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Exchange Variation: 7.Bb5+ [D85]
The plan after Bb5+ of meeting ...Bd7 with the retreat Bb5-e2 isn't that common these days. But it seems to have some bite, as one can see in Game One, Baron-Dvoirys, where White's novelty 11.Bg5 created practical problems for Black:
Later on, however, the higher-rated player prevailed in a messy game.
As for the opening, Black has a number of options on move nine including delaying castling, in order to re-position the bishop from the less-than-ideal d7-square. My suggestion is 9...Nc6, followed by trading pawns on d4 and then playing ...Bg4.
Exchange Variation: 8.Rb1 [D85]
When Black opts for the solid ...b6 system, one way he can be destabilized is with the quick d4-d5 gambit. This pawn wedge tends to keep Black tied down while White builds up attacking chances. This holds true whether Black plays 10...Qc7 or 10...Bb7, however the version in the game is the rarer of the two.
Here in Game Two Black grabbed the c-pawn, but then was passive for quite a long period. Such enduring 'hard-to-judge pressure for the pawn' may suit some more than others. Later the game became highly complicated, with Black missing a win or two before the time control.
Game Three was highly theoretical with Navara keeping control after White's 20.Qxf6+. This move doesn't have a good reputation and this example won't help! White seems to have drawing chances at best after the queen exchange.
Black also seems to be doing OK in the main line with 20.Qh2.
A review of the earlier theory (see the notes) highlights a couple of White alternatives at move 16 which might interest those seeking to breathe new life back into the White side.
In Game Four Carlsen began with 7.Be3, but the game eventually transposed into a line that normally arises from 8.Rb1.
Here Vachier Lagrave introduced a novelty with 16...Bd7, but I can't see anything wrong with the alternative 16...Bxf3 either. With Carlsen ahead in the tournament, the World No.1 was probably happy to go down a forcing line with minimal losing chances, especially against the in-form Frenchman.
In the actual game White arguably obtained a small edge, inducing Black to shed a pawn but, even so, the double-bishop endgame always looked drawish.
Exchange Variation: 7.Qa4+ Nd7 [D85]
In Game Five Black used a manoeuvre that is becoming fashionable: Meeting the check with 7...Nd7, and then quickly gaining a tempo with ...Nb6 threatening White's queen:
So instead of the light-squared bishop going to b7, it is instead directed to g4, putting pressure on the d4-pawn. In the game Black kept the tension, but trading on f3 and then capturing on d4 is another reasonable way of handling his position.
In the middlegame White's attack should have won, but after one imprecise move the tables were turned.
Exchange Variation: 5.Bd2 [D85]
Despite the eventual result, I think that Gupta's twelfth move constitutes an improvement on previous experience in Game 6:
Here Gupta played 12...Bh6, which is logical, as e3 is weak whereas d4 is now supported. The problem for him after that was whether or not, or at what point, to capture the loose e3-pawn. My analysis suggests that it was as late as move 19!
Black would have been fine in the latter stages if he hadn't allowed White to penetrate the eighth rank.
Exchange Variation: 7.Bc4, 10...b6 [D87]
Game 7 features another of those deeply analyzed lines that Vachier Lagrave is happy to play. His preparation again came up with something new, but here well into the game (move 24!), as he was able to make Black's defence slightly easier than in the high-profile stem game Aronian-Grischuk from the 2011 Candidates:
Later on, Black's bishop was by far the superior minor piece which ensured that there was more than enough compensation for the pawn.
4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5 Ne4 6.Bf4 [D91]
In Game 8, after 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5 Ne4, White replied with 6.Bxf4 which has come back into fashion in recent months. Black met this with ...Nxc3 and ...dxc4 grabbing the c-pawn, and challenging White to find a convenient way to get it back. It was then instructive to see how Wei Yi was able to break out against Timman with a timely ...f5:
Here Black's 15...f5! Equalized. By the time White had regained the pawn, Black was already fighting back and in the process of undermining White's centre. The pressure told and White soon lost his way.
Russian System 7...Nc6 8.Be2 e5 9.d5 Nd4 [D97]
Games 9 and 10 feature the same variation:
In Game 9 Aronian continued with 12.Qc4, but was unable to obtain a working advantage following the sharp theoretical 12...b5. True he was always a pawn or two to the good, but with Giri's defensive technique being up to the task, he never looked close to winning. Aronian recently employed this same line with Black, so may have a few ideas up his sleeve, but here it was Giri who innovated (on move 23).
In Game 10 Swapnil was more successful with 12.Qd1, but I don't think that Black met the queen retreat with a particularly good defence.
I have two suggestions: 12...Re8, or 12...cxd5 13.exd5 b5!?. The first of these has been played a few times over the years, but no one has yet tried my computer-generated improvement on move 19 which seems to equalize. The latter is more experimental and has already occurred in an earlier Swapnil game. It will be interesting to see if he has a good riposte ready.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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