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Hi everyone!
This month’s update includes four games in the Mikenas Attack, showcasing some dangerous new ideas for White. We’ll also see three interesting battles from the Candidates, all featuring Ding Liren!

Download PGN of April ’18 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Reversed Benoni [A13]

The reversed Benoni starting with 1 c4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 d4 has been growing in popularity. Black sidesteps the Catalan and sets clear strategic battle lines:

From the diagram position, in Grigoriants, S - Haria, R, Black chose the most popular move 8...Bd6 which White answered with 9 a3 a5 10 Bg5, one of the standard plans in this position. In the game, White missed several nuances and didn't get his queenside play going until after Black had consolidated his centre. Black ended up winning a model game with his e- and d-pawns rolling down the board! In the notes, I summarize existing theory and possible improvements.

English Opening 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 Nf3 b6 4 e4 [A17]

After 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 Nf3 Black’s most common moves are 3...d5 and 3...Bb4, while 3...b6 offers transposition into a Queen's Indian or Hedgehog. Now the move 4 e4 gives the line a unique character, and after 4...Bb7 we reach a position that was played in a number of high-level games in the 1970s and 80s, but is quite rare these days. 5 Bd3 is the most popular follow up, but Hakobyan, A - Oparin, G saw the aggressive try 5 Qe2!?:

The game soon entered new ground with White playing creatively, setting up the early rook lift 10 h4 and 11 Rh3!?. In fact White conducted the whole game in very energetic style, with 17 Nd5! initiating a strong attack and a resounding win against a higher rated opponent.

Symmetrical English, Hedgehog System with ...g6 [A17]

Ding Liren - Kramnik, V was an epic Hedgehog struggle reached via a slightly unusual route. First, after 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 c5 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 b6 White played 5 e4 to ensure that he can secure a Maroczy bind setup, even if this costs a tempo by moving the d-pawn twice. Then Black eschewed the normal ...Bf8-e7 by fianchettoing with 7...g6!?:

Ding Liren tried to target the weak d6-pawn with 13 Ba3!? and 15 b5 but this proved rather compromising. Kramnik struck back with a classic counterattack, the combination starting with 19...f5! yielding him a large advantage.

Mikenas Attack 3...d5 4 e5 [A18]

In the mainline position after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 d5 4 e5 d4 5 exf6 dxc3 6 bxc3 Qxf6 7 d4 e5 8 Nf3 Nc6, the game Dubov, D - Nakamura, H saw the rare choice 9 Be2. Dubov came to the game armed with some deep preparation, and after 9...exd4 10 Bg5 Qg6 11 0-0!? White offered a double pawn sacrifice for a lead in development:

Nakamura fearlessly took the pawns, but was surprised by 14 c5!, pitching a third pawn! Although the engine evaluation gives Black level chances, the complexity and danger to his king eventually proved too much for Black to handle, especially given that this was a rapid game.

In the first round of the Candidates, Aronian, L - Ding Liren varied with 7...b6 but in any case mayhem soon ensued after Aronian’s new idea 8 h4!?. White threatens to challenge Black's queen with Bc1-g5 and creates the rook lift option Rh1-h3:

Black’s queen ended up on the a5-square, and Ding had to play very sharply and boldly to avoid it being trapped. Objectively White had the edge, but in an extremely complex position, the players repeated moves. Food for thought for both sides of the Mikenas debate.

In Navara, D - Abasov, N, White in turn varied by playing the flexible 7 Nf3 instead of 7 d4. After 7...b6, Aronian’s 8 h4 idea now doesn’t make sense, but Navara’s 8 g3 did lead to quite a fresh position:

White fights for the long light-squared diagonal, and in the game after 10...Bd6?! and 12 Nh4! he was able to force a position with opposite coloured bishops, where he dominated the light squares.

Mikenas Attack, 3...c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 d4 [A19]

After 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 e4, while 3...d5 remains the most popular move, 3...c5 has never gone away, and theory wise Black is in reasonable shape. The mainline here is the pawn sacrifice with 4 e5 Ng8 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 d4 cxd4 7 Nxd4 Nxe5 8 Ndb5, but in Grandelius, N - Svane, R, White revisited the sideline 4 e5 Ng8 5 d4!?:

White gets some extra space, and although play is not as forcing as the pawn sac line, at least White is not a pawn down! Following an exchange of queens, Grandelius achieved a slight edge in a bishop vs. knight scenario.

King’s English, Reversed Closed Sicilian [A26]

The position after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 d3 g6 5 g3 Bg7 6 Bg2 0-0 7 0-0 d6 is a classic English/Reversed Sicilian position, with over 6,000 games in my database! In Kramnik, V - Ding Liren, Kramnik went for the uncommon 8 b3, with a slow build up that maintains the tension in the position:

Ding replied with 8...Nd4, a sound move aiming to fight for the centre with ...c7-c6 and a later ...d6-d5. As the game went, Black got a decent version of a fianchetto King's Indian setup, and was able to break with ...d6-d5 under favourable circumstances.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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