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This month’s Update focuses mainly on games from the European Team Championship, with a lot of new ideas to consider in a variety of Réti and English lines.

Download PGN of December ’23 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Lasker’s System [A07]

Lagarde, M - Lodici, L opened with a standard-looking ...Bf5 line. After 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c6 3 Bg2 Bf5 4 0-0 h6 5 d3 Nf6 6 c4, Black usually solidifies the centre with 6...e6, but 6...dxc4 is an interesting alternative:

In this position, 7 dxc4 has been played many times, but doesn't promise White much, following the queen trade. Instead, 7 d4 is a fresh idea. White gives up the c4-pawn and is even willing to lose a tempo in the process! After 7...Nbd7 8 Na3 perhaps Black should try and hold onto the pawn with 8...b5, while the more cooperative 8...Nb6 allowed White secure good central control. 9 Ne5 Be4 10 f3 Bh7 11 e4 e6 12 Naxc4 Nxc4 13 Nxc4, left White with a nice opening advantage.

Réti Opening, Reversed Benoni, 4...d4 5 d3 Nc6 [A13]

The reversed Benoni line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 d4 5 0-0 Nc6 continues to be tested in practice. Last month we look at the piece sac 6 e3 e5 7 exd4 e4 8 d5, while this month’s game Warmedam, N - Kobo, O continued with 6 d3 Bc5 7 Nbd2 Be7 8 Nb3 0-0 9 e3, reaching an emerging tabiya after 12...b6:

In this position, White has tried most of the possible knight jumps, while 13 Nh4 is the sharpest choice. Now 13...Nge5 14 d4 Nxd4 offered the a8-rook, which White declined with 15 Nb3 Nxb3 16 axb3 and soon recovered the sacrificed pawn by capturing on a7. Once the dust settled, Black was doing OK, although White eventually won in an endgame.

Réti Opening, 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 Be7 5 0-0 0-0 6 d3 [A14]

Markus, R - Kjartansson, G started with 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 Be7 5 0-0 0-0, when the most popular continuations are 6 b3 and 6 d4. Instead Markus essayed the rare alternative 6 d3:

After 7 Ne5, Black should perhaps prefer 7...Qc7 to provoke the loosening 8 f4. Instead after 7...Nbd7 8 Nxd7 Bxd7 White got in the desirable central break 9 e4. After a few slow moves from Black, White got a strong initiative on the kingside.

Pseudo-Grünfeld, 5 h4 Bg7 6 h5 [A16]

The pseudo-Grünfeld variation 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 h4 continues to be a tricky challenge for Black. After 5...Bg7, White can choose between the queenless middlegame after 6 e4 Nxc3 7 dxc3, and the sharper 6 h5. The latter was featured in Korkoulos Arditis, S - Shirov, A which continued 6...Nc6 7 g3 Bg4:

After 8 h6, Black has played 8...Bf6, but Shirov’s choice was 8...Bxc3, which he last played in a rapid game back in 1998! After 9 bxc3 Bxf3 10 exf3 Qd6 11 Rb1 0-0-0 the players reached a complex and unusual position, with two bishops battling two knights. Play was roughly balanced until 16...g5 left Black with some static weaknesses and a long defensive task ahead.

Nimzo-English, 4 g4 h6 5 Rg1 Nc6 [A17]

In Erdos, V - Paichadze, L, White went for the aggressive 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 g4 h6 5 Rg1. Here, 5...b6 has been the main move, but gives White some chances for an initiative, as we have seen in earlier Updates. Instead, 5...Nc6 has only been Black's 3rd most popular reply in practice, but it looks like a reliable choice.

Black aims for quick development, and after 6 Qc2 d5 7 a3 Bxc3 8 dxc3 e5 had occupied the centre. Following 9 g5 hxg5 10 Bxg5, 10...dxc4 would be roughly balanced, but 10...e4 gave White a static target in the shape of the e4-pawn. White was soon doing very well, although the advantage changed hands several times before the game was drawn.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 Qc2 [A28]

After 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6, we have looked at no fewer than 6 of White’s possible 4th moves over the years, but 4 Qc2, played in Van Foreest, J - Vitiugov, N is not one of them.

From this position, the typical moves 4...d5 and 4...Bb4 tend to justify White's queen position, so that 4...g6 was a smart choice. After 5 g3 Bg7 6 Bg2 0-0 7 d3 d6, we have a standard-looking closed position, but one where White would rather swap the Qd1-c2 tempo for a more active move. The players continued with expansion on opposite wings, but Black’s kingside play looked more dangerous. Under pressure, White faltered with 19 Rg1? which was met with a crushing sacrificial breakthrough starting with 19...f4!

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 [A29]

The game Cheparinov, I - Niemann, H opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 e4 6 Nh4 0-0 7 a3, and now 7...Bc5 varied from 7...Ba5, which we looked at in last month’s Update.

From the diagram position, 10 d3 looks natural, but Black gains time at the expense of Black's queen, and gets active piece play. A few moves later, 13 Nc3 offered up the c4-pawn, but after this, things started to go off the rails for White. After 15 Rd1, Black had several paths to an advantage, choosing the spectacular 15...Bxf2+, which brought White’s king into the open.

Reversed King’s Indian [A30]

Navara, D - Tari, A started with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 0-0 e5, and now 5 c4 varies from the alternative 5 e4 which we looked at in last month's Update. Black answered 5...d5 reaching the diagram position:

Now White ramped up the tension with 6 Qa4 Bd6 7 d4. This looks dangerous, but Black was able to defuse the situation through a series of exchanges. Following 7...exd4 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 Nxd4 cxd4 10 Bxd5 0-0 11 Bxc6 bxc6 12 Qxd4 the weakness of the c6-pawn was balanced by Black's bishop pair.

Until next month, David.

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