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I attended the London Chess Classic this month (as did several ChessPub authors), so please accept my apologies for the lateness of this year-end update. Fortunately London yielded some interesting English games in the top group, and I even got to play a topical game myself in the FIDE Open.
Elsewhere in Flank-dom, a fascinating story is Baadur Jobava's sudden and successful patronage of the Nimzo-Larsen, 1.b3. He played it in 18(!) games in November/December. Read on!

Download PGN of December '12 Flank Openings games

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Nimzo-Larsen - 1.b3 [A01]

Jobava played the Nimzo-Larsen five times at the Fujairah Masters, scoring a stellar 4.5/5. Perhaps even more impressively, all but one of his opponents were Grandmasters! He kept the 1.b3 train rolling at his next event in December, the prestigious SportAccord World Mind Games. There he achieved only mediocre results playing 1.b3 in all his White games (+4, =2, -7), though he did manage to beat Ivanchuk, Mamedyarov, Giri, and Bologan. Thanks to Mr. Jobava's herculean efforts there is suddenly a wealth of high-level Nimzo-Larsen theory to digest. As such, I think it's only appropriate that we examine some of his fine efforts this month.

Jobava - Andriasian features a 1.b3 tabiya: 1.b3 e5 (the main line, as played by Jobava's opponents in 10 of his 18 games) 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bd6:

Here Jobava played 5.Na3!?, after which Black has a choice in response. Andriasian countered White's last move in similarly distinct fashion with Sveshnikov's move 5...Na5!?.

Jobava - Mamedyarov is a blowout in the strategically rich line 1.b3 Nf6 2.Bb2 g6 3.Bxf6!?, which is something of a Trompowsky-style approach to the position. The game is an attacking gem, and I can't help but show the final position:

White has just played 25.Qf3-d1!! with an irresistible threat of 26.Qa1+.

Réti - 1...b5!? [A04]

Rapid chess is prime proving ground for lines like 1.Nf3 b5!?, as seen in Malakhov - Andreikin. The b-pawn spike is given the occasional punt by strong players and in fact seems quite playable at master level. Even a 2700 can get confused! Observe: 2.e4 (the supposed antidote to Black's first move) 2...Bb7 3.Bxb5 Bxe4 4.0-0 Nf6 5.Re1 e6 6.d4 Be7 7.Bd3?!

Here Andreikin made a strong positional decision with 7...Bxf3!. After exchanging his light-squared bishop, Black immediately went about arranging his pawns on light squares, thereby restricting its white counterpart.

Réti - 1.c4 c6 with g3, 4...dxc4 [A11]

One of the unique selling points of the 3.g3 Anti-Slav is that White often just plays b2-b3 in the critical lines, not fearing a pawn-down middlegame. Bartholomew - Kojima is one such example, featuring 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.0-0 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Nb6 7.Na3 Be6 8.b3!?:

In the August 2012 update I suggested that White players ought to have a look at this typical pawn sacrifice, and the present game was a good chance to test this recommendation. Don't you like it when we ChessPub authors stick our necks out there!? :)

In Stefanova - Sebag former Women's World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova is essentially winning out of the opening in an 7.a4 Anti-Slav, blunders badly, then most certainly should have lost! As Tartakower once said, though: "The winner is the player who makes the second to last mistake." The critical position arises after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 c6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.0-0 Nbd6 6.Qc2 Nb6 7.a4 (7.Na3 is the hot move, but the text is no less popular) 7...a5 8.Na3 Be6 9.Ng5 Bg4 10.Nxc4 Bxe2! 11.Ne5 Bh5 12.b4!? e6 13.b5 Bd6 14.Bb2:

At this point Black made the awful decision to castle, 14...0-0?. This should have lost immediately, but the game turned out to be far from over. Analysis reveals at least a couple of other valid approaches for Black in this line.

Réti - ...g6 [A11]

"Shak-and-Awe" Mamedyarov introduces a daring (dare I say reckless!?) piece sacrifice on move 9 in a traditionally restrained line of the Réti in Dominguez - Mamedyarov. 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.0-0 Nf6 6.b3!? (trendy) 6...dxc4!? 7.bxc4 Ne4 8.d4 c5 9.Qc2:

Now 9....Nc6!? must certainly have come as quite a surprise to Dominguez!

Symmetrical - Double Fianchetto 8...Nc6 [A30]

I've spilled plenty of ink on the main-line Double Fianchetto, so in Maletin - Andreikin we see something slightly different: 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b6 3.g3 c5 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.0-0 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4:

Now 8...Nc6!? is a development that has attracted the interest of some super-GMs in recent months. Black eschews the usual plan of ...d7-d6 and ...Nb8-d7 in favor of rapid development.

Pure Symmetrical - 5.Nf3 Botvinnik System [A37]

In Kramnik - Carlsen the new highest-rated player of all time opts for a Botvinnik System move order that I questioned in last month's update: 1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0-0 Nge7 The position is in fact slightly different compared to Heberla-Juptner in the November update, but I still think 6...d6 has a lot to offer. The game continued 7.a3 a5 8.Ne1 d6 9.Nc2 0-0 10.d3:

Now Carlsen played 10...Rb8?!, which, in his words, "is just stupid, of course"! Check the notes to find out why.

McShane - Jones is another Botvinnik System of great theoretical interest, 1.c4 c5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Nc3 e5 6.0-0 Nge7 7.a3 0-0 8.d3 d6 9.Rb1 a5 10.Ne1 Be6 11.Nc2 d5 12.cxd5 Nxd5 13.Ne3 Nde7! 14.Nc4 Rb8 15.Bg5 f6 16.Be3 b6 17.f4:

Here Gawain played the novel 17...f5!?, which amounts to an exchange sacrifice after 18.fxe5 Nxe5 19.Bf4 Nxc4! 20.dxc4 Bxc4 21.Bxb8 Qxb8. Black obtained sufficient compensation, but lost his way in the complications. The good news is that the second player is not lacking opportunities for counterplay in this line, and I give several alternative ways to proceed.

Thanks for a great year, subscribers! We all hope to see the Flank openings surviving and thriving in 2013.

Until next time, John

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