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This Update focuses on games from the recent Candidates Tournament, where several pivotal games opened with a Réti or English.

Download PGN of July ’22 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System 6 d4 [A07]

The game Nepomniachtchi, I - Duda, J featured a Réti opening starting with1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Nd7 5 h3 Bh5. Now, rather than employing plans with d2-d3 and/or c2-c4, the modern approach is to occupy the centre with 6 d4. White aims to take advantage of Black's h5-bishop, and sometimes to start a kingside pawn storm:

From the diagram position, White has often played 9 Qb3 or 9 Nh4, but the move 9 Ne5 has been trending thanks to games by Grandelius and Svane. Black already has to take a critical decision. 9...Ne4! is not obvious, but is likely Black's most accurate response.

Instead, Duda's choice 9...Nxe5 gave White a kingside pawn mass which leaves Black under some pressure. After 10 dxe5, White continued to gradually gain kingside space with 15 g4, 16 f4, 19 h4 and 20 g5. It proved harder for Black to find a constructive plan, and eventually White broke through and won the hapless light-squared bishop.

Neo-Catalan 4...dxc4 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 6 Qxc4 a6 7 Qc2 c5 8 Nc3 [A13]

Ding Liren - Duda, J opened with the Catalan-style 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 dxc4 5 Qa4+ and now 5...Nbd7 is Black's most popular response to the queen check. Both players were familiar with the move order nuances and reached the diagram position after 6 Qxc4 a6 7 Qc2 c5 8 Nc3 Qc7 9 0-0 b6 10 d4 Bb7:

Now, most high-level games have continued with 11 Bf4 (see the February 2021 Update), but Ding Liren chose the comparatively rare 11 dxc5. His new idea came after 11...Bxc5 12 Bf4 Bd6 13 Bxd6 Qxd6 14 Rfd1 Qc7 with 15 Rd4, which was a novelty, aiming to triple the major pieces along the d-file. Later on, trading queens with 18 Qf4 gave White some chances to squeeze in the resulting endgame setups. After defending well and soaking up a lot of pressure, Black erred right at the move 40 time control, and Ding then made no mistake in securing the full point.

Réti Double Fianchetto vs. QGD setup, 6...b6 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 d4 [A14]

GM Duda had a more successful outing as Black in Radjabov, T - Duda, J, where White employed a topical double fianchetto setup with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 b3 d5 4 Bb2 Be7 5 g3 0-0 6 Bg2 b6. Now the approach starting with 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 d4 has become fashionable in recent years, supplanting closed centre plans:

From the diagram, Black’s most common move overall has been 9...Nd7 (see the March 2021 Update), but Duda aimed for early clarity in the centre with 9...c5. After 10 dxc5 Bxc5 11 Nbd2 White has scored almost 70% in the database, but Black’s play in this game was convincing. After 11...Nf6 12 a3 a5, White was prevented from gaining space. Radjabov headed for simplifications with 13 Nc4 Nbd7 14 Nfe5, but Black was never in trouble in the ensuing play.

Keres System 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nc2 Nf6 7 Nc3 Qe5 8 Bg2 Na6 [A20]

The topical position after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nc2 Nf6 7 Nc3 Qe5 8 Bg2 Na6 9 0-0 Be7 is a tabiya which has been fiercely debated at the top level over the last few years, and is covered in two games in this month’s Update.

In the Candidates, the critical first round clash Ding Liren - Nepomniachtchi, I continued with 10 Ne3 and now 10...0-0 11 a3 Re8 12 b4:

Ding had played this position in a recent online game, but here Nepomniachtchi uncorked the novelty 12...Ng4!?, sacrificing the e4-pawn. White decided to decline the gambit, however, both now and over the next few moves. It appears Black would get some compensation for the pawn, but whether it would have been enough is an open question. Instead, White pursued a build up on the queenside, but didn’t create weaknesses quickly enough, and allowed Black to continue building a kingside attack. Nepo eventually crashed through to score a dramatic win.

Tabatabaei, M - Ter Sahakyan, S varied from the previous game with 10 Ne1, which is a relatively fresh idea, introduced by Anish Giri at Wijk aan Zee earlier this year:

Now Black can seriously consider 10...Bg4 or 10...Bf5, while 10...Nb4 was played in Giri-Praggnanandhaa, (see the February 2022 Update). Instead 10...0-0 can't be bad, but it does allow White to demonstrate his main idea of liquidating the e4-pawn and pushing Black's queen around. After 11 d4 exd3 12 Nxd3 Qh5 13 e4 White's kingside majority is more mobile than Black's queenside majority. Later on, White secured a slight advantage, but Black managed to hold the resulting endgame.

King’s English, 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 Be7 4 d4 [A21]

After the opening moves 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5, the old line 3...Be7 has recently become newly topical. After 4 d4, the reply 4...d6 is the traditional mainline, but White has chances thanks to the bishop pair and extra space (see the April 2022 Update for an example). This month, Donchenko, A - Ter Sahakyan, S, instead continued with 4...exd4 which appears to be a reliable response for Black.

White has the two bishops, but Black has quick development and a compact setup. From the diagram, after 8...d6 9 Nf3 Be6 10 e3 Rg8, White doubled the f-pawns starting with 11 Bxf6 Qxf6 12 Qxf6 gxf6, but Black remained with a solid position. Black was fine until several loosening moves later on created weaknesses which White was able to exploit.

King’s English, 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 d3 [A22]

Ding Liren - Firouzja, A started with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 d3 0-0 5 Nc3 c6 6 Nf3 d6 7 0-0. Now with 7...a5 8 d4 exd4 9 Nxd4 a4 Black prepared queenside counterplay, with ideas of ...Qd8-a5 and ...a4-a3 as well as play against the c4-pawn:

After 10 Rb1, 10...Qa5 was a new move, and a refinement over a So-Caruana game from last year. White took some time to consolidate, and Black managed to solve his problems, culminating in the equalizing pawn break 18...d5.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 Bc5 [A29]

After the opening moves 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4, Harikrishna, P - Anton Guijarro, D continued with 5 Nd5, when 5...e4 can lead to very sharp play, but 5...Bc5 aims for a calmer positional game. Following 6 Bg2 d6 7 0-0 0-0 8 e3, Black needs to deal with White’s space-gaining plan of d2-d4.

From the diagram position, 8...Bb6 9 d4 Bg4 initiated a forcing sequence that continued 10 h3 Bxf3 11 Bxf3 exd4 12 Nxb6 axb6 13 exd4 d5 and transformed the material balance. Black has two knights fighting White’s bishop pair, but Black has a well centralized position that should yield adequate chances.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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