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In this Update we look at games from March 2020 events that didn’t reach their planned conclusion: the World Senior Teams, and, of course the Candidates Tournament.

Download PGN of April ’20 Flank Openings games

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Nimzo-English, g3 vs. ...b6 [A17]

The game Yermolinsky, A - Plaskett, J entered a Nimzo-English setup via the move order 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 b6 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Bb4, and now 6 d3 is an interesting continuation which is new to this site:

White immediately fights for control of the key e4-square, and 6...0-0 7 e4 d5 is the critical response. Following 8 e5 Nfd7 9 cxd5 Bxd5 10 0-0 Bxc3 11 bxc3 c5, Black cedes the two bishops but aims for counterplay on the light squares. The next few moves are critical to the theoretical evaluation of the line. In the game, 14...Ndb8 allowed White to seize the initiative, but improvements for Black are possible on moves 12 and 14.

King’s English, Keres System 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd5 d5 [A20]

Giri, A - Grischuk, A was important for the theory of the Keres System with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nc2 Nf6 7 Nc3. Here top players prefer 7...Qe5 to the older move 7...Qh5, and the following position was reached after 9 moves:

From the diagram, White had previously tried 10 d3, but instead Giri uncorked the novelty 10 Ne3. In the event of standard development from Black, White could keep the centre closed for now, since the e4-pawn is always somewhat vulnerable. Grischuk, however, responded with the active 10...h5 which provoked 11 d4 exd3 12 exd3 and now Black continue to play concretely with 12...Qd4! 13 Nc2 Qg4. After completing development, Black had equalized and a correctly played draw ensued.

King’s English 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 d3 d5 [A20]

The highly topical variation 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 was featured in two games at the Candidates. Now the sharpest line is 4 Nc3 c6 5 Nf3 e4 6 Nh4 d5 which has been explored in several high-level games, most recently Caruana-Van Foreest (see the February Update). In Grischuk, A - Alekseenko, K, White instead chose 4 d3 which was met by 4...d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Nc3:

Now 6...Nxc3 was a decision with far reaching consequences. White will have options of central expansion involving d3-d4 for a long time, while Black gets open lines for his pieces. Indeed, Grischuk built up a dominant pawn centre, but Alekseenko managed to stay in the game by finding a series of clever resources.

King’s English 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 d3 0-0 [A22]

Ding Liren - Wang Hao, varied from the previous game with 4...0-0. Following 5 Nc3 c6 6 Nf3 d6 7 0-0 the players opted for a closed manoeuvring game.

Wang Hao’s 12...Na6?! was a committal move which allowed White to change the structure in his favour. At first it looked as if Ding Liren would squeeze his opponent in trademark fashion, but he erred in the late middlegame and allowed Black to turn the tables.

King’s English, 7 d3 vs. KID setup [A24]

After 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 0-0 0-0 5 c4 d6 6 Nc3 e5, the move 7 d3 is an alternative to the mainline King's Indian with 7 d4, that keeps the game in "English" waters. Now 7...Nc6 with a reversed Closed Sicilian on the board, has been played most often, but Graf, A - Shabalov instead saw 7...c6:

Shabalov continued with the ambitious idea involving queenside expansion with 8...a6 and 9...b5. This is strategically rather risky, since Black is playing on White’s queenside turf. White could have reacted with more urgency in the opening, but did eventually win after many ups and downs.

Hedgehog System 7 Re1 d5 [A30]

Kaidanov, G - Hracek, Z opened with the introductory moves of the Hedgehog system 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nf6 3 g3 b6 4 Bg2 Bb7 5 0-0 e6 6 Nc3 Be7. Now 7 Re1 aims for a sharp Maroczy Bind setup after 7...d6 8 e4 followed by d2-d4. The downside of White's move order is that Black has the reliable 7...d5, leading to the diagram position after 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 e4 Nb4 10 d4 cxd4 11 Nxd4 N8c6:

Following 12 Nxc6 Black has the option of 12...Qxd1 13 Rxd1 Bxc6, which is a very solid and rather drawish line. In the notes, I look at recent high-level games here, but these don't appear to change the theoretical verdict. Instead, in our featured game, Black chose the less exact 12...Nxc6?! and soon White took advantage of his extra space and the pin along the h1-a8 diagonal to gain a pleasant edge.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 [A33]

Giri, A - Nepomniachtchi, I explored one of the critical mainlines of the Symmetrical English complex, starting with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6 6 g3 Qb6. Recent Updates have featured Nepomniachtchi games with 7 Nb3 and 7 Nbd5 Ne5 8 Bg2, but this month’s encounter continued 7 Ndb5 Ne5 8 Bf4 Nfg4 9 e3 a6 10 h3 axb5 11 hxg4 Nxc4:

Here Giri’s 12 Rc1!? was evidently the result of some deep pre-Candidates preparation. The point was revealed when a sharp sequence culminated in the move 19 Kf1!, and involved the sacrifice of an exchange and two pawns! In this game, however, things didn't work out as planned for White, as an in-form Nepomniachtchi found a whole series of strong moves over-the-board.

Pure Symmetrical, 5 Nf3 e6 6 h4 h6 7 d4 [A37]

The Fischer system, characterized by 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 g6 3 g3 Bg7 4 Bg2 Nc6 5 Nf3 e6 and usually followed by ...Ng8-e7, is one of Black's most reliable setups in the Symmetrical English. Against normal development from White, Black's firm grip on the d4-square and readiness for the ...d7-d5 break give him a comfortable game. White's main try for an opening advantage is connected with an early d2-d4, with the mainline being the 6 d4 gambit. In Wang Hao - Giri, A, White essayed a similar idea, after first pushing his h-pawn with 6 h4 h6 7 d4:

Giri's initial response was convincing, since after 7...cxd4 8 Nb5 d5 9 cxd5 exd5 10 0-0 he found 10...Nf6! - a good post for the knight, varying from the typical ...Ng8-e7 development scheme. It was only after the subsequent 12...a6?! that White secured a grip on the centre and started to exert pressure against the isolated d-pawn.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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