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In this month's column you can see several GMs sticking with their own pet lines, for example, Vallejo Pons has regularly played 5...d5 in the English Defence, whereas Chanda Sandipan has been the greatest advocate of a sort of hybrid between the Leningrad and Stonewall. There are others cases below, but the point is that these players are not afraid of their opponent's engines. The computer assessment 'at home' is one matter, but this won't necessarily help once one is alone facing practical issues at the board, especially when meeting head-on someone who confidently develops their own set-up (i.e. one that has been honed by many years playing). Fortunately, chess is (in most cases) still a game where a human's personal interpretation counts more than a silicon print-out.

Download PGN of January ’23 Daring Defences games

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English Defence 3...Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Bxd2+ 5.Qxd2 d5 [A40]

In Nesterov, A - Vallejo Pons, F the Spanish GM Francisco Vallejo Pons played his pet line in the English Defence which involves the remarkable counter 5...d5:

It seems that the diagram position is key to determining the soundness of this line. So far, at GM level, White has failed to find anything with 9.Rd1 or 9.Bd3, so the more flexible 9.Nf3 of the game seems best. Even so, after 9...c5 and then a quick exchange on c5, Black obtains hanging pawns which seem quite robust. Experience suggests that Black can hold the balance if he's careful. The fight that resulted eventually led to a white win, but not because of the opening.

Benko Gambit 5.b6 e6 6.Nc3 [A57]

For those seeking daring solutions, the idea of meeting 5.b6 with 5...e6 is attractive, as the play can become quite sharp. In Afanasiev, N - Kabanov, N this proved to be the case with White sacrificing the b-pawn with his thirteenth move.

Here 13.g3 and 13.Qf4 have been covered in this column before, but not 13.Bd2. In response, it seems to be principled to take up the challenge by capturing on b2. Black duly did so with 13...Bf5 14.Qe3 Qxb2, but my feeling is that the immediate 13...Qxb2 is even stronger. In any case, I'd be happy with Black in these complications.

Dutch with 3.Bf4 Nf6 4.e3 b6 [A80]

I've seen Maghsoodloo play with an early ...b6 and then ...Nc6-e7 before, so this 'dinky manoeuvre' is not just a one-off.. In Nihal, S - Maghsoodloo, P it was notable how comfortable the Iranian made Black's position seem, and yet many others have struggled against White's London System approach. Is the 'Iranian knight switch' the answer?

Here 9...Ne4 is a decent alternative, but the game move of 9...Bd6 worked fine, as there are no space problems following the trade of a pair of minor pieces. The decisive moment only occurred deep in the endgame, but one in which I get the impression both players were seeking a win from a balanced position.

Leningrad Dutch with ...e6 & ...d5 [A81]

Chanda Sandipan opted for his trademark version of the Leningrad (or should I write Stonewall?) in Iniyan, P - Sandipan, C.

Some players are willing to play like this on occasion, but Sandipan seems to be making a living from it! The latest fashion, for those playing against it, is 9.Qc1 as employed by Iniyan. In response, 9...Re8 is just one of several tries, where the strategy seems to be to 'play around White's grip on the dark squares'. I think that objectively White keeps an edge, but in Sandipan's games this is generally balanced out by the Indian GM's great experience with these sort of positions. Here, he outplayed his opponent and should have won in the middlegame, but he couldn't trouble his opponent's defensive technique later on.

Dutch 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5 d5 4.e3 e6 5.h4 [D85]

In Rakesh, K - Krasenkow, M the veteran Polish GM lost his way after choosing the wrong direction for his bishop in the middlegame. However, he demonstrated a trustworthy plan in the opening:

Rakesh's early h2-h4 was an aggressive try but, by ignoring it, Black earned enough time to generate useful play in the centre (...a6 and ...c5). In the diagram position, White's lead in development shouldn't lead to anything after the prudent 11...Be7! when he would be facing a brick wall of challenges to create any problems for his opponent. Instead, with the dark-squared bishop going to b4 (and then a5), White found a combination to demolish the centre.

