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This month we follow up on some developments in key lines and dig deeper into the fascinating Mikenas Attack.

Download PGN of February '12 Flank Openings games

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Anti-Slav [A11]

Last month's Tata Steel tournament saw Jan Timman score a spectacular victory in the line 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.0-0 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Nb6 7.Na3 Qd5 8.b3:

Timman's opponent (Sipke Ernst) went in for the main continuation 8...cxb3, but Black is experiencing fresh problems thanks to Timman's excellent novelty 9.axb3 Be6 10.b4!? Thus, In Mikhalevski - Matinian Black tried to deviate with 8...Bf5?!, a move I don't rate too highly. After 9.Qb2 (better than 9.bxc4 as in Davies, N - Haslinger, S/Swansea 2006) 9...cxb3 10.axb3 Qd8 11.Nc4 g6:

My ChessPub colleague missed an excellent opportunity to seize the initiative with 12.e4!, but even his 12.Na5 provided adequate compensation.

Pseudo-Grünfeld [A16]

In David - Salem we continue our investigation of the delayed-Nf3 Pseudo-Grünfeld, where the main line runs 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.cxd5 Nxd5 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.d3 Bg7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Bxc6+ bxc6:

Flank openings are replete with scenarios where one side (usually White) exchanges a fianchettoed bishop for a knight in hopes of exploiting the resulting structural deficiencies. Here I believe Black's dynamic potential outweighs such considerations, but I would not be offended if you disagree! Evidence to the contrary is 8.Bxc6's status as the main line, a healthy 60% score in White's favor, and the patronage of World Champions Vasily Smyslov and Tigran Petrosian. Nevertheless, you can find plenty of strong players taking up Black's cause, and the "eye in the sky" (currently named Houdini!) is particularly good at unearthing the concrete resources at Black's disposal. The game continued 9.Qd2 h5!? 10.Nf3 Bh3!? 11.Ng5 Bg2 12.Rg1 Bd5 13.Rc1 0-0 14.Nge4:

reaching a position that is quite difficult to assess.

Mikenas Attack 3...d5 [A18]

A couple of key lines in the Mikenas Attack saw action this past month. First we have Nepomniachtchi - Aleksandrov in the old main line 1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e4 d5 4.e5 d4 5.exf6 dxc3 6.bxc3 Qxf6 7.d4:

Here Black played the most popular continuation 7...c5, but 7...e5 (also relatively common and transposing to 7.Nf3 e5) and especially the positional 7...b6 deserve attention. Following 8.Nf3 h6 9.Bd3 cxd4 10.cxd4 Bb4+ 11.Bd2 Bxd2+ 12.Qxd2 0-0 13.0-0 Black experiences minor problems in completing development and White can probably count on a nice advantage. Aleksandrov issued a novelty with 13...Nd7!?, but this fails to change the assessment of the position. After 14.Qe3! (a useful move; preventing ...e6-e5 and preparing his next) 14...Rd8 15.Qe4 Nf8 16.Rab1 Qe7:

White played the positionally desirable 17.c5!, fixing the Black pawn on b7

Mikenas Attack 3...c5 [A19]

Next we consider the critical gambit line 1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e4 c5 4.e5 Ng8 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.d4 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nxe5 8.Ndb5 a6 9.Nd6+ Bxd6 10.Qxd6 f6 11.Be3 Ne7 12.Bb6 Nf5:

when the retreat 13.Qb4!? (instead of the main line 13.Qc5) has proven popular at GM level in the past year (it was also Tony Kosten's recommendation in "Dangerous Weapons: Flank Openings"). After 13...Nc6 14.Qc5 Black has to make a decision:

a) In Potkin - Grandelius Black played 14...d6, offering to return the pawn after 15.Bxd8 dxc5 16.Bb6 in order to complete development. Nevertheless, White seems to keep a small advantage in the resulting positions, as he did in the game after 16...Ne5 17.Bxc5 Bd7 18.b4!?:

b) Mikhalevski - Vaibhav instead saw 14...Qe7 (Suri Vaibhav has played this twice in the last six months), which leads to a different type of queenless middlegame. After 15.Qxe7+ Nfxe7 16.0-0-0 d5! (as in Potkin-Grandelius Black is willing to give back the pawn to facilitate development) 17.Be2 Kf7 18.f4! Bd7 Victor began going wrong with the weakening 19.g4?!, but the natural 19.Bf3 Rac8 20.Kb1 Rhe8 21.Rhe1:

would have provided ample compensation for the pawn., though perhaps not more against accurate defense.

King's English 3...d5, Reversed Dragon [A22]

A high-profile victory in an unexplored line is a sure-fire recipe for copycat games in subsequent TWIC updates! Thus, in the newly-popular line 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.e3!?:

the game Griffiths - Howell followed the course of Nakamura - Navara for many moves: 6...c5 7.Nge2 Nc6 8.0-0 Be7 9.f4 exf4 10.Nxf4 0-0 11.b3 Bf5 12.Bb2 d7 13.Ne4 Rad8 14.Rf2 Nb4 15.Qf1:

Here David Howell deviated from Navara's 15...Bxe4 with 15...Bg6, a safe novelty that addresses the threat of Nf4-h5. Still, the challenging 16.Rc1! could have led to an advantage for White. We also round up a few new games in the variations 6...Nc6 7.Nge2 and 6...Be7 7.Nge2 0-0 8.0-0 f5 that should be very encouraging from White's point of view. I believe the assessment of 6.e3!? is only beginning to take shape and we'll continue to see lots of exciting new games in this line.

Symmetrical Four Knights [A34]

In Aronian - Caruana we revisit the Symmetrical line 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 e5 4.e3 Nf6 5.d4 (5.Be2 was examined at length in the December update - see Svidler, P - Nepomniachtchi, I/Moscow RUS 2011) with an investigation of 5...cxd4 (5...e4!? see Salvador, R - Jobava, B/Milano ITA 2011) 6.exd4 e4 7.Ne5 Bb4 8.Be2 Qa5:

Here 9.Nxc6 is invariably played, but it's notoriously difficult for White to generate winning chances in the resulting positions. Thus, Aronian tried 9.0-0!?, a pawn sacrifice that probably caught his eye when GM Rainer Buhmann used it with success midway through 2011. Following 9...Nxe5 10.dxe5 11.Bd2 Bc5 12.Nb5 0-0 13.b4 Be7 (Buhmann's opponent played 13...Bd4?!) 14.f4 Qe6 15.Be3:

Caruana began drifting with 15...Bxb4?!, hoping to douse Aronian's initiative with a material offering. 15...Ne8 and 15...Qc6 deserve attention, but my impression is that Black players will have to pay very close attention to 9.0-0!? from now on.

That's all for now! Please leave questions or comments in the forum.

Until next time, John

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