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With many top players in action this month, we get to see both offbeat ideas and deep preparation in mainlines.

Download PGN of July ’17 Flank Openings games

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Bird’s Opening 1...d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 g3 e6 [A03]

It's not every day you see the reigning World Champion play the Bird, but that’s what happened in Carlsen, M - Kramnik, V from this month’s Leuven Rapid. After 1 f4 d5 2 Nf3 Kramnik had previously chosen 2...Bg4, but this time went for an interesting setup with 2...Nf6 3 g3 e6 followed by queenside expansion with 4 Bg2 Be7 5 0-0 b5. In the early going, it was Black that was pushing for a slight edge, but White started to take over around move 20 and eventually won in fine style.

Réti Opening vs. QGD setup 6 Ne5!? [A14]

Vidit, S - Wojtaszek, R opened with the typical Réti move-order 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 c4 0-0, but now White uncorked 6 Ne5!?:

This is an extremely rare move, which only appears 5 times in my database. Two of those games, however, are annotated in the Chess Publishing Archives - convincing evidence of the wealth of ideas available to subscribers! White's idea is to steer the game out of Catalan theory while maintaining a flexible and sound position. Black responded uncertainly, losing time following the awkward move 8...Qd6. The game ended in a nice win for Vidit.

Mikenas Attack 3...d5 4 e5 with 8...Nc6 [A18]

Ian Nepomniachtchi continues to mine the Mikenas. In last month's Update we saw him show deep preparation in one of the key lines, and this time he does the same in Nepomniachtchi, I - Aleksandrov, A. In the mainline after 3...d5 4 e5 d4 5 exf6 dxc3 6 bxc3 Qxf6 7 d4 e5 8 Nf3 Black chose 8...Nc6. For the alternative 8...exd4 see Nepomniachtchi-Harikrishna in the June 2017 Update.

In the above position, if Black completes normal development, then White's doubled c-pawns can become a weakness. So here Nepo unleashed the dynamic novelty 14 c5!, sacrificing one of the pawns to gain time and keep Black's king in the centre.

King’s English 2...Bb4 3 Nd5 Bc5 [A21]

The theory of the line 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 Bc5 is developing rapidly, with Vishy Anand's games being instrumental in this. At Norway Chess, he had contrasting fortunes in two games that continued the eternal debate on the subject of the bishop pair vs. bishop and knight.

Caruana, F - Anand, V continued with 4 Nf3 which is marginally White's most popular move in this position. The following position was reached after 4...c6 5 Nc3 d6 6 e3 Bb4:

Here White entered a Nimzo-like structure with 7 d4 Nd7, and after 8 Qc2 Ngf6 9 a3 Bxc3+ 10.Qxc3 secured the two bishops while avoiding the doubled pawns. While many players would at first glance prefer White's position, Anand has evidently studied this whole line deeply and decided that Black's position is fully playable. In the game, Black managed to achieve a locked pawn structure which made life miserable for Caruana’s bishops.

Giri, A - Anand, V took a different course with 4 e3 Nf6 and now the forcing move 5 b4 has been the focus of recent games:

Following 5...Nxd5 6 bxc5 Nf6 Giri repeated 7 Nf3, which he introduced as a novelty against Grischuk the previous month. After a patient build up, White achieved a fluid pawn structure and open lines which favoured the bishops.

King’s English 2...Nc6, 3...f5 [A25]

In Shankland, S - Sasikiran, K, Black showed some new ideas in the reversed Grand-Prix Attack setup after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2 f5 4 Nc3 Nf6. Here Shankland chose 5 e3, which envisages the harmonious setup with Ng1-e2, although this gives Black hope of exploiting the weakened light squares:

In this position Sasikiran played the rare 5...e4 and then 6 d3 Bb4 7 Nge2 d5, continuing with very principled play. Following a successful opening, Black came up with an imaginative exchange sacrifice which gave him the upper hand.

King’s English Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 [A29]

The variation 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 was a major topic of debate at the 2016 Candidates tournament, but recent top-level games have more often seen 4...d5 leading to the Reversed Dragon. In Giri, A - Aronian, L a critical position was reached very early on, following 5 Nd5 e4 6 Nh4 0-0 7 Bg2 d6 and here Giri had a surprise prepared with 8 b3!:

Although Black can win a piece with 8...g5, White’s idea is to get the c1-bishop onto the long diagonal as quickly as possible. This novelty proved too much for Aronian to handle in a rapid game. Black went wrong with 10...Nb8? which opened up the floodgates of White's attack.

Symmetrical English Three Knights 3...g6 4 e3, 8...e6 [A35]

In the Symmetrical English after 3...g6 4 e3 Nf6 5 d4 cxd4 6 exd4 d5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Qb3 we reach a mainline position which has been analyzed numerous times on the site. Matlakov, M - Wei Yi (played in the decisive match at the World Team Championships) saw 8...e6 9 Bb5:

The players proceeded down the mainline, but Black played extremely accurately to hold the balance. The move 14...c5! is a very important idea for the theory of this line. Black sacrifices the c-pawn in order to free his light-squared bishop and gain active counterplay.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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