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This month’s games are taken from two top-level events: the FIDE Grand Swiss and the European team championship. Of particular note are two highly original games by Jorden van Foreest, including his creative novelty 8 c5!? in the Mikenas.

Download PGN of December ’21 Flank Openings games

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Neo-Catalan, 4...dxc4 5 Qa4+ Bd7 [A13]

In the Catalan-style opening 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 Nf3 dxc4 5 Qa4+, the move 5...Bd7 is regarded as Black's most solid reply to the queen check. After 6 Qxc4 c5 7 Ne5 White secures the bishop pair while Black keeps some space advantage. The resulting positions typically don't give Black many hopes to play for a win, but these expectations were confounded in the game Maghsoodloo, P - Tari, A. After 7...Qc8 8 Qd3, the normal move is 8...Nc6, but after 9 Nxd7 Nxd7, Black will usually spend time moving the knight back with a later 9...Nd7-f6. Instead, Tari chose the rare 8...Bc6, leaving the f6-knight in place.

Here White decided to give Black doubled c-pawns, which is a critical test, but also creates a significant imbalance. After 9 Nxc6 Nxc6 10 Nc3 Be7 11 Qb5 0-0 12 Bxc6 bxc6 13 Qa4, Black responded with 13...e5, opening the path for Black's queen to the kingside light squares. The follow up 15 Qc2?! was rather passive, and Black took over the initiative, eventually scoring the full point.

Pseudo-Grünfeld, 5 h4 Nxc3 [A16]

Navara, D - Djukic, N opened with the anti-Grünfeld move order 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 h4, and now Black resolved the tension with 5...Nxc3. Navara continued with 6 bxc3 Bg7 7 h5 c5, followed by 8 Qa4+, which is a testing move, since Black already has to make a critical decision:

In the diagram position, 8...Bd7 is possible, but 8...Qd7 maintains the most flexible setup. Instead after 8...Nc6 Black immediately finds himself under pressure. Things went from bad to worse since 9 Ba3 Qd6 10 d4 b6? led to a forced loss of material after 11 h6! Bf6 12 e4 with the deadly double threat of 13 d5 and 13 e5.

Mikenas Attack, 3...d5 4 e5 d4, 7 Nf3 b6 [A18]

The position after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 d5 4 e5 d4 5 exf6 dxc3 6 bxc3 Qxf6 7 Nf3 b6 is a well-known, topical line in the Mikenas, where White usually now plays 8 d4 or 8 g3. In van Foreest, J - Ganguly, S, White instead uncorked the remarkable novelty 8 c5!?, simply offering Black a pawn:

Jorden’s move is not one of the engine’s top choices (so the opponent is unlikely to have looked at it), yet is playable, and leads to a complex position where Black has to make difficult choices. In short, it has all the hallmarks of great preparation in today's top-level chess environment. Ganguly took the pawn with 8...Bxc5, but after 9 d4 Bd6 10 Bd3 h6 11 Be4 c6 12 0-0 0-0 13 Re1 White’s compensation started to become tangible. It will take Black a long time to unravel his queenside pieces, while White has natural moves which build up towards kingside threats. Some 10-12 moves later, White had a winning attack and finished the game off in powerful fashion.

Reversed Dragon 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 0-0 f5 [A20]

White's move-order in the line 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 0-0 is designed, among other things, to avoid the critical modern line 6 Nc3 Bc5. Black can choose from the standard moves 6...Be7 or 6...Nb6, but in Vitiugov, N - Ponkratov, P, Black played the ambitious 6...f5. This is a very rare try, but one which Ponkratov had played before:

Black is sharpening the game before completing development, so this is certainly a risky approach. After 7 Nc3 Nxc3 8 bxc3 Bd6 9 d4 e4, the move 10 Ne1!, with the plan of undermining Black's pawn chain with f2-f3, looks excellent for White. Vitiugov’s 10 Ng5 was not so clear, but he soon outplayed his opponent nevertheless.

King’s English, 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 Bc5 [A21]

Giri, A - Saric, I opened with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 Bc5 4 e3 Nf6 and now Giri chose 5 b4, repeating a line with which he beat Anand in 2017:

Now 5...Nxd5 6 bxc5 Nf6 7 Nf3 is the sharper continuation, where Black can potentially grab the c5-pawn. Instead Saric went for the steady choice 5...Be7. After 6 Nxe7 Qxe7 7 Bb2 0-0 we get a typical battle, where White has the bishop pair, and Black is solid. After 8 Ne2 Re8 9 a3 a5 10 b5, however, the move 10...c5 gave Black a static structure and handed White a bit too much influence over the light squares. Aside from a wobble on move 18, White stayed in control and eventually broke through.

King’s English, 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 a5 [A21]

The game Shevchenko, K - Alekseenko, K varied from the previous example with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 and now Black chose the topical move 3...a5. After the moves 4 a3 Bc5 5 Nf3 d6 6 e3 Nd7 7 d4 Ba7 8 Be2 c6 9 Nc3 Ngf6, we reach a setup that has been essayed by Bluebaum and Eljanov. If White castles short, then Black's long term plan involves ...e5-e4, ...d6-d5, and relocating the bishop with ...Ba7-b8 to point towards the kingside.

In this position, Shevchenko changed things up with 10 g4!?, dramatically changing the dynamic of the game. White aims to attack on the kingside, instead of defending there. A complex battle, with opposite sides castling, was difficult for both players to handle, but White eventually prevailed.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 g3 d6 3 Bg2 f5 [A21]

Yu Yangyi - Najer, E opened with the moves 1 c4 e5 2 g3 d6 3 Nc3 f5 4 Bg2 Nf6 5 Nf3 Be7 6 0-0 0-0 7 b4 Kh8 8 d3. Black is playing in the style of a (reversed) Grand Prix Attack, with the dark-squared bishop within the pawn chain:

After 8...Qe8 9 a4 a5 10 b5 Nbd7, White preempted Black’s attacking idea ...Qe8-h5 with 11 e3, aiming to neutralize Black's kingside play, before continuing to press on the queenside. Black was saddled with weak light squares, and around move 18 a slightly worse position became really problematic and White ran out the winner.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, 5 e4 [A34]

Jorden van Foreest once again served up a fresh idea in the game van Foreest, J - Volokitin, A, which started with the well known moves 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4 6 Bc4 Nd3+:

In the diagram position, 7 Ke2 has been played almost universally. Instead 7 Bxd3!? Is a very rare move. This may not have been as hard hitting as his novelty in the Mikenas (see van Foreest-Ganguly above), but nevertheless got his opponent out of book, with a playable position for White, at a very early stage. After 7...Qxd3 8 Ne5 Qd4 9 f4 Nc6 10 Nxc6 bxc6 11 Qa4 Qxa4 12 Nxa4 White had the doubled c-pawns to aim at. White had a risk free chance to test his opponent in the queenless middlegame, although Black held the draw in the end.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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