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Alexander Delchev recently published a very interesting book called "The Modern Réti: An Anti-Slav Repertoire". This month I investigate a couple of his highly original recommendations and also take a look at developments in associated lines.

Download PGN of March '12 Flank Openings games

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Neo-Catalan [A13]

The important Neo-Catalan line 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.Qa4+ is a subject of intense debate at all levels right now. How should Black block the check?

The concrete lines with 5...c6 6.Qxc4 b5 are currently experiencing the biggest surge in popularity. In Sadorra - Lenderman we take a look at the traditional retreat 7.Qc2, which Delchev also recommends. After 7...Bb7 8.Nc3 Nbd7 9.0-0 a6 10.a4 Rc8 (possibly a slight move-order inaccuracy - 10...Be7 limits White's options) 11.d3 Be7 12.e4 0-0:

Delchev proposes 13.h3!?, trying to cut out ...Nf6-g4. It's a good recommendation and definitely more challenging than Sadorra's routine 13.Rd1. Conveniently, Delchev himself won a nice game with 13.h3!? just days ago at the European Championship, which I managed to include in the notes here. The conclusion is that White can realistically aim for a small Catalan-type edge with 7.Qc2.

Next, we have two games with the intriguing 7.Qb3!?:

Lately White has been opting for this retreat square with increasing frequency (though the database reminds us that White has historically preferred 7.Qc2 by a more than 4-to-1 ratio). The major benefit of 7.Qb3 is that White avoids the x-ray his queen so often finds herself in on c2 (facing an eventual ...Ra8-c8 and ...c6-c5); thus, White has more of a license to play an early d2-d4, not fearing an exchange of pawns.

Both games featured the critical 7...Bb7 8.0-0 Nbd7 9.d4 a6 (the most resolute. Black immediately prepares ...c6-c5, so White has to hurry.) 10.Ne5! Nxe5 11.dxe5 and now Black is at a crossroads:

Fressinet - Gordon saw 11...Nd5 12.Nc3 Qb8!?, trying to sideline White by pressuring e5. However, after 13.a4 b5 White essayed a nice, low-risk pawn sacrifice with 14.Ne4!?. He quickly obtained full compensation (plus interest!) after 14...Qxe5 15.Be3 a5?! 16.Rfd1 Qc7 17.Bd4! e5 18.Bc5 Bxc5 19.Nxc5.

In Agrest - Grandelius Black instead preferred 11...Nd7. Here White is even more ready to pitch the e-pawn, and Agrest's 12.Nc3!? is the most flexible and ambitious. Black is up against a number of tempting ideas: Nc3-e4, Rf1-d1, Bc1-f4, a2-a4, etc. He has tried various ways to complete development from this position, but the practical results have thus far been heavily in White's favor (+6 =4 -0). Grandelius courted disaster with 13...c5 14.Ne4 Nxe5? and after 15.a4!? b4 16.Rfc1 c4 17.Bxe5 Qxe5 18.Qxc4 Rd8:

the retribution was swift: 19.Nf6+ gxf6 20.Bxb7 and Black didn't last much longer.

Overall, I get the impression that the line with 10.Ne5! is much easier for White to handle absent some very targeted preparation from the opponent. These two games with 7.Qb3!? suggest that it may be in no way inferior to the traditional 7.Qc2. Theory is developing EXTREMELY rapidly in these sharp lines, so keep your eyes peeled!

In a return to calmer waters, we have a look at the historically most popular fifth move, 5...Nbd7. Following 6.Qxc4 a6, White has the same choice of queen retreats as he does in the line 5...c6 6.Qxc4 b5. Naiditsch - Papin continued 7.Qb3!? c5 8.a4 (the principle downside of 5...Nbd7 compared to the 5...c6 6.Qxc4 b5 line - Black will often find it difficult to break with ...b7-b5) 8...Rb8 9.a5!?:

White is employing a basic restriction concept. If unopposed, his typical plan involves d2-d3, 0-0, Bc1-d2, and Nb1-a3-c4, controlling many key squares and keeping Black very tied down. Two responses are likely: 1) Black plays ...e6-e5 to try and develop the bishop along the c8-h3 diagonal, and/or 2) Black plays ...b7-b5, accepting "c" and "a" pawn weaknesses. In either case I believe White should have a nice, workable advantage. Papin chose a unique continuation with 9...Bd6 10.d3 Nd5, and here 11.Nc3! was a good adjustment by Naiditsch.

