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Hi everyone!
In this month’s Update, we of course cover the World Championship games in the English, including the decisive first playoff game. Also look out for dynamic ideas in the Réti and English from a wide range of other events.

Download PGN of December ’18 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Reversed Benoni [A13]

The reversed Benoni setup after 1 c4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 d4 5 0-0 c5 6 e3 Nc6 7 exd4 cxd4 8 d3 Bd6 has proven to be a solid option for Black in recent high level games. White often goes for plans involving an early Bc1-g5, but in Adhiban, B - Cheparinov, I, White opted for 9 Na3:

White implemented one of the main plans in such Benoni structures, achieving queenside expansion with b2-b4-b5. Initially, Black was holding the balance, but following 15 f4!, Adhiban seized his chance to create activity, and soon undermined Black's central pawn chain.

Anti-QGD System, 4...b6, 6...Nbd7 [A13]

In Moroni, L - Brunello, S, White played the popular anti-QGD setup with e2-e3 and b2-b3, while Black countered using a 'Queen's Indian' style approach with ...b7-b6, ...Bc8-b7 and ...Nb8-d7, reaching this position after 6 moves:

One of White's main ideas here is to complete a double fianchetto and play against Black's pawn centre. In the notes I look at the pros and cons of various move orders for both sides. In the game, after the immediate 7 g3, Black went for the aggressive idea 7...dxc4 8 bxc4 e5!?, which led to interesting and murky complications.

King’s English, Keres System, 4 Nf3 e4 5 Nd4 d5 6 d3 [A20]

In the Keres System after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6 4 Nf3 e4 5 Nd4 d5, one of the most hotly debated line starts with 6 d3. Here White has scored 68% from some 60+ games, most of which have been played in the last few years.

In Movsesian, S - Balogh, C, play continued 6...Bc5 7 Nb3 Bb4+ 8 Bd2 and now Black introduced the novelty 8...a5!?:

Balogh’s 8th move gains space on the queenside while maintaining the central tension. White's has several alternatives here, and the position definitely needs further tests in order for a firm conclusion to be reached. In the game, Black secured comfortable equality in the early middlegame.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 Bb4 4 e4!? [A22]

In the Carlsen, M - Caruana, F (first Playoff Rapid game), Carlsen sprung a big surprise as early as move 4. Following 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 Bb4 the World Champion unleashed 4 e4!?, a rare move that had only been played in around 20 games compared to 4,000+ with 4 Bg2 (!).

White usually protects the e4-square before playing e2-e4, although it turns out that Black doesn’t profit from grabbing the e-pawn. In the notes, I analyze the critical move 4...Bxc3 and reference earlier encounters from this position. In the game, after 4...0-0 5 Nge2 White achieved a harmonious setup, and the rest, as they say, is history.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 6...Bc5 [A29]

In the classical portion of the World Championship match, the players twice entered the highly topical 6...Bc5 line of the Reversed Dragon, after 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Bc5. Since mid-2017, this has been popular among elite players and has featured a number of times on this site. It is worth noting that 6...Nb6 remains more common overall, especially below 2700 level, although this may change following the world title match.

After Black scored an easy draw in game 4 of the match, in Carlsen, M - Caruana, F (game 9) Magnus launched the improvement 9 Bg5!?:

The point of White's 9th move is to prompt 9...Nxc3 which strengthens White centre. After 10 bxc3 f6 11 Bc1 the bishop came around to the b2-square to support the d3-d4 push. Fabiano’s decision to go for opposite coloured bishops with 17...Bxf3 has of course been heavily discussed, but this line remains very interesting from a theoretical viewpoint. Around moves 12-14 Black has several ways of maintaining the tension and playing for three results.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 6...Nb6, 9 b4 Re8 [A29]

As mentioned above, many players at all levels still enter the mainline labyrinth of the Reversed Dragon after 6...Nb6, with Ding Liren - Yu Yangyi being a case in point.

From the diagram position Yu Yangyi essayed a slightly uncommon idea with 9...Re8 10 Rb1 Bf8 11 d3 Bg4. Out of the opening, the position was approximately level, but strategically rich. White had some pressure on the queenside, which Ding Liren patiently built up into something tangible.

Symmetrical English, Three Knights 3...Nd4 [A35]

After 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 Nc3, the unusual looking 3...Nd4!? is only Black's 5th most common move, but scores a respectable 50% in the database. 3...Nd4 was popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, but at GM level is now seen much less often than the main moves 3...e5, 3...g6 and 3...Nf6.

In Andersen, M - Babula, V, play continued 4 e3 Nxf3+ 5 Qxf3 g6, and now Andersen’s 6 d4 is White's most principled move, aiming to control the centre and exploit his lead in development. After the forceful 7 dxc5! and 12 c5!, White whipped up a dangerous initiative.

Symmetrical English, Botvinnik System 3...e5 4 g3 g6 [A37]

After 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 Nc3 e5. White has a choice of approaches. 4 e3 tends to lead to concrete play in the opening, see for example Mamedyarov-Vachier-Lagrave from the August 2018 Update. 4 g3, on the other hand, tends to leads to a closed position with an intricate clash of structures:

In Vorobiov, E - Gabrielian, A, after 4...g6 5 Bg2 Bg7, Black went for the Botvinnik setup to counter White's classical English formation. In the end, this turned out to be a very nice model game from White's perspective. He successfully navigated the move-order jungle in the opening and executed a thematic attack via the queenside.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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