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This Update covers a number of decisive games from World Championship events, both the match for the classical crown, and the recently concluded World Rapid championship.

Download PGN of January ’22 Flank Openings games

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English Defence, 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 b6 3 e4 Bb7 4 g3 [A10]

The English Defence, where Black plays an early ...b7-b6 against almost anything, continues to have its followers. After 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 b6 3 e4 Bb7, White has a choice of paths. 4 d4 Bb4 would lead into Daring Defences territory, being covered in Glenn Flear’s Updates. Alternatively, White can stay within Flank Opening waters with either 4 Nf3 Bb4 5 Bd3 or the fianchetto setup with 4 g3 f5 5 d3 Nf6 6 Bg2:

White’s light-squared construction aims to stymie the b7-bishop, and deprive Black’s other minor pieces of natural squares. In Medvegy, Z - Aczel, G, Black continued with 6...Bb4, which has been Black's most popular move. After 7 Nge2 0-0 8 0-0 fxe4 9 dxe4 a5 10 h3 e5 11 Nd5, the move 11...Nxd5?! was a positional concession, giving White firm control of the light squares after 12 exd5 and Ne2-c3-e4. Going back to the diagram position, I believe that Speelman’s 6...fxe4 is a better way for Black to approach this complex line.

Neo-Catalan, 4...dxc4 5 Qa4+ Bd7 6 Qxc4 c5 7 Ne5 Qc8 8 0-0 [A13]

Fedoseev, V - Eljanov, P revisited the popular line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 dxc4 5 Qa4+ Bd7 6 Qxc4 c5 7 Ne5 Qc8, where White secures the bishop pair, at the cost of a giving Black some extra space. The mainline 8 Qd3 was the subject of Maghsoodloo-Tari in last month's Update. Fedoseev varied with 8 0-0 Nc6 9 Nxd7 Qxd7:

Here 10 e3 was a new move, giving the queen a central bolt-hole on the e2-square, and avoiding further loss of time with the queen, as typically happens in this line. Black’s setup is very solid, but in the game 14...a6 loosened Black's queenside a bit, and White found a way to generate some annoying pressure on Black's structure. White eventually prevailed in the endgame.

Reversed Benoni, 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 d4 4 Nf3 Nc6 [A13]

The classical chess World Championship clash Nepomniachtchi, I - Carlsen, M opened a new chapter in the theory of the reversed Benoni setup starting with 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 d4. After 4 Nf3, Black most often plays 4...c5, but Magnus took a different direction with 4...Nc6 5 0-0 Bc5, entering a field with limited earlier games on record.

White responded energetically with 6 d3 Nf6 7 Nbd2 a5 8 Nb3 Be7 9 e3 to break open the centre, after first kicking the c5-bishop back. In the concrete play that followed, a critical moment came after 9...dxe3 10 Bxe3 Ng4 11 Bc5 0-0 12 d4 a4 13 Bxe7 Qxe7 14 Nc5, when 14...e5 appears to be the most accurate. Instead, after 14...a3, White missed the chance to press with 15 b4!. In the game 15 bxa3 led to a balanced middlegame. The game was later decided by the unfortunate, and now infamous, blunder 27 c5??.

Mikenas Attack, 3...d5 4 e5 d4, 7 Nf3 b6 [A18]

In the Mikenas after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 d5 4 e5 d4 5 exf6 dxc3 6 bxc3 Qxf6 7 Nf3 b6, the move 8 c5!? is the inspired novelty from Jorden van Foreest, that was covered in last month's Update. The move is fresh enough that (at least for now) it still has surprise value, and Abdusattorov employed it to win a critical game in the later stages of the Sunway Sitges tournament. Following 8 c5, the move 8...Bxc5 was played in the stem game, while Abdusattorov, N - Pranav, A varied with 8...Bb7:

Black ignores the pawn sacrifice and continues development, but this doesn't promise him an easy life, since 9 Qa4+ immediately sets Black a tricky problem. It turns out that 9...Kd8! is the only move to maintain the balance. If Black isn't prepared for 8 c5, this is a difficult move to both find and make over the board. Instead after 9...Bc6 10 Bb5, due to some tactical nuances, Black was condemned to a passive position. White gradually increased his advantage in a nice technical performance.

King’s English, 2 Nf3 e4 3 Nd4 Nc6 4 e3 [A20]

The line 1 c4 e5 2 Nf3 used to be championed, at the GM level, almost exclusively, by GM Rakhmanov. Several other top players have also been trying it recently, and it featured in the battle Grischuk, A - Caruana, F at the World Rapids. Following 2...e4 3 Nd4 Nc6 4 e3 Nf6 5 Nc3, it appears that Caruana was well prepared for this "surprise" opening choice, since he unleashed the novelty 5...Ne5:

Black eyes the d3-square, and prepares to kick the d4-knight back with tempo. White has a few options here, but chose the committal move 6 f4. Following 6...Nd3+ 7 Bxd3 exd3 8 0-0, the move 8...d5 was a logical way to open the position for Black's bishops. Black got the better of the early middlegame battle, and eventually won after a wild game.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 7 b3 Be6 [A20]

The game Donchenko, A - Nakamura, H opened with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 0-0 Nb6 7 b3 Be6, which is one of Nakamura's pet lines. Black prepares ...Qd8-d7 with potential long castling in the mix. This is a double-edged idea, since Black is falling behind in development, but it leads to sharper complications than most typical reversed Dragons.

From the diagram, Black chose 10...Nd5, which is an improvement over 10...Nd4 from a 2020 Carlsen-Nakamura encounter. The position has been explored in several correspondence games, but the complexities are difficult to handle over the board, particularly at fast time controls. After 14 Rd1?!, Black got the upper hand, but only won after the advantage changed hands several times.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 Bb4 5 d3 d6 6 a3 Bc5 7 b4 Bb6 8 Na4 Bd4 [A28]

The variation 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4 was used by Abdusattorov to score some big scalps on his way to winning the World Rapid Championship. One of the key tabiyas arises after the moves 4...Bb4 5 d3 d6 6 a3 Bc5 7 b4 Bb6 8 Na4. White secures the bishop pair, but has to play around the d4-square, which somewhat limits his mobility. The pawn structure also resembles a Ruy Lopez with reversed colours:

From the diagram, Abdusattorov, N - Wojtaszek, R continued with 8...Bd4 9 Rb1 Bg4 10 Be2 Bxf3 11 Bxf3 a6 and now with the creative 12 Qd2, White prepared Bc1-b2 and allows the f3-bishop to be re-routed via the d1-square. Later on, Black’s 15...h6 was a little slow, and enabled White to get in the thematic break 17 f4, after which White was pleasantly better.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 Bb4 5 d3 d6 6 a3 Bc5 7 b4 Bb6 8 Na4 Bg4 [A28]

Abdusattorov, N - Carlsen, M, varied from the previous game with 8...Bg4. Carlsen's choice is a precursor to a strategic battle where Black often has a knight pair fighting White's two bishops.

From the diagram, Black traded immediately with 10...Bxf3 11 Qxf3 and then continued 11...Nd7 12 g3 Qf6. Trading queens here appears to give White a lower risk chance of pressing with the bishop pair. On the other hand, 13 Qd1 gave Black more dynamic chances, and Carlsen outplayed his opponent over the next 10 or so moves. Nevertheless, Nordibek stayed in the game, and eventually turned the tables, winning a dramatic endgame.

A Happy New Year to all subscribers!

Until next month, David.

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