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However first of all, let's investigate an interesting query in the Leningrad Dutch.
After 9.e4 White opens lines immediately, not worrying about the loss of his c-pawn. In practise the first player has a significant plus score, as Black's best defence hasn't yet crystallized. In my opinion this plan is rather dangerous for Black.
In reply, allowing the white rook to e4 immediately seems difficult to cope with, so I'm not so keen on 9...Nxe4.
My recommended defence for Black then is 9...fxe4 10.Nxe4 Nc6, which enabled Black to keep the white forces in check in a recent encounter between Viktorija Cmilyte and Anna Muzychuk. If White insists on gambit play with 10.Ng5, then I suggest 10...Qxc4 11.Ngxe4 Nxe4 12.Rxe4 d5!, which hasn't yet been played - see the email query. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for developments in this sharp variation, and I suggest that you do the same.
Grünfeld Defence 5.Qa4+ [D90]
The idea of this fashionable line is to provoke ...Bd7 from Black, a developing move that isn't always welcome, as the bishop can get in the way of the knights and queen.
A few moves later, a key moment arises after White's eighth move:
Black has to decide how to meet the threat to his c-pawn.
In Game Two Pouria Darini, playing Black, gambited the pawn with 8...Bf5. White took up the challenge, but Hjorvar Gretarsson was unable to hold onto his booty and soon found himself worse. In a recent encounter, Nikita Vitiugov instead opted for 9.e3 against Ruslan Ponomariov. This is hardly a refutation attempt, but he did obtain a solid position with a hint of an edge.
I can't see anything wrong with this pawn sacrifice, and I'm not alone, as it has suddenly become popular.
In Game Three Wang Hao instead moved his bishop to c6, a line that his compatriot Li Chao has already played with some success. The bishop is again placed on a more useful square whilst restraining e2-e4, but this time there is no gambit. The manoeuvres in the game were at times intricate, but Wang Hao kept his bishop out of trouble and even got the better of things against Etienne Bacrot. Maybe he could have made more of his chances later on.
In contrast, in Gonzalez-Swiercz, Black left his bishop on d7 and successfully pursued queenside play with ...c6, ...Qa5 and ...b5. This plan is also known with the bishop on c8 in the pure Russian System, see Game 7 for an example. In Game 4 the bishop stayed on d7 and played its part in Black's attempts to seize the initiative, which suggests that one shouldn't necessarily write the piece off as 'clumsily-placed'.
The highly-theoretical game So-Navara in Game 5 followed the main line with 8...Na6, preparing a quick ...c5:
It looks to me that Wesley So's preparation was spot on, as he caused some difficult moments for David Navara. Black should probably seek an improvement on moves 18, 13, or dare I suggest as early as... move 8!
Wesley So let the win slip in the endgame, but we can all learn a lot about rook endgames as a result.
Russian System 7...Be6 [D97]
The game Morozevich-Giri in Game 6 was one of only two the Russian played in the event, before withdrawing through illness. Giri's seventh move deserves a diagram:
A provocative move from Anish Giri that had been forgotten by just about everyone before this game. White has a choice of moving his queen or playing d4-d5, after which Black has a target. Two tempi could be considered a heavy price to pay (after 8.d5 Bc8!), but at least Black knows what to do in this case. Somehow this must be the critical continuation, but it's too early to make any definite conclusions.
Morozevich preferred to dodge about with his queen, but this didn't lead to any real problems for Black. The Russian could have settled for a draw, but was too optimistic.
Russian System 7...c6 [D97]
In Game 7 Black played with ...c6, ...b5 and ...Qa5. I must admit I very much like this game, won by an unknown (sorry, from my point of view) South African. White has a major asset in his central pawns, and yet doesn't move them for forty moves(!), as all the action occurs on the periphery.
Theory-wise, I quite like White's chances after 10.e5, as Black doesn't have an easy task to equalize. Esen may have missed a chance on move 20, but this needs checking.
Russian System 7...a6 [D97]
In the next two games the following position after 10.dxc5 occurred:
In Jakovenko - Svidler Black continued with 10...Be6. Peter Svidler has had quite some experience in this line and, as a rule, seems willing to sacrifice a pawn for active piece play. Well, here he did this three times! Dmitrij Jakovenko had some winning chances, but couldn't quite break down Svidler's defence in the endgame.
As for the theory: From move sixteen onwards best play hasn't yet been clarified, though my impression is that Black has some difficulties to fully equalize. However, it must be added that Svidler has persisted with this line and has drawn on each occasion, and if I were you, I would have more confidence in his judgement than mine!
The other main move from the previous diagram is 10...Bb7, a move successfully employed by the UAE player AR Salem in Game 9. In reply, a few years ago everyone played 11.0-0, but not anymore! Elsness opted for the trendy 11.e5, but Black never seemed in danger. In the notes, you'll see that Black has been doing well here, so my feeling is that 10...Bb7 is a more comfortable option than 10...Be6.
Salem eventually won a long endgame, but the beginning of his ascendance was Elsness's dubious novelty on move 15.
Andrei Volokitin has recently faced 8.e5 twice in the Hungarian Variation. In Game 10 he lost his way (probably due to time trouble) in a complicated struggle with Moiseenko, who played Carlsen's 10.Ng5. Whatever the result, Volokitin's double pawn sacrifice had merit. Even after looking at it for a long time, I'm still not sure if it is fully sound.
The struggle heated up after the introduction of the new idea 12...Bg4 13.f3 Bf5 when it's a moot point if forcing f2-f3 is helpful or not. It definitely deserves further tests as, for that matter, does the immediate ...Bf5.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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