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This Update focuses exclusively on top-level classical games from the Tata Steel Masters and Challengers.

Download PGN of February ’22 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 0-0 e5 [A07]

After 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7, the move 4 0-0 allows Black to construct a pawn centre with 4...e5. After 5 d3 Nc6 6 e4 dxe4 7 dxe4 Qxd1 8 Rxd1 Bg4 9 c3 White's setup looks innocuous at first sight, but the game Giri, A - Shankland, S shows that matters are not so simple.

The one downside of Black's position is the c6-knight, which is restricted by the c3-pawn and has fewer active prospects than its opposite number, which develops via Nb1-d2-c4 etc. In the game, Black initiated simplifications by trading both his bishops with 9...Nf6 10 Nbd2 0-0-0 11 Re1 Bh6 12 Nc4 Bxc1 13 Raxc1 Bxf3. After 14 Bxf3 Ne8 15 Rcd1, White was slightly better, and Giri put on a master class culminating in an instructive R+B vs. R+N endgame.

Réti Opening, Lasker’s System [A07]

Caruana, F - Giri, A opened with 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 Bf5 3 Bb2 e6 4 g3 h6 5 Bg2 Nf6 6 0-0 Be7 7 d3 0-0 8 Nbd2. The players eschewed sharp theoretical lines in favour of a strategically complex position without any early simplifications.

The later stages of the game were marred by uncharacteristic errors in time trouble, but the opening and early middlegame give us some instructive pointers on how to play these structures for both sides.

Réti Opening, Anti-Slav Gambit 4...dxc4 5 Qc2 [A11]

In the Anti-Slav Gambit after 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 c6 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 dxc4, the sharp mainline starts with 5 0-0 Nbd7 6 Qc2 Nb6. In Warmerdam, M - l’Ami, E, however, White varied with the less explored 5 Qc2. Now Black has various options including 5...Qd5 and 5...Nbd7, but l’Ami chose the principled 5...b5, and made a convincing case for this idea.

White now sacrificed a pawn with 6 0-0 Bb7 7 Ne1 e6 8 d3 cxd3 9 Nxd3, giving the knight an excellent post on the d3-square. White has pressure on the dark squares, but Black was able to return the pawn in order to free his position with 9...Be7 10 Rd1 0-0 11.a4 Qc8 12 Bg5 Nbd7 13 axb5 c5, and was never in any real trouble after that.

Reversed Benoni, 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 d4 4 Nf3 Nc6 [A13]

World Championship matches often set opening trends, and the line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 d4 5 0-0 Nc6 6 d3 Bc5, which was successfully essayed by Magnus Carlsen in the recent title clash, re-surfaced in Bjerre, J - Warmedam, M.

It appears that Nepo hit upon the critical line by fighting for the centre immediately with 7 Nbd2 a5 8 Nb3 Be7 9 e3 - see Nepomniachtchi-Carlsen in last month’s Update. In this month’s game, however, White chose 7 Na3 0-0 8 Nc2. This is a typical re-grouping, aiming to eventually push through the b2-b4 break. In the game, however, Black had enough time to develop effectively, and had no problems out of the opening.

King’s English, Keres System, 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 [A20]

The position after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nc2 Nf6 7 Nc3 Qe5 8 Bg2 Na6 9 0-0 Be7 is a tabiya, which has featured in a number of high-level games in recent years:

In earlier Updates we have looked at 10 Ne3, 10 d4, and 10 Nxe4 while Giri, A - Praggnanandhaa, R featured yet another option, as Giri uncorked the novelty 10 Ne1!? From the e1-square, the knight is ready to recapture after a pawn trade on the d3- or f3-squares. Objectively, Black should fine, but the position is a little easier to play for White. White was pushing for an edge with the pawn sacrifice 14 e4, but Black responded accurately enough to hold the balance.

King’s English, Keres System, 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 4 Qa4 [A20]

The game Mamedyarov, S - Praggnanandhaa, R explored the rare continuation 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 4 Qa4!? which we last looked at in the April 2021 Update:

White's idea is to deter ...d7-d5 and target the e4-pawn with Nb1-c3 and Bf1-g2. Black often needs to sacrifice a pawn, and play becomes sharp, so concrete knowledge is a big advantage. This game is a good illustration of the practical value of the line. Following 4...d5 5 cxd5 b5 6 Qb3 Nf6 7 Bg5 Qa5+ 8 Nc3 b4 9 Nd1 Nxd5 10 Bh3 Black started to go wrong with 10...Bxh3?!, and White was soon clearly better.

Symmetrical English, 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e3 e5 5 d4 e4 [A34]

Nguyen, T - Bjerre, J revisited the queenless middlegame that occurs after the sequence 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e3 e5 5 d4 e4 6 d5 exf3 7 dxc6 dxc6 8 Qxd8+ Kxd8 9 gxf3:

Here the older move was 9...Kc7, when after 10 b3 Be7 11 Bb2, White was slightly better in the 2017 game Aronian - Vachier-Lagrave. Instead Bjerre chose 9...g6 10 b3 Bg7, aiming to neutralize any pressure on the a1-h8 diagonal. Black appeared to have demonstrated a well worked-out path to equality, although he later went astray and lost.

Symmetrical English, Reversed KID vs. Botvinnik setup [A37]

Shankland, S - Grandelius, N explored the strategic battleground that arises in the structure after 1 c4 c5 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 Nc3 Nc6 5 Nf3 e5 6 a3 Nge7 7 d3 0-0:

Starting with 8 Nd2, Shankland went for the novel regrouping Nf3-d2-f1-e3, with delayed castling. This idea was used by Wesley So to score a win against Peter Svidler last year (see the September 2021 Update). After 8...d6 9 Rb1 Rb8, instead of Svidler’s ...a7-a5, Black bolstered the queenside structure with ...b7-b6, and played ...Bc8-b7 to oppose White's g2-bishop. In the game, both players got winning chances, and the advantage changed hands several times before the game ended peacefully.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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