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Hi everyone!
This month there were many top events, in classical chess as well as rapid and blitz. In addition to three heavyweight battles from the London Chess Classic, I have focused on some original and unusual ideas that appeared within the first 5-6 moves.

Download PGN of January ’17 Flank Openings games

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Réti v Dutch 1 Nf3 f5 2 d3 [A04]

Ernst, S - Liu Guanchu opened with 1 Nf3 f5 2 d3, an anti-Dutch system which we have covered a number of times on this site. Now Black most often plays 2...d6 or 2...Nf6, but in this game tried 2...Nc6 (a logical move, preparing 3...e5), which was answered by 3 e4, reaching this position:

After 3...e5, White struck in the centre with 4 d4, not worrying about losing a tempo with the d-pawn. This meant that the players (perhaps unwittingly) had entered the Vienna Gambit with colours reversed! Following 4...exd4 5 Nxd4, Black soon went wrong in a sharp battle. The notes also cover earlier deviations in this anti-Dutch move order.

Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System 3...c6, 5 h3 Bxf3 6 exf3 [A07]

The game Landa, K - Polak, T began with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 c6 4 0-0 Bg4 5 h3 Bxf3 and now White chose the unusual 6 exf3!?. This is an interesting idea, creating an unbalanced pawn structure:

White gets control of the half-open e-file and a pawn majority on the kingside f/g/h files. You can also think of this as a reversed Trompovsky where Black has committed to ...c7-c6 and ...Ng8-f6. In the game, Black had to sit behind a restrained pawn front, while White probed for effective pawn breaks, with the two bishops as a long term asset.

Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System 3...Nd7 [A11]

In the Moscow Nutcracker tournament, the game Oparin, G - Shirov, A featured a setup that Shirov has tried a number of times against the Réti, reaching the diagram position after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 Nd7 4 c4 e6 5 cxd5 exd5 6 0-0 Ngf6 7 d3 c6 8 Nc3 Bc5 9 Qb3:

This line promises fairly dynamic play for both sides, but White appears to have decent chances for a slight edge. In the game, Shirov initiated a flawed tactical sequence with 17...h5 and 18...Nxg5 and was outgunned by his young opponent.

King’s English, 2 Nf3 [A20]

After 1 c4 e5, the move 2 Nf3 is a rare guest in tournament chess, except in the games of the Russian GM Rakhmanov, who has over 30 games in the database with this line!

The notes to Rakhmanov, A - Jussupow, A form a survey of the line, drawing heavily on Rakhmanov's practice. In this game, Black chose 2...e4, which is the most principled attempt to 'punish' White's unusual 2nd move. After 3 Nd4 Nc6 4 Nxc6 dxc6, followed by both sides castling long, we reach a particular setup where Rakhmanov has a lot of experience.

Reversed Dragon, 5 Nf3, 6...f5!? [A20]

In the Reversed Dragon after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5, the move 5 Nf3 is an important alternative to the mainline 5 Nc3, and a line which we haven't looked at in a while. Movsesian, S - Ponkratov, P continued 5...Nc6 6 0-0 and now 6...f5!?, which is a very rare try:

Perhaps taken by surprise, White continued with quiet development, but this led to Black achieving a comfortable game. In the game notes, I look at how White can attempt to cut across Black's development plans.

King’s English, 2...Bb4 3 Nd5 Bc5 [A21]

Caruana, F - Anand, V began with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4, a line which Anand played many times in the second half of 2016. Now after 3 Nd5, Anand’s choice 3...Bc5 has taken over as Black's main continuation. In reply, Caruana went for a fianchetto setup with 6 g3, varying from the more common 6 e3.

With the later 13...Bg4 and 14...Bxf3, Black ceded the two bishops to reduce the dynamism in White's setup. Nevertheless, White's two bishops become a nagging long-term factor which gave Black some anxious moments.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, Nimzovich's 5 e4 [A34]

Aronian, L - So, W entered the theoretical battleground 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4 6 Bc4 Nd3+ 7 Ke2 Nf4+ 8 Kf1, and now So chose 8...Nd3, which is currently the most topical move at the highest level.

Aronian brought his h1-rook into the action with the creative rook lift Rh1-h3-g3-g4-f4, and at one stage was clearly better. Wesley So managed to hold on, in what became a crucial result leading to his eventual victory in London and the Grand Chess Tour.

Pure Symmetrical English 7 Qxd4 [A39]

Giri, A - Nakamura, H transposed into a Symmetrical English after the moves 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 3 g3 Bg7 4 Bg2 0-0 5 c4 c5 6 Nc3 cxd4. Now 7 Nxd4 is played automatically in 98% of games, but here Giri ventured the unusual 7 Qxd4!? which he had played once before, in 2013. Capturing with the queen is seen in related structures such as the Symmetrical with a Double Fianchetto for Black, but for some reason is almost unknown in this particular setup:

Left to his own devices, White will play Qd4-h4, Bc1-h6 and apply pressure on the kingside. Nakamura’s ...Qd8-a5-h5 prompted a trade into a queenless middlegame. In this kind of 'semi-Maroczy' structure, White has a space advantage and can hope to squeeze his opponent.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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