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Hi everyone!
This month’s Update includes an eclectic mix of classical, rapid and blitz games. There are several examples of top players saving novelties or surprise weapons for high stakes games with the faster time controls. And we start with two Grandmasters conducting a crazy battle after 1 g4.

Download PGN of January ’19 Flank Openings games

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Grob’s Opening, 1 g4 d5 [A00]

GM Gareyev played the Grob three times at the World Rapid & Blitz Championships, notching two wins and almost scoring an upset win against a 2700+ player in the rapid game Gareyev, T - Duda, J. After 1 g4 d5 2 Bg2 Black can of course continue with a sensible move such as 2...c6. Duda, however, decided to take the bull by the horns, starting with 2...Bxg4 and after 3 c4 unleashing the rare 3...d4!?, immediately offering an exchange sacrifice!

Black initially got good compensation but went wrong in the strange complications. Gareyev came within a couple of accurate moves of winning, but Duda turned the tables and went onto to score superb results in St. Petersburg.

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

The move order 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6 is a reliable answer to the Réti, provided Black is comfortable with allowing a Symmetrical Grünfeld, should White play an early d2-d4. White has tried a number of ideas in the ongoing search for opening edge. In Grischuk, A - Potkin, V, Grischuk essayed the new move 8 h4!?:

Now 8...h6 is a good reaction, which Grischuk faced in a later blitz game. Potkin’s reply 8...Bg4, however, allowed White to soon kick the bishop away and continue the h-pawn push, after which White had a promising position.

Pseudo-Grünfeld, 5 Qc2 [A16]

After the initial moves 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5, White has a whole host of anti-Grünfeld options. In Gelfand, B - Esipenko, A, play continued with insidious looking 5 Qc2:

The sharpest reply now is 5...Nc6, going for quick counterplay with the knights, but Esipenko went for 5...Bg7. After 6 e4 Nxc3 7 dxc3 c5 8 Bf4 White had a comfortable setup that restricted Black’s minor pieces, and Gelfand went onto to outplay his young opponent.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, 7 b4 [A17]

In several earlier Updates, we have looked at the interesting "wing gambit" that arises after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e3 e6 6 Nxd5 exd5 7 b4!?. If Black accepts the sacrifice, the pressure on the g7-pawn makes it harder for him to develop easily, giving White compensation for the pawn.

In Halkias, S - Liang, A after 8...Nc6, White played the novelty 9 Nd4. Liang’s reply 9...Ne5!? was a provocative choice leading to a flurry of tactics. The resulting lines are balanced with best play, although in general Black seems to have a smaller margin of error.

King’s English, Four Knights Nimzovitch's 4 e4 Bc5 [A28]

Carlsen, M - Giri, A at the World Blitz started with a surprise in the shape of 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4, the first game on record where Magnus has played Nimzowitsch's move. Giri went for the critical 4...Bc5, reaching the following position after Carlsen played the testing move 8 Qf3:

After 8...Nxc3 9 bxc3, the move 9...Ba5 is the most critical. Instead 9...Be7?! is more common, but allows White to build an initiative. In the game, after castling long, Black soon got into trouble with his king severely exposed.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nbd5 Ne5 8 Bg2 [A33]

One of the mainlines of the Symmetrical English arises after 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Ndb5 Ne5. In this setup, White has various ways to offer the c4-pawn as a gambit. In Kobo, O - Salgado Lopez, I White chose 8 Bg2 a6 9 Na4:

Now the most popular move is 9...Qa5+, but in this game Black chose the uncommon 9...Qd8, which looks like a decent move. As compensation for the pawn, White gets the two bishops and a lead in development, but Black appears to be fine with accurate play.

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

A variation which is a perennial subject of debate among top players arises after 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4 6 Bc4 Nd3+ 7 Ke2 Nf4 8 Kf1 Ne6. Now 9 b4 is the traditional mainline, while 9 h4 has also been tried in recent times. Instead, in Aronian, L - Vachier Lagrave, M, White unleashed the slightly shocking 9 d4!?:

White plays the one pawn move that Black appeared to be preventing! After 9...cxd4 10 Bxe6 Bxe6 11 Nxd4 Black should go for 11...Bc4+, but the game continued 11...Nc6 12 Nxe6, when Black had to live with a slightly worse pawn structure due to the doubled e-pawns.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5 5 e3 Nxc3 6 bxc3 g6 7 Bb5+ [A34]

Nakamura, H - Vachier Lagrave, M opened with the Grünfeld-like line 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e3 Nxc3 6 bxc3 g6 and now White chose 7 Bb5+:

This was the subject of no less than four of MVL's games at the London Chess Classic, the first against Aronian, and the other three against Nakamura. For the last of these games, Nakamura had prepared the new move 13 Rc1 which provoked a misplacement of Black’s queen with 15...Qf5?. Nakamura went on to win, clinching the Grand Chess Tour title.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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