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This month’s Update features eight decisive games, with both positional squeezes and crushing mating attacks on show.

Download PGN of December ’17 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening 2 c4 d4 3 b4 Bg4 [A09]

We continue to investigate the topical line of the Réti starting with 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 b4 Bg4. In last month’s Update we looked at 4 g3, while this month in Eljanov, P - Edouard, R, White went for the more popular try 4 Qb3 which was answered by 4...c6, preemptively closing the h1-a8 diagonal:

In this fresh position, 5 Ne5 was already a novelty. Black soon occupied the centre in classical fashion, while White aimed to undermine his opponent’s structure and expand on the queenside. In fact, Edouard was on top for much of the game, and only went wrong as the time control neared.

Réti Opening, Lasker’s System, 6...Nc6 pawn sac [A11]

Pantsulaia, L - Korneev, O opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 c6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 Bf5 5 cxd5 cxd5 6 Qb3. For many years, this was White's most testing line against the Lasker setup with ...Bc8-f5:

Each of the ways in which Black can defend his b7-pawn has its drawbacks, but 6...Nc6! is a game changer. Black sacrifices the b7-pawn for quick development and central control. In the game, Black pushed forward aggressively with 9...e4 and 11...h5! and although this position is objectively OK for White, Black has scored over 80% here! White varied from earlier games, but was busted after a mere 15 moves. If White wants to avoid the line played in the game, he should explore one of the alternatives on move 5, by delaying the exchange of pawns on the d5-square.

Anti-Grünfeld 1 c4 g6 2 e4 e5 3 d4 Nf6 [A10]

After 1 c4 g6, the move 2 e4 is an important option if White wants to avoid both the Grünfeld as well as lines of the Symmetrical English such as 2 Nc3 c5. With 2...e5 Black in turn avoids the King's Indian/Modern complex. After the critical moves 3 d4 Nf6 4 Nf3 exd4 5 e5 we reach this key position:

Here 5...Ne4 is the mainline, but has been shaken by Potkin’s 6 Qxd4 Bb4+ 7 Kd1!? which has done well for White. Instead, in Radjabov, T - Li Chao, Black revived the older move 5...Bb4+ which is a solid option for Black. Radjabov, however, introduced a novelty with 11 N2f3 and was able use his space advantage as a platform to outplay his opponent.

Pseudo-Grünfeld, 5 d3 [A16]

Aronian, L - Giri, A began with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 and now the uncommon 5 d3 was played. White's idea is to protect the c3-knight with 6 Bd2, thus enabling him to continue smoothly with development plans, which would be harder if Black gets in ...Bf8-g7 before White has played d2-d3. Aronian said that his opening idea was based on a line played as Black by the late GM Gashimov.

The later novelty 8 h4 revealed Aronian's aggressive intentions, and after 12...Na5? gave White central control, he finished the game off with a blistering attack on the king.

King’s English, 2...Bb4 3 Nd5 Na6!? [A21]

1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 has been featured a number of times on this site, but in Harikrishna, P - Vallejo Pons, F Black essayed 3...Na6!? (deviating from the mainlines 3...Bc5 and 3...Be7) which is a rare line introduced at Grandmaster level by Adhiban in 2015:

White took the simple path of just chopping the bishop off with 4 Nxb4, and the game soon reached uncharted territory. In a double-edged game featuring opposite side castling, the position eventually opened up for White’s bishops and Harikrishna prevailed.

King’s English, Four Knights 5 Bg2 0-0 6 0-0 d6 [A29]

After 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 0-0 6 0-0, the complex mainline starts with 6...e4 7.Ng5 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Re8, but 6...d6 is a solid alternative and a tough nut for White to crack:

In Gelfand, B - Inarkiev, E, play continued 7 d3 Re8 8 Nd5 Nxd5 9 cxd5, but with the later move 12...c6 Black was able to trade off the d5-pawn, leaving White without a meaningful space advantage.

Symmetrical English 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 d4 [A34]

After 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 the move 5 d4 is a dynamic try first introduced by Tal. Rather than allow a reversed Maroczy Bind, White provokes an immediate clash in the centre:

One consequence of this approach is that a series of early exchanges can sometimes lead to a simplified position. In, Dautov, R - Baramidze, D, Black provoked a trade of queens and insisted on maintaining the symmetry as long as possible. White nevertheless made his extra tempo count for something, and was slightly better before Black went badly wrong.

Symmetrical English, Reversed KID vs. Botvinnik setup [A37]

The game Giri, A - Lupulescu, C, featured a positional battle based on a clash between two typical structures.

Giri played a model game which should warm the hearts of fianchetto enthusiasts! Subtle play on the light squares was crowned with a nice thematic queen sacrifice. Black ended up passively placed on the last few ranks and found himself in a rare middlegame zugzwang.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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