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The star of this month's update is undoubtedly Hikaru Nakamura, which is appropriate as he has just become the first American player to pass the 2800 barrier.

Download PGN of March '15 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening 4 b3 dxc4!? [A13]

Last weekend I was playing in a rapid tournament, and following 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 d5 4 b3 I had a little think and then decided to play 4...dxc4!? 5 bxc4 e5:

Curiously I had wondered about this possibility as White, but never before thought of playing it as Black. It is similar to the line 2...c6 3 g3 d5 4 b3 dxc4 5 bxc4 e5 which is quite promising for Black, except without the ...c6 move, as in my case I'd moved my e-pawn twice. I quickly gained a really nice position and won, which persuaded me to do some research. In fact it is pretty rare, and not at all fashionable, but scores well.

White has two main replies, 6 Bb2 (as in my game) which encourages the e-pawn to advance, see McNab - Cox, and the stronger 6 Nc3, which dissuades Black from pushing his e-pawn, or does it? See Mirzoev - Velten.

It's a line that's definitely worth keeping in your arsenal as a surprise weapon, as it completely changes the character of the position and forces White away from the fairly dull mainlines.

The Romanishin Gambit 5...Bb7 6 Nc3 [A13]

We've looked at this line quite a lot, but always concentrated on 5...c5 rather than the more popular 5...Bb7. In Ragger - Tomczak Marcus continued 6 Nc3 attacking the b-pawn, and after 6...b4 7 Na4 Be7 8 0-0 0-0 9 d4 d6 10 a3 a5 we reach a fairly standard type of position:

later Black played ...c5 and White exchanged on c5, then on d8, and played a promising ending where the knight on a4 pressed on c5 and dominated Black's dark-squared bishop. A very smooth performance, but after having analysed it my conclusion is that Black should keep the queens on the board, and then he has no real problems.

Réti Opening 4...Be7 classical mainline [A14]

The game Kramnik - Nakamura is a standard 4...Be7 Réti, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 O-O Be7 5 c4 O-O 6 b3 c5 7 Bb2 Nc6 except that instead of playing e3 and Qe2 White preferred 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 d4, heading for a Catalan type of position where his g2 bishop dominates it's c8 counterpart:

Actually, Stevie Gordon played this against me last year, so I can attest to it being more dangerous than it looks. However, Nakamura defused it easily and finished with a neat positional queen sacrifice to set up a type of fortress.

Mikenas Attack 3...d5 4 cxd5 exd5 5 e5 [A18]

Since 4 e5 d4 seems OK for Black, see my previous updates, it seems inevitable that the alternative 4 cxd5 exd5 5 e5 will become more popular. Howell - Kraemer continued 5...Ne4 6 d4 Bb4 7 Qa4+ Nc6 8 Bb5 Bd7 9 Nge2:

White scores well here, and Black has yet to find a perfect answer. This game was a smooth win for David ... with the exception of a couple of time trouble blips!

King's English 4...Bc5 5 a3 a6 [A25]

I was surprised to see that we hadn't covered 5...a6 before, mostly concentrating on 5...a5. Here Nakamura - Grandelius continued 6 e3 Ba7 7 Nge2 d6 8 b4 0-0:

I'm not sure White has any objective advantage here, but the game was a nice instructive crush.

Four Knights Main Line 4 g3 Bb4, 7 Ng5, 9 f3 exf3 [A29]

It's been a long while since I looked at the sharp line 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 O-O 6 O-O e4 7 Ng5 Bxc3 8 bxc3 Re8 9 f3 exf3 10 Nxf3 d5 11 d4, which used to be all the rage at the time of the Kasparov-Karpov matches:

Black almost always used to play 11...Ne4, but as you will see in my annotations he is really struggling here. Instead, in Aronian - Adams the English GM preferred 11...h6 and quickly got the advantage, so probably this is simply a better move.

Symmetrical 4 Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Ndb5 [A33]

Finally, 'Nakamura plays poker'!

Nakamura - Karjakin started 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Ndb5 Ne5 8 Bf4 Nfg4 9 Qa4:

Now this somewhat surprising idea, leaving the f2-pawn hanging with check, is known to lead to a forced draw after 9...g5!, but later Karjakin forgot the analysis (which, to be fair, is pretty complicated) and was soon completely lost.

I suppose this is the sort of line you can play occasionally as White, if Black can remember his theory you draw, and if not you might get a free point!

Till next time, Tony.

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