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Hi everyone!
With a wealth of new ideas being played at Wijk and Zee and Gibraltar, it was hard to narrow down the choice of games this month. In the end, I picked two games each from Richard Rapport and Michael Adams and look at surprising developments in the reversed Grünfeld.

Download PGN of February ’17 Flank Openings games

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Rapport’s 4...g5 v Réti/English [A04]

Richard Rapport has won many fans for his dynamic and fearless style. Part of this is wrapped up in his use of unorthodox openings, with 1 b3 (or 1 f4) as White and frequent use of g2-g4 or ...g7-g5 thrusts with either colour. True to form, Eljanov, P - Rapport, R opened with 1 Nf3 e6 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 c4 and now Rapport ventured 4...g5!?:

As Rapport had tried this before, Eljanov was no doubt prepared and played conservatively, seemingly provoking Rapport to make further loosening pawn moves. Objectively, Black had a good position out of the opening, but went wrong at a key moment and then had to suffer with a permanently weakened pawn structure.

Reversed Grünfeld [A07]

After 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 d4, with 4...cxd4 Black enters the Exchange variation of the Grünfeld with reversed colours. This has not been well covered by established theory, with the suspicion that with an extra tempo in a sharp opening should give White good chances for an advantage. Following 5 Nxd4 e5 6 Nxc6 bxc6 7 c4 Nf6 8 0-0 Be6 we reach the following position:

Rather surprisingly, recent high-level games have shown Black holding his own in concrete lines involving a sacrifice of the d5-pawn, and the game Matlakov, M - Akobian, V from Gibraltar was a case in point. There has been a good discussion in the ChessPub forum on this line, and I've referred to some of this analysis in the notes to the game. Thanks to the forum members who contributed!

Réti with Double Fianchetto v Lasker’s System [A12]

Rapport, R - Carlsen, M started as a Larsen’s Opening (deferred) with 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3, against which the World Champion opted for a reversed London System with 2...Bf5. Play gravitated to a ‘classical’ double fianchetto setup in the Réti Opening after 3 Bb2 e6 4 d3 h6 5 Nbd2 Nf6 6 c4 c6 7 g3 Be7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 Nbd7 10 a3 a5:

In this well known position, White essayed the rare 11 Qb1, aiming for e2-e4 and b3-b4. Black’s response was good enough to equalize, but when he pushed too hard for a win, his position quickly collapsed and Rapport scored a convincing win.

Anti-QGD System, Karjakin’s 9 h4 [A13]

After 1 c4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e3 Nf6 4 b3 Be7 5 Bb2 0-0 6 Nc3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Qc2 Nc6 the move 9 h4 is an idea introduced by Karjakin in his key win over Anand in the 2016 Candidates tournament, and has since been picked up by several leading players.

In Cheparinov, I - Fridman, D, White introduced the refinement 11 Nxd5!, which improved over the aforementioned Karjakin-Anand game. It is still early in the development of this variation, and I expect to see more practical tests going forward.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5; 5 e3; 7 b4!? [A17]

Nepomniachtchi, I - Harikrishna, P featured the unusual and enterprising 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e3 e6 6 Nxd5 exd5 7 b4!?:

This is a rare idea which was featured on this site in the 2015 game Anton Guijarro-Salem. With 10 Be5, Nepomniachtchi improved over that encounter and soon secured a large advantage.

King’s English, Keres System 2...c6 3 d4 e4 [A20]

At the Gibraltar tournament, Adams scored a perfect 4/4 with 1 c4 - clearly a Grandmaster with impeccable taste! Adams, M - Sethuraman, S entered a critical line of the Keres system with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 4 Nc3 d5 5 Bg2 Nf6 6 cxd5 cxd5 7 Bg5 Nbd7 8 Qb3 Bd6 9 Nh3:

In the game, Black introduced a novelty on move 11, but Adams emerged slightly better before both players overlooked a stunning tactical possibility.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 a3 Bc5 7 Nb3 Be7 [A33]

Adams, M - Hou Yifan opened with 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 a3 and here Black aimed for a Hedgehog-style setup starting with 6...Bc5 7 Nb3 Be7 8 e4:

The line with 6...Bc5 and 7...Be7 is, overall, the most popular reply to the 6 a3 variation. While there isn't a lot of sharp 'move by move' theory, it is important to understand the typical themes, and how these differ from other Hedgehog positions.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 Bf4 [A33]

Howell, D - Vachier-Lagrave, M began with 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 Bf4. This rare 6th move option has popped up in several games involving top players over the last couple of years. In fact MVL had two games in Gibraltar from the position after 6...d5 7 e3 Bb4:

In a later game, Gelfand varied with 8 Nxc6 bxc6 9 Qa4 but did not achieve an advantage. Howell, meanwhile, continued 8 Be2 followed by 12 Bg3!?, a novelty involving a positional pawn sacrifice which yielded him a nagging edge.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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