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This month it's time to examine the latest developments in several openings, notably the English Defence, the Benko, the Leningrad, and the Stonewall Dutch. All of these systems have something in common, as they involve Black aiming for a fairly standard set-up, and consequently White trying to cross Black's plans. Often, White needs to have a special idea up his sleeve to create any problems at all. Of course, if you regularly read your favourite Chesspublishing column, that might help, as you could then be better prepared than your opponent and even seize the initiative early!

Download PGN of September ’18 Daring Defences games

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English Defence with a3 - ...f5 and d5 mainline, 10.Be3 [A40]

These a3 and d5 ideas have a good reputation, but there were no problems for Black early on in Dao Thien Hai - Ganguly, S. An idea behind White's 10.Be3 is perhaps to capture on c5, but in the game White decided against giving up his bishop. After a few exchanges, the Indian GM then became rather optimistic and went into 'attack at all costs' mode and won with a fine swindle, but along the way he should have been worse if his opponent had been precise.

English Defence 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Nb4 [A40]

The game Leenhouts, K - Van Wely, L was a bit of a disaster for the higher-rated player. A closer look at the struggle does show that Black did miss a few chances, but it was Leenhouts' day. As to the opening, I like the novelty 8.h4 which is a theme that we've already seen in analogous positions, as the advance h4-h5 is useful for White and annoying for Black:

I'm less sure about his later 10.Nh2, but instead 10.Nc3 would offer an edge, as space and the centre are more important at this stage than the bishop pair.

Benko Gambit 5.f3 axb5 6.e4 Qa5+ 7.Bd2 b4 [A57]

A lot of the theory after 5.f3 became well-established around the turn of the century. These days, when it does get played, it's often a question of recalling all the old stuff rather than seeking anything new. In Roubalik, J - Georgiev, Ki Black was on top after the opening which has led to me having a close look at what went wrong for Roubalik.

Here Georgiev correctly played 10...e6! after which I can't see any advantage for the first player, so it seems that 10.a3 isn't troublesome for the well-prepared. Once White gives up the centre with 11.dxe6 it seems that it is he who is the one who has to be the most careful. Instead, 10.Bd3 is more critical and has been for many years, but that's another story.

Benko Gambit Accepted 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7, 8.Be2 [A58]

The Modern Benko (i.e. with a delayed recapture on a6) was given a good test in Agdestein, S - Hauge, L where the following sharp position arose:

When I last wrote about this line a few months ago, I was less sure about how Black should reply. Now that there have been further tests, it seems that 12...f5! is the most trustworthy way, as in the game. The other three options considered in the notes lead to an opening of lines where there are more chances to go wrong. After closing the game with 12...f5 Black retains certain positional advantages and angles for simplified positions where White's structure (especially b2 and d5) come under pressure, very much in the spirit of the Benko. Black's domination in this particular game suggests that interest in this version of the e4-e5 thrust might soon be on the wane.

Leningrad Dutch 5.Nh3 e6 [A86]

An early Nh3 (leaving the long diagonal open and preparing Nf4) doesn't always vary a great deal from the more common Nf3 lines, as the same pawn structure often arises. In Rozum, I - Tsydypov, Z a highly unusual opening sequence eventually led to a normal-looking Leningrad except for two small details: Black had played an early ...g5 and White hadn't yet castled. So Rozum tried to benefit from these factors by playing 13.h4 which certainly sharpened the struggle. Unfortunately however, his follow-up was poor and it was Black who seized the advantage in the complications, although White somehow survived and even won the endgame.

Leningrad Dutch 7.Nc3 c6 8.Qb3 [A88]

Here is another game in which the typical ...g5 by Black was met by a white h2-h4. So, in Kuzubov, Y - Cheparinov, I the following tense middlegame position arose...

...and here Kuzubov hit back with 18.h4 which seems to be quite good despite the fact that this is in front of his castled king. There then followed a complex struggle where both sides were seeking the full point, until Cheparinov fell into a trap just before move 40. I won't go so far as to claim an edge for White in all this, just that this approach seems to be quite challenging.

Leningrad Dutch 7.Nc3 c6 8.Rb1 [A88]

In Jarmula, L - Potapov, P it was noticeable that Black failed to solve his opening problems. I would point a finger at 8...Qc7, which might have seemed to be a good idea at the time, but it makes the ...e7-e5 counter difficult to achieve under decent circumstances:

Mamedyarov once experimented with this, but that still doesn't make it any good! I would instead recommend 8...a5 (what could be more logical?) or 8...Qe8, which transposes to the Mikhail Gurevich variation 7...Qe8, but that would constitute a significant change of tack for someone who is more akin to the 7...c6 lines.

I suppose Black could have improved later (on moves 10 or 12, for example) but I still have my doubts about the wisdom behind the early queen positioning on c7 (in this precise position) where, in my way of thinking, her majesty occupies a square that is better reserved for the a6-knight.

Stonewall Dutch 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Qc2 Ne4 9.Rb1 [A90]

It's interesting to examine the various ways for Black to react to the early b-pawn push, a key moment being on move ten:

In Jankovic, A - Sedlak, N Black went for 10...b6 11.b5 Qc7 against which White's attempts at obtaining anything rebounded on him. Alternatively, the more radical 10...b5, as favoured by Moskalenko, also seems reasonable, as you'll see in the notes. Of course, Black has other options, such as on move eight, but although Sedlak's approach looks slightly provocative it seems to yield an acceptable game. As for doing your own research: These Stonewall late opening/early middlegames are often mis-assessed by the engines, so don't forget to try and understand the plans as the silicon monsters are often clueless.

Stonewall Dutch without ...c6, 5...Bd6 6.0-0 0-0!? 7.b3 Ne4 8.Ba3 [A90]

It seems that there is a school of thought that is re-examining even the most basic precepts in the Stonewall. Take for example the diagram on move eight:

So, in Sargsyan, S - Sethuraman, S White achieves his desired dark-squared bishop exchange without any hassle. Surely he can count on edge, right? Well, no! I don't think so. Indeed, Black doesn't have any particular worries if this set-up is handled by someone in the know. If you play through a few extra moves in the featured game you'll note that Sethuraman achieved ...c5 in one go, so he had somehow won a tempo on lots of analogous positions. The SHP middlegame that followed turned out to be balanced. SHP? I mean Stonewall hanging pawns (...c5, ...d5 and ...f5) which are generally a positive asset with a knight parked on e4.

Stonewall Dutch 5.Nh3 Bd6 6.0-0 0-0 7.Qc2 c6 8.Nd2 [A90]

The plan with Nh3 has a good reputation and indeed White scores quite well in a number of the resulting lines. I suppose it's convenient not to block the bishop and a certain flexibility is always welcome. In Postny, E - Narciso Dublan, M Black's opening didn't work very well and Postny soon obtained an advantage. Of course, all his line opening attempts had to be handled precisely and the first error led to Black turning the tables, only to fritter away his own advantage in turn, just before move forty.

I can suggest various possible improvements for Black: 10...Nbd7 (instead of 10...Bd7?!), or earlier 8...b6 (rather than 8...h6!?), but if Nh3 still worries you then you can revert to 4...c6!? and then only budge your d-pawn (to ...d6 or ...d5 depending on circumstances) after White commits his king's knight.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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