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This month’s Update features games from the World Cup and other recent events. A notable trend in the Réti/English is the growing popularity (influenced by the latest engines) of reversed Benoni setups, where Black plays an early ...d5-d4. This month we look at this idea in no fewer than three different flavours.

Download PGN of August ’23 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System 6 d4 [A07]

Mikhalevski, V - Shirov, A was a Réti that started with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6 4 0-0 Bg4 5 h3 Bh5, and now 6 d4 is the modern approach to this line. White occupies the centre and aims to prove that Black's h5-bishop is somewhat offside in the resulting positions. After 6...Nbd7 7 c4 e6 8 cxd5 exd5, the move 9 Ne5 has become topical since it was featured in a critical Nepomniachtchi-Duda game at the 2022 Candidates.

Here Shirov varied from Duda’s 9...Nxe5 with the bold 9...Ne4!, which looks like Black's most accurate response. By move 16, the players had reached a complex queenless middlegame, which was dynamically balanced.

Reversed Benoni, 5...Nc6 [A13]

Nepomniachtchi, I - Vidit, S, entered a reversed Benoni with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 d4 5 0-0. Here the move 5...Nc6 remains second in popularity to 5...c5, but has been gaining traction, bolstered by a successful deployment of it by Magnus Carlsen in the 2021 World Championship match.

In this position, Carlsen had continued 7...a5, but Vidit showed another decent setup for Black which took shape after 7...0-0 8 Nb3 Be7 9 e3 dxe3 10 Bxe3 Ng4 11 Bc5 Bxc5 12 Nxc5 b6. By following up with 14...Bb7 and 16...a5 Black got some initiative by probing the queenside.

Reversed Benoni, 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 d4 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 0-0 Nh6 [A13]

In Matlakov, M - Maghsoodloo, P, Black delayed the development of the g8-knight with the move order 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 d4 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 0-0, and now unleashed the fresh idea 5...Nh6!?:

Black is now ready with the...Nh6-f5 jump to bolster control of the d4 square. After 6 e3 Be7 7 d3 0-0 8 exd4 Nf5, White avoid being left with a backward d3-pawn through 9 d5, after which all the central pawns soon got traded. The subsequent play was fairly balanced, until Black provoked a very messy position with 22...g5!?. Both sides managed to navigate the complications, until a blunder from White appeared just before the time control.

Reversed Benoni, 4...d4 5 d3 Bb4+ [A13]

In yet another Benoni-style setup, Dubov, D - Vocaturo, D began with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 d4. Now 5 d3 is a move order nuance, giving White the option of a quick e2-e4 after 5...c5 6 e4. Black circumvented that idea with 5...Bb4+ 6 Nbd2 a5:

Here Dubov came up with the provocative idea 7 Ne5 Qd6 8 f4 Nbd7 9 Nef3!?, apparently simply inviting Black into the e3-square. After 9...Ng4 10 0-0, 10...Ne3 can be met by 11 Ne4, but 10...Nc5 11 Nb1 a4 12 e4 Bd7 13 Qe2 Bc6 14 Ne1 Ne3 worked out fine for Black. Later on, the game was headed for a draw until White missed a perpetual check.

Pseudo-Grünfeld, 5 h4 Nxc3 [A16]

The theory of the Pseudo-Grünfeld line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 h4 Nxc3 6 bxc3 Bg7 7 h5 c5 is still developing. White has often played 8 g3, but 8 Qa4+ gives Black a surprisingly difficult choice, since all of the possible replies appear to have one downside or another.

We looked at 8...Nc6 back in the December 2021 Update, while 8...Bd7 and 8...Qd7 are also interesting. In Niemann, H - Madaminov, M, however, Black continued with 8...Nd7. After 9 e4 Qc7 10 h6 Bf6 11 Rb1 0-0 12 d4 cxd4 13 cxd4 we have a standard-looking Grünfeld setup, except that White's h6-pawn has a long-term cramping influence. Out of the opening, White got a slight edge, but Black started to go wrong and lost fairly quickly.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Nd4 [A29]

Praggnanandhaa, R - Nakamura, H opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3, and now 4...Nd4 is a solid alternative to the mainlines 4...d5 and 4...Bb4. After 5 Bg2 Nxf3+ 6 Bxf3 Bb4 we reach a position that has been played hundreds of times, but the surprising 7 g4!? has only been seen in a single online game! It certainly mixes things up, in what used to be regarded as a quiet positional line.

Now 7...h6 was a sensible reply, putting the brakes on g4-g5. Praggnanandhaa continued in enterprising fashion, with 8 d3 c6 9 Qb3 Be7 10 Be3 d6 11 0-0-0!? offering up the g-pawn. An interesting back and forth tussle eventually ended peacefully.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 6...Nf6 [A29]

In the final of the World Cup, Praggnanandhaa, R - Carlsen, M featured 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 2...Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 followed by the comparatively rare 6...Nf6, avoiding the big mainlines such as 6...Nb6 and 6...Bc5. Now 7 b4 is the critical try, aiming to take advantage of Black's momentary lag in development:

In this position 7...Bd6 was a novelty, and a solid choice. After 8 b5 Nd4 9 Qa4 Nxf3+ 10 Bxf3 0-0 11 0-0 a6 12 d3 h6 13 Ba3, Magnus found the reliable 13...Rb8 and before long White had to acquiesce to a level game.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 6...Nb6, 8 b3 [A29]

Finally, we look at a mainline Reversed Dragon in Schitco, I - Mamedov, N, starting with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Nb6 7 0-0 Be7. The move 8 b3 here has become quite a fashionable choice. White aims to create pressure against Black's centre through the pair of fianchettoed bishops. An important position arises after White’s 11th move:

In general, 11...Nd4 is a typical knight jump in such setups, but the fact that White has refrained from d2-d3 means that after 12 Nxd4 exd4 13 e3 White can take control of the centre. Following up with a series of logical moves, White soon built up strong pressure.

Until next month, David.

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