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This month’s Update features games mainly from Gibraltar and Wijk aan Zee, including a few smooth victories for White, but also some dangerous surprise weapons for Black!

Download PGN of February ’18 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Lasker’s System 5 Qb3 [A11]

In the Lasker system after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 c6 4 c4 Bf5, this month we look at the early queen sortie 5 Qb3. Note that if White exchanges pawns on the d5-square before playing this move, he has to reckon with the tricky gambit 5 cxd5 cxd5 6 Qb3 Nc6! which was covered in the December 2017 Update.

After 5...Qb6 6 d3 e6, the mainline is now Wang Yue’s move 7 Be3. Here Black should probably trade queens, but in Hillarp Persson, T - Alekseenko, he tried the sharper 7...dxc4?!:

The game showed that this is questionable for Black because of 8 Qxc4!, sacrificing the b2-pawn. White secures excellent compensation, since Black's queenside is vulnerable and he lags in development. White had several tactical opportunities to put the game beyond doubt, but went wrong and even lost.

Accelerated Nimzo 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 Bb4 [A13]

The Accelerated Nimzo 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 Bb4 is a slightly offbeat opening that surprisingly appeared twice in the Tata Steel Masters. Now 3 Qb3 tries to take specific advantage of Black's 2nd move and gives this line its own flavour:

Here the subtle 3...Ba5!? was Kramnik's choice against Giri, while the main game Svidler, P - Carlsen, M instead saw 3...c5!?. The World Champion’s move is a controversial choice because after 4 Nb5, Black can’t respond 4...d6? because of 5 Qg3 with a double attack on the d6- and g7-pawns.

Instead, after 4...Nc6 5 Nd6+ White secured the two bishops and deprived Black of castling rights. Nevertheless, Black soon whipped up an initiative, and a tactical slugfest ended in a spectacular draw by perpetual check.

King’s English 2...d6 3 g3 Be7 4 Bg2 f5 [A21]

In So, W - Adhiban, B Black chose the rarely seen, but solid setup 1 c4 d6 2 Nc3 e5 3 g3 Be7 4 Bg2 f5. Black claims space with ...e7-e5 and ...f7-f5, while the e7-bishop discourages White's knight sorties to the g5- or h4-squares that are often seen in such positions:

Now White decided to take his chances in the queenless middlegame with 5 d4 Nf6 6 dxe5 dxe5 7 Qxd8+ Bxd8. Black has scored quite well from this position, but there is plenty of scope for both sides to outplay an opponent. After the (objectively unsound) piece sac 15 Ndb5(?) the game suddenly entered a complex tactical phase, from which So eventually emerged in a better endgame.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 5...Nxc3 [A22]

In Lalith, B - Dubov, D, the opening moves 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 avoided the trendy line 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Bc5 which we covered heavily in the last 6 months. Dubov nevertheless entered the Reversed Dragon with 3...d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2 and now unleashed the surprise 5...Nxc3!?. Theory has typically dismissed this move as it appears to simply strengthen White's centre:

Starting with 7...Bc5 and 9...Qf6, Black's aim was to restrain White's central pawn majority and then build up firepower to attack it. In the game it all worked out perfectly for Dubov, so his idea definitely deserves further investigation. Perhaps this will emerge as a companion line to 6...Bc5 in an ”anything but ...Nb6“ repertoire?!

King’s English 2...d6 3 Nf3 f5 4 g3 Nc6 [A27]

Aronian, L - Short, N saw another setup where Black goes for an early ...f7-f5, this time starting 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 d6 3 Nf3 f5 4 g3 Nc6. Both players have experience in this line, which became sharp very quickly after the principled sequence 5 d4 e4 6 d5:

Now following 6...Ne5 Aronian repeated his choice from a blitz game with Ivanchuk, blasting the position open with 7 Nxe5 dxe5 8 g4!?. Short improved on that game with 8...Bc5 which led to an unusual and roughly balanced position. It turns out that 8...Qh4! may have been even better and could throw White’s earlier choices into doubt.

King’s English, Karpov Variation [A29]

The Karpov Variation 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2 Bc5 continues to be a popular and reliable choice. A number of recent games have seen White go for an early e2-e3 and d2-d4, while in Duda, J-K - Grigoriants, S White went for the classical main line leading to the diagram position:

In the game, Black demonstrated a good re-grouping plan involving ...Nc6-e7-g6, and I believe we should have no worries if he continues with a later ...c7-c6. Instead he allowed White to getting nagging c-file pressure after an exchange of knights on the d5-square.

Symmetrical English 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 [A30]

Lagno, K - Grandelius, N started with the uncommon 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5!? 5 Nb5 a6!? This particular line was recommended by fellow Chess Publishing contributor Richard Palliser in a book about 10 years ago! Following 6 Nd6+ Bxd6 7 Qxd6 Qf6 Black gives up the two bishops and compromises his pawn structure, in return for a lead in development.

In this game, Grandelius’ surprise weapon worked perfectly, as this line is tricky to deal with if White is not prepared. After 10 g3 b5! Black played energetically, and soon built a strong initiative.

Symmetrical English Three Knights 3...g6 4 e3, 8...e6 [A35]

A common battleground in top-level chess occurs after 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 g6 4 e3 Nf6 5 d4 cxd4 6 exd4 d5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Qb3 e6 9 Bb5 Bg7 10 0-0 0-0 11 Bxc6 bxc6. See for example Grischuk-Safarli last month's Update.

In this position, 12.Na4 has almost always been played, but Giri, A - Mamedyarov, S varied with the cunning nuance 12 Re1. Now 12...Qd6?! is likely already sub-optimal since starting with 13 Ne4, White gains time at the queen’s expense. Black was soon in a very uncomfortable bind and went down in a remarkably one-sided technical game. More tests are needed to determine whether Black can find a reliable way to equalize after 12 Re1.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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