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Hi everyone!
This month there was plenty of Flank Openings action in the big team competitions. In this Update, we look at high-level battles in Reversed Sicilian setups and a Mirrored Réti.

Download PGN of December ’16 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening, 1 b3 b6 [A01]

Rapport, R - Radjabov, T opened with 1 b3, a move that Rapport has returned to a number of times in his career. Radjabov went for symmetry with 1...b6, which is a slightly uncommon reply to Larsen’s Opening. With 2 Bb2 Bb7 3 Nc3, White got a kind of mirror image of the Réti (Nf3, g3, Bg2) setup:

While Black developed sensibly behind a Queen’s Indian style structure, the ever-creative Rapport followed up with queenside castling. Although the game entered a sharp, dynamic position, it turned out that Black’s attack came more naturally and faster.

Réti Opening 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 c6 4 c4 e6 [A14]

The game Ernst, S - Cardon, H began with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 c6 4 c4 e6 in which Black set up a solid 'triangle' pawn structure. After this, should White play d2-d4 at any point, the game will transpose into closed Catalan waters. A key question is whether White can generate chances by refraining from d2-d4 and keeping the game in 'Flank' territory. The following position was reached after 8.Nc3:

With his last move, White dares Black to hit the knight with tempo. Cardon indeed gave in to temptation with 8...d4?!, but ended up in an inferior version of the reversed Benoni structure.

Mikenas Attack 3...c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 d4 cxd4 7 Nxd4 Nxe5 8 Ndb5 [A19]

The old mainline of the Mikenas Attack arises after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 d4 cxd4 7 Nxd4 Nxe5 8 Ndb5. White sacrifices the e5-pawn in return for pressure on the dark squares and a space advantage. The position after 12...Nf5 has been much discussed over the years:

Giri, A - Dubov, D followed known theory until Dubov’s novelty 16...e5!?. Black held comfortably, although there are potential improvements for White.

King’s English, 3 g3 Bb4 4 Bg2 0-0 5 e4 Bxc3 6 bxc3 [A22]

Matlakov, M - Khmelniker, I opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 g3 Bb4 4 Bg2 0-0 5 e4 Bxc3 6 bxc3 reaching a topical position in the 3 g3 King's English:

In this game, Black chose 6...Re8 discouraging White from developing with 7 Nf3 due to the hanging e4-pawn. After 7 Ne2 and the subsequent important move 11 c4! White was able to quickly gain space before Black had a chance to complete development.

King’s English, Botvinnik System 7...a6 [A26]

It is always interesting to see how two top players handle the Botvinnik system. After 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 g3 g6 4 Bg2 Bg7 5 d3 d6 6 e4 Nge7 7 Nge2 Vachier Lagrave, M - Mamedov, R took an original turn with the rook’s pawn moves 7...a6 8 h4:

Although Black was objectively fine out of the opening, a complex fight was assured and MVL eventually prevailed.

King’s English, Reversed Closed Sicilian [A26]

In the game Neiksans, A - Inarkiev, E, White eschewed the Botvinnik and instead opted for a reversed Closed Sicilian setup starting with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2 g6 4 Nc3 Bg7 5 Rb1 a5 6 a3 f5 7 b4 axb4 8 axb4 Nf6 9 b5 Ne7:

These positions are more about the plans and structures than precise move orders. In this game, White pushed ahead on the queenside with 14 c5 and 15 b6 but his approach was perhaps too hasty as Black achieved good control of the centre.

King’s English, Karpov Variation 4...Bc5 [A29]

Glud, J - Hjartarson, J started with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 Nc3 Bc5 which has become known as the Karpov variation. Following 5 Nf3 d6 6 0-0 0-0 the move 7 e3 blunting Black's dark-squared bishop, has been White's main try in recent games:

Usually this has been a prelude to a quick d2-d4 push, but in this game White showed the merits of an alternative plan involving a queenside fianchetto. White refrains from d2-d4, and develops 'around' the c5-bishop, with a long term goal of opening lines on the kingside.

Symmetrical English 3 g3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2 Nxc3 [A34]

Korobov, A - Yu Yangyi opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 c5 3 g3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2 and now 5...Nxc3 is an emerging new trend. It is worth noting that the traditional Rubinstein Variation with 5...Nc7 has been played over ten times more often than 5...Nxc3. After 6 bxc3 e5 7 d3 White aims for a manoeuvring struggle, and will try to put pressure on Black's pawn centre:

Later on White went in for the controversial trade Bg2xc6, doubling Black’s c-pawns at the expense of the g2-bishop vacating White's kingside. This game is a good illustration of the ideas and themes for both sides in this scenario.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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