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Benko Gambit 5.e3 [A57]
In Game One, although there have been some recent games after 5...g6, I get the impression that there haven't been many significant developments. The main game is a curious one from the American Internet league where Alexander Stripunsky plays a sideline (that rightly has a bad reputation) and soon finds himself worse with White. However he creates practical chances for himself and problems for Giorgi Kacheishvili (playing Black). The computer will tell you that Black was much better for most of the game, but many humans would find his position difficult to play. To make matters worse, Kacheishvili even lost this encounter, worn down by Stripunsky's resourcefulness!
In response to 5.e3 in Game Two, I investigate what has been happening after 5...axb5. Robert Markus introduces a novelty on move 12, but his move 12.Qe2 doesn't slow down Black's development:
The standard move is 12.Bc3 after which Black is probably fine. In the game Zvonko Stanojoski failed to find the best way to develop and was soon worse. I suggest that dropping the bishop back to c6 is unnecessary here, see the notes.
Grünfeld Defence - 4.e3 [D80]
In Game Three Ivanchuk turns to the quiet 4.e3 to try and surprise Peter Svidler. In the game, the manoeuvre 5.Qb3 e6 6.Qa3 delays Black's castling, a plan which enabled Ivanchuk to maintain an opening pull. Later, in the middlegame, where White had the bishop pair, chances were close to equal, but proved to be somewhat more difficult to play for Black.
In the notes, I have a look at White's fashionable alternative 5.cxd5, which has featured in a number of games of late. In particular, the plan of playing an early f2-f4 (holding back ...e5) is relatively new and worth a closer look.
In Gelfand-Nepomniachtchi, the 5.Bh4 gambit (one of Gelfand's pet lines) is featured, see Game 4. Nepomniachtchi played a robust method of defence, against which nobody seems to have found a way to an edge for White. This game confirms this view, as White remained a pawn down with barely sufficient compensation after the natural novelty 13...Bb7:
After 14.d5 h6 15.Nf3 g5 16.Bg3 f5! I quite like the Black side of this complex middlegame.
In the notes the wild 5.h4 is also mentioned. The number of games featuring strong players, on either side of 5.h4, can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but Jobava seemed to enjoy giving it a go. It's early for definitive conclusions, but I've pointed out several possible alternatives and improvements for Black. This can't be any good, surely?
4.Bf4 [D83 & D93]
In Game 5, Aronian-Svidler is a typical top-level GM encounter. The Armenian prepared a line where he had chances to keep a small pull, with no real risk. Naturally, taking a closer look at such a 'dry' middlegame it is possible to find a few possible improvements for Black, but it was always somewhat more difficult for the second player to handle. So although I won't criticize Svidler's defensive set-up, it seems that 15...Rad8 is more dynamic and may offer an easier route to equality.
Nakamura managed to introduce a novelty on move 8 in the 4. Bf4 Grünfeld of Game Six. The most notable aspect of the opening after that was the way Ivanchuk seized the initiative by offering the exchange, thus rendering the American's opening idea counter-productive. Later it was difficult for Nakamura to keep his position afloat, although as late as move 29 he may have been able to hold with precise play.
As for the opening, 7...Nbd7 is a playable way of avoiding the mainstream theory of Game 5.
Exchange with 5.Bd2 [D85]
Although White won in Game 7, it was Black who was making most of the running. Indeed Romain Edouard's handling of the opening gave him the better game quite early on. In a previous encounter, the young Frenchman had preferred 6...Nxc3, but here he reverted to 6...Nb6:
It seems that in either case Black is doing fine, and I have no hesitation in concluding that there is not much sting left in the 5.Bd2 line.
Exchange with 8.Rb1 [D85]
Earlier this summer, due to Carlsen's efforts we already had the impression that White's gambit had been shorn of its terror. In Game Eight another try by White involving a direct attack is refuted by Salgado Lopez, who wins easily. This reinforces my view that the best days of 11.d5 are behind us.
Exchange with 7.Bc4 [D87]
Magnus Carlsen himself didn't do so well on the White side of Game 9 after 10...b6!?:
This system is a relatively unknown way of avoiding the main line, and with which Black has been doing reasonably well. After 11.dxc5 Qc7, Carlsen innovated with 12.f4, but Peter Svidler was able to obtain full equality, as shown in the game and notes. Instead the earlier 12.Nd4 Ne5 was seen in Aronian-Grischuk, but nothing tangible has yet been found for White.
So is this the beginning of a whole new chapter in Exchange Variation theory?
A few days earlier Svidler had opted for 10...Bg4 11.f3 Bd7 against Nakamura and obtained a decent position. However he varied as he must have anticipated that Carlsen would have something up his sleeve in Game 9. I couldn't find any problem with Black's position in Game 10, nor for that matter could Nakamura. Svidler was able to seize the initiative with a timely exchange sacrifice and ultimately win the endgame.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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