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The variation 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 is one of the backwaters of opening theory, mainly because of its supposed reputation to offer White 'nothing'. But in some ways this also makes it a field for great opportunity, mainly because it won't be studied as much as more 'critical' variations. One must never underestimate the human element.
Bent Larsen certainly didn't do so and he made this into one of his major weapons. Whilst other top players investigated sharp lines of the Sicilian, Larsen invested his time in positions that nobody else studied and found new wrinkles.

Download PGN of December '10 Flank Openings games

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Symmetrical English 5...d6 [A37]

1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 d6:

This month's update was made considerably easier by Luke McShane's magnificent victory against Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen, doubtless in an attempt to complicate, adopted 5...d6 (McShane - Carlsen) and then Black's 9...Ne5 was a fighting choice in what has seemed like an unpromising position for Black:

Even so I don't like his position.

Filling in some background, in Andersson - Van der Wiel we see the way White should proceed against 9...Bd7, whilst in Loginov - Stanec Black plays the safest move with 9...Nxd4. Black can draw here but here's on the negative side of the position.

Symmetrical English 5...e6 [A37]

The 5...e6 line has a great reputation having been championed by the likes of Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal:

But it's not all plain sailing for Black as White can try 6.d4, with the game Ivanchuk - Krasenkow being an important one which is missing from the database. White seemed to have his chances here and might have done better with 15.Rc1. More tests please.

Jobava - Pogerelov shows that even innocuous lines like 6.0-0 can have a considerable amount of poison, White winning in spectacular style from an innocuous looking position. Note that Marin has put his weight behind this particular line in his recent book.

Black needs to play accurately in these lines, and that means the kind of preparation that many people are unwilling or unable to invest in the 'incidental stuff'.

Symmetrical English 5...e5 [A37]

This Botvinnik formation is another highly respectable line but again it needs know-how to play well. Almasi - Felgaer featured a long line that actually seems a bit better for White, though he could have played the endgame better.

Lars Karlsson was doing fine with his lifelong preference of 8.Nf1 in Karlsson - Gonzalez Garcia:

until, of course, he missed Black's ...Rf4 ideas.

And in Chatalbashev - Costantini White tries 6.a3!?, to which the critical reply is probably Jobava's 6...Nge7 7.b4 d5!. But once again Black needs to know what he's doing.

All in all these lines look like an interesting bet for the White player who is willing to play an 'innocuous' line for its suprise value and the potential for a 'chess game'. People are very busy with the main lines these days.

See you next month, and Seasons Greetings.

Nigel Davies

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