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This Update consists of games taken exclusively from the Tata Steel Masters and Challengers in Wijk aan Zee. The first two games show the growing popularity of reversed Benoni structures, as modern engines tend to favour the space gaining ....d5-d4 push. We’ll also look at some move order nuances in Vincent Keymer’s favourite 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 system.

Download PGN of February ’23 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Reversed Benoni 8...h6 [A13]

An important tabiya occurs in the Reversed Benoni after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c5 4 c4 d4 5 e3 Nc6 6 exd4 cxd4 7 d3 e6 8 0-0. Now 8...Bd6 can be considered the mainline. Maghsoodloo, P - Keymer, V instead continued with 8...h6!?, a move that has been gaining some ground in recent years. Black prevents Bc1-g5 and keeps the opponent guessing with the regards to the f8-bishop's intentions:

In this position, 9 Bf4 is a critical try, while the game continuation 9 Re1 didn’t stop Black's intended build up. After 9...Bd6 10 Na3 0-0 11 Nc2 a5 12 a3 e5 Black has had time to solidify the centre, while not allowing the b2-b4 break. Black was soon better, and later achieved the thematic ...e5-e4 break, although White managed to hold on for a draw.

Réti Opening, Reversed Benoni 4...Be7, 6 b3, 8 Ne5 [A14]

The game Ding Liren - Giri, A began with a different variant of the Reversed Benoni arising after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 c4 0-0 6 b3 d4. In contrast to the previous game, Black's bishop is already committed to the e7-square. Following 7 e3 c5, the move 8 Ne5 is a trendy knight jump, aiming to open the long diagonal for the g2-bishop. After 8...Qc7 9 f4, we looked at 9...Nfd7 in last month’s Update, while Giri’s choice 9...Nbd7 also leads to a tense battle:

From the diagram position, Ding uncorked the sharp novelty 13 g4!?, which definitely mixes things up! The next few moves saw missed opportunities for both sides before White secured the upper hand, only to falter on move 28, allowing Giri a winning tactic.

Anti-Grünfeld 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 e5 [A16]

Yilmaz, M - Sindarov, J revisited the gambit line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 e5 5 Nxe5 0-0. From White’s viewpoint, the sequence 6 Nf3 Re8 7 Bd3, returning the pawn, and completing development quickly, has become the accepted antidote. Now 7...Nxe4 8 Bxe4 Bxc3 9 dxc3 Rxe4+ 10 Be3 reaches the diagram position:

White’s hopes for a slight edge are based on the weakened dark squares on Black’s kingside. After 10...d6 11 c5 d5, White can safeguard the knight with 12 h3 (as in So-Mamedyarov from 2019), while 12 0-0 allowed 12...Bg4. After 13 Qb3 Black should have followed through with the logical 13...Bxf3, solving most of his problems. Instead, as the game unfolded, things took a number of wild turns. Black later sacrificed a rook, but White’s king survived and Yilmaz secured the full point.

Nimzo-English, 4 g4 h6 [A17]

In the Nimzo-English line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4, the aggressive push 4 g4 usually leads to an unbalanced battle, and was seen in Adhiban, B - Roebers , E, which continued 4...h6 5 Rg1 b6:

Here Adhiban opted for 6 Qb3, an uncommon try, which immediately puts the question to the b4-bishop. After 6...Be7 7 d4 Bb7 8 g5 hxg5 9.Bxg5 d6 10 0-0-0, White had a space advantage, while it is not clear where Black’s king will find safety. White’s subsequent attacking play was eventually rewarded with a decisive breakthrough.

Anti-QGD System, 4...b6 [A17]

Keymer, V - Ding Liren opened with 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3 b6 5 cxd5 exd5 6 g3 Bd6 7 Bg2 0-0 8 0-0, and now 8...Re8 finally varied from another Keymer game we looked at last month, where 8...Bb7 was played. Ding Liren’s idea was to press on the light squares with 9 Re1 Nbd7 10 d3 Ba6:

Now after 11 e4 dxe4 12 dxe4 Ne5 13 Nxe5 Bxe5, the move 14 Bf4! was an unusual way to challenge the e5-bishop. After a subsequent trade of queens, White was clearly better due to his control of the d-file, and a mobile kingside majority. Black should look for improvements on move 11 or 12.

Anti-QGD System, 4...dxc4 [A17]

Caruana, F - Giri, A varied from the previous game on move 4, with Black opting for 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3 dxc4, reaching the diagram position after 7 moves:

White can, of course, enter lines of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted by playing d2-d4, either now or earlier. Instead, Caruana continued to avoid a transposition to 1 d4 lines with 8 a4 b4 9 Nb1 c5 10 d3. This approach has proven successful for the likes of Artemiev in the past, but in this game White got nothing against Giri’s accurate play. Later on, Black was applying strong pressure, although White eventually managed to simplify to a draw.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 a3 [A33]

In the symmetrical Four Knights line with 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6 6 a3, one of Black’s most direct responses is 6...Be7 7 e4 0-0 8 Nf3 Qa5 9 Bd2 Qh5, aiming for 10...d5 to liquidate the central pawns. The offbeat 10 Rg1!?, attempting to sharpen the game, was introduced by Anish Giri in an online game in 2020.

From the diagram, the stem game continued with the cautious 10...a6, while this month’s game Gukesh, D - Praggnanandhaa, A instead featured the critical response 10...d5. The resulting lines are extremely complicated, and the players traded inaccuracies on move 16. After 17 e5 and 18 0-0-0, however, White took over and won convincingly from there.

Symmetrical English, 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 e3 e5 [A34]

Carlsen, M - Abdusattarov, N is a matchup we looked at last month, with Carlsen winning with 1 b3. This month’s game featured a different opening, and the opposite result. After the opening moves 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 e3 e5, the most common try is 5 d4, while here the moves 5 Be2 d5 6 cxd5 Nxd5 7 0-0 Be7 led to a reversed Open Sicilian structure.

White now went for the active continuation 8 Bb5 Nxc3 9 bxc3 Qc7 10 d4 blasting the centre open. After 10...cxd4 11 cxd4 exd4 12 Nxd4 Bd7 13 Nf3, the position appeared to be gravitating towards equality, but 13...Bf6 14 Ba3!? mixed things up by offering an exchange sacrifice. Black got the better of the resulting middlegame, eventually returning the exchange, to enter a technical queen and pawn endgame and score an impressive win.

Until next month, David.

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