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In this Update, we review important theoretical developments, as well as creative ways to “get a game” for both sides. For the first time in a while, all games are taken from over-the-board events.

Download PGN of July ’21 Flank Openings games

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King’s Indian Attack 6 Na3 [A08]

The moves 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 0-0 e6 5 d3 Nc6 are usually the precursor to a regular King's Indian attack with 6 Nbd2 Be7 7 e4. In Rapport, R - Caruana, F, however, the ever-original Richard Rapport uncorked the rare 6 Na3!?:

One of the points of White's move order is to push e2-e4 while developing flexibly, for example with 6...Be7 7 Bf4 0-0 8 e4 etc. Caruana cut across these plans with 6...e5, but this meant he was playing a classical King's Indian with reversed colours, but minus two tempi! This is probably still objectively OK for Black, but may not be to everyone's taste, especially if the player of the White pieces is a King's Indian specialist. In the game, Black even castled long, and a fascinating struggle went back and forth before ending in a draw.

Réti Opening 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6 3 c4 dxc4 [A09]

Following 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6, the move 3 c4 is White's main method of staying in Réti territory, and thereby avoiding the symmetrical Grünfeld which arises after White plays d2-d4. Now, after 3...dxc4 4 Na3 Bg7 5 Nxc4, Black’s usual try is 5...Nc6 which has been the focus of the theoretical debate in recent years. Instead Rapport, R - Aronian, L saw the near novelty 5...Be6!:

Aronian’s move appears to be a significant idea that is quite challenging for White to meet effectively. The game continued 6 Qc2 c5 7 Bg2 Nc6 8 0-0 Nh6 9 Ne3, and now 9...Nd4 is a critical test, while following Levon’s 9...Rc8 10 Qxc5 Nd4 11 Qxa7 Nxe2+, Black was very active and had full compensation for the sacrificed pawn.

Anti-QGD System 4 e3 Be7, 6...dxc4 [A13]

The anti-QGD system where White plays an early e2-e3 and b2-b3 remains popular, and Rakhmanov, A - Shuvalova, P opened with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 d5 4 e3 Be7 5 b3 0-0 6 Bb2. Now Black was the first to resolve the central tension with 6...dxc4 7 bxc4 c5:

If White continues with regular development such as 8 Be2 Nc6 9 0-0 b6 10 d4 then Black appears to be comfortable when facing White's hanging pawns. So White often tries a more double-edged plan involving a g2-g4 thrust, which was indeed seen in the game after 8 Qc2 Nc6 9 a3 b6 10 Be2 Bb7 11 Rg1 and 12 g4. The engine shows that Black can get balanced chances, but finding the right path for Black is rather subtle, which is probably why White has done well in practical play. In the game, White built up a powerful kingside attack, although later blundered and lost.

Anti-QGD System 2 e3 e6 3 c4 Be7 4 b3 Bf6 [A13]

In Lupulescu, C - Mamedyarov, S, Black varied from the standard patterns of the previous example with the unusual move order 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 e6 3 c4 Be7, putting the bishop on the long diagonal after 4 b3 Bf6 5 Nc3 Ne7:

Lupulescu answered with the most natural 6 Bb2 which led to a fairly balanced game where Black's f6-bishop neutralizes the usually potent b2-bishop. Instead, the antidote to Black's scheme appears to be 6 Ba3! clamping down on Black's ...c7-c5 thrust, and preparing Ra1-c1 as well as d2-d4 to control the centre.

King’s English, Keres System, 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6 4 d4 e4 5 d5 [A20]

After the opening moves 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6 4 d4 e4, White usually proceeds with 5 Nc3, aiming to put pressure on Black’s d5-pawn after 5...d5. In Anton Guijarro, D - Gajewski, G, however, White varied with 5 d5:

Anton’s move prevents Black from cementing the centre with ...d7-d5, and aims to target the "stranded" e4-pawn. Nevertheless, after 5...Bb4+ 6 Bd2 Qe7 7 e3 Bxd2+ 8 Nxd2 d6 9 Ne2 cxd5 10 cxd5, White also had to protect his exposed d5-pawn and the mutual weaknesses balanced each other out. In the game Black secured a decent position out of the opening, although White started to outplay his opponent in the early middlegame.

King’s English, Keres System, 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 [A20]

Van Foreest, J - Navara, D featured the “accelerated” Keres system with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4, and after 9 moves the players have reached the following position:

This is emerging tabiya which has been explored by a number of top players in recent years. In earlier games, White had tried to open the centre with either d2-d3 or d2-d4 in the next 1-2 moves. Instead, Van Foreest unleashed the novelty 10 Nxe4!?, with a piece sacrifice no less! This is a great find, since it forces Black to walk a tight rope for the new few moves, and at minimum gives White a playable game. Navara responded with principled moves, eventually returning the extra material. Nevertheless, White maintained an initiative for a large part of the game, which eventually ended peacefully.

King’s English, 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 d3 [A20]

So, W - Caruana, F saw theoretical developments in the topical line 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5. Now 4 d3 is a solid choice, avoiding the following sharp line with 4 Nc3 c6 5 Nf3 e4 6 Nh4 that we have analyzed in several earlier Updates. Following 4...c6 5 Nf3 d6 6 0-0 0-0 7 Nc3, Caruana varied from the 2020 Candidates clash Ding Liren-Wang Hao with 7...a5 8 d4 exd4 9 Nxd4 a4:

The point of Black's move order is to prevent White from getting his ideal configuration with b2-b3, and to introduce ideas of ...Qd8-a5 and ...a4-a3 as well as play against the c4-pawn. Black appeared to be fine, but following 12...Bg4 and 13...Bh5, his light squared bishop became locked out of play, and So eventually scored a fine win with the White pieces.

Symmetrical English 3...d5, 5 e4, 9 h4 [A34]

The variation starting with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4 6 Bc4 is one of the sharpest and most heavily analyzed lines in the Symmetrical English. The game So, W - Vachier Lagrave, M continued 6...Nd3+ 7 Ke2 Nf4+ 8 Kf1 Ne6 and now 9 h4 is a modern attempt to push for an opening edge:

White plans a rook lift via the h3-square, which in turn makes sense of his loss of castling rights, since the king can be tucked away on the g1-square. Following 9...Nd4 10 Nb5 Black was ready with the novelty 10...Ndc6 which incidentally was the seventh consecutive move by this knight! Overall, MVL showed excellent preparation to neutralize Wesley So's initiative.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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