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In Game One Ding Liren (as White) surprisingly goes down to a much lower-ranked player. The game continued 4...Bg7 5.Bxf6 Bxf6 6.cxd5 c6 (rather than the in-move 6...c5), leading to the following position:
After 7.e4 0-0 8.e5 Bg7 9.Bc4, Black is able to regain his pawn, but White's centre with d4 and e5 gives him (at least visually) a space advantage. However, this game and the notes suggest that Black is not really suffering here. The advance of White's h-pawn may look worrying at first sight, but it doesn't seem to cause any lasting damage.
4.Qb3 and 5.Qb3 (Russian System) [D81/D97]
Game Two involves an excellent game by Socko, who had to struggle long and hard to consolidate his material advantage.
The 'pseudo-Russian System' with 4.Qb3 (plus a delayed N-f3), has caught the attention of a number of strong players, and has consequently been a regular feature in this column. However I'd not dealt with 7...Be6 (with this particular move order) before:
The idea looks OK, but Swiercz should have stayed 'solid' rather than chasing down the hot b-pawn.
The opening sequence in Game 9 is well known, as it has been played at a high level on several occasions. The most notable aspect of the game is Areshchenko's excellent technique, as he grinds out a win with all the pawns on the same wing. Although Potkin made a serious error just after the opening, this was at least partially caused by the frustration of not being unable to find anything after the Ukrainian's novelty.
Black innovated with 17...Nce4! and obtained a good game.
Overall, Black seems to be doing fine after 10...Be6.
Sutovsky chose a less-theoretical approach in Game Three.
Here 9.dxc5 Nxc5 9.0-0 Be6 has only been played a few times but may seem familiar to you, as it actually occurred in a Karpov-Kasparov rapid game. Black should be able to equalize relatively easily, despite the fact that Kasparov went astray in that particular encounter.
Instead, here Kotanjian varied with 9.d5 and met 9...Nb6 with 10.b3. This at least set new over-the-board problems, and indeed White obtained the advantage (although this was probably influenced by the stronger player trying to keep matters complicated). In the cold light of day, it's clear that Black could have equalized (see move 13).
The game became highly complicated in the later stages and has all the hallmarks of a massive time scramble, which Black was very fortunate to win.
In Game 8 Black chose a mainstream method of defence with ...c5 and ...Qa5, and was able to show that 9.Be5 doesn't give anything special for White:
The game soon simplified to a pseudo-endgame where Black had adequate play for a pawn. Kuzubov outplayed his opponent only to almost slip up near the end. Another masterpiece flawed by time pressure?
Exchange Variation with 8.Rb1 [D85]
In Game Four, Karjakin-Caruana, the novelty occurred on move 29! Karjakin no doubt decided that he could 'play for a win' in the endgame without risking anything, but Caruana defended accurately to earn the draw. So Caruana's plan of pushing the a-pawn 'like crazy' seems justified.
These variations where Black grabs the a-pawn can be highly theoretical and its important to be aware of the nuances in the various analogous lines. One general observation, however, is that I've noticed a trend towards Black players 'relying on the a-pawn' and not bothering so much about the centre. Check the notes out to see what I mean.
In Game 7 Black preferred to counter 8.Rb1 with the 9...b6-line. Normally White then simply castles before moving on to other matters. Babujian instead tried 10.Bg5:
this in itself isn't a bad idea, but he subsequently 'forgot' about getting his king to safety. This enabled Fedoseev to sacrifice the exchange to leave White's king with chronic difficulties.
Exchange Variation with 5.Bd2 [D85]
In Game Five Alexei Shirov got his h-pawn going 'nice and early' and this led to Maletin suffering some difficult moments.
A close look at the notes suggests that Katerina Lahno may have solved the problem of how to defend against White's muscle-flexing, in two different ways!
Either by holding off from trading bishops on move nine, or with her idea of ...Bd7-c6 (see the note to move 12), which looks better than the ...Nc6-development played in the game.
Exchange Variation with 5.Na4 [D85]
Moving the knight to the edge of the board so early looks frankly bizarre, but after taking a close look at those lines arising from 5...Bg7 6.e4 I can understand the point. Black doesn't have an easy time if he simply relies on 'normal' development to see him through.
This brings us to 5...e5 which was played in the game. This is intuitively the right move and practise shows that indeed this gambit is Black's best approach:
In Game 6 Jumabayev played the opening phase accurately, but fell into a nasty trap after avoiding a repetition.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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