsky often likes to avoid mainstream theoretical debates which leads to him choosing some marginal variations at times. His 7...Nc6 before castling in Game Nine being a case in point:
This invites 8.Bb5 when White 'threatens' to capture on c6 making a mess of Black's queenside structure. On the other hand, it's another 'offbeat' idea that received Aronian's stamp of approval only a few months ago.
The US GM decided to provoke the dreaded Bxc6-capture anyway, which led to some tricky play at the end of which he just had a rotten structure. The idea of 9...a6 may not be too bad, but there is always a risk that any two-bishop activity gets negated, and the consequences of doubled pawns on an open file get felt. It's worth noting that in several other games (see the notes) Black has emerged with a good position from this line. This would no doubt have been the case if Kamsky had seized one of a couple of opportunities that came his way (at moves 15 and 18).
So 7...Nc6 is worth a try, but only if you don't have a phobia about doubled pawns!
Blumenfeld Counter Gambit [E10]
In Game 10, Maletin - Savchenko, White tried to maintain his dark-squared bishop with B-h4 in a line where Bxf6 is more common:
The notes suggest that 7...g5 is a perfectly acceptable antidote, but Savchenko obtained a reasonable game with the more prudent 7...d6 and then placed his bishop on e7, breaking the pin without risking any weaknesses. I consider 'equal' to be the fairest assessment of the early middlegame.
Later on, White's attempts to squeeze some advantage out of the position involved playing f4, and might have paid off if he had found an important move (26.Qe2). However, after that Savchenko cashed-in on White's weaknesses and never gave Maletin a chance.
In Rozum - Bocharov, Game 11, White accepted the gambit, which in my opinion is a psychological error as it's exactly what Black wants!
In the middlegame, Bocharov's fine position was damaged when he advanced his d-pawn prematurely. Then Rozum had all the chances, but at the key moment White went badly astray (this time on move 25) and Black came back with a vengeance to win. The plan of Nbd2 and e2-e3 was timid, but no better or worse than many other tries in the Accepted.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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