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Hi everyone!
Happy New Year! This update looks at some high level encounters in both Classical and Rapid chess. New ideas are harder to react to with a shorter time control, and we see Grischuk and Karjakin introduce notable novelties that earned them points at the high stakes event in Riyadh.

Download PGN of January ’18 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6 3 c4 [A09]

The move order 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6 continues to be very popular in GM practice, and is a challenging answer to the Réti if White wishes to avoid a symmetrical Grünfeld with an early d2-d4. With 3 c4 White goes for an "open" approach, immediately challenging Black's centre. After 3...dxc4 4 Na3 White regains the c4-pawn leading to the following position after 7 moves:

Oparin, G - Mamedyarov, S, now saw the new move 8 b4 gaining space on the queenside before Black clamps down with ...a7-a5. Black responded actively, reaching a reversed open-Sicilian structure where Black's control of the d4-square gave him decent chances. The game is well worth studying for the star move 22...Rc3! offering a positional exchange sacrifice.

Anti-QGD System, 4...a6, 5...Bd6 [A17]

Nepomniachtchi, I - Anand, V opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 e3 now Black steered the game into sparsely explored territory with 4...a6 5 b3 Bd6!?. Nepo responded with 6 Bb2 0-0 and now 7 g4!? was a novelty, although this is of course a well known theme from other openings:

In this version, with ...a7-a6 having been played instead of the more common ...c7-c6 setup, Black's d5-pawn is less well defended. This provides extra motivation for White's pawn sac, which turned out to temporary in this case. The game continued 7...Nxg4 8 Rg1 f5, leading to an unusual and unbalanced game which eventually ended in White’s favour.

Mikenas Attack 3...d5 4 e5 with 8...Nc6 [A18]

The game Anand, V - Karjakin, S featured a high-level theoretical discussion in the Mikenas Attack mainline with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 d5 4 e5, where we have looked at several key games in past updates.

In this position, Karjakin had prepared 12...Qa6! which is an important improvement over the 12...Qd6 played in earlier games. Black's point is that his development is much easier without the queen blocking in its own bishop on the d6-square. After further accurate moves, Black held comfortably.

King’s English 2...Nc6, 3...f5 [A27]

The reversed Grand-Prix attack 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Nc3 f5, usually signals aggressive intentions from Black. In Donchenko, A - Sargissian, G, White essayed 4 Nf3 fighting for the centre before completing his kingside fianchetto. After 4...Nf6 5 d4 e4 6 Nh4 Black has staked his claim in the centre and has more kingside space, but White's aim is to undermine Black's structure and play on the dark squares:

White outplayed his opponent in moves 8 through 12, and got a firm grip on the centre, only letting Black back into it through some late middlegame tactics.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 d6 [A28]

After 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 the main moves have been 5...Bxc3 and 5...0-0, but Karjakin, S - Vidit, S featured 5...d6, which is new to this site. This move used to be a sideline, but was played several times by Jon Ludvig Hammer and was then picked up by Magnus Carlsen, who scored a win over Ding Liren in a recent rapid game (given in the notes). From here, practice has seen the natural moves 6 Nd5 and 6 Be2, but Karjakin unleashed 6 Ne2 - a very surprising novelty!

Karjakin's move appears to lose precious development time. On the other hand, the b4-bishop is left "floating" and vulnerable to White's queenside pawn storm, while White's e2-knight can be re-routed to the g3-square. In the game, Black refrained from an early ...d6-d5 and White secured a useful space advantage.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 6...Bc5 [A29]

We return to the fresh variation 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Bc5 which is still being tested regularly in top-level events:

In this position, the 8...Bb6 has become tentatively established as the mainline (covered in several of the 2017 Updates), but in Caruana, F - Adams, M Black varied with 8...Re8. This has only been played a few times in games involving lower rated players, but Adams showed it is a very sound choice. After parrying White's initial threats, Black was the one trying for more, and only went wrong by pushing too hard later in the middlegame.

Symmetrical English Three Knights 3...g6 4 e3, 8...e6 [A35]

Theory continues to evolve in the sharp Grünfeld-style line starting with 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 Nc3 g6 4 e3 Nf6 5 d4 cxd4 6 exd4 d5. One of the mainline positions arises after White’s 12th move:

The battle for the c5-square is a critical factor here. If White can control it (and the other dark squares) with impunity he is doing well, while Black has equalized in several recent games with the later pawn sacrifice ...c6-c5!, freeing his c8-bishop. In Grischuk, A - Safarli, E, White’s move-order with 14 Qd1 and 17 Nc5 navigated through this and led to a creative sacrifice of queen and pawn for rook and bishop. Grischuk got significant play on the dark squares, which in the game was finally too much for his opponent to handle.

Pure Symmetrical Mainline 8...Qa5 [A39]

From a King’s Indian move-order, Fedoseev, V - Svidler, P, transposed to one of the very main lines of the Symmetrical English 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 g6 5 Bg2 Bg7 6 0-0 0-0 7 d4 cxd4 8 Nxd4. In this very well explored positions, Black’s most popular tries have been 8...Nxd4 and 8...Ng4 while we have also looked at the pawn sac 8...d6. Svidler’s 8...Qa5, hinting at a kingside attack with ...Qa5-h5, has been picking up more followers recently.

Fedoseev’s 12 Nd4 was new, but Black was able to complete his development and demonstrate balanced chances.

I hope you enjoy this Update, and good luck in 2018!

Until next month, David.

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