Leningrad Dutch 6.Nc3 without c2-c4 [A81]

In Gharibyan, M - Adhiban, B White employed 6.Nc3, a surprise, as I hadn't dealt with this move before:

I suppose that this suggests that he is toying with an early e2-e4, so it feels appropriate to meet this with some sort of plan that involving stopping such an advance. So, usually, Black resorts to ...d7-d5 quite early on, hoping that the knight on c3 then lacks a sense of purpose.

In the game, after 6...Ne4 7.Qd3 d5 8.Bf4 c6 we are again in hybrid territory. Compared to many 'Stonewallish' scenarios this seems like a promising one for Black, as the c3-knight really isn't doing very much, hence Gharibyan's 'negative-looking' choice of dropping back to d1. Anyway, no problems here for Leningrad fans (assuming one is not shy about opting for ...d5).

Dutch 3.Nc3 d6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 [A85]

White's opening worked well in Mikhalevski, V - Gorshtein, I although he later let his opponent escape with a draw.

I feel that such positions are easier to handle for the first player, as he has the potential to expand on the queenside or open-up play in the centre. In response, Black is often required to wait patiently as he has to carefully observe while manoeuvring with less space.

All-in-all, I think that it's better to do without ...h6 which is more 'potentially weakening rather than liberating'. So, rather than 5...h6, I quite like Nakamura's 5...g6 6.Bd3 e5 (see the notes) challenging better in the central arena, with the dark-squared bishop then often going to the solid-looking e7-square.

Dutch Stonewall 6.0-0 Bd6 7.b3 Qe7 8.Ne5 [A90]

Playing with White, Anton Korobov chose 7.b3 and then manoeuvred his knights to d3 and f3, a traditional set-up, as you can see in Korobov, A - Meister, P where White hopes to keep the bind.

In the actual game, Meister was unable to shake off the long-term pressure with his classical manoeuvre: 9...Bd7 followed by ...B-e8-h5. Indeed, despite his 'improved bishop' his position went from bad to worse in short order. But where could he have improved? His plan could perhaps be justified with 13...g5!?, gaining space whilst covering f4. Otherwise, it was noticeable that, recently, Fedoseev chose to trade off a pair of knights early on and then achieved a decent game, so the continuation 9...Nbd7 10.Nd2 Ne4 11.Ndf3 Nxe5 is worth investigating and could yield an easier handling.

Dutch Stonewall 4...c6 5.Nc3 d5 6.Nf3 Bd6 7.0-0 0-0 8.b3 Nbd7 9.Bf4 [A90]

Playing with Black this time, Korobov met an early B-f4 by capturing the bishop and then angling for a quick ...h6 and ...g5. The game Woodward, A - Korobov, A unfolded in his favour, but his choice of eleventh move is notable and poses a few questions:

Here, other set-us have been tried, but Korobov's 11...h6 is new. It certainly worked fine in this encounter, with the Ukrainian generating some dynamic action on the kingside. Still, it feels more prudent to begin with 11...b6, to complete development and only opting for anything ambitious once the rest of the board is stabilized. A question of taste, perhaps?

Blumenfeld Counter Gambit Declined 5 Bg5 exd5 6 cxd5 h6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Nc3 [E10]

It all flowed so well for Black in Alexiadis, H - Bernadskiy, V it makes one wonder what went wrong with White's opening.

Here the choice of 10.a3 aims to open up play and enable the a4-knight to get back into the game. However, it turned out that Bernadskiy wasn't really inconvenienced. Maybe the most challenging is 10.e4 with e4-e5 to follow (an engine-approved idea that has proved to be strong in some analogous lines). In fact, after 10.e4 the idea of e4-e5 is plausible after either 10...g6 or 10...g5. Is the mashed-up centre really worth a pawn? Maybe, but this could do with some tests! If all this is still not enough for white players, then there is always 8.Qc2 instead of the committal 8.Nc3.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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