Réti - Reversed Benoni [A09]

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 (despite the prevalence of 2...c6 and 2...c6 , Delchev calls 2...d4 "the most unpleasant retort to 2.c4") 3.b4:

Delchev's thesis in "The Modern Réti" is that White does not stand to gain an advantage against the Reversed Benoni with slower plans. Thus, he says, the first player should be keen to use his tempo to immediately destroy Black's center. His analysis suggests that Black has an easier time in the lines 3.g3 Nc6 and 3.e3 Nc6, so he predicts that the ambitious 3.b4 will be increasingly debated at Grandmaster level - especially (in his opinion) the lines with 3...f6 followed by 4...e5.

Instead, Sadorra - Kacheishvili saw 3...c5 4.e3. Here the gambit-accepted continuation 4...dxe3 5.fxe3 cxb4 is a strange omission from "The Modern Reti", as it must be critical. Moreover, 4...dxe3 is approximately three times more popular than any other continuation on move four (Delchev only gives 4...f6, with a likely transposition to 3...f6 lines). "Official" theory is pretty sketchy here (Black has yet to commit a piece yet, so he especially has a ton of flexibility), but in 71 of 86 games White has chosen 6.d4. Sadorra tried the "Benko-style" 6.a3!? and obtained compensation after 6...bxa3 7.Bxa3 Nf6 8.Nc3 g6 9.Be2 (9.d4 is probably better, as I discuss) 9...Bg7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Rb1 Nc6 12.d4 b6 13.Kh1 (13.Bd3) 13...Bf5:

Now Sadorra employed a Delchev-inspired idea with 14.Rb5?! (see p. 39 of Delchev's book for a similar lift), but the rook is occupying a rather unstable post in this instance. Still, it appears that White can expect reasonable compensation with either 6.a3!? or the usual 6.d4.

4...dxe3 is a small but important omission by Delchev and Chess Stars, but - all told - it hardly detracts from the highly impressive work and analysis that went into "The Modern Reti: An Anti-Slav Repertoire". I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

King's English 3...d5, Reversed Dragon [A29 + A22]

Switching gears, we consider Eljanov - Salgado Lopez: 1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Nc3 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 8.a3 0-0 9.b4 Be6 10.Rb1 f6 11.d3 Nd4:

Topalov used this principled continuation to achieve near-effortless equality against Navara at this year's Wijk aan Zee event. The promising Spanish Grandmaster Ivan Salgado Lopez has worked as a second for the former World Champ, so it is not surprising that he would also prefer 11...Nd4. He probably wasn't expecting 12.Nh4!?, though! It's likely that Eljanov executed this novelty with few pretensions that it was any better than the standard choices. In fact, he would probably admit that 12.Nh4 is a rather awkward and unpromising looking move! Still, he knows that successful tournament chess has at least as much to do with forcing your opponent to solve unique practical problems as it does with the relative strength of any given move. In that respect, 12.Nh4!? certainly has a right to exist. Salgado Lopez responded with the unnecessarily mild 12...Qc8?!, and after 13.e3 Nf5 14.Nxf5 Bxf5 15.Ne4 c6 16.Nc5! the novelty had achieved its aim. Instead, 12...g5 appears to provide Black fully adequate play.

Finally, in Turov - Potapov we encounter 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.e3 c5 7.Nge2 Nc6 8.0-0 Be7 9.f4 exf4 10.Nxf4 0-0 11.b3 Bf5 12.Bb2 Qd7 13.Ne4:

...for the third consecutive month!

Here both the source game Nakamura-Navara and the subsequent game Griffiths-Howell saw 13...Rad8, which still looks promising for White at the moment. Potapov tried to improve with 13...Nb4?!, but after 14.a3 N4d5:

Turov played 15.Nd3! and obtained a big advantage after 15...Rac8?! 16.Rc1 Bxe4 17.Bxe4. White's 15th move bears a strikingly similarity to Nakamura-Navara (17.Nh5!). Black's knights are rather superfluous, whereas White's contain plenty of dynamic potential. Black is already under significant pressure here, so I believe 13...Nb4 ought to be discarded.

Until next time, John

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