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This Update focuses on the FIDE World Cup, including several games where White was in a must-win situation, and used one of the Flank Openings to pull off that highly challenging feat.

Download PGN of August ’21 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening 1 b3 b6 [A01]

In the last year of online chess, 1 b3 has become a regular go to opening for many prominent players, and this appears to have transferred itself to classical over-the-board chess. There were several examples of this at the World Cup, including Nihal, S - Andreikin, D. In that game, Black answered 1 b3 with 1...b6, but then White decided to occupy the centre after all with 2 e4, which appears to give White decent chances to secure an opening edge:

From the diagram, following 4...Nf6 5 e5 Ne4 6 Nxe4 Bxe4, White now grabbed space with 7 h4 c5 8 Qg4, making it problematic for Black to complete his kingside development. White was better out of the opening, but later lost his grip on the centre and even lost from a level endgame.

Larsen’s Opening 1 b3 d5 2 Bb2 Bg4 3 f3 [A01]

In Zherebukh, Y - Shirov, A, having lost the first classical game in the mini-match, Zherebukh was in a must-win situation, and rolled out 1 b3 for the occasion! The game soon entered weird and wonderful territory. Following the sequence 1...d5 2 Bb2 Bg4 3 f3 Bh5, the rare move 4 h4 has been championed by Nepomniachtchi in online blitz games. Shirov then replied with the remarkable novelty 4...f5:

The e5-square looks weak, but it not so easy for White to fully control it, and Black can fight for the centre. Black appeared to be doing fine in the opening, but perhaps got over-creative in the early middlegame, and allowed White to gain the upper hand.

King’s Indian Attack Mainline [A08]

Karjakin, S - Shankland, S started as a French Defence, but entered the mainline of the King's Indian Attack, which is often reached with a 1 Nf3 move order. We have looked at similar setups in a number of Updates in the last year or so.

Theoretically, Black is doing fine in these lines, but Karjakin demonstrated the enduring practical value of the KIA. White engineered a kingside breakthrough with g3-g4-g5, and was rewarded when Black faltered with 21...Na5, eventually crashing through with the rook sacrifice 27 Rxg7+ that led to a mating attack.

Neo-Catalan 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 dxc4 4 Qa4+ c6 [A13]

Carlsen, M - Tari, A, featured the Neo-Catalan with an early ...d5xc4, opening with 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 dxc4 4 Qa4+ c6 5 Qxc4:

Now 5...b5 enters standard lines, but Aryan Tari demonstrated a move-order nuance with 5...c5!?, an extremely rare try. Since White is momentarily unable to push 6 d4, Black grabs space in the centre and plans to follow up with the developing move ...Nb8-c6. It turns out that the loss of a tempo with the c-pawn doesn't directly hurt Black. Carlsen continued with 6 b3 and quiet development, but Black equalized out of the opening and only went wrong as the time control approached.

King’s English, Keres System, 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 [A20]

In Shankland, S - Karjakin, S, the players entered a topical line in the Keres System with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5. Now the mainline starts with 6 Nc2 (see Van Foreest-Navara from last month’s Update), but Shankland varied with the move 6 e3 which is new to this site:

This line appears to embody a quiet, low risk approach from White. After the further moves 6...Bc5 7 Nc3 Qe5 8 d3 exd3 9 Qxd3 and a subsequent queen trade, the position was objectively equal. The pawn majorities on opposite wings did, however, create an imbalance which, in the game, Shankland eventually managed to work in his favour.

King’s English, 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 Qxc3 [A28]

Mamedyarov, S - Martirosyan, H was another game at the World Cup where White was in a must win situation. In the variation 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 Qxc3 Qe7 7 d4, White aims to prove that the bishop pair can be a long term asset. Following 7...Ne4 8 Qd3 exd4 9 Nxd4, the move 9...Nc5 is the latest trend, having also been ventured by Anish Giri in a recent classical game.

Mamedyarov first set about suppressing his opponent's potential counterplay, by trading queens, and then started to squeeze in the resulting endgame. Black’s setup is solid, but after a couple of inaccuracies, he was eventually ground down.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nbd5 [A33]

Predke, A - Alekseev, E followed one of the highly theoretical mainlines of the Four Knights after 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e6 5 Nc3 Nf6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Ndb5 Ne5 8 Bf4 Nfg4 9 e3 a6 and now 10 h3 is a move revived by Anish Giri in the fateful first round game of the 2020 Candidates:

In the sharp position arising after 10...axb5 11 hxg4 Nxc4 12 Rc1 d5 13 b3, the reply 13...Bb4! was the solution found over the board by Nepomniachtchi in the aforementioned clash with Giri. Instead, Alekseev varied with 13...Na3, which was a rather unfortunate novelty. After 14 g5, Black's a3-knight is out of play, while White will generate significant pressure on the kingside.

Pure Symmetrical Mainline 7 Nc2 [A38]

The game Jumabayev, R - Shankland, S opened with a Symmetrical English line where White gets in an early d2-d4, namely 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 c4 c5 5 d4 cxd4 6 Nxd4 0-0. Now White continued with 7 Nc2, leading to the following position after White’s 9th move:

With Nd4-c2, White avoids some of the sharper continuations and aims to maintain a "semi-Maroczy" structure with a space advantage. If Black doesn't succeed in generating counterplay, it can be become a rather uncomfortable squeeze for the second player, and this was borne out in the game. Nevertheless, Shankland defended resiliently and eventually turned the tables.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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