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A few days ago I received an interesting question from subscriber Wane Inkpen which got me delving into certain positions from Larsen's Opening (1.b3) and then the analogous position in the Bird (1.f4). And I discovered that there are quite a few subtleties that can catch the unwary.

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Larsen's Opening [A06]

Here's the letter:

«Dear GM Davies,
I was wondering if you would take it upon yourself to discuss Black's 7th move ...Bd6 in the game V. Bagirov vs. S. Polgar, 1991 as it is a line that is completely overlooked in the Odessky monograph. Since Polgar's move was considered to be a novelty at the time, I think it deserved attention in IM Odessky's book written 17 years later. He had the chance to discuss it in Chapter 21 and 22 of his monograph but omitted it entirely.
Sincerely, Wane Inkpen»

Well I can't say that I'd even heard of the Odessky monograph but the question is an interesting one. Let's take a closer look after 1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 c5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bb5 Bd7 6.0-0 e6 7.d3:

This is the position in which Sofia Polgar played 7...Bd6 against Bagirov (Bagirov - Polgar) and it certainly has its points. After 8.Bxc6 Bxc6 9.Ne5 Black can immediately defuse any potential pressure with 9...Bxe5 and after 10.Bxe5 there's even a pawn sac that's worth considering with 10...Nd7!?. Bagirov chose 8.e4 instead but didn't get anything out of the opening.

This certainly looks like a more incisive way to play it than with 7...Be7 after which 8.Bxc6 Bxc6 9.Ne5 gave White some pressure (though not really an advantage) in Kharlov - Raetsky. So the onus is on White to find something with more bite and I started to wonder if having f2-f4 earlier in the opening would help him.

Bird/Larsen Opening [A03]

The position after 1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 c5 3.e3 Nf6 4.f4 Nc6 5.Nf3 e6 6.Bb5 Bd7 7.0-0 has rather more venom because Black will find it harder to eliminate a knight that lands on e5. White also has more choice about when to put it there:

In Giffard - Moret Black tried the same move as Sofia Polgar with 7...Bd6, but then after 8.Bxc6 Bxc6 9.Ne5 he couldn't comfortably play 9...Bxe5 because of 10.fxe5 Nd7 11.Qg4.

7...Be7 is a more solid choice for Black when White has a choice. He didn't get very far with 8.Bxc6 Bxc6 9.Ne5 in Balashov - Sveshnikov but he can also play a waiting move.

8.d3 certainly has a drop of poison as seen in Bagirov - Heemskerk and Tartakower - Alapin, though he can probably do better than in either of these games with 8...0-0 9.Nbd2 Nb4!?.

Another interesting waiting move is 8.a4 which was played in Ljubojevic - Zuidema:

Protecting the bishop on b5 means that White can play 9.Ne5 on his next move and set some problems for Black. In the game it looked like Black panicked somewhat and lost very quickly. 11...f5 would have been better.

One move that I don't recommend for White is the 8.Qe1 of Marin - Brunello as Black could immediately set some problems with 8...Nb4!. I get the impression that Marin played this opening on the spur of the moment as he never looked very comfortable.

A final thing that's worth noting is that these positions are identical to some Nimzo-Indian and Dutch lines but with colours reversed. So you can also get to play this kind of position from the other side.

That's all for this month! Nigel Davies

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