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Congratulations to distinguished ChessPublishing contributor GM Mikhalevski on his victory in the recent Israeli Championship! Using the Réti Opening, he scored a pivotal win against the rating favourite which is included in this month’s Update.

Download PGN of April ’21 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 c5 3 e3 a6 [A06]

After the opening moves 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 c5 3 e3, play enters a Nimzo/Queen's Indian structure with reversed colours. Now 3...Nc6 is the most common response, but a move that White is generally happy to see, since he has a clear ”Nimzo“ plan of action after a subsequent Bf1-b5. Instead, Sedlak, N - Budisavljevic, L, cut across those ideas with 3...a6:

From the diagram, White continued with 5 d4, following the logic of the Queen's Indian Defence, Petrosian Variation with reversed colours. After 5...cxd4 6 Nxd4 Nf6 7 Be2 Qc7 8 0-0 e5 9 Nxc6 bxc6 10 c4, however, it appears that White’s quiet development is not enough to fight for an opening advantage. White should look for earlier opportunities to exploit his extra move, or keep the position closed with something like 5 g3, which we looked at in an earlier Update.

Réti Opening, Lasker’s System 4 Nh4 [A07]

The position after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bf5 3 Bg2 c6 has been seen many times, but the move 4 Nh4 is very rare. The surprise value paid off handsomely in the game Mikhalevski, V - Nabaty, T, as White adjusted better to the unusual course of the opening.

After 4...Bg4, the move 5 c4 is already new. Now Black should hold the centre with 5...e6 or 5...e5, but 5...dxc4 was a bit miss-timed here. After 6 Na3 e5 7 Nxc4 Nd7 8 d4 White had good control of the centre and opened the position before Black could complete development.

King’s Indian Attack, 6...a5 [A07]

After 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 0-0 6 Nbd2, Black usually enters the KIA mainline with 6...c5, but the alternative 6...a5 has become quite topical, having been championed by Levon Aronian.

In Vachier-Lagrave, M - Firouzja, A, White clamped down on Black's plans for queenside expansion with 7 a4. After the structural change following 11 e4 dxe4 12 dxe4 Nc5 13 e5, White gained some extra space, but Black's minor pieces were able to find enough activity to hold the balance.

English Defence, 1 c4 b6 2 Nc3 Bb7 3 Nf3 e6 4 g3 Bb4 [A10]

Gorshtein, I - Nabaty, T showed an interesting new idea for Black in the English Defence (to the English Opening!). Following 1 c4 b6 2 Nc3 Bb7 3 Nf3 e6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 Bxc3 6 bxc3, the move 6...f5!? is practically a novelty and an interesting avenue to explore. Black fights for control of the important e4-square, and can then continue with thematic play against the doubled c-pawns:

White should likely proceed with a plan involving some combination of Bc1-a3 and c4-c5. In the game, White came up with an offbeat idea of 9 h3 and 10 g4 but was clearly worse out of the opening.

Reversed Benoni 8...h6 [A13]

A key position in the reversed Benoni occurs after 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 d4 5 e3 c5 6 exd4 cxd4 7 0-0 Nc6 8 d3, when Black most often chooses between 8...Bd6 and 8...Be7. The alternative 8...h6!? is a fairly fresh idea that we first looked at in the September 2020 Update. Black prevents White's thematic Bc1-g5, and keeps options open for the f8-bishop:

In Vachier-Lagrave, M - Anton Guijarro, D, 9 Na3 was answered with 9...Bxa3 without losing time - another plus of the 8...h6 move order. Following 10 bxa3 0-0 11 Bf4 Ng4! Black was able to force through the ...e6-e5 thrust and secured a fully playable position out of the opening.

Anti-QGD System, 4..Be7, 8 Nxd5 [A13]

The position after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 d5 4 e3 Be7 5 b3 0-0 6 Bb2 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 continues to attract interest. Now the aggressive 8 h4 was played in the well known game Nepomniachtchi-Bacrot, covered in the October 2018 Update. After the alternative 8 Nxd5 Black has the solid option of 8...exd5, but 8...Qxd5 is also often seen, reaching the diagram position after 9 Bc4 Qd8:

The game Peralta, F - Formento, P illustrated some of White’s attacking ideas, starting with the sequence 10 Qc2 Nc6 11 h4 h6 12 g4 Bf6 13 Ng5. Several of the earlier alternatives and move order nuances are covered in the notes.

King’s English, Keres System 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 4 Qa4 [A20]

In the Keres system after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4, the move 4 Qa4 is very rare, but an important idea for which Black needs to be prepared. White plans to attack the e4-pawn with Nb1-c3 and Bf1-g2, while answering ...d7-d5 with c4xd5, exploiting the pin along the a4-e8 diagonal. This means that Black often has enter sharp lines and sacrifice a pawn.

4...d5! is already possible, and was played in a 2020 Svidler-Giri game. Shetty, A - Sonis, F instead saw 4...Nf6 5 Nc3 when 5...d5 is best, but Black played the same idea a move later following 5...Be7 6 Bg2 d5 7 cxd5 b5. After a subsequent inaccuracy from White, Black did indeed get sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn and was the one pushing later on.

Symmetrical English, Reversed KID vs. Botvinnik setup [A37]

Dubov, D - Grandelius, N, was an interesting battle in the Symmetrical English with Black adopting the Botvinnik setup.

From the diagram position, White usually goes for the Nf3-e1-c2-e3 plan to control the d5-square with both knights. Instead Dubov essayed another idea starting with the less common 8 Nd2. After 8...d6 9 a3 a6 10 Nd5 Rb8 11 Ne4, the e4-knight can drop back to the c3-square to reinforce its d5-colleague, or in some cases menace a Ne4-f6 check. Despite the rapid time control, White won a nice positional game involving some instructive English themes.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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