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English Defence 3.Nc3 Bb7 4 Nf3 Bb4 [A40]
Two quick victories for Black demonstrate that the English Defence shouldn't be dismissed too lightly.
In Livaic, L - Kantor, G play reminds one of some Nimzo-Indian or even Queen's Indian type positions where Black keeps a grip on the e4-square. In general, the early ...f5 in the English Defence is a plus, as this is part of Black's plans anyway:
In the featured game, White played f2-f3 to compete for e4 and reduce the effectiveness of Black's minor pieces. The problem was that, later on, line opening gave White problems down the weakened b8-h2 diagonal. Black won with a direct assault on the kingside.
English Defence 4.Bd3 Bb4+ 5.Kf1 [A40]
In Hultin, J - Greenfeld, A White's central bastion was demolished in no uncertain terms by Greenfeld who sacrificed a pawn, followed by a piece, to open lines against White's king. Black was soon winning easily. The moral of this tale is that if one is going to build a centre, then it needs good unwavering protection. In the opening, 7.Nf3 looks less risky than Hultin's 7.f4, where White hopes for a central space bind without the same problems as in this game.
Here, after White's 14.exd5, Greenfeld played the excellent 14...b5!
Budapest Gambit 4.Bf4 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bb4+ [A52]
In Bok, B - Reinderman, D one of the main lines was tested. It's rare to see such high-level players battle it out in the Budapest.
Here, Black's 10...Ng6 followed by 11.Bg3 Bd6!? seems to be a solid way of playing the gambit. I prefer this approach to the alternatives, as I believe that Black is thus able to get close to equality. Critical (after the trade on d6) might be the reaction 13.Qc2 and 14.c5 (see the notes), but even here Black's position is acceptable.
The game was a fairly steady draw which well illustrates this variation: Other interpretations of this gambit might be more flamboyant, but at least this one is sound!
Benko Gambit 5.b5-b6 [A57]
The first of a trio of Benko Gambits, Barrero Garcia, C - Martinez Duany, L, involves the 5.b5-b6 line. Here Black opted to recapture on b6 with a knight:
White's plan of shifting his king's knight to c3 is unusual, but certainly looked reasonable enough. In response, Black's knight manoeuvre ...Ne8-c7-b5 is better-known and was effective in achieving a good game, as Black thus liberated his queenside from any annoying pressure. In the latter part of the encounter the result was in doubt, as Black erred and lost his way before White blundered badly four moves later.
Modern Benko Gambit Accepted 5 bxa6 g6 6 Nc3 Bg7 [A58]
In Games 5 and 6 we monitor recent developments in the 'Modern Benko' i.e. where Black finishes his kingside development immediately. As Black delays ...d6, then White may opt for a quick e4-e5, hitting the knight whilst generating play that can at times be highly disruptive. Otherwise, if Black delays recapturing on a6 then White has options such as a6-a7 basically hoping to misplace the rook to a7 where it can be vulnerable to attack.
Both these themes have attracted interest of late and are covered in the notes to Granda Zuniga, J - Cordova, E. In the main game, Granda Zuniga innovated by placing his king's knight on h3 rather than f3. The plus side is that the f-pawn is free to advance, the negative side is that the knight is slightly odd on the rim and Black didn't have to do anything special to obtain a good game.
Wojtaszek, R - Bologan, V was won by Wojtaszek (White) and yet Bologan, playing Black, didn't seem to do anything wrong! The Polish GM had already employed 8.Be2 in an earlier game, so obviously was happy enough with the move to repeat it!
There have been quite a few other games with this idea and White has done reasonably well. The featured game can be considered the principled line (as alternatives for either player seem to be inferior). On move 12, Bologan innovated and sought the exchange of queens, but his opponent refused to comply. In the middlegame, Black obviously had some compensation for the pawn, but is it enough? The engines give Black's position as near-equal, but after a few logical moves Black was worse. How come? I didn't see anything clear, perhaps your research will come up with the goods, but the feeling I have at the moment is that 8.Be2 is a good move (especially if you can play as well as Wojtaszek!).
Leningrad Dutch 7...Qe8 8.b3 e5 [A87]
In the first of four main line Leningrad games Black employs ...Qe8. It turns out that Tan Zhongyi - Muzychuk, A involves quite a theoretical line where a new discovery is brought to our attention. Anna Muzychuk plays the fairly new 14...Qxf5! which yields this position:
This was discussed by Malaniuk and Marusenko in their 2014 Chess Stars publication 'The Leningrad Dutch' and was first played in 2015.
Basically 14...exf5 has been shown to be unplayable. So for the 12...Re8 idea to be acceptable Black's position in the diagram has to work. Tan Zhongyi chose the critical line to capture on c7 and thus won material. However, the game continuation seems to suggest that the two minor pieces can neutralize the rook and two pawns.
Leningrad Dutch 7...c6 [A88]
Bellahcene, B - Shankland, S was also quite sharp featuring some enterprising play from Sam Shankland. So in the diagram position after 17.Nh3 Black launched an exciting attack...
...with 17...f4! 18.Nxf4 Rxf4!.
Of course in a practical game it's hard to foresee everything, so we can perhaps excuse the error-full continuation that occurred. Theory-wise Shankland's exchange sacrifice seems to be sound. Black could have later improved on several occasions by playing ...Bf5 when all white replies have their downsides. It certainly looks as if the young American has discovered a way to liven up Black's chances in this line.
In Pashikian, A - Anton Guijarro, D, Pashikian chose a fairly recent idea that hasn't been played very often i.e. 9.Re1 Qc7 10.Ba3!?:
Of course, the bishop might be OK on a3 rather than b2, but the pressure along the a3-f8 diagonal (and particularly on the d6-square) adds a different dimension to Black's planned ...e5. So Black switched plans here and has also done so in other similar situations.
In the game, White overpressed but probably had an edge for most of the encounter. There are several alternative approaches for Black in the opening, but I'm not yet sure which way is the simplest route to equality. Maybe the most strident way would be to meet 9.Re1 with 9...Ne4 and then ...d5 with a Stonewall-Leningrad hybrid. OK, Re1 isn't so useful now, but not everyone wants to present a hole on e5 to their opponent.
Finally this time, a fine display by Erwin L'Ami in L'Ami, E - Reinderman, D shows how to nurture the slightest of edges with the typical pawn structure that occurs when White plays d4-d5, Black replies with ...e5, and then White captures en passant. Reinderman was forced to play rather passively and although he later found a way to complicate matters L'Ami stayed on top.
What went wrong for Black? You may not agree, but I think that Black shouldn't cede the bishop pair so lightly. So my recommendation is 12...Bd7 in this and in many analogous positions. The Shankland game being a decent example of this approach.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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