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I'm marking the beginning of 2018 with a look at some of the more daring openings. Hopefully you'll enjoy a rich New Year full of dynamic and daring ideas in the English Defence, Benko Gambit, and various forms of the Dutch Defence.
First of all, however, I'm answering an e-mail request from Andrea Stella after he went down in the Neo-Grünfeld to a novelty that had him confused.

Download PGN of January ’18 Daring Defences games

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Neo-Grünfeld - cxd5 with Nge2 [D72]

The move 11.h4 turns out to be brand new, and something that Salem had prepared at home:

White's novelty worked to perfection, but does this do any theoretical damage to a quite common line? Naturally, Stella and I are interested in trying to see how Black can improve in the future.

So, after due consideration, my recommendations are, either 10...exd5 11.cxd5 Bf5 (to sidestep by deviating early) or otherwise (face it straight on) varying only on move thirteen i.e. meeting 13.Bg5 with 13...Qd7. See Salem, AR - Stella, A for the details.

English Defence 4.Nc3 Bb4 [A40]

Repka, C - Gavrilescu, D was a strange game where Black obtained an overwhelming position in the opening, but things went sour later. Even without the blunder 10.Be4?? (see diagram) Black seems to be having enough fun for his pawn.

Those who are really interested in the theory should have a close look at the note beginning with 8.Bf4 which leads to complications that can be analyzed deep into the game. I'm not sure what to conclude, but theoretically-savvy Matthieu Cornette was recently happy to take up Black's mantle. In the featured game, Repka fought back and eventually turned the tables, but Gavrilescu must have been kicking himself.

English Defence with a3 - ...f5 and d5 [A40]

In Gasanov, E - Oleksiyenko, M one of White's main weapons (a3 with d5 and g3) was tested and Black held firm. The bishop posted on e5 combined with the timely knight leap to e4 still seems be acceptable for Black, so perhaps these early a2-a3 systems are nothing special from White's point of view.

In the game, it was Black who was closest to victory (see the note starting 31...Rb8), but it was never straightforward.

Benko Gambit 5.b6 e6 [A57]

In Leniart, A - Markos, J Black met the non-confrontational 5.b6 with the counter 5...e6, which is basically an attempt to seek immediate central action. Decision time comes around move eleven where Black has to pick between the trustworthy 11...Rb8 and the (less common) chosen move 11...Bb7:

after which White had a variety of squares available for his queen and I'm not sure he chose the best one (I prefer f5).

Markos soon sacrificed/blundered the exchange, but he sort of had a fair amount of practical compensation. The game was far from error free, but a good fight all the same.

Benko Gambit other lines 5.f3 [A57]

In Hayrapetyan, Ho - Kislinsky, A the choice of c4 for White's bishop is at best 'controversial' and possibly a mistake due to the fact that it can readily get hit. Over the years, a number of cases have seen White regret this choice:

The most challenging move is instead the prophylactic 9.Ra3. There White reduces the danger, both down the a-file and along the long dark-squared diagonal, whilst getting ready to bolster his queenside. There Black hasn't achieved good results, whereas he has no problems against 9.Bc4.

The game went so smoothly for Black, it's the sort of scenario that induced certain players to take up the opening in the first place. However, if you don't find Black's game so palatable following 9.Ra3, then then there is a case for meeting 5.f3 differently.

Benko Accepted with Kxf1 [A59]

The main line (with a twist) featured in Gasanov, E - Bernadskiy, V where Gasanov used the popular a2-a4 theme, but under slightly different circumstances to normal. Here, by delaying Qc2, he gained time for the convenient manoeuvre B-d2-c3 thus negating any Black pressure down the diagonal:

I think even most hardened Benko aficianados would agree that Black doesn't have 100% compensation for the pawn in what followed. OK, I understand, there are certain practical chances and all that, but I prefer White, especially with any sort of slow time control. Bernadskiy later saved a dreadful position, but he shouldn't really have gotten away with his ...f5 trickery.

Dutch: 7.Nc3 c6 Leningrad: 8.b3 [A88]

Opening-wise, Black must have been happy in Romanov, E - Fedoseev, Vl as he had no problems and was even first off the mark starting active operations with 13...f4. This seems to be an important theme and deserves a diagram:

In several of the game references Black is able to get this thrust in at various points in the late opening/early middlegame phase. In itself it doesn't necessarily create an attack, but gives White a few reasons to be wary with Black liberating his game so early. Romanov defended well and even went on to obtain an edge, but the struggle was never too far from balanced.

Dutch: 7.Nc3 c6 Leningrad: 8.d5 [A88]

In Xu Jun - Lu Shanglei the struggle moved away from the usual paths with the choice of 9...c5:

The knight must move, but where to go? I'm still not sure which is the best response, as going to e6 is so committal and retreating lacks punch. Black played quite ambitiously, as can be seen with 16...e6 which is another slightly unusual way to handle the structure. The resulting tension was better handled by Lu Shanglei whose pieces seemed to have tremendous energy.

Dutch: 7.Nc3 c6 Leningrad: 8.Re1 [A88]

A tragedy for the young Icelandic GM who in Jensson, E - Gretarsson, H pressed and pressed and...over-pressed. There were several key options for both sides in the opening phase, but the fact that Black was able to play both of ...f4 and ...c5, without any real inconvenience, enabled him to get the better of the middlegame.

So if Black can get such a good game by simply playing ...Ne4, ...Nxc3 and ...e5, then this suggests that interest in White's 8.Re1 could soon wane.

Dutch: 4...Bb4+ [A90]

A highly complex struggle occurred in Peralta, Fe - Alonso Rosell, A where both sides missed their chances. I've never been a great fan of these ...Bb4 variations, maybe because these slightly simplified versions of the Dutch seem to play easier for White. In many of the game references the opening is not that successful for Black despite the occasional outing by Nisipeanu or Naumkin.

In the diagram position on move eight, a key moment occurs when the choice is between 8...Qe7, 8...Nc6 and the game move 8...Qe8. Carlsen chose the former (a few years ago in a rapid tournament), and was able to obtain a good game by switching to Stonewall style.

Peralta's queen manoeuvre on the twelfth and thirteenth moves was OK, but White was more successful in an earlier game with 12.Qc2.

Dutch: Stonewall with ...Be7 [A91-93]

Richard Rapport is known as a maverick when it comes to his opening choices. Here in Riazantsev, A - Rapport, R the Hungarian GM is successful with a plan that seems to have been developed by himself and his wife. Black plays a Stonewall, settles for the less fashionable ...Be7 and then is quite happy to follow-up with either ...Nc6 or even ...h5, along with ...Ne4. Castling kingside is a much lower priority than confusing the opponent!

If the centre stays closed, well for at least long enough for him to chip away at White's king defences, who is to say where the black king is better off?

Riazantsev's quick queenside push looked reasonable enough as a response, but it only led to an unclear game.

Maybe we don't all have the same 'rapport' with this type of position, but it certainly looks like a great surprise weapon. Are you tempted?

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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