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At this year's Politiken Cup (played in Copenhagen, Denmark, 31st July - 8th August 2010) there was a special event to celebrate Bent Larsen's 75th birthday. It was a blitz match between Peter Svidler and Peter Heine Nielsen in which all the games began with Larsen's Opening, 1.b3.

Download PGN of August '10 Flank Openings games

Larsen's Opening 1 b3 [A01]

Despite the rapid time limit both players knew what to expect in advance and evidently did their homework on this opening. As a result there were a number of interesting ideas and choices that are worthy of our attention. And whilst researching the material for this month's update, I noticed that some other strong players were playing 1.b3, for example Nakamura, Anatoly Vaisser (this one surprised me given Vaisser's earlier results with 1.d4), Vallejo Pons plus a few other high rated people I've never heard of.

Actually I can well understand them as 1.b3 still gives you a chance to play chess from the outset. For this reason I'd tend to recommend it to players whose clock handling is on the brisk side, especially against those who take longer to decide which move to play.

Svidler and Nielsen devoted most of their discussion to the lines 1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 d5 4.Bb5 Bd6 and 1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 Bg4:

The 1...d5 and 2...Bg4 line is something I've played myself as Black but without a full awareness of the issues! For example Svidler's 3.f3 Bh5 4.Nh3 (Svidler - Nielsen, game 6) will effectively gain the bishop pair in the kind of position I like to play with White. 6.g3 seems to be a better idea than the 6.e3 that was played.

The gambit line with 4.e4!? is also very interesting:

In Nielsen - Svidler (game 3) it gave the impression of being 'unsound', but White could have done better, with 12.Bxa3 for example.

1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 d5 4.Bb5 Bd6 featured in a couple of games with Svidler playing White:

In both of these he preferred 5.Nf3 to the 'consistent' 5.f4 (see Ismagambetov - Lahiri for a recent example of this). White was better after Nielsen's first (game two) choice of 5...Qe7 (Svidler - Nielsen, game 2) so then he switched to 5...Bg4. But here too White seems to have the more pleasant position, a good illustration being Vallejo Pons - Gustafsson.

1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bd6 is an interesting choice for Black that several strong players have used:

I must admit to preferring Vaisser's 5.Ne2 (Vaisser - Gozzoli) over 5.Na3 (Ippatov - Fierro Basquero), at least in the way that 5.Na3 was interpreted in this particular game. After Black's 5...a6 I think that White really should be just taking on c6 and playing Na3-c4, as after 6.Be2 Be7 I don't see where the a3 knight can realistically be posted.

There was a Morozevich - Kramnik game with 1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 c5 3.e3 Nf6 4.f4 a couple of years back (transposing into a Bird's Opening, A03):

Novikov - Selin featured something of an overreaction by Black with his queenside castling but I guess that this is quite tempting if Black imagines great danger on the kingside. For me this is all rather typical of a player being flung on his own resources rather than being able to churn out book moves; they find themselves playing a lot worse than usual.

That's all for this month! Nigel Davies


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