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The English was the Opening of the Candidates, with almost 20% of the games in the Tournament featuring 1 c4 e5! The players arrived armed with new ideas and deep preparation in many critical lines, significantly advancing theory. So this month we review all the key developments in the Flank Openings at this unique event, including a bonus game for subscribers.

Download PGN of April ’16 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening Anti-QGD System [A13]

Karjakin - Anand took an original path early in the game with 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 b3 Be7 5 Bb2 0-0 6 Nc3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Qc2 Nc6. White's development scheme is more commonly seen in the anti-Slav system (when Black has played an early ....c6), but is quite rare against a pure QGD setup. Karjakin now unleashed 9 h4!?, a novelty prepared specifically for the occasion:

White can generate dangerous attacking chances in several lines, and so Anand felt compelled to compromise his pawn structure with 10...f5. Karjakin then turned his attention to Black's hanging pawns, and won with an awesome technical performance. In this game, Karjakin opened a new chapter in opening theory which I'm sure we will see more of.

King's English 3 g3 Bb4 4 Bg2 0-0 5 e4 [A22]

Svidler - Aronian opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 g3 Bb4 4 Bg2 0-0 5 e4 Bxc3 6 bxc3 c6 and now 7 Nf3, an idea introduced in Giri-Anand from Bilbao 2015. After 7...Nxe4 8 0-0 d6 9 Nxe5 Aronian introduced the new move 9...Nc5:

White has the longer term asset of the two bishops, but in the meantime Black hopes to exploit White's loosely placed knight and disjointed c- and d-pawns before White gets coordinated. Following a fighting draw in this game, Svidler (and indeed all the other participants) switched to the Four Knights System for the remainder of the Candidates tournament. Nevertheless, White did get a little something out of the opening here, so Black still has to prove that he can clearly equalize.

King's English Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 0-0 6 0-0 e4 [A29]

The middle rounds of the tournament saw some heavyweight battles in one of the key main lines starting with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 0-0 6 0-0 e4 7 Ng5 Bxc3 8 bxc3 Re8 9 f3. In Svidler - Karjakin the eventual tournament winner chose 9...e3:

This was Karpov's reply when first faced with the 7 Ng5, 9 f3 variation in his match against Kasparov at Seville 1987. In recent years this has been less popular than 9...exf3 (see the next game below), but in this game Karjakin was better prepared than his opponent. In the early middlegame Svidler made an extremely committal decision, incarcerating his own light-squared bishop, but was let off the hook and even had chances to win before the eventual draw was concluded. In view of this game, and Caruana-Anand below, I expect to see renewed interest in 9...e3.

Caruana - Anand also began with 7 Ng5 Bxc3 8 bxc3 Re8 9 f3 and here Anand chose 9...exf3 10 Nxf3 d5 11 d4 dxc4, repeating the variation that had served him well against Aronian in Saint Louis 2015. Caruana was ready for this, however and came up with the fresh idea 12 Qc2:

This had not tried at top level before, and over the new few moves White took control of the centre, eventually winning convincingly. Although Black's play can be improved, White's position seems easier to play from a human perspective, and may even be underestimated by the engine's evaluation. Black needs to do some repair work here or switch to an earlier deviation.

King's English Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 0-0 6 0-0 d6 [A29]

Svidler - Nakamura again started with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 0-0 6 0-0 and now Nakamura chose 6...d6, which is a solid alternative to the critical 6...e4 which we looked at in the previous two games:

After 7 d3 h6 White played 8 Na4, targeting Black's b4-bishop, and aiming to gain time by pushing it back with a2-a3/b2-b4 or e2-e3/d3-d4 etc. This is quite a rare move which amazingly was also played in Aronian-Topalov in the same round of the Candidates! That game is covered in the notes to Svidler-Nakamura. In his game, Nakamura equalized quite convincingly, so the ball is in White's court to find an improved plan here.

King's English Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 [A29]

In Nakamura - Anand, which yet again began with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4, White chose a different path from earlier games with 5 Nd5:

Anand replied with 5...e4, which is the most principled move, trying to take advantage of White's move order by pushing the f3-knight to the rim. After 6 Nh4 0-0 7 Bg2 d6 8 a3 Bc5 9 0-0 Re8 10 e3 Black was provoked into going after the knight with 10...g5 and the critical position was reached almost immediately. Nakamura was well prepared and scored a quick victory when Anand lost his way in the computer-like complications.

Reversed Dragon 8 d3 [A29]

Aronian - Karjakin was a critical game from the penultimate round of the Candidates which entered the Reversed Dragon with 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Nb6 7 0-0 Be7 and now Aronian chose the setup with 8 d3 0-0 9 a3 Be6 10 Be3:

Meanwhile in the game Svidler-Giri (covered in the notes to Aronian-Karjakin), White chose the main line with 8 a3 and 9 b4. Objectively Black was fine out of the opening in both games, but the reversed Dragon often leads to tense and strategically complex fights, which was the case here. In his game, Aronian outplayed Karjakin with highly creative play but fell just short of scoring a crucial victory.

Symmetrical Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nbd5 Ne5 8 Bf4 [A33]

In the one of the key variations of the Symmetrical after 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nc3 e6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Ndb5 Ne5 8 Bf4 Nfg4 9 e3 a6, Topalov - Caruana continued with 10 Qa4, a critical move which has come into vogue in the last few years. Caruana then raised the stakes with the sharp 10...Ra7:

Theoretically speaking, the opening was good for Black, but the advantage swung in both directions in a tricky and unusual position. Although Caruana was in the driver's seat from around move 22 onwards, he faltered in time trouble and settled for a draw on move 41.

Symmetrical English 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 g6 7 Ng5 [A34]

Svidler - Caruana featured 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 g6 and in this mainstream position, Svidler essayed 7 Ng5 - a rare move which, as the game showed, was backed up by deep preparation. After 7...e6 8 d3 Bg7 9 Nge4 0-0 the aggressive thrust 10 h4 (somewhat reminiscent of Karjakin-Anand above) was the basis of Svidler's idea:

Caruana didn't react optimally and a powerful piece sacrifice forced Black's king into the open. White was clearly better but the resulting endgame eventually ended in a draw.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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