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English Defence [A40]
Game One features two of the World's top female players battling it out in a solid line against the English Defence. The Indian star badly needed to win in order to get to the top of the table in the Doha Grand Prix and it's interesting to note that the English Defence was her choice to try and destabilize Pia Cramling.
In the latter-part of the opening, Koneru demonstrates a novel way to obtain a decent game with Black, and then later gets a long-term pull, but couldn't quite win.
Benko Gambit Declined [A57]
A couple of Victor Bologan games featuring the Benko Gambit this time (see Games 3 and 5), one in the Accepted and one in the Declined.
First of all in Game Two, Mircea Parligras is able to win in an interesting manner against the blocked centre that features in those lines where Black is able to play both ...b4 and ...e5:
This pawn structure will not suit all tastes as Benko players, by nature, tend to prefer an open long dark-squared diagonal and free piece-play. However if the second player can achieve a draw by simply 'battening down the hatches' then this option may prove attractive to some. The evidence of recent games such as this one is that Black's position is playable, but that White's space advantage shouldn't be underestimated as he will generally have more options.
If you want to play this way as Black, don't be too concerned with move orders, concentrate instead on studying model games indicating where to place one's pieces in anticipation that White will go for an eventual f2-f4.
In Game Three, Victor Bologan was able to steer Black to equality against the practical anti-Benko move 4.Qc2. Later on, he obtained an initiative by sacrificing the exchange, but this wasn't clear at all. A draw was probably the correct result, even if the Moldovan would have been disappointed.
Benko Gambit Accepted [A58]
In Games 4 and 5 Black didn't equalize in the opening.
Nikola Sedlak played the traditional main line in Game Four where White walks his king to h2 and then consolidates his queenside with R-e1-e2-c2:
I am not a great fan of Black's position after this approach by White as, against someone who knows what they are doing, the second player is often required to resort to waiting for White to undertake something. Nevertheless, if Berkes had chosen 23...Nf6 rather than 23...f6 he probably would have been fine.
In the game Vernay - Bologan, the young French IM played something slightly unusual (move 16) but was still able to maintain a pull. He played ambitiously throughout and was close to winning, although near the end he went badly astray and even lost.
Again we see the problem for Black in the Benko Gambit Accepted: If White is well-prepared, he can keep Black's dynamic activity in check and gradually make progress. This explains why top level players are reticent to play the Benko on a regular basis: Black's winning chances are perhaps not much better than in more 'solid' openings and he may have to play many moves with little to show for the pawn deficit.
The Benko is very much an opening for optimists!
Anti-Grünfeld 3.f3 [D70]
Those lines resulting from 3.f3 lead to sharp play, but this is only a sensible choice for white players who are comfortable with the Sämisch Variation against the King's Indian Defence.
In Game Six Khismatullin plays a delightful attacking game sacrificing a piece for superb activity, against which Kurnosov couldn't find an antidote.
Kurnosov played the tempting 13...Qxd4 here, but this proved to be dangerous for him. So, in the diagram position, I suggest 13...cxd4, which seems playable and justifies his opening play. The conclusion then is that his novelty 9...Be6 seems good enough to warrant another try.
Greenfeld also employs a sideline in Game 7. Although he is ultimately successful this was mainly due to his tactical capacities rather than the strength of his opening play. My feeling is that White had an objective edge well into the game (space, centre etc.), but the early pawn advance b2-b3 enabled Black to create some tension on the wing where White's king was resident. So Black has practical chances after Greenfeld's 9...Na5 10.b3 e6.
Brynell-Kulaots in Game Eight was a fine display from Black. The Estonian demonstrates a robust way to handle this popular line of the Neo-Grünfeld for Black, and outplays his opponent in all departments.
I'm not sure where this leaves White in this line. I did notice that Avrukh preferred to recommend the Neo-Grünfeld involving the slower lines, with an early Nf3, as he felt that Black had a perfectly satisfactory game against 6.e2-e4.
So-Li Chao b in Game 9 features the same line, and the story remains the same. The opening proved to be fine for Black and after a tactical flurry the second player took all the spoils. Note that after 13.Na3, best is 13...Ne5; whereas after 13.Nd2 (see game 8) 13...Nxd2 has a better reputation than 13...Ne5.
The following is all the rage:
A number of high-ranking players have been placing their bishop onto f5 at this point, with visions of an early ...Be4, finding a rosy future for the erstwhile problem-piece.
This 'surprising' idea will no doubt force some unprepared white players to find their own way, but others such as Rodshtein may be ready and waiting.
Game 10 turns out to be a model game from White's point of view. The young Israeli pushes Black back, holds the centre, and then switches his attention to the kingside where he finishes things off with a king hunt.
Black should be able to improve on this nightmare scenario, for example I don't like either of Zhou Jianchao's 9th or 10th moves.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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