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I was really impressed by the sheer number of high-quality Flank games in July and August. The following is a selection of those I thought were particularly instructive.

Download PGN of August '12 Flank Openings games

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Anti-Slav [A11]

The Anti-Slav is extremely fertile ground for fighting chess. In each of the three games below Black adopts a unique counter-strategy against this popular gambit.

In Tikkanen - Hector Black chances a little-known idea after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 c6 3.g3 dxc4 4.Bg2. Here 4...f6?! takes the g5-square under control and prepares the maneuver ...Bc8-e6-f7:

Highly original, but can Black afford such extravagance? After 5.Na3 Be6 6.Qc2 b5 White proceeded with the familiar 7.b3! and Black suffered a quick rout.

We've seen plenty of Anti-Slav games where Black snatches the c4-pawn and doggedly defends it with moves like ...b7-b5, ...Nb8-d7-b6, ...Bc8-e6, and ...Qd8-d5. How about an example where Black simply offloads the pawn and focuses on development? Pantsulai - Gunina fits the bill: 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 c6 3.c4 dxc4 5.Bg2 Nf6 5.0-0. Now 5...Bf5 is a new move for this site. Black develops the bishop to its most natural square:

Following 6.Na3 e5!? 7.Nxc4 (definitely not 7.Nxe5?? Bxa3 8.bxa3 Qd4) 7...e4 White has an important decision to make:

Pantsulai opted for the bold 8.Ng5!? h6 9.Nxf7, sacrificing a piece for nebulous play, but both 8.Nfe5!? and 8.Ne1 deserve attention.

Dubov - Potkin is a bona-fide theoretical duel: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 c6 4.c4 dxc4 5.0-0 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Nb6 7.Na3. At this juncture 7...Qd5 has received the lion's share of coverage on, but 7...Be6 is no less critical:

The knight lunge 8.Ng5 is presumably the reason why 7...Be6 has yet to achieve main-line status, and Black has been the victim of a few disasters in the pawn-snatching continuation 8...Bg4 9.Nxc4! Bxe2 10.Ne5 Bh5 11.Re1:

Here Black MUST avoid 11..e6? 12.Bf3! +-, as previously seen in a couple games. Potkin improves with 11...h6!, and after 12.Ne4 e6 13.Nxf6+ gxf6 14.Nxc6 led to a nearly forced draw with accurate play from both sides. Black looks to be faring well in the complications following 7...Be6 8.Ng5 Bg4 9.Nxc4 Bxe2, so White should have a look at 8.b3!?.

Pseudo-Grünfeld [A16]

A line that has been steadily gaining followers is 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Qa4+ Nc6, eschewing the traditional 5...Bd7. After 6.Ne5 Qd6 7.Nxc6 Qxc6 8.Qxc6+ bxc6 the evaluation of this queenless middlegame determines the theoretical fate of 5...Nc6. Black's fractured pawns are offset by his excellent piece activity, e.g. ...Ra8-b8, ...Bf8-g7, and the possibility of ...Nd5-b4:

White must proceed cautiously if he hopes to exploit his structural advantage. This position first appeared in 2008 according to my database, and 50 subsequent games have yielded respectable results for Black. Almost two-thirds of games in this line have been drawn. Petrosian - Gupta continued 9.g3 Bg7 10.Bg2 Be6 11.a3!?, but after 11...Rb8 12.e3 0-0 13.Na4 Bc8!? 14.0-0?! Nb6! 15.Bxc6?! Nxa4 16.Bxa4 Ba6 17.Re1 Bd3 Black obtained a very pleasant bind. White is going to have to come up with something big in this line if he hopes to slow the 5...Nc6 train.

Symmetric 2 Nc3 Nf6 [A34] (Readers Mailbag)

Our next game features 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.d4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 g6 7.Bf4!?. Korchnoi and Portisch have played this in years past, but these days it's only occasionally seen in tournament play:

A user writes: "Hi, could you take a look at this Correspondence game? I found it uncomfortable to play this line with Black. The novelty 12.d5 seems to be very strong. How can Black avoid this variation? Best wishes - Michael".

I've personally found the Grunfeld-type positions arising after 5...Nxc3 6.bxc3 g6 to be quite reliable for Black, so let's see what's in store. On 7...Bg7 8.e3 Qa5 9.Qd2 Bf5!? 10.Be5 0-0 11.Bxg7 Kxg7 12.d5!? we reach the position in question:

In Bibmann - Jendrian Black played 12...Nd7 13.c4 Qb4!? and experienced few problems, but 12...Rd8 13.c4 Nc6!? Is also quite acceptable. However, my personal preference would be for the simple 8...0-0 after which Black ought to obtain a good game with few complications. While solid, I don't believe 7.Bf4 is a truly challenging try.

Pure Symmetrical [A36 & A37]

Rustam Kasimdzhanov displays profound handling of a rare Nimzo-ish line of the Pure Symmetrical in Gurevich - Kasimdzhanov. The play developed sleepily with 1.c4 c5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.e3:

and now 5...Bxc3!?. "A move that was touted by John Watson in one of his early books. The idea is to play a sort of Nimzo position, but the drawback is that Black has wasted 3 moves to exchange the knight on c3, and weakened his kingside." - Tony Kosten (in his notes to Fridman-Psakhis). Despite the positive statistics (Black scores 60% in limited testing) and alluring alteration of play offered by 5...Bxc3!?, it has never really caught on a serious weapon. The game continued 6.bxc3 b6 7.d3 Bb7 8.e4 d6 9.Nf3 Qd7 10.0-0 0-0-0 11.d4 e5! (any Nimzo player worth his salt would play this instantly!) 12.d5!? Na5 13.Nd2 Ba6 14.Re1 Kb8 15.Bf1 Ka8 16.a4 Ne7 17.Nb3 and with 17...f6! - not fearing double isolated pawns - Black revealed his deep understanding of the position. The pace of play can slow significantly after the uncommon 5...Bxc3!?, and both sides ought to be well versed in the motifs demonstrated in this game.

Recently crowned World Junior Champion Alexander Ipatov produces a wonderful game in the 7.h4!? line of the Pure Symmetrical in Ipatov - Cmilyte. A critical position arises after 1.c4 g6 2.g3 c5 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.d3 Nge7 7.h4!? h6 8.Bd2 b6 9.a3 Bb7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Rb1:

Cmilyte played 11...d5, but Black should seriously consider the solid option with 11...d6. The game proceeded 12.Qc1! (this tempo-gaining move is often crucial in lines where White has induced ...h7-h6) 12...Kh7 13.b4 cxb4 14.axb4 dxc4 15.dxc4 and now Black erred with 15...Nf5?! (15...Nd4! is correct). After 16.c5! Black already faced severe problems. The "middlegame zugzwang" position after move 21 deserves a special diagram:

Any Black move results in a decisive loss of material!

Until next time, John

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