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This month’s Update is based on games taken exclusively from last month’s Tata Steel Masters and Challengers. Look for some tricky move order nuances, from Anish Giri in particular, as well as highly original opening play from other leading players.

Download PGN of February ’24 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System 3...Bg4 4 h3 Bh5 5 c4 [A07]

Giri, A - Maghsoodloo, P opened with the popular Réti line 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c6 3 Bg2 Bg4 4 h3 Bh5. Now the mainline runs 5 0-0 Nd7 6 d4 e6 7 c4, but instead of castling, Giri introduced a small move order nuance with 5 c4, reaching the following position after 5...e6 6 d4 Nd7 7 cxd5 exd5 8 Nc3 Ngf6 9 Ne5:

Here Black has several options (including 9...Nxe5), but 9...Bd6 plays into White's hands, since after 10 f4, White has strong control of the centre. By move 16, White was clearly better, but allowed Black into the game, with a draw being the eventual result.

Anti-QGD System, 4...Bd6 [A13]

The last round game Giri, A - Warmedam, M started 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 b3 e6 4 Bb2 Bd6 5 c4 0-0 6 Nc3, reaching a well-known position, where Black chose 6...c5. Now 7 cxd5 exd5 8 d4 Nc6 leads to a standard Tarrasch position, but instead the aggressive 7 g4 suited Anish’s tournament situation.

After 7...Nc6 8 g5 Ne4 9 h4, the move 9...Re8?! was slow and also misplaced the rook, which was better off on its original square. After 10 Qc2 Nxc3 11 dxc3 g6, simply 12 0-0-0 gives White a dominant position. Instead 12 h5 Ne5 was not so clear, but White’s attack eventually broke through after a sharp battle.

Reversed Benoni 8...Bc5 [A13]

In the Reversed Benoni after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 d4 5 0-0 c5 6 e3 Nc6 7 exd4 cxd4 8 d3, Black’s most popular moves are 8...Bd6, 8...h6 and 8...Be7. In l’Ami, E - Santosa Lasa, J, however, Black chose the less common 8...Bc5, and after 9 Bg5 h6 10 Bxf6 followed up with the surprising recapture 10...gxf6, which we have looked at just once before, in a 2022 game.

After 11 Nbd2 a5 12 Ne1 f5 13 Nc2 Kf8, Black gave up castling rights, and later started kingside play with 18...h5 and 19...h4. It proved hard for White to build up direct pressure, and Black even got the upper hand on the queenside, before reaching a favourable endgame.

Adhiban Gambit, 5 Qa4 [A22]

Maghsoodloo, P - Abdusattorov, N was a high-profile outing for the Adhiban gambit. Following 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Ng5 c6, the mainline has been 5 Ngxe4 Nxe4 6 Nxe4 d5 7 cxd5 cxd5 8 Ng3 h5, but Black has done well here. The alternative 5 Qa4 has been gaining some traction recently, and was here met with 5...Qe7:

Now the normal move is 6 Qc2, taking aim at the e4-pawn, but instead, 6 f3 entered a rare sideline which soon led to a complex tactical slugfest! After 6...exf3 7 Nxf3 g6 8 d4 Bg7 9 c5 0-0 10 Bf4 Na6!?, Abdusattorov was ready to sacrifice an exchange. White missed a big chance in the ensuing complications, but by move 19, the tables had been turned and Black had a winning attack, which he finished brilliantly.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 6...Nf6 [A28]

After 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6, 4 d3 is one of White's less common 4th moves, although Giri, A - Gukesh, D soon transposed to a reversed Dragon after 4...d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 g3. Now the mainlines can be reached after 6...Bc5 or 6...Nb6. Instead, 6...Nf6 is also a topical idea, but usually seen in the position where 4 Bg2 has been played instead of 4 d3.

White’s move order offered the option of 7 Bg5, aiming to create a strategic imbalance by trading bishop for knight. White followed by with pressure on the light squares and a minority attack which was executed with 18 b4 and 20 b5. Black ended up defending a static position, and Giri eventually squeezed out a win a fine technical performance.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 bxc3 e4 [A28]

In Ding Liren - Van Foreest, J, Ding Liren returned to a line that gave him a crucial win in the 2023 World Championship match, namely 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 bxc3. In this month’s game, Black varied from that earlier encounter with 6...e4, reaching the diagram position after 7 Ng5 Qe7 8 f3:

Now, instead of the natural 8...exf3 9 Nxf3 0-0, Black uncorked the fresh idea 8...d6!?, sacrificing a pawn for purely positional compensation. After 9 Nxe4 Nxe4 10 Qxe4 Qxe4 11 fxe4 f6, White is a pawn up, with the bishop pair, but the central pawn mass, with two pairs of doubled pawns, turns out to be strangely inflexible. White found it hard to create an active plan, and Black held comfortably.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, 5 e4, 9 h4 [A34]

The clash Yilmaz, M - Salem, A opened with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4 6 Bc4 Nd3+ 7 Ke2 Nf4+ 8 Kf1, an enduring line of the Symmetrical English, whose theory has evolved over the last 40+ years. After 8...Ne6, the traditional move was 9 b4, while 9 h4 has been White's preference in modern high-level games.

In the past we have looked at the alternatives 9...Nd4 and 9...Nc6 here, but Salem chose the logical 9...h5. By analogy with the old 9 b4 line, White continued with 10 b4, arguing that the inclusion of 9 h4 h5 favours White. The game proceeded with 10...g6 11 bxc5 Bg7 12 Bxe6 Bxe6 13 d4 0-0 14 Be3 b6 15 cxb6 axb6 16 Kg1, after which White retains an extra pawn. On the other hand, White's awkward king position gives Black sufficient compensation.

Symmetrical English, Rubinstein Variation 7 a3 [A34]

Nepomniachtchi, I - Praggnanandhaa, R headed for the Rubinstein with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 c4 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Nc3 and now 6...Nc7, which normally involves the ambitious ...e7-e5 push. Now something like 7 d3 e5 8 0-0 would be typical, but 7 a3 hints at a quick b2-b4:

In response, Black switched to fianchetto setup with 7...g6. White then went for creative play on both flanks with 8 h4, 9 Na4, 10 h5, 11 h6 and 12 Nh2. Nevertheless, Black's central control gives him a fully playable position with level chances.

Until next month, David.

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