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This Update includes games from elite and open tournaments, rapid and classical time controls, and my vote for novelty of the year!

Download PGN of January ’20 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Double Fianchetto vs. Lasker’s System [A06]

Wei Yi - Navara, D opened with a double fianchetto Réti system via the move order 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 Bf5 3 Bb2 e6 4 d3 h6 5 Nbd2 Nf6 6 g3 and now Black went for the strategically risky 6...c5:

Black gains space, but combining ....c7-c5 with the posting of the bishop on the f5-square weakens the light squares. White could already have gone for 7 e4, since after trades on the e4-square, the f1-bishop would spring to life with Bf1-b5+. Instead Wei Yi chose the thematic 7 Ne5 and after 7...Nbd7?! secured the initiative with 8 e4!. After a further misstep on move 10, Black ended up in a fairly hopeless position in this rapid playoff game. Wei Yi's execution of the light-squared strategy is very instructive for Réti players.

Nimzo-English 4 g4 [A17]

The sharp line of the Nimzo English with 4 g4 continues to pop up from time to time. Edouard, R - Fishbein, A opened with 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g4 and reached one of the key positions after 4...h6 5 Rg1 b6 6 Qc2 Bb7 7 a3:

Here Black has to make an important choice and has tried all of the reasonable moves, namely 7...Bxc3, 7...Bxf3, 7...Be7 and Fishbein’s 7...Bf8. After 8 d4 d5?! 9 g5 hxg5 10 Bxg5, White soon got a lead in development and attacking prospects. In this and an earlier game (given in the notes) Edouard has shown some dangerous new ideas for White, and 4 g4 perhaps deserves more practical tests.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nf3 f5 4 g3 [A27]

In the reversed Grand Prix Attack after 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nf3 f5 the immediate 4 d4 is the traditional move, but 4 g3 is a topical idea. The g3-pawn allows the f3-knight to take up a post on the h4-square. Now after 4...Nf6 5 d4 e4 6 Nh4 d5 7 Bg5 White has scored well, but the ambitious 7...Bb4 is a recent addition to Black's toolkit.

In Harutyunian, T - Sasikiran, K, White played 8 e3, bolstering the centre and continuing with development. Sasikiran specializes in these setups with an early ...f7-f5 and after 8...0-0 9 Ng2 varied from one of his earlier games with 9...Ne7. White perhaps missed his best chance for a small edge on move 13, and after 15...c5 Black struck back in the centre and was at least equal.

Looking at the previous diagram, you may have been wondering what happens after 8 cxd5 since 8...Qxd5? 9 Bxf6 gxf6 10 e3 leaves Black with a horrible structure. The answer was revealed in the dramatic game Mchedlishvili, M - Rathnakaran, K (played earlier in 2019). With the sensational novelty 8...Nxd5!!, (apparently the product of over-the-board inspiration!) Black sacrifices his queen for only a single knight!

After 9 Bxd8 Nxc3 10 Qb3, the move 10...Nxe2+! was a crucial follow up and 12...Be6! was another key move. Black has only a knight for the queen, but White's king is so exposed, and Black’s four minor pieces so active, that this, amazingly, turns out to be enough. The game subsequently had many ups and downs, but eventually IM Rathnakaran scored a memorable upset win. From a theoretical viewpoint, 8...Nxd5 is a critical resource, since it makes this whole line with 6...d5 and 7...Bb4 playable for Black.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 g6 [A29]

1 c4 e5 2 Nf3 is GM Alexsandr Rakhmanov's pet variation, which he has played in dozens of games. The line is offbeat but perfectly sound, and knowing an opening in such depth is a big practical advantage. What better test could there be than facing the World Champion? In Rakhmanov, A - Carlsen, M, Black played 2...Nc6, the most popular reply, not exploring the more unique 2...e4. After the subsequent 3 d4 exd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nxc6 bxc6 6 g3 Black should perhaps consider 6...Bb4+ since 6...g6 led to a known but slightly uncomfortable setup for Black.

From the diagram, after 9...Rb8 10 Qa4 a6 11 c5 White started to exert pressure on Black's queenside structure. Starting with 12....Nd5!, Carlsen gave up the c7-pawn in order to free his pieces and simplify the position, eventually holding a rook endgame a pawn down.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 [A33]

After 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 g3, the move 6...Qb6, is Black's most popular response to the Four Knights with 6 g3, and a line with a very sound theoretical reputation. On the other hand, it is quite a labyrinth, and it is primarily White that gets to set the direction over the next few moves. Two top-level clashes at the Jerusalem FIDE Grand Prix explored some of the key lines.

Gelfand, B - Nepomniachtchi, I continued with 7 Nb3 Ne5 8 e4. White goes for a Maroczy bind structure, while Black's aim is to generate counterplay before White can consolidate. After 8...Bb4 9 Qe2 d6 10 Bd2 the move 10...Bd7 turned out to be too slow. White played energetically with 12 e5 and 14 c5, building a strong initiative. Instead 10...a5 is critical and appears to hold up well for Black.

In the later game Wei Yi - Nepomniachtchi, I, White varied with 7 Ndb5, and now 7...Ne5 8 Bg2 a6 9 Qa4 was seen:

Here 9...Bc5? 10 Bf4 ended in a quick win for White in Ganguly - Wei Yi which was analyzed in the September 2019 Update. Perhaps that game inspired Wei Yi to try this from White's side! In any case, after 9...Rb8 10 Na3 he offered the c4-pawn as a gambit. Black declined, but after 10...Bc5 11 0-0 0-0 12 Rb1 Qb4 White had several paths to a small advantage, although he later lost the thread of the game and eventually lost.

Symmetrical English, Reversed KID vs. Botvinnik setup [A37]

The opening moves 1 c4 c5 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 Nc3 Nc6 5 Nf3 e5 6 0-0 Nge7 7 d3 set up a classic strategic battle between two distinct development schemes. The standard plans for both sides have been well explored over the years, but in Ding Liren - Vachier-Lagrave, M, Ding Liren demonstrated some fresh and original ideas. Usually, White regroups with Nf3-e1-c2-e3 to secure a grip on d5, but in this game, White combined Nf3-d2 with a queenside fianchetto.

Ding’s preparation was rewarded when 16...Rfc8?! allowed a nice positional trick 17 Ne4!, forcing Black to trade on the d5-square. Subsequently, 21 a4 enabled White to gain control of the c4-square. Once he had secured an edge, Ding Liren played a model game, combining pressure on both sides of the board, and eventually breaking through with an attack on the king.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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