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In this Update, we look at defences to the Réti where Black plays a very early ...b7-b5. I have also included some key games from the World Team Championship, where the English silver medallists won... with the English!

Download PGN of April ’19 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Extended Fianchetto Defence 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 b5 [A05]

The "Extended Fianchetto Defence" 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 b5 is an interesting way for Black to steer the game towards non-standard positions when facing the Réti. It recently received the World Champion's seal of approval (in Ding Liren-Carlsen, Wijk aan Zee 2019) and has been growing in popularity. We catch up with developments with two games played this month.

After 3 Bg2 Bb7, White can of course develop quietly, but 4 Na3 directly challenges Black's queenside construction. Now Gledura, B - Erenberg, A saw Black respond with the sharp 4...a6 5 c4 e5!?, taking advantage of the pin along the h1-a8 diagonal to gain some central space:

Where White played 6 b3 to avoid doubled a-pawns, but 6...e4 7 Nd4 d5, offering the b5-pawn, soon led to a messy position.

The game Krejci, J - Praggnanandhaa, R varied as early as move 3. After 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 b5, the immediate 3 Na3 is an uncommon choice which introduces some differences to the previous game, for example if Black now tries 3...a6 4 c4 e5 then 5 Nxe5 becomes an option.

In the game, following the sequence 3...a6 4 c4 b4 5 Nc2 a5 6 Bg2 Bb7 7 d4 Black introduced the new move 7...g6. Many of these lines remain little explored, and so offer both players scope for originality.

Romanishin Gambit 5...Bb7, 7...b4 [A13]

The Romanishin Gambit 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 a6 could be considered a companion opening to the line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 b5 we looked at above. Once again Black goes for quick queenside expansion with ...b7-b5 creating pressure against the c4-pawn. Ding Liren - Maghsoodloo, P proceeded with 4 Bg2 b5 5 b3 Bb7 6 0-0 Be7 7 Nc3:

Ding Liren continued energetically with the move 10 d5!?, offering a temporary pawn sacrifice, which led to a Benoni-style structure. White's space advantage gave him an edge, but the game was eventually drawn after several ups and downs.

Neo-Catalan 5 Qa4+ Bd7 6 Qxc4 c5 [A13]

In the Neo-Catalan variation 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 Nf3 dxc4 White most often recovers the pawn immediately with 5 Qa4+. Now Black has several playable ways to block the check, one of which is 5...Bd7, a solid system which has become popular in high-level games. With 6 Qxc4 c5 7 Ne5 White secures the two bishops, but in return Black gets central space and easy development.

Following 7...Qc8, the mainline is 8 Qd3, but in McShane, L - Idani, P, White continued with the straightforward developing move 8 Nc3 followed by 11 d3 and 12 Bg5. Black faltered with the routine 13...0-0?!, allowing White to exploit some small tactical points to change the structure in his favour.

Réti Double Fianchetto vs. QGD setup [A14]

In the Double Fianchetto after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 Be7 5 0-0 0-0 6 b3 c5 White can choose a slow build up with 7 Bb2 and 8 e3, (see for example Artemiev-Nakamura from the February 2019 Update) or go for immediate play in the centre with 7 cxd5 followed by a quick d2-d4.

From the diagram position, Jones, G - Safarli, E, saw 8...Nc6 9 d4 cxd4 10 Nxd4 and now Black opted for simplification with multiple trades. Although Black has a theoretical path to equality, he can end up under slight but enduring pressure. Jones managed to squeeze out a win from the resulting rook and minor piece endgame.

King’s English, Keres System 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 f6!? [A20]

In Pantsulaia, L - Anton Guijarro, D, after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 Black uncorked the unheard of move 3...f6!?. It is amazing that such a new idea can be played on move 3 in a standard opening! Black simply wants to occupy the centre in classical fashion, and reckons that he can get away with the loosening of his kingside structure since White isn't yet able to pounce on it.

White replied with the logical 4 e4, when Black prevented the d2-d4 break with 4...c5, losing a tempo but keeping the centre closed. An interesting opening struggle led to a balanced middlegame position.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 [A28]

After 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6, Nimzowitsch's move 4 e4 has some regular adherents, such as GMs Pantsulaia and Ghaem Maghami, but was recently adopted by Magnus Carlsen in a convincing win over Anish Giri at the 2018 World Blitz (see the January 2019 Update). This month saw the likes of Nakamura and Gelfand give it a shot in classical chess. Nakamura, H - Sevian, S continued 4...Bb4 and reached the following position after 8 Na4:

White goes for the two bishops, but the next few moves will determine which minor pieces get traded, and what pawn structure will emerge. Nakamura managed to outfox his opponent and grabbed control of the centre starting with 17 d4.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 4 g3 e5 [A34]

In the game Howell, D - Smith, A, faced with a fianchetto English, Black went for a rare setup that we haven't seen on before:

Black's configuration is solid but a little passive. Later Black went for a typical plan of trading the light-squared bishops with 16...Bh3, but after this exchange, White was able to close the long diagonal with e2-e4 and play for a thematic kingside pawn storm.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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