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The Flank Openings are often employed by players looking to avoid concrete theory, in order to get a complex game with scope to outplay an opponent. In this month’s Update, which includes three games from the Toronto Candidates, we see this strategy in action.

Download PGN of May ’24 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 b3 c5 3 Bb2 Nc6 4 e3 g6 [A05]

Alireza Firouzja didn't have the best Candidates tournament, but did have some success late on, after switching to 1 Nf3 2 b3, in an effort to avoid 1 e4 e5 theory. In the game Firouzja, A - Abasov, N, Black went for a flexible setup with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 b3 c5 3 Bb2 Nc6 4 e3 g6. After 5 d4 cxd4 6 Nxd4 Bg7 7 Be2 0-0 8 0-0 Nxd4 Bxd4 d5, the structure remained fluid:

The position is objectively balanced, but Black came under a little pressure after 13...Qf5, which was an awkward spot for the queen. After the misstep 15...e5, White was alert to the tactical opportunities, and crashed through surprisingly quickly.

Réti Opening, Lasker’s System with 4...c5 [A07]

Firouzja, A - Nepomniachtchi, I moved into Réti territory after 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 Nf6 3 Bb2 Bf5 4 g3. Now Black continued with 4...c5, in place of the more conventional structure involving ...c7-c6, and both sides developed logically over the next few moves.

From the diagram, the pawn structure was transformed dramatically through 11 Ne5 Nxe5 12 Bxe5 Nd7 13 Bb2 d4 14 a4 e5. Unfortunately for Black, this led to an inferior King’s Indian structure (with reversed colours), where the h7-bishop was really misplaced. White proceeded with a thematic kingside pawn storm, and appeared to be borderline winning, although Black held with a fortress-like defence.

Réti, Capablanca’s System 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c6 3 Bg2 Bg4 4 h3 Bh5 5 c4 [A07]

The game Maghsoodloo, P - Stevic, H began with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 c6 4 h3 Bh5 5 c4 (5 0-0 is more common), revisiting a move order subtlety that Parham faced as Black recently (see the February 2024 Update). White aims to use tempo saved by delayed castling to play actively, reaching the diagram position after 5...e6 6 d4 Nf6 7 Ne5 Nbd7 8 Nc3:

The game continued 8...Nxe5 9 dxe5 Nd7 10 cxd5 cxd5 11 0-0 - White is ready to sacrifice a pawn to open lines. After 16 Bf4, White's raking bishops fully compensated for the pawn deficit, and Black soon faltered with 17...e5, leaving Black’s king stuck in the centre.

Réti Opening, Lasker’s System 5 c4 c6 7 Qb3 [A11]

Salimova, N - Tan Zhongyi saw a Réti with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bf5 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Nf6 5 c4 c6 6 Qb3 Qb6 7 d3 Nbd7. Black goes for a classical Lasker system, which is solid but a little passive:

From this position, White has scored well by starting with the move 8 cxd5. After 8...Qxb3 9 axb3 exd5 10 Bd2 White proceeded with 11 b4 to restrain Black's queenside majority, and was then allowed to expand on the kingside with 15 f4 and 16 e4. White was positionally winning for much of the game, but fell just short of the win in the endgame.

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

After 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 e5 5 Nxe5 0-0, the move order with 6 d3 is fairly fresh response to Black’s gambit line, which we first looked at a couple of months back. The critical line starts with 6...Nxe4 7 dxe4 Bxe5:

In the March Update, we looked at 8 Be3, while in Raja, H - Woodward, A, White went for quick pressure on the kingside with 8 Bh6. A sharp position arose after 8...Re8 9 Qd2 d6 10 0-0-0 Nd7 11 h4 Nc5 12 h5. A few moves later, 15...Qa5 was a mistake, handing White a pawn and an attack.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 g3 h5 [A20]

The h-pawn thrust 1 c4 e5 2 g3 h5!? is not uncommon in rapid and blitz, but was tested in the classical game Brunello, S - Lodici, L.

Now 3 Nf3 is second in popularity to 3 h4, but is more principled, not wasting time responding in kind with an h-pawn move. Following, 3...e4 4 Nh4 Be7 5 Nf5 d6 6 Nxe7 Qxe7 7 Nc3, Black upped the stakes with 7...h4, which was justified by 8 Rg1, leading to a very murky position. Instead 8 Nd5 looks promising for White, who is well ahead in development.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Qb3 [A21]

Korobov, A - Abdusattorov, N opened with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4, and here 3 Qb3 is only White's 5th most popular move, but promises a complex game, while sidestepping the theory associated with the mainline 3 Nd5.

Black now demonstrated an interesting dark-squared strategy with 3...a5 4 g3 Nf6 5 Bg2 0-0 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 0-0 Re8 8 d3 Nd4. The position remained balanced for a long time, until Black dropped a pawn in the late middlegame.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Nd4 [A29]

We continue to track the development of this fresh idea 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Nd4 5 Bg2 Nxf3+ 6 Bxf3 Bb4 7 g4, introduced by Praggnanandhaa at the 2023 World Cup:

From the diagram, Aryan, C - Antipov, M continued 9...Nh7, taking takes aim at the h4-pawn. A critical moment was reached after 10 d4 Qxh4 11 dxe5 Qh2 12 Rg3. Here Black went wrong with 12...Ng5, and after 13 Bxg5 hxg5 14 Qd4, White was well ahead in development, with Black's queen a long way from the centre of the action.

Until next month, David.

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