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Owen's Defence [B27]
In Game 1, Cori T.-Lopez Martinez, the move order was different, but the first few moves led to a line of Owen's Defence which resembles a Sicilian (i.e. transposing to 1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 e6 4.Nf3 c5 5.0-0 cxd4 6.Nxd4, or 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 b6 5.Bd3 Bb7 6.0-0). In many lines, of an Open Sicilian, an early ...a6 and ...b5 gives Black chances of counterplay with his queenside 'minority attack'. In the 'Owen's-Sicilian', with ...b6 and ...Bb7, the bishop is developed a tempo earlier, but there is less potential for queenside mischief. I think that Black should then opt for a type of 'hedgehog' (with pawns on a6, b6, d6 and e6) and settle for placing his king's bishop on e7. It's then difficult for White to use his space advantage, although the fact that Black's b-pawn is only on b6 (rather than b5) enables White to play for a 'Maroczy Bind' with c2-c4.
In the game an early ...g6 was optimistic, but Black was still OK. It turns out that Cori's sacrificial attack was interesting, but not particularly strong if declined:
Lopez Martinez should have castled out of danger here, but took the bait and went down in the resulting complications.
English Defence 4.Bd3 f5 [A40]
The following position is notorious:
Few have been willing to grab the rook in this manner in recent years, and with good reason. After taking a good look at the theory I'm now convinced that this variation is dubious for Black. In Game Two you'll see that White didn't play the best on move 13, and Black could have escaped, but there are two alternative ways that lead to a White advantage, with 13.cxb5 and 13.Nf4, rather than 13.0-0-0?!. After Black in turn missed his chance with 15...Bd5, Rombaldoni obtained a miserable endgame that Narciso Dublan converted easily, especially as Black later blundered the exchange.
Nigel Short himself was in experimental mood again in Game 3. However his early eccentricities just led to him having a space disadvantage, and he had to struggle long and hard for a draw. Onischuk's 4.f3 is unusual, but he had already played this before. In reply I would recommend either 4...f5, for those who like murky play, or 4...Bb4+, for a more straightforward development, as I don't trust Short's 4...g6 followed by 5...d6:
3.a3 f5 [A40]
In Game 4 Shimanov played his bishop to a6, rather than b7, a rare idea in the English Defence that was first employed by Nigel Short. Playing with the white pieces in a rapid game, Nikita Vitiugov opted to keep things simple. Develop his pieces in a classical way and then set a few problems with the thematic e3-e4 thrust. Black's eleventh move was the root source of his later woes, but capturing the other way was playable, see the notes.
Towards the end, the complications were always better for White, but Vitiugov missed a few chances to finish off the game rather more effectively.
In Game 5 Kiril Georgiev was unable to achieve anything against the unknown Lebanese player Khairallah in the main line of the a2-a3 system. I liked the way that Black played the early phase. In fact these positions have been proving quite tough to break down in recent years. In the game, Georgiev's pawn sacrifice gave him enough play for equality, but analysis suggests that Black was OK until he ran out of things to do.
Budapest Gambit 4.Nf3 [A52]
Nigel Short is obviously the theme of the month, because here he is again in my column, this time punting the Budapest in Game 6. He did play this gambit twenty years ago at Candidates level, so he does have a certain pedigree. His opponent Radoslaw Wojtaszek avoided the main lines by switching his knight to d4 and then on to b5, and kept a small pull.
Short reacted by trading a pair of knights and hitting back in the centre with ...c6. Although he had a slightly shaky structure he was active enough to earn a repetition.
Black wasn't so fortunate in Game 7. Gormally's plan of Ne4 and c5 meant that ...d6 wasn't easy to achieve under comfortable circumstances. Hanley's ...f5 turned out to be difficult to handle, but may not be too bad, but in the notes you'll notice that 12...Qe7 is more solid, and probably more reliable.
The game was a tragedy for Craig Hanley who defended carefully under pressure for most of the game, only to blunder when equality was finally at hand.
Benko Gambit Declined 4.Qc2 [A57]
The modest 4.Qc2 has become very fashionable against the Benko Gambit. White prepares e2-e4 without committing his queen's knight.
The main line occurred in Games 8 and 9 which both led to the following position:
There are various options for Black: push the a-pawn or not, aim for ...f5 or simply trade a couple of pieces. A careful look at both games and notes should give you plenty of ideas for your own games, but I hope you appreciate Swapnil's delightful tactic in Game 8 to seize the advantage. Khairullin played rather differently in Game 9, but was able to produce an ideal example of Black playing 'dynamically' with ...f5 and then using the f-file. This plan seems to be justified.
Game 10 features another way for White to prepare e2-e4 i.e. 4.Nd2. The opening idea employed by White, with an early Q-f3, becomes quite critical early on, as by retaining the d5-pawn, Black is dared to do something about it. GM Misa Pap quite rightly snatched the pawn, but then didn't follow up correctly and was left with an uncastled king in the middlegame. Instead finding the right moment to exchange queens is key to Black's defence. I think that I have found the solution:
Here I suggest 12...Qxf3!, which is best met by 13 Ng3+, and now 13...Qe3!! which I think leads to equality. Play through the game if you find such an idea hard to believe!
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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