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This Update features some interesting novelties in important English and Réti lines, and tactical fireworks from the new Spanish champion Alexei Shirov.

Download PGN of December ’19 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 b5 [A05]

In the Réti after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2, the move 3...b5 is an uncommon reply and new to this site, although it has been essayed by a number of strong players:

Black's space gaining thrust is more often seen once White has committed to an early d2-d4, such that Black gains control of the c4-square, for example in the line 3...e6 4 d4 b5 etc. From the diagram, Rakhmanov, A - Mikhalchishin, A continued 4 0-0 e6 and now 5 d3 which supports possible c2-c4 and e2-e4 breaks. While Black was a little behind in development, White disrupted the queenside with 8 a4 and 9 a5, emerging from the opening with a slight advantage.

Gurevich’s Anti-Slav 4...Nbd7 [A11]

Santos Latasa, J - Shirov, A was a sharp battle that started with Gurevich’s anti-Slav move order 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 c6 4 Nc3. Now the usual move is the Semi-Slav style 4...e6, but Shirov’s 4...Nbd7 aims for an immediate ...e7-e5, provoking an early central confrontation:

Here 6 cxd5 forces 6...Nxd5, when the most ambitious approach for White is 7 d4. Instead, with 7 a3 White aimed for a reversed Open Sicilian structure which gives plenty of scope for both sides. The game reached a crescendo around the 20th move with many pieces hanging, and the Fire on Board maestro prevailed in an exciting encounter.

Anti-QGD System, 4...b6 [A17]

The game Malakhov, V - Xu Yi opened with 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3 b6. Black’s Queen's Indian style setup keeps the pawn structure flexible, and is a solid response to White’s anti-QGD system.

From the above position, Malakhov initiated the sequence 7 Rc1 a6 8 cxd5 exd5 9 d4 Bd6 10 g3 0-0 11 Bg2, arriving at a typical structure. Should Black now venture ....c7-c5, White's fianchettoed bishops are ready to put pressure on Black's hanging pawns. In the game, Black refrained from ...c7-c5, and a protracted manoeuvring struggle ensued, which eventually tipped in White’s favour.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2 h5 [A20]

After 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2, the aggressive 3...h5!? is an experimental-looking try that featured in Anton Guijarro - Wei Yi in the October 2019 Update, and it is a little surprising to see it pop up again in another high-level game. Now Anton chose the careful 4 h3, while 4 Nf3 is well worth considering. In Dragun, K - Dubov, D, on the other hand, Black got a decent Nimzo-Indian style setup after 4 Nc3 h4 5 e3 Nf6 6 d4 Bb4:

Now 7 d5?! left the leaves the c4-pawn exposed, and Black was soon a pawn up. White managed to generate counterplay however, and Dubov eventually had to bail out with a draw.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 7 b3 [A20]

An important line of the Reversed Dragon occurs after the moves 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 0-0 Nb6 7 b3. By delaying Nb1-c3, White's early queenside fianchetto forces Black to deal with the threat to his e5-pawn. Now 7...Be7 is Black's most common reply, when Shankland, S - Burg, T continued with 8 Bb2 f6 9 Nc3 0-0:

Here Shankland uncorked the novelty 10 Qc1!?, which introduces several ideas including Rf1-d1aiming for a quick d2-d4. In the game, 13 Qe3! was an unusual frontal attack by the queen on a board full of pieces. Faced with some non-standard problems, Black stumbled with 13...Bf6?!, which dropped a pawn to 14 Nxe5! and left White clearly on top.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 Nc3 c6 [A23]

The setup 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 Nc3 c6 has become topical, with several high-level games in recent months. After 5 Nf3 e4 6 Nh4 d5, the sequence 7 cxd5 cxd5 8 d3 Ng4 9 0-0 g5 was seen in Anton Guijarro-Grischuk, in last month's Update. Instead the Rapid game Nepomniachtchi, I - Anand, V deviated with 7 d4. Rather than undermining Black's pawn chain with d2-d3, White goes for a kind of reversed French structure and aims for the lever f2-f3 to open the f-file:

Theoretically speaking, Black is still OK here, but in the game White generated some piece activity on the kingside which is especially useful with a faster time control. After some inaccuracies from his opponent, White opened more lines with 17 e4 and soon crashed through.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5 5 e3 Nxc3 6 bxc3 g6 7 h4 [A34]

In Inarkiev, E - Jones, G, we return to the variation 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e3 Nxc3. Now 6 dxc3 was the subject of Radjabov-Vachier-Lagrave in the October 2019 Update, while 6 bxc3 g6 7 h4 is an interesting wing-pawn thrust that we last looked at in 2017:

After 8...Nc6 9 Be2 Bf5 10 Qb3 White combined pressure on Black’s queenside pawns with the potential for an attack down the h-file. In response, Black gave up his c5-pawn in return for easier development. The middlegame featured an unusual pawn structure and piece configuration, eventually leading to a dynamically balanced endgame.

Symmetrical English, Rubinstein Variation 7 Nh3 [A34]

The Rubinstein Variation, arising after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 c5 3 g3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2 Nc7 isn't seen in top-level games as frequently as in earlier years, but remains one of the evergreen systems for Black in the English. Now Moradiabadi, E - Sorokin, A departed from mainline theory with 6 d3 e5 7 Nh3!?, aiming for a quick f2-f4:

Following 7...Be7 8 0-0 Nc6 9 f4 exf4, White has played 10 Nxf4, but in this game 10 gxf4!? was a novelty. Now Black should act immediately to fight against f4-f5, but after 10...0-0?! 11 f5 White established the f5-pawn as a wedge, limiting the ability of Black's minor pieces to migrate to the kingside. In the game, Black could have defended better, but Moradiabadi showed the attacking potential of White's setup.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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