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Happy holidays everyone!
The English once again finds itself in the spotlight this month. This opening has proven wildly popular at all levels in 2011, and I expect this trend to continue through 2012.

Download PGN of December '11 Flank Openings games

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Anti-Slav [A11]

A couple of updates back we examined the important Anti-Slav line 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5. b3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bb2 0-0 8.Be2 a6 when 9.d4 and now 9...b5 was Bartholomew - Herman from the October update.

This month we have Delchev - Van Wely, in which the journeyman Dutch pro played the freeing advance 9...e5. I believe this to be the strongest option at Black's disposal, with the caveat that he must be willing to play with an isolani. The game continued sedately with 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.dxe5 Nxe5 12.0-0 Bg4 13.Nxe5 Bxe5 14.Bxg4 Nxg4 15.h3 Nf6:

but now 16.Qf5!? led to exciting play.

King's English Four Knights Main Line 4 g3 Bb4 [A29]

The move order 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4 4.Nf3 (instead of the automatic 4.Bg2) has some interesting points:

Nakamura - Howell continued 4...Bxc3 5.bxc3 and now 5...e4 is a critical attempt. Instead, Howell played 5...Nc6, which merged with a well-trodden path after 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 Re8 8.d3 e4 9.Nd4 exd3 10.exd3 Nxd4 11.cxd4 d5:

White has various possibilities in this interesting position: 12.Bg5, 12.Bf4, and 12.Rb1. Nakamura played 12.Be3 and enjoyed a nice initiative after 12...h6 13.h3 b6 14.Rc1 Qd7 15.Bf4! Can Black hope to equalize against White's bishop pair and imposing center? A full discussion of the line's intricacies follows.

4...d5, Reversed Dragon [A29]

Despite the rapid time control, the SportAccord World Mind Games event produced a number of theoretically important games. In Almasi - Wang Hao the players explored the unbalanced line 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Rb1 g5!?:

which has been analyzed before on Almasi replied calmly with 9.d3, clearing a retreat for the knight on d2. After 9...g4 10.Nd2 Nd4?! 11.e3 Ne6 the Hungarian went for a small endgame edge with 12.Nc4 Nxc4 13.dxc4 Qxd1 14.Rxd1, though he could have gone for the throat with 12.Qe2!, intending to blast through the center with Rf1-d1 and d3-d4. Worth mentioning is Khalifman's 9.b3!?, examined in the notes.

Nepomniachtchi - Bocharov saw a standard Reversed Dragon: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Nb6 7.0-0 Be7 8.a3, when 8...0-0 is the main line, while 8...a5 prevents b2-b4 at the cost of a slightly weakened queenside. The a-pawn push hasn't enjoyed the greatest reputation, but after 9.d3 0-0 10.Be3 Be6 11.Rc1:

Bocharov uncorked the startling 11...a4!?. At first glance this looks like a blunder: 12.Bxb6 cxb6 13.Nxa4, but now 13...e4! is the point (this second pawn is immune). After 14.Ne1 Bocharov quickly went wrong with 14...Nd4?. However, fresh analysis of 14...Bg5! - as in the half-forgotten game Cekro, E - Komljenovic, D/Medulin 1983 - may turn the evaluation of this entire line on its head.

Symmetrical Four Knights [A34]

In the forum, the user "F22" asked about the "ubiquitous symmetric position" arising from 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 e5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Be2 d5 6.d4 exd4 7.exd4:

He writes: "What is the current theoretical verdict on this position? I have two Ivanchuk - Anand games where Ivanchuk with White gets a big advantage out of the opening. But more recently Kramnik did not get anything against Grischuk."

A perfect time to ask this question, since this line cropped up at the Tal Memorial in Svidler - Nepomniachtchi. Nepo started chopping wood with 7...cxd4 8.Nxd4 dxc4 9.Nxc6 Qxd1+ 10.Nxd1 bxc6 11.Bxc4 Bb4+ 12.Bd2 Bxd2+ 13.Kxd2, reaching an ending that Black can essentially force from the initial diagram:

We delve deep to come to a theoretical verdict. The accepted antidote 7...Be6 - which occurred in both the Ivanchuk - Anand and Kramnik - Grischuk games that "F22" mentioned - is called into question because of a high-level game from the European Team Championship.

Salvador - Jobava is a nice break from the heavy theory above. In the main line 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 e5 4.e3 Nf6 5.d4 (instead of 5.Be2), the Georgian grandmaster was successful with the combative 5...e4!? 6.Ne5 Bd6!?:

The idea is not new: Vladimir Georgiev introduced 6...Bd6!? in August, and the same move has been played after the initial 5...cxd4 6.exd4 pawn exchange (see Tony's notes to Mikhalchishin, A - Avrukh, B/Batumi 1999 in the archives). Salvador's 7.Ng4 led to original play.

Botvinnik System [A36]

We lead with an Anti-Slav and close with an Anti-KID. Another exciting SportAccord game, Ponomariov - Vachier Lagrave, saw 1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 0-0 5.e4 c5 6.Nge2 Nc6 7.0-0 d6 8.d3:

Here 8...Ne8 initiated the familiar ...Ne8-c7-e6-d4 maneuver to clamp down on the central dark squares. The game continued 9.Be3 Nd4 (9...Nc7 allows d3-d4 and represents a completely divergent strategy) and now 10.Rb1 Bg4 induces White to play f2-f3 or h2-h3:

I recently faced a similar idea in Marin's recommended line, 9.Qd2 (see Bartholomew, J - Bartell, T/ICC INT 2011 in the notes to White's ninth). Ponomariov played 11.f3 and deftly exploited two of Vachier Lagrave's inaccuracies to score the full point.

Until next year, John

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