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This Update features top players in action over the board and online, including three games with the World Champion behind the White pieces after 1 c4 e5. Of special note is Nakamura’s fresh idea 8 Qc2 in the critical 6...Bc5 line of the Reversed Dragon.

Download PGN of March ’22 Flank Openings games

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King’s Indian Attack, 6...Nc6 7 d4 [A07]

After the opening moves 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 0-0 6 Nbd2, the most common reply is 6...c5, leading to the mainline of the King's Indian Attack. In Rapport, R - Nakamura, H, however, Black instead opted for 6...Nc6, threatening to occupy the centre with 7...e5. White can of course go ahead with 7 e4, but with Rapport’s 7 d4, White invests a tempo to fight for the e5-square, and hopes to exploit the awkwardly placed c6-knight.

As this position had featured in at least two of Richard’s games, Nakamura was well prepared, and continued with 7...Ne4 8 c3 f5 9 Ne1 e5, an ambitious attempt to control the centre. The ensuing novelty 11...b6! enabled Black to probe the light squares, while White’s dark-squared bishop remained locked inside the pawn chain. After that, Black was never in trouble, and White needs to look for earlier improvements.

Réti Opening, Lasker’s System [A07]

Sanal, V - Lie, K reached the diagram position after the following typical moves in the Réti Opening: 1 Nf3 d5 2 b3 Bf5 3 Bb2 e6 4 g3 Nd7 5 Bg2 h6 6 0-0 Ngf6 7 d3 c6 8 Nbd2:

In this position, the move 8...Bc5?! appears in over 130 games in my database, but hands White a great opportunity to play 9 e4! ”free of charge“. Now grabbing the e4-pawn with 9...dxe4 10 dxe4 Bxe4? just didn’t work, since after 11 Nxe4 Nxe4 12 Bxg7 Rg8 13 Bxh6 Black was a pawn down with an unsafe king. The key lesson from this game is the need for Black to take prophylactic measures against White's e2-e4 thrust. This can be done with a more careful early move order - see for example Caruana-Giri in last month’s Update.

Anti-QGD System, 4...Bd6 [A17]

In Artemiev, V - Ding Liren, the players arrived at a popular tabiya after 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3. Now the most common move is 4...Be7, but with 4...Bd6, Black wants to post his dark-squared bishop on a square where it is more active in some of the typical structures that arise from this variation. Play continued with 5 b3 b6 6 cxd5 exd5 7 Bb2 0-0:

Black has prioritized quick development and skipped the common idea ...a7-a6 which secures the d6-bishop. Artemiev continued with 8 Nb5, calling Black's bluff for the omission of said move ...a7-a6. After 8...Be7 9 Be5 Black has to play accurately, and after 9...Ne8 10 Rc1 c5 11 Bxb8 Rxb8?! 12 Nxa7 White’s pawn-grabbing mission was justified, as Black didn’t get enough compensation.

Mikenas Attack 3...c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 d4 [A19]

An interesting line of the 3...c5 Mikenas arises after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 d4 cxd4 6 Qxd4 Nc6 7 Qf4. White’s 7th move was pioneered by Daniil Dubov (see the February 2020 Update), and has been tested in a number of games since.

The game Rozum, I - Chatalbashev, B proceeded with 7...Nge7 8 Nf3 Ng6. This is a direct challenge to White’s opening, since Black intends to simply win the e5-pawn. Here White needs to find the strong (but decentralizing) move 9 Qg3! as explained in the notes to the game. Instead after the natural move 9 Qe4, and 9...Qa5 10 Bd2 Ngxe5 11 Nxe5 Qxe5 12 Qxe5 Nxe5, White had to seek activity as compensation for the missing pawn. In the game, however, Black gradually consolidated and won in the endgame.

King’s English 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2 g6 4 Nc3 Bg7 5 e3 [A25]

Carlsen, M - Artemiev, V opened with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2 g6 4 Nc3 Bg7 5 e3. Now Black most often develops the g8-knight to the e7-square, but Artemiev has shown a preference for the setup 5...Nf6:

Here a slow build up is possible, and 8 d3 was chosen by Carlsen in an earlier online game with the same opponent, but this time Magnus chose the principled 8 d4. Black fought back in the centre with the intricate sequence 8...exd4 9 exd4 Re8 10 h3 Ne7 11 Re1 c6 12 Bf4 d5. After the space-gaining 13 c5, Black would be fine after 13...Nf5, but instead after 13...Ne4 and 15...Nf5, he remained a pawn down and never got back into the game.

King’s English 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 e3 Nc6 4 a3 d5 [A25]

After 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 e3 Nc6, we have looked in the past at the offbeat 4 g4 (even played by Carlsen himself), but in Carlsen, M - Nepomniachtchi, I, White went for a conventional reversed Sicilian with 4 a3, which was followed up by 4...d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Qc2:

We now have a standard Sicilian Taimanov with reversed colours. Does the extra tempo promise White chances for an edge? Not on the evidence of this game, as Black got a decent position with accurate, active play. After 6...Nxc3 7 Qxc3 Bd6 8 b4 Bd7 9 Nf3 Qe7 10 Bb2 f6 11 b5, the thematic idea 11...Nd4! freed Black’s position, after which he had no issues.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 6...Bc5 [A29]

The 6...Bc5 variation starting with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Bc5 has been covered quite a few times on this site, since its introduction by Grischuk in 2017. An important branching point occurs after 7 0-0 0-0:

Earlier games had focused on the 8 d3 and 8 Nxd5. In the FIDE Grand Prix clash Nakamura, H - Esipenko, A, Hikaru broke new ground with the very rare choice 8 Qc2!?. Black has several options here, which will no doubt be tested in future games. Esipenko continue with 8...Nf6, avoiding any tactics involving Nc3xd5 and Nf3-g5. After 9 a3 Nd4 10 Nxd4 exd4 11 b4 Bb6 12 Na4 White picked up the bishop pair, and had pressure along the c-file. Nakamura converted in an impressive performance.

In Carlsen, M - Le, Q, played online a few weeks after the previous game, Black varied from Esipenko's 9...Nd4 with 9...Bb6:

Here 10 b4 (pre-empting ...a7-a5) comes into consideration, while the game continued 10 e3 a5 11 b3 Bg4 12 Bb2 Qd7 13 Na4 Rfe8 14 d4. Here Black went astray with 14...Bxf3, ceding control of the light squares in order to capture the d4-pawn, but the resulting complications favoured White.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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