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This month I've been thinking about some less common lines in the Dutch Defence, but ones that have been receiving some attention at GM-level in recent months. The Dutch is one of those defences where a practitioner probably won't get his mainstream set-up even half the time, so it's necessary to be aware of various move order tricks and treacherous sidelines that can occur. I've also examined some ways for Black to get his surprise system in first, as you will see below. So either side can decline to just follow the hackneyed main lines.
Finally, there are also a couple of exciting encounters featuring the strongest machines in the world battling it out in the Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted.

Download PGN of February ’21 Daring Defences games

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Leningrad Dutch 4.Nd2 Bg7 5.e4 [A81]

In Lopez Martinez, J - Alonso Rosell, A White took up a plan involving an early e2-e4 that has been favoured recently by such enterprising players as Dubov and Firouzja. A key moment arises after 8...Nc6:

Black's counterplay involves pressing against the d4-square and may well include an early ...e5 in his plans. In the game, after 9.Ne2 Black played with this process in mind (see 12...e5!), and despite the consequent loss of his d-pawn obtained good compensation. His initiative soon led to an advantage and he converted the endgame, although White had several opportunities to improve and perhaps save himself.

In the diagram position, Dubov has tried both of 9.c3 and 9.Nf3 (he was probably just 'dodging and weaving' rather than trying to make a theoretical statement), but these positions haven't been tested enough at a high level for us to make any major conclusions at this point.

Offbeat Staunton Gambit [A82]

The more I examined the opening in Sargsyan, S - Gholami Orimi, M the less I liked Black's game. So I wouldn't recommend his second move (1.d4 f5 2.Nc3 and now 2...e6) as White's 3.e4 yields at least a pleasant edge. This might explain why 2...d5 and 2...Nf6 are the most popular, making any e2-e4 advance by White more problematic. It did take White another 120-odd moves to earn his victory, but despite staunch resistance and chances to draw Black was always playing second fiddle. If we compare 2...e6(?!) with 2...g6(!?) (which is sometimes played) it becomes clear that the fianchettoed bishop is more active (than one placed on e7) and so this third option has greater merit than the game move.

Stonewall Dutch delayed ...c6, 7.Nbd2 Nc6 [A90]

This month I thought it would be interesting to examine a couple of Neo-Stonewalls involving the knight going to c6. The first of these being Bocharov, D - Pridorozhni, A where the following position arose after 7.Nbd2:

Here 7...Nc6 makes a change from the typical Stonewall structure arising from 7...c6. Black hopes for a more lively game and judges that his centre doesn't need the c-pawn's support. A little later, I think that with 12...Be8 (instead of 12...g5?!) Black would have achieved a perfectly playable game, which suggests that an early ...Nc6 is not bad at all.

Another idea which I think makes sense (when White has the knight on d2) is 7...b6, which I examine in the notes, concluding that it's fine.

Stonewall, Rapport Variation 6...Ne4 [A90]

In Fridman, D - Hakobyan, A Black played with his bishop on e7 and leapt to e4 with his king's knight as early as move six:

I've called this the Rapport Variation, as it was the maverick Hungarian GM who popularized this line along with his wife. Black might follow-up with ...c6 or ...Nc6, depending on White's choices. There is also the startling plan of pushing the h-pawn and then see what turns up. If all this seems to stretch one's belief in what is playable or not, then please note that nobody seems to have found a convincing antidote as yet. In the game, Black was soon the one pressing, but I didn't like Fridman's 12.Ne5.

All-in-all, 7.Nc3 pressing against the d5-square might be the most principled, to 'invite' 7...c6, whereupon a standard Stonewall ensues.

Stonewall Nh3 + Bf4 [A90]

In Demidov, M - Pridorozhni, A Black stuck to his Stonewall despite the fact that White was able to get in Bc1-f4 'with tempo'. I think that the diagram position is critical for 9.c5:

White has more space and (for now) control of the h2-b8 diagonal. However Black's 9...h6 shows his intention to boot the bishop to a less comfortable square with ...g5, whilst locking the knight on h3 out of play, for the time being.

In my opinion, Black is able to ensure decent counterplay and, as in the game, it's White who might find his pieces less usefully placed heading into the middlegame. So maybe White should prefer one of the ninth move alternatives.

Stonewall 4...c6 5.Nh3 d6 [A91]

In Goryachkina, A - Hoang Thanh Trang the early Nh3 was met by the restrained ...d6 with a quick ...e6-e5. This antidote to the Nh3 'anti-Stonewall' is highly rated, as a knight on h3 may be well placed against a standard Stonewall pawn formation, but is generally considered less than optimal if Black has a pawn on e5 (covering f4). Goryachkina quickly captured on e5 and then traded queens which is a common theme in a number of analogous positions. However, these all seem to have something in common - White gets no advantage! In fact in our featured game it was Black who had any chances going.

The opening in Oparin, G - Tarfeb, J was similar to that above except that Oparin met a quick ...e5 by keeping the tension in the centre.

Soon after, Tarfeb took the opportunity to gain the 'advantage' of the two bishops, but with White having a strong outpost for a knight it was he who was pressing. I'm not quite sure where Black went astray (as he gradually drifted into an inferior endgame), but maybe he should have resisted so much simplification, but I didn't find an active plan either! So it may well be that 10...Ng4 (earning the bishop pair) doesn't necessarily yield an easy game.

Fluid centre 7...Ne4 8.Qc2 Nxc3 9.Qxc3 a5 10.Qc2 [A96]

In Gukesh, D - Azarov, S White's 10.Qc2 was met by 10...Nc6 yielding the following position:

From the diagram position, White has tried 11.e4 and 11.Bd2, but they are both well met by 11...e5. Gukesh played the critical 11.d5 when 11...Nb4 12.Qd2 e5 13.a3 Na6 enables White to capture on a5 "for very little compensation" according to Classical Dutch guru Simon Williams. As far as I can see, he's right on the ball here (even 18 years after he penned those words), and a previous game demonstrated that White can certainly play this way. Gukesh declined the offer but was soon a shade worse, so he may have regretted not snatching the material, even if he ultimately turned things round and won. To avoid these problems Williams recommends 10...Bf6.

Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted 6...d5 7.Nc3 Nbd7 8.e4 [E10]

The key position from a theoretical point of view in Lc0 - Stockfish is the following:

White has three tries 9.e5, 9.Na4 and 9.Nb1, the latter being the chosen move of the game. The complications arising from 9.e5 seem highly risky to me and should be avoided unless you know your stuff perfectly. The sideways shift 9.Na4 looks more promising, where use of the c4-square ensures decent play even if Black decides to snatch the e-pawn. Lc0's choice was met by 9...Bb7 which I consider to be the best chance for Black to obtain an acceptable game. Later on, I personally found it hard to follow what was going on, but the two supercomputers steered the game towards an attractive draw, as if it was the most natural continuation in the world!

Blumenfeld Gambit Accepted 6...d5 7.Bf4 [E10]

The reverse encounter (see above) Stockfish - Lc0 was also an entertaining affair as some intricate tactics in the middlegame eventually led to White obtaining an extra (albeit unusable) kingside pawn. In this case, there was a hint that White was somewhat better throughout the encounter, but I'm not sure by how much. I doubt that Lc0 even 'broke sweat' in defending against White's attack (but a few humans would no doubt have become nervous!). I suppose this struggle offers a vindication of the not so common 7.Bf4 (once a favourite of Ivan Sokolov) as an opening choice, but I think that 7...a6 and 8...c4 as played would offer Black acceptable gambit play at a human level.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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