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This month’s Update is based exclusively on over-the-board games, with a focus on the elite Tata Steel Masters tournament. There are several model games included, particularly for Black, in important structures.

Download PGN of February ’21 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nd7 3 d4 Nb6 [A07]

After 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3, the move 2...Nd7 has become rather trendy with a number of high-level games played in the last couple of years. If White is hoping to play a standard Réti or King's Indian Attack, then Black cuts across these plans by threatening to grab space immediately with 3...e5. After 3 d4, fighting for the centre, the odd-looking 3...Nb6 is the key move which gives this line a unique flavour:

Now Barseghyan, A - Harutyunian, T continued with 4 Bg2, the natural follow-up that has been played in the vast majority of games. After the subsequent 4...Bf5 5 0-0 e6, White has a wide choice, and the jury is still out regarding White's best approach. In the game, following 6 Nbd2 Nf6 7 b3 the resulting double fianchetto structure appeared to be fully playable for Black.

Firouzja, A - Wojtaszek, R varied from the above game with the fresh idea 4 Nc3!?. It looks anti-positional to place the knight in front of the c-pawn, but White develops pieces as quickly as possible, while Black’s b6-knight is also not ideally placed. The following position was reached after 9 f4!?:

This is not the kind of position you see every day. While not fully engine-endorsed, White's aggressive ideas put his opponent under a lot of pressure, and in the middlegame White eventually secured a tangible advantage.

Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System 5 Ne5 Be6 [A11]

In the Réti with 1 g3 d5 2 Nf3 c6 3 c4 Nf6 4 Bg2 Bg4, the move 5 Ne5 is White’s most combative move. In Korpa, B - Doric, D, the players continued down one of the mainlines with 5...Be6 6 cxd5 Bxd5 7 Nf3 c5 8 Nc3 Bc6 9 0-0 e6 and now 10 Qc2 reaching the following position:

White wants to fight for the centre with e2-e4, Rf1-d1 and d2-d4. In the game, Black didn’t do much to counter this plan and White got a great position out of the opening. Having built up a dominant position, White was tempted into a sacrificial attack but then went wrong in the complications.

Réti Opening, 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 g6 [A13]

After 1 c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3 Bg2, in the game Potpara, N - Atalik, S, Black essayed the rare move 3...g6!? This move is new to this site, but had been tried, by a number of strong GMs including Rakhmanov and Grandelius in the 2010s, and Short and Yusupov in the 1980s:

In the game, White exchanged on the d5-square with 4 cxd5, which frees Black's c8-bishop and allows him to get a harmonious setup. White has better chances for an opening edge by maintaining the tension with 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 d4 when Black usually develops his knights with ...Ng8-e7 and ...Nb8-c6. I cover some of the key ideas in the notes to the main game.

Neo-Catalan, 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 [A13]

Following 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 dxc4 5 Qa4+, Black has three sensible ways of blocking the check, with the most popular being 5...Nbd7. Now Donchenko, A - Esipenko, A explored one of the critical lines after 6 Qxc4 a6 7 Qc2 c5 8 Nc3 Qc7:

With 11 Bf4 Bd6 12 Bxd6 Qxd6 13 Rfd1 White gains time to quickly centralize White's rooks, although Black is just in time to complete development and contest the centre. In the early middle game, White played a little too slowly, while Esipenko followed up very accurately and managed to outplay his opponent.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 e4 [A29]

The variation 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 e4 is one of the sharpest lines in the Reversed Rossolimo, and has featured regularly in battles between top players.

In the diagram position we have looked at 8 b3 and 8 a3 in older Updates, while Caruana, F - Esipenko, A. varied with 8 0-0, leading to fierce complications after 8...g5 9 d4. Fabiano had essayed this once before (in a Rapid game), and both players appeared to be very well prepared, at least through to move 19-20. Esipenko navigated Black’s challenges well and eventually drew the game from a position of strength.

Symmetrical English, 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 b3 e5 [A30]

Duda, J-K - Grandelius, N opened with the slightly offbeat move order 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 b3. White intends to fianchetto both bishops and aim for a positional struggle, but this sequence does allow Black to stake a claim in the centre. Grandelius aimed for a Botvinnik structure following 3...e5 4 Bb2 d6 5 Nc3 g6 leading to the following position after Black’s 9th move:

Now White played 10 Ne1 planning the typical regrouping Ne1-c2-e3, but here, coupled with White’s follow up, this turned out to be too slow. Black’s next 6 moves were 10...Be6, 11...Qd7, 12...Bh3, 13...Bxg2 and 14...f5 and 15...f4! which worked like a dream, and Black got a strong attack against White’s king.

Pure Symmetrical 5 Nf3 d6 [A37]

In the Symmetrical English after 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 g6 3 g3 Bg7 4 Bg2 Nc6 5 Nf3, the flexible move 5...d6 has become very popular in recent years. Abasov, N - Dragnev, V continued with 6 0-0 Rb8 7 a3 a6 8 Rb1 and now 8...Bf5 developing the bishop with tempo:

White should answer this with 9 d3, since 9 e4 allowed Black to get a grip on the dark squares following 9...Bg4 10 h3 Bxf3 11 Qxf3 e6. Black followed up with an instructive effort to create and exploit weaknesses on the queenside.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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