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Hi everyone!
Lots of novelties and new ideas this month, including a major new ‘pop up’ variation in the Reversed Dragon and creative rook lifts from Aronian and Wei Yi!

Download PGN of August ’17 Flank Openings games

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Neo-Catalan 5 0-0 Nbd7 6 Qc2 [A13]

Wei Yi is well known as a leading 1 e4 player, but as part of his tournament victory in Danzhou, he joined the ranks of Flank Openings players with a creative win over Ruslan Ponomariov. Wei Yi - Ponomariov, R opened with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 dxc4 5 0-0, a topical line of the neo-Catalan. Now 5...a6 6.Qc2 Bd6 is a very solid approach but Black continued with 5...Nbd7 6 Qc2 Nb6, holding on to the pawn for now. White secured the bishop pair and activated his rook with 7 a4 a5 8 Na3 Bxa3 9 Rxa3:

This a3-rook looks fairly modestly placed right now, but Wei Yi brought his own interpretation to the setup, throwing his kingside pawns forward and swinging the rook across to attack on the kingside.

King’s English 2...Bb4 3 Nd5 Bc5 4 b4 [A21]

The line 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 Bc5 has recently soared in popularity, and last month we looked at 4 Nf3 in Caruana-Anand and 4 e3 in Giri-Anand. 4 b4 is White’s other main try, which we look at this month in Bocharov, D - Artemiev, V:

Black continued with the modest 4...Bf8, keeping the b4-pawn in its sights. After 5 Bb2 c6 6 Ne3 Bxb4 7 Bxe5 White's secured a central pawn majority which gave him the slightly better chances out of the opening, although Black eventually won the game.

King’s English 2 e3 [A25]

I wouldn’t normally cover a blitz game, but I couldn't resist including the masterpiece Carlsen, M - Vachier Lagrave, M from the Leuven Grand Chess Tour event. The game featured 1 c4 e5 2 e3, with White delaying Ng1-f3, which we haven’t looked at for some time. There have been a number of high level encounters here in the last 2-3 years, so this is a good opportunity to provide an update. The game soon took an offbeat turn after 2...Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 with Carlsen unleashing the Rapport-esque 4.g4!? and soon reaching the following position:

The World Champion continued in Tal style with the sacrificial moves moves 7 d4!?, and later 12 e4! and 19 Rxg7!?.

Four Knights, Reversed Dragon 6...Bc5!? [A29]

In the Reversed Dragon after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2, Black normally automatically plays 6...Nb6 which we have covered many times on this site. In Eljanov, P - Grischuk, A, Black instead essayed 6...Bc5!?, an extremely rare line that has not previously been played at the top level, although it is a standard way for White to develop in the Sicilian Dragon (with colours reversed):

Other top players have been quick to follow Grischuk's example, with Adams, Caruana, Inarkiev and Karjakin also playing 6...Bc5 within weeks of this game, which (out of nowhere) has suddenly become a major line. In general, Black is doing quite well with this fresh variation, so I expect more developments in the near future.

Symmetrical English 3...d5, 5 e3 Nxc3 6 bxc3 [A34]

In the Symmetrical English after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e3, the subsequent Nxc3 6 bxc3 g6 is a line favoured by Grünfeld players. In the Sinquefield Cup, Aronian introduced several new ideas after 7 h4 Bg7 8 h5 Nc6. Against Svidler, he chose 9 Be2, while in the earlier game Aronian, L - Nepomniachtchi, I he unveiled 9 Ba3 Qa5 10 Rh4!:

White’s last move is a wonderfully creative idea - the rook uses the 4th rank to add to the pressure on Black's queenside pawns. Apparently Nepomniachtchi had prepared this whole line as part of his White repertoire (!), but erred within a couple of moves.

Symmetrical English 3...d5, 5 e3 Nxc3 6 dxc3 [A34]

Also at the Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen, M - Vachier-Lagrave, M varied from the previous game with 6 dxc3 Qxd1+ 7 Kxd1:

This is a rare choice that was tried a few times over the years by the queenless middlegame specialists Andersson and Miles, although without conspicuous success. 6 dxc3 was revived by Radjabov a few weeks before this game, however, in a model technical victory over Svidler at the Geneva FIDE Grand Prix. After 7...Bf5 8 Nd2 Nc6 9 e4 MVL improved on Svidler’s 9...Be6 with 9...Bg6, leading to a highly complex, heavyweight struggle.

Symmetrical English, Rubinstein Variation 6 Qa4+ [A34]

The Rubinstein variation 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Nc3 Nc7, enjoys the reputation of being one of Black's most principled responses to the English, going for a reversed Maroczy Bind. Markowski, T - Tomczak, J saw the sharp line 6 Qa4+ Bd7!? (avoiding 6...Qd7 offering to trade queens) 7 Qb3:

Black is committed to sacrificing his b7-pawn in return for White losing considerable time with his queen. In the game, White managed to unravel, but I look at improvements for Black in the notes. Theoretically, Black is in decent shape here.

Symmetrical English 3...g6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Bg7 7 h4 [A34]

Following 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 g3 Bg7 6 Bg2 c5, the mainline is 7 0-0 Nc6 8 Nxd5 Qxd5 9 d3 0-0 10 Be3 Bd7 which has a drawish reputation. One attempt to avoid this is the typical h-pawn thrust 7 h4 and after 7...Nc6 8 h5 Black's main move is 8...Bf5:

Kovalenko, I - Swiercz, D soon reached a critical position after 9 Qb3 Ndb4 10 Kf1, with Black improving on earlier games with the ambitious idea 11...N2d4!. Black offered the b7-pawn in return for the exchange, and emerged slightly better.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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