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In this Update we look at Larsen’s Opening with the move order 1 Nf3 and 2 b3, as well as critical lines in the anti-Slav and Symmetrical Four Knights.

Download PGN of March ’20 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 c5 [A03]

A flexible way to aim for Larsen's Opening is to start with 1 Nf3 and play 2 b3, since this avoids the 1 b3 e5 complex. Of course, Black has many options, and in Wadsworth, M - Parligras, M we look at what happens when Black plays a classical d-pawn setup with reversed colours, starting with 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 c5 3 e3 Nc6. After a logical sequence of developing moves, the players arrived at the following position after White’s 11th move:

This is something of a tabiya for this line, and has featured in classic games such as Nimzowitsch-Spielmann 1927 and Fischer-Mecking 1970. White's kingside attacking ideas can look enticing, but modern engines assess that Black is generally in good shape, especially if he keeps the pawn structure fluid. In this month’s game, Black played the rather committal 11...d4 and 13...f5 to fix the pawn structure. Out of the opening, White achieved an edge due to his stable space advantage, and eventually won after many ups and downs.

Larsen’s Opening, 1 Nf3 c5 2 b3 Nc6 [A04]

Vallejo Pons, F - Edouard, R showed another important idea after the sequence. 1 Nf3 c5 2 b3 Nc6 3 Bb2 d6:

Black is planning to create a dark-squared pawn chain with ...e7-e5, stifling the Larsen bishop. Vallejo countered with 4 d4!, going for a kind of pseudo open Sicilian which continued 4...cxd4 5 Nxd4 e5 6 Nxc6 bxc6. White then fianchettoed both bishops to put pressure on Black's central pawns. This worked out well in the game, as Black faltered in the early middlegame.

Gurevich’s Anti-Slav System [A11]

This month we look at two games in the popular anti-Slav system starting with 1 c4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e3 Nf6 4 Nc3.

In Duda, J - Firouzja, A Black went for a Semi-Slav setup with 4...e6. After 5 b3, 5...Nbd7 is the most common, but Firouzja’s move order 5...Bd6 6 Bb2 0-0 keeps options for the b8-knight while aiming for an early ...e6-e5:

Here most high-level games continue with either 7 d4 (transposing to a Semi-Slav) or the flexible 7 Be2. In the notes, I give an overview of the current state of theory for the latter move. Duda instead continued ambitiously with 7 Qc2 e5 8 Be2 e4 9 Ng5?! but soon landed in difficulties as Black secured a solid grip on the centre.

Demuth, A - Admiraal, M varied from the above with 4...Nbd7. Black goes for a direct approach with an immediate ...e7-e5. After 5 Qc2 e5 6 cxd5 Nxd5, White in turn went for the most principled try 7 d4, fighting for the centre:

This is a little explored position, only featuring on a dozen or so games in the database. After 7...Nb4 8 Qb1 exd4 9 Nxd4 a tense battle ensued. White hopes for some kingside play with his 4vs.3 pawn majority, but Black has quick development and no tangible weaknesses. White blundered material on move 20 (although he still drew the game!), but up to that point there are some interesting theoretical points, analyzed in the notes.

Neo-Catalan, 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 a6 [A13]

After 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2, Sjugirov, S - Zvjaginsev, V, featured the rare choice 3...a6!?:

Black plans to capture the c4-pawn and hints at a later ...b7-b5. With 4 Nf3 dxc4 5 0-0, White waited for Black to show his hand before going after the recovery of the c4-pawn. Black has tried direct ways of holding on to the pawn, but instead chose 5...Nf6 6 Qc2 Nbd7!?. Now 7 a4 Nc5 8 Na3 didn’t promise much after Black's accurate reply 8...b5!, and White went wrong with 10 Nd4?! allowing Black to win two pieces for the rook Instead 8 Qxc4 is White’s best chance for an opening advantage.

Réti Double Fianchetto vs. QGD setup [A14]

Sarana, A - Aleksandrov, A began with the standard double fianchetto Réti after 1 g3 d5 2 Bg2 Nf6 3 Nf3 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 c4 0-0 6 b3 c5 7 Bb2 Nc6 8 e3 b6. Here the mainline is 9 Nc3 but after 9 Qe2 White went for a setup with Nb1-d2:

White intends a long-term build up on the kingside, which Black countered with the space gaining 11...a5 and 14...d4, but 17...f5?! created weaknesses that White was able to exploit. Everything was going great for White until a blunder on move 41 turned the game on its head. The resulting endgame is worth checking out for its very unusual material balance.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 [A33]

Navara, D - Grandelius, N revisits the traditional mainline in the Four Knights with 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nb3. Boris Gelfand has revived this line with some new ideas for White, one of which we looked at in the January 2020 Update. The key position arises after 7...Ne5 8 e4 Bb4 9 Qe2 d6 10 Bd2 a5:

Now 11 0-0-0 is an uncommon move which Gelfand ventured at the recent World Rapids and Navara repeats in this month’s game. Following 11...a4 12 Na1, White plans to reroute the knight via the c2-square and consolidate his central setup. Given time, White's "Maroczy" space advantage should give him an edge, so Black should try and disrupt White's coordination as soon as possible. 12...0-0 was perhaps a little too slow, but after White’s central break 15 e5 a sharp and murky position arose, which eventually swung in White’s favour.

Symmetrical English Three Knights 3...g6 4 e3, 8...e6 [A35]

Keymer, V - Werle, J featured 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 g6 4 e3 Nf6 5 d4 cxd4 6 exd4 d5, a sharp line that has often been debated in high-level games:

In this position, 10 0-0 0-0 11 Bxc6 bxc6 is considered the mainline, but Keymer instead ventured the forcing 10 Bg5 Qb6 11 Qa3, aiming to disrupt Black's development. Later, 15 Ne5+?! was a tempting move, but Black had the chance to get the upper hand if he had found 18...Qb7! instead of 18...exd4 which led to equal chances. This game confirmed the verdict that Black is fine if he knows his way around this variation.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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