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As strong online tournaments continue through the summer, this update features serious novelties and provocative choices, both of which are ideal for fast time controls.

Download PGN of July ’20 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening 1 Nf3 c5 2 g3 b5 [A04]

We start with the rather offbeat opening 1 Nf3 c5 2 g3 b5!? This is only Black's 8th (!) most popular move in the position, but has been tried by a number of top GMs over the years.

Perhaps strongest now is 3 e4 fighting for central control using a KIA-style setup. Le Quang Liem - Hakobyan, A instead saw 3 Na3!? There is an element of provocation in Black's 2nd move, which can be particularly useful in blitz chess, and perhaps this worked here. White's reply allowed the knight to be kicked around with gain of time, and Black had no problems out of the opening.

Réti Opening, Lasker’s System 2 b3 Bf5 3 Bb2 e6 4 g3 Nf6 5 Bg2 [A07]

Radjabov, T - Ding Liren, opened with the move order 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 Bf5 3 Bb2 e6 4 g3 Nf6 5 Bg2 Be7 6 0-0 0-0 7 d3 h6. Lasker's setup is a solid and reliable response to the double fianchetto, and Ding Liren’s play is a good model of how Black should coordinate his forces. The following position was reached after 12 moves:

White decided to push ahead with 13 e5, which is the standard thrust in the King's Indian Attack, but here Black is well prepared to meet it. By releasing the central tension, White gives Black more of a free hand to develop his queenside counterplay, while White's kingside attack has a long way to go. After 13...Ne8 14 h4 a4 15 b4 c5 Black was slightly better, having compromised White's queenside structure.

Réti Opening, 1...d5 2 c4 d4 3 b4 g5 [A09]

Howell, D - Navara, D was another game where knight’s pawns were thrown forward with abandon! After 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 b4, Black has tried many moves, but 3...g5!? is sharp and interesting choice which leads to some unusual tactical ideas. The players reached the diagram position after 4 Qb3 Bg7 5 Nxg5 e5:

In this little explored position, the move 6 Qg3!? is critical, but here White chose the novelty 6 d3. Unfortunately, after 6...Bh6! the g5-knight is pinned so 7 f4 was the only move, but likely not what White was hoping for from the opening. Black won after many adventures.

Gurevich’s Anti-Slav System, 4...Nbd7 [A11]

1 c4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e3 Nf6 4 Nc3 Nbd7 is a fairly fresh line, and Shirov's pet system against the anti-Slav, which he continued to champion in Bachmann, A - Shirov, A.

From the diagram, we have looked at 7 d4 and 7 a3 in earlier Updates, while this month’s game saw 7 Bc4. Now after 7...Nb4 8 Qb1 Nb6 9 Be2 Bd6 we have a sharp reversed Sicilian position, which allows both players to play for a win.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 Bb4 4 e4 [A22]

In Carlsen, M - Caruana, F, Magnus returned to one of his trademark move orders with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 Bb4 4 e4, which he first played in the decisive playoff portion of the last World Championship match (see the December 2018 Update). After 4...Bxc3, 5 dxc3 has hitherto been the main reply, but 5 bxc3 was a new twist played in three Carlsen games this month. Now 5...Nxe4 is a serious option, but Caruana continued with 5...0-0 when 6 f3 was the key idea, bolstering the centre and maintaining flexibility regarding the f1-bishop, at the cost of falling further behind in development:

Things escalated quickly after 6...b5!? 7 d4 exd4 8 cxd4 bxc4 9 e5 Nd5 10 Bxc4 leading to a highly unusual position. Now 10...Bb7 was a little too slow, while later 15...Qe7?! allowed a central breakthrough, after which Black's position soon collapsed. I’m interested to see if this 5 bxc3 line gets repeated, as there is definitely much to explore.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 Bc5 [A28]

In the Four Knights with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4, the most principled reply is 4...Bc5, pressing on the dark square weaknesses created by 4 e4. That in turn prompts White to initiate the forcing line 5 Nxe5 Nxe5 6 d4 which we last looked at (in another Carlsen-Caruana battle) in the November 2019 Update. The following critical position arises after 12 moves:

Here Carlsen-Caruana continued with 13 Bd3 b5 which opened the queenside and led to a precisely played draw. Instead Esipenko, A - Sarana, A saw the refinement 13 Qe3. White's queen supports the move c4-c5 (in answer to ...b7-b5) in order to keep the queenside closed. After 13...b5 14 c5 b4 15 c4 b3 16 a3 White's king does a good job as blockader of the b-pawn. With accurate play, it appears that Black can navigate his way to an acceptable position, but from here White has scored 4-0 in GM blitz games, which suggests that White's position is easier to play.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 Bb4 5 d3 d6 6 h3 [A28]

Carlsen, M - Giri, A varied from the previous example with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4 Bb4 5 d3 d6 In contrast to the sharper alternative 4...Bc5, the 4...Bb4 line typically leads to a slower strategic struggle.

Now 6 a3 has been the most topical move, and I summarize recent developments in the notes. Instead 6 h3 was a slightly uncommon choice at this stage. Following 6...Bc5 7 Be2 Nd4 8 Rb1 a5 and the ensuing logical moves, Black equalized comfortably and later even took over the initiative. The ball is back in White’s court to find improvements here.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 d4 exd4 5 Nxd4 Bb4 6 g3 [A28]

After 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6, the move 4 d4 is White's 3rd most popular try but having been out of vogue in recent years, is a good choice as a surprise weapon. It was given an outing in Nepomniachtchi, I - Giri, A which continued with 4...exd4 5 Nxd4 Bb4 6 g3:

Now Black immediately targeted the doubled c-pawns with 6...Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 Na5, after which White went for an aggressive setup with 8 e4 0-0 9 f3 d6 10 h4. The later pawn sac 13 g5?! was a bit too optimistic, however, and Black refuted the attack, before later letting White back into the game.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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