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A strange last few weeks, there was a lot of games between really strong players, but they were mostly blitz or rapid games, of a fairly uneven quality. Still, there were still more than enough interesting games for this update, with good innovations, strong plans and a few very surprising moves, too.

Download PGN of June '15 Flank Openings games

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Larsen's Opening 1 b3 e5, 3...Nf6 4 h3!? [A01]

Baadur Jobova has been playing 1 b3 a lot this last few weeks, although mostly in blitz chess, however, he is not afraid to play it in normal games against very strong opponents, either. In Jobava - Jakovenko he interpreted the mainline in typically original style, after 1...e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3 Nf6, instead of the 'automatic' 4 Bb5 he played 4 h3!?:

He later castled queenside and launched his g-pawn up the board. Objectively this is nothing special, but it does lead to original positions, and in the game the advantage went back and forth a bit before Black showed excellent endgame technique to force a draw.

Réti Opening 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 g6 4 b3 [A05]

Kramnik - Svidler features the line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 g6 4 b3 Bg7 5 Bb2 c5 6 c4 d4 7 b4:

White will capture on c5 and gain an open b-file and extra central pawn, but Black will recapture the pawn on c5 with a knight, gaining a strong knight on c5 plus a space advantage.

Kramnik's subsequent play was extremely subtle and precise, and after an almost imperceptible mistake from Black he was able to develop a crushing attack in no time at all.

Réti Opening 2...d4 3 b4 f6 4 e3 e5 5 c5 [A09]

We've been looking at this sharp line a lot just recently, and in Demuth - So, after 5...a5 6 Qa4+ Black played the completely new move 6...Nc6!?:

This logical developing move was previously rejected because the knight gets kicked around by 7 b5 Nb4 8 a3, however, after 8...Nd5 the knight is nicely centralised and blocks the weak a2-g8 diagonal. Wesley So had obviously done his homework and realised that Black's position is very playable, and in the game he soon achieved a positional advantage which he easily converted into a full point.

Lots of food for thought!

Réti Opening 2...d4 3 b4 g5!? [A09]

So, 3...f6 is holding up nicely, but Black also has other interesting 3rd moves, and one which I'd never seen before, and really surprised me, is 3...g5!?:

Black plans both ...Bg7 and ...g4, and although it looks silly, there is more to it than meets the eye and some very strong players have recently played it with success.

But why can't White simply take this pawn by 4 Nxg5 I hear you ask? Well, this is both a novelty, and not very good, see the game Bocharov - Morozevich, where White gets totally crushed!

Pseudo-Grünfeld 7 h4 [A16]

In the Pseudo-Grünfeld line where White plays 5 g3 Bg7 6 Bg2 Black's most common response is 6...0-0, and now my preferred line is 7 h4:

This is not actually very popular, but is thematic now there is no knight on f6, and scores highly. Should Black play 7...h6 then White just castles and plays normal lines where he can use the weakness of h6 tactically. In Jakovenko - Vachier Lagrave, Black preferred 7...e5, which is also good, but allows White to open the h-file.

There are a couple of my games hidden in the notes which show how easily White can notch-up points against unprepared opponents.

King's English 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 e4 [A22]

Following 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 I have looked at a lot of 3rd moves for White over the years, but never 3 e4!?. After 3...Nf6 Jobava - Zvjaginsev really went off the beaten path with the original 4 Bd3!?:

White intends Nge2, Bc2 and d4.

Black's subsequent play seemed very logical, but after a couple of slips White had a consequent advantage. However, that was when the game became exciting, and when White made a mistake it was Black who gained a winning attack ... only to blunder and lose.

Four Knights Nimzovich's 4 e4 Bc5, 8 Qf3 [A28]

It was nice to see one of my 'Roll the Dice' suggestions from DW: Flank Openings, 8 Qf3, given a 2700+ outing in Bacrot - Tabatabaei:

Bacrot won fairly convincingly, although there was a short period when Black had nearly equal chances.

Pure Symmetrical 5 e3 [A36]

Finally, Granda Zuniga-Hansen,E examines the Pure Symmetrical with 5 e3, where Black has already put his knight on f6. I think I first learned that this is a good setup for White from John Watson's classic English series (from the late 70s?!):

Normally Black plays 7...d6 and after 8 d4 we've reached a lesser KID line (E61].

However, in this particular game the Canadian preferred 7...e6 8 d4 cxd4 aiming for a transpostion into the drawish 5 e3 e6 line. To avoid this White played 9 exd4 d5 10 c5!?, aiming to push his queenside majority. This is a practical, if risky approach, and White always seemed to have reasonable play for his various attempts at sacrificing the exchange.

Till next time, Tony.

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