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Happy New Year to all subscribers! We're underway in 2013 with a bang as Magnus Carlsen just dominated a strong Tata Steel field en route to a 10/13 score and 2933 performance. He has now pushed his rating to a stratospheric 2872!
There was a good deal of Flank action across the three top groups in Wijk aan Zee, so this month's update focuses exclusively on developments from this event.

Download PGN of January '13 Flank Openings games

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Réti Capablanca System [A11]

Carlsen - Karjakin saw Magnus open with the flexible 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 c6 4.0-0. Now after 4...Bg4 5.c4 e6 6.d3 Nbd7 a crucial continuation is 7.cxd5!:

Judging by the number of high rated players who have chosen this move recently (and their corresponding winning percentage!), it's fairly clear that this is considered to be the best path for White. The entire game was something to see, as Karjakin was equal but never quite drawing, and Carlsen was rewarded with a 92-move victory!

2.c4 d4 [A09]

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 There has been some discussion in the forums about the theoretical status of the pawn advance 2...d4 against the Réti, which, in practice is dwarfed in popularity by 2...c6 and 2...e6. As the saying goes, however, "numbers don't lie", and yet Black scores significantly better with 2...d4 than any other choice at that juncture. Van der Werf - Burg proceeded with 3.b4 f6:

wherein Black prepares reliable support for his d-pawn with ...e7-e5. Now instead of Delchev's recommended 4.e3, Van der Werf chose 4.d3, a move that has also been played by Radjabov and Ivanchuk. A discussion of this and Delchev's preferred continuation follows.

Gurevich's System [A11]

An important test of 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 was seen in Movsesian - Dubov: 3...Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Qc2 Bd6 6.b3 0-0 7.Bb2 e5!:

Previously this move was accompanied by the '!?' mark, but I feel it's proven enough to warrant a stand-alone exclam. Movsesian, perhaps aware of White's shortcomings after 8.cxd5 cxd5 9.Nb5 Nc6, instead played 8.d4!?, but he was stymied by a smart novelty from Danniil Dubov.

1.c4 c6 with g3, 4...dxc4 [A11]

Jan Timman turned in a 2653 performance in the "B" group this year, ahead of many very talented teenage Grandmasters. He is 61 years old and plays at least as well as any ambitious young gun! Observe Timman - Smeets: 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 c6 4.c4 dxc4 5.0-0 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Nb6 7.Ba3 Be6 (last year Timman won a memorable game against Ernst's 7...Qd5 with the novel 8.b3 axb3 9.axb3 Be6 10.b4!) and now the enterprising 8.Ne5!?, preparing to sacrifice the knight on c6. Following 8...Qd4 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Bxc6+ Kd8 11.Nb5 Qc5 12.Bxa8 Qxb5 13.Bg2 h5 Timman produced a small novelty with 14.h4!?:

Black is fine in theory, but he does have a smaller margin for error in this position. Check out how Timman brought Smeets to grief.

Mikenas Attack 3...d5 [A18]

Aronian - Hou featured a Houdini-backed continuation in 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4 d5 4.e5 d4 5.exf6 dxc3 6.bxc3 Qxf6 7.Nf3 e5 8.Bd3 Bg4!?. Following 9.Be4 Nd7! 10.Bxb7 Rb8 11.Bd5 c6 12.Be4 Nc5 13.Qe2 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Bxf3 15.Qxf3 Qxf3 16.gxf3 a fascinating endgame occurs:

The computer claims that this endgame is dead equal, but in practice I think White is for choice. In the post-game interview Aronian said that he had analyzed this ending some time ago and found difficulties for the second player. The same endgame had actually occurred about a week earlier in Wijk aan Zee in the game Movsesian - Naiditsch.

Accelerated Keres [A20]

An early space-gaining line against Mihail Marin's favored English move order (2.g3) leads to fine positional play for Black in Movsesian - Grandelius. The line in question goes 1.c4 e5 2.g3 c6 3.d4 e4 (staking a claim to as much space as possible) 4.Nc3 d4 5.Bg2 Bb4!?:

Grandelius had already used this move in December to draw rather effortlessly with Normunds Miezis.

Moves other than 3.Nf3 [A22]

In Turov - Romain two strong 2600s debate a line that has underwhelmed in the past: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4 4.Bg2 0-0 5.e4 Bxc3 6.bxc3 c6 7.Ne2 d5 8.exd5 cxd5 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.0-0 Nc6

A tabiya for the 6...c6 line. At the end of 2011 I mentioned White's unbelievably poor practical results from this position (+1, =14, -21 at the time). Following 11.d3 Bg4!? 12.Bb2 White actually did achieve a little something, but it was hardly enough to upset the theoretical verdict.

Finally, many English authorities consider White's move order in Nakamura - Sokolov to be suboptimal, though Nakamura has displayed a clear preference for it in recent years: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4 (a reputable line that avoids Nakamura's patented 3...d5 4.cxd4 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.e3!?) 4.Nf3!? e4 5.Nd4 Nc6 6.Nc2 Bxc3:

Here Nakamura chose to recapture towards the center with 7.bxc3!?, but straightforward play from Sokolov suddenly landed White in hot water. The further course of events can best be summarized by Ivan himself!

Until next time, John

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