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The Flank Openings offer a lot of scope for creative and offbeat ideas, but it also helps to know some of the older theory, which can be sprung on an unsuspecting opponent!

Download PGN of January ’21 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening, 1 b3 d5 2 Bb2 Bf5 [A01]

Artemiev, V - Matlakov, M, from the Russian Superfinal, revisited the line 1 b3 d5 2 Bb2 Bf5 3 d3. Now 3...e6 4 Nd2 Nf6 5 g3 a5 was featured in last month's Update, while Matlakov deviated with 3...Nd7 4 Nd2 Ngf6 5 Ngf3 c6, after which White grabbed the bishop pair with 6 Nh4, and we already have a new position on the board:

Following 6...Bg6 7 Nxg6 hxg6 8 g3 e5 Black got a big pawn centre and continued with an ambitious dark square strategy through moves like 11...a5 and 12...d4, although this in turn gave White decent play on the light squares. A tense positional struggle exploded just before the time control when Black allowed a winning tactic.

King’s Indian Attack, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 0-0 6 Bf4 [A07]

One of the nuances affecting the move orders in the King's Indian attack is whether White can get in a quick e2-e4 without first playing Nb1-d2. For example after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 0-0, by delaying delay the typical move ...c7-c5, Black discourages 6 e4. Now Artemiev, V - Esipenko, A continued with 6 Bf4, a rare move that has nevertheless been played by the likes of Grischuk (see the May 2020 Update), Kramnik and Rapport.

Following 6...c5 7 e4 there appears to be nothing wrong with taking the pawn although White gets sufficient compensation in the resulting positions. Instead, after 7...Nc6 8 Ne5 Nxe5 9 Bxe5 Nd7 10 Bf4 d4 11 a4 e5, the players reached a reversed KID structure. Objectively, the position is equal, but as the game shows, there are rich possibilities for both sides to play for a win.

Réti Opening 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 b4 c5 [A09]

In the Réti with 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 b4, Black has a host of alternatives on the 3rd move (including 3...f6, 3...g5, 3...Bg4, and 3...g6) which we have covered in earlier Updates. In Wei Yi - Ju Wenjun, Black chose 3...c5, avoiding some of the more irrational lines and going for a reversed Benoni/Benko approach:

With 4 g3, Wei Yi opted for a pure reversed Benko Gambit. On the evidence of this game, and others, is definitely worth considering 4 e3, a reversed Blumenfeld, as a sharper approach to try and secure an advantage. In the game, after the questionable 10 Bg5 and subsequent trade of bishop for knight, Black gradually took over. Ju Wenjun was even two pawns up for a long time until White was saved by the presence of opposite coloured bishops.

Réti Double Fianchetto vs. QGD setup [A14]

After the opening moves 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 c4 0-0 6 b3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 the mainline is 8 Bb2 Nc6 9 d4, where White tries to generate a slight edge after trading both the c- and d-pawns. Instead, the continuation 8 Nc3 Nc6 9 Bb2 also looks perfectly natural:

The game Giri, A - So, W is a cautionary tale, however. Following 9...Nxc3 10 Bxc3 Qc7 11 Qb1 e5! Black got a decent Maroczy bind formation and soon took over the initiative after a couple of slow moves from White.

Pseudo-Grünfeld, 5 h4 Nxc3 [A16]

Carlsen, M - Vachier Lagrave, M, saw one of the typical queenless middlegames that are possible in anti-Grunfeld complex. Following the moves 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 h4, Black often plays 5...Bg7 waiting for 6 e4 Nxc3 7 dxc3, but MVL chose 5...Nxc3 immediately. 6 bxc3 had been Carlsen’s choice in earlier games, but this time he tried 6 dxc3 Qxd1+ 7 Kxd1:

After 7...f6 8 h5 g5 9 e4 e5 White has created some weaknesses in Black's kingside, and can target the f5-square as an eventual outpost for his knight. There are a number of nuances in the position, but in this game, Black put up a solid defence, and Magnus was unable to find a breakthrough.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 e3 Nc6 4 g4 [A25]

The line 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 e3, with White delaying Ng1-f3, has been favoured by Magnus Carlsen in several rapid games and was also featured in this month’s clash Rapport, R - Ding Liren. After 3...Nc6 the offbeat 4 g4!? gives this line a unique flavour:

Ding struck back in the centre with 4...d5, after which 5 g5 initiated the forcing sequence 5...d4 6 gxf6 dxc3 7 fxg7 cxd2+ 8 Bxd2 Bxg7 9 Bc3, reaching a rare and unusual position. Both players missed tactical chances, and the game ended in a draw by repetition, although in the cold light of day, Black had every reason to play on.

King’s English, Botvinnik System 6...Nh6 [A26]

Goganov, A - Chigaev, M entered the classical Botvinnik system after 1 c4 g6 2 g3 Bg7 3 Bg2 e5 4 Nc3 Nc6 5 e4 d6 6 Nge2. Black usually now places the g8-knight on either of the e7- or f6-squares (after ...f7-f5), but in this game chose 6...Nh6!? 7 d3 f5, played by, among others, Boris Spassky in the 1970s:

White somewhat mixed his plans with 8 Nd5 0-0 9 h4 Nf7 10 Be3, and after 10...Nd4 11 Qd2 Nxe2 12 Qxe2 c6 the d5-knight was pushed back, and with 13 Nc3 f4! Black seized the initiative. Instead 8 h4! was recommended by both Kosten and Marin in their classic repertoire books, and this still looks like White's best shot from the diagram position.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, 5 e4 [A34]

In the well known position 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4 6 Bc4, the mainline starts with 6...Nd3+, but Maurizzi, M - Krysa, L instead continued 6...Be6!? This is a rare move that was dismissed by older theory, but perhaps for the wrong reasons!

Now 7 Bb5+ appears to be the most promising option for White, but the game continued with the very natural (and more common) 7 Bxe6. I believe Black's chances have been underestimated in the resulting line, however, where he seems to be at least fine. In the game, both players missed big opportunities, and the game ended in a rather crazy draw.

A Happy New Year to all subscribers!

Until next month, David.

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