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I have selected a variety of off-beat opening systems this time, including one example from one of my own games. I've also attempted to answer an e-mail enquiry in a sideline of the Leningrad.

Download PGN of July ’16 Daring Defences games

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English Defence 4.Bd3 [A40]

In Flear - Edouard, a highly critical (but half-forgotten) line was brought back into focus.

Here after 9...exf5 I played 10.c5, thinking that I was following a game I analyzed some years ago. It turns out that I got my move order mixed up and by accident produced a novelty! Furthermore, it's actually quite a good one! In the game, my opponent was admittedly not far from equalizing, but I always preferred White slightly. If Romain had realised the danger earlier he may have opted for a drawish rook endgame, but instead erroneously sought a race that ultimately led to a winning queen endgame for White.

English Defence 4.f3 [A40]

In Game Two Lenderman was able to play one of those games that tempts one to take up the English Defence. The scenario we have seen before: White builds a pawn centre, it gets shaken by a quick ...f5, which leads to White dropping behind in development. I particularly liked the ...Bb4-e7-h4 manoeuvre to trade dark-squared bishops, because after that the hole on e3 gave Black all the play:

In order to seek an improvement, maybe White should go back as early as the sixth move and try 6.dxe6. This hasn't been played often enough to reach a definitive conclusion, but at least it creates more problems (for Black) than the game continuation.

Benko Gambit Declined 4.Qc2 [A57]

In analyzing Game Three, Markus-Pijpers, I've tried to resolve the question of whether or not it's in Black's interest to include 4...Na6; 5.a3, before deciding what to do about White's centre. I think that it can be, particularly if Black continues with the direct 5...e6! increasing the pressure where it matters. I believe that many players who opt for 4.Qc2 are just looking for a calm game, rather than anything theoretical, so why not try and take them out of their comfort zone?

In the game, Black didn't find it easy to generate counterplay, so tried his luck with a general kingside advance. Up to a point this was OK, but 20...f4 was the root of all his later evils. He should have preferred capturing on e4 to loosen White's central grip.

Benko Gambit 4.cxb5 a6 5.f3 [A57]

Game Four features a line that used to be quite popular, but one that I had forgotten before investigating the fine points of Black's 9...Qc7. You might be scratching your head wondering if Black should prefer the d8 or a7 squares. What are the main differences anyway? A good question, and one that isn't very well answered in Benko guides. My feeling is that Black needs to find the square where the queen is least likely to be vulnerable to attack, so I would probably not be so comfortable with 9...Qa7. I seem to remember that some years back 9...Qd8 had crystallized as Black's 'best' move, but strong GMs have tried all three.

The worst scoring is 9...Qc7, but 55% for White is by no means catastrophic from Black's point of view:

After 10.a3 Black has to decide whether to capture on a3 or leave White with the option of capturing on b4. The game and notes indicate to me that Black is more or less fine, but White can sometimes get the nominal advantage of the bishop pair. In our present game Sandipan over-estimated his chances and over-cooked his position. Maybe one shouldn't rate the bishops too highly in this line as Black's knights are so well-posted.

Dutch: White avoids the main line Leningrad [A80]

The Game Chandra-Li, Game Five, interested me in that White played a set-up that I have already tried myself i.e. with an early Nc3 and Bf4:

Black's early ...a6, stopping any Nb5 followed by c4 ideas, is perhaps the most awkward for White, as he then has to sort out a less convenient way of getting his c-pawn into the game, which is the only logical way of pressing against Black's centre.

I can't see any significant improvements for either player in the opening phase. Essentially then the game, and notes, showed that White had a nominal edge (good knight and the e5-square for operations, against a somewhat restricted bishop), but not enough to trouble Black if he is careful. Unfortunately for Li Ruifeng... he wasn't careful enough!

Leningrad Dutch early b3 and Bb2 [A81]

White made every effort to steer the game away from mainstream theory in Game Six. Although the early b3 and Bb2 is fairly common against the Leningrad, following up with e3 and Ne2 isn't:

Rambaldi played a development schema that reminded me more of something that might occur from the English Opening, whereas Bauer's ...Qe8 and ...e5 was a pure Leningrad response. Black's wedge after ...e4 induced White to react with f2-f3 which opened up his bishop, but left the e3-pawn as a static weakness. The young Italian was still probably OK, but his opening didn't create any difficulties for Black. Later on, Bauer must have been kicking himself that he failed to win the endgame.

In Game Seven White also fianchettoed his queen's bishop quite early on, but this was more theoretical than in Game 6.

In this position, after 8...Nc6, I look at 9.e3 and 9.c4 in the notes, but consider the game move 9.Ne1 to be best. Later Saric seemed to have a pleasant position with White, noting the use of the c4-square for the knight. However, as the game advanced Black's position improved, but could at all times be described as 'acceptable'. A tactical slip by White was the principal cause of his later demise.

Leningrad Dutch 3.Nc3 g6 4.f3 [A85]

The early f3 against the Leningrad in Game Eight is highly unusual, but has been played by Ivanisevic before:

I know that such an aggressive attempt to seize the centre is popular against other defences, and is scoring particularly well against the Grünfeld, but I have my doubts that it will catch on here. The e4-square is already well surveyed by Black and both 4...Nc6 followed by ...e5 (as in the game), and 4...c5 (as recommended by Malaniuk & Marusenko) seem fine for Black.

Both players showed ambition and fighting qualities, but the draw was a fair result.

Leningrad 8.b4 e-mail enquiry

The normal move 8...Qe7 and the solid but passive 8...Nbd7 are probably playable, if you like these type of positions. My favourite move however is actually 8...Nc6!, not worrying about b4-b5, and getting ready for ...Ne4 and ...e5. I think in principle that Black should react quickly in the centre before White can consolidate his space-grabbing gains, see Leningrad 8.b4 e-mail enquiry.

Albin Counter Gambit 5.a3 [D08]

Since Morozevich rekindled interest in the Albin, those lines where Black plays ...Ng8-e7-g6 are generally considered to be 'playable' and, in some quarters, even 'respectable'. However the same can't be said about ...Nf5 where the knight isn't as active:

OK, it defends d4, but it's surely better employed to attack the e5-pawn!

In the featured Game, Jumabayev completed development and then made a strong exchange sacrifice which placed Black in serious trouble. So I don't expect Askarov's set-up in Game Nine to be repeated too often in the future. Indeed this game has put me off even the general philosophy of ...Nf5.

Blumenfeld Counter Gambit 5.e4!? [E10]

In Game Ten I examine some recent developments with the 5.e4!? counter-gambit to the Counter Gambit!

It certainly puts Black on the back-foot, but he often has a pawn or two to comfort him while he rides the storm. In the main game, White had a strong initiative for the two pawns that he had sacrificed, but after missing a strong move he was worse. Black then went on to win, but he could have finished it off much more quickly.

There are some possible improvements for Black, pointed out in the notes, on moves six or ten. These are the areas where I recommend that the reader concentrate his homework.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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