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Hi everyone!
This month’s Update features high-level battles from Gibraltar and Tata Steel. We also venture into the world of Artificial Intelligence by looking at one of AlphaZero’s favourite openings.

Download PGN of February ’19 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System, 6 d4 [A07]

The game Gukesh, D - Eljanov, P opened with the Catalan-style hybrid system 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 c6 4 0-0 e6 5 h3 Bh5 6 d4. This has become a notable alternative to traditional Réti approaches involving d2-d3 and/or c2-c4.

From the diagram position, after 9...Qb6 10 Qe3, White’s queen deployment sharpens the play, as Black now needs to decide how to break the pin on the e7-bishop. Black uncorked a surprising novelty with 10...0-0-0. It's not every day you see opposite side castling in the Réti! Eljanov’s choice was risky however, and objectively Black should go for 10...Nf8 or 10...Ngf6.

Réti Opening, Double Fianchetto vs. Lasker’s System [A07]

Fedoseev, V - Shankland, S started with 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 and then transposed into a double fianchetto Réti where White chose to go for an early e2-e4 plan.

An intricate positional battle eventually ended in White’s favour - an instructive game for Réti players.

Réti Double Fianchetto vs. QGD setup [A14]

One of the mainlines of the Double Fianchetto system occurs after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 c4 0-0 6 b3 c5 7 Bb2 Nc6. In Artemiev, V - Nakamura, H, Black was the first to define the central structure with 9...dxc4 leading to a well known position:

White's usual long-term plan is to storm the kingside while Black aims to generate counterplay on the queenside starting with ...a7-a6 and...b6-b5. The game was complex but balanced until Black’s sharp pawn grab 21...Nxe4?! ultimately landed him in trouble.

Nimzo-English, 4 Qc2, 6...d6 [A17]

Inspired by the recent release of the AlphaZero games, and the new book Game Changer (a great read!), I decided to take a look at AlphaZero - Stockfish 8 from an opening theory viewpoint.

This Nimzo-English line featured in 11 of the Alpha Zero - Stockfish games, with AlphaZero scoring 5 wins and 6 draws. It is interesting to see where the engines deviated from existing theory, and understand what we can learn about the opening or the resulting structures. The selected game features an instructive long-term build-up and breakthrough in a common kingside pawn structure.

King’s English, Keres System 2...c6 3 d4, 4...Bb4 [A20]

In the Keres system after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 4 Nc3, the Gibraltar encounter Naiditsch, A - Anton Guijarro, D soon left the mainstream with the uncommon 4...Bb4!?:

After the subsequent 5 Qb3 a5 6 Bf4 d5 7 e3 Nf6 8 a3 Bxc3+ Black ceded the two bishops but got quick development and pressure against White's light squares. White tried to whip up a kingside pawn storm, but it was Black that eventually crashed through in the centre to score a striking victory. Anton’s line looks like an important new direction in the Keres.

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

After 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 the formerly rare move 3...a5 has become more prominent recently:

In Grandelius, N - Ju Wenjun White chose 4 Nf3 d6 5 a3 and now Ju Wenjun varied from some earlier Anand games with 5...c6. With a novelty on move 11, Black's secured a sound and stable position from the opening.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 d3 [A28]

In the Four Knights with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6, the move 4 d3 is one of many possible moves, but generally regarded as less critical that 4 g3 or 4 e3. In Kramnik, V - Giri, A, the game entered a reversed Boleslavsky Sicilian:

As he has done so often, Kramnik shows a new creative idea in a standard structure. With 12 Kh1!, followed by 13 Ng1 and 14 f4, White grabbed control of the centre, albeit at the cost of a pawn. After 16 d4 White's position resembled a kind of ideal King's Gambit!

Pure Symmetrical, 5 b3 [A36]

In the Pure Symmetrical after 1 c4 c5 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 Nc3 Nc6 White has tried many different moves and move orders. In Ding Liren - Vidit, S, Ding Liren uncorked a novelty at a remarkably early stage, with 5 b3 e6 6 Ba3!? being a brand new move!

By forcing Black to defend his c5-pawn with 6...d6, White is aiming to get an edge in the battle for the centre by inhibiting the ...d7-d5 break. Other players have been quick to explore this new line, with Giri and Vachier-Lagrave trying 5 b3 in games played soon after this one.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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