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One of the most notable recent trends in the Réti/English complex is the tendency for leading players to play an early h2-h4 thrust in a wide range of positions. In last month's Candidates we saw Karjakin and Svidler play 'h4' novelties on move 9 or 10, and this month Adhiban and Wang Yue follow suit - it's h4 with everything! Also this month, look out for some tricky move-orders across the spectrum of Flank Openings.

Download PGN of May ’16 Flank Openings games

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Anti-Grünfeld 1 c4 g6 2 e4 e5 3 Nf3 [A10]

In the Anti-Grünfeld line 1 c4 g6 2 e4 e5, by playing 3 Nf3 White avoids the sharp line starting with 3 d4 Nf6 that featured in Potkin-Wei Yi in the March 2016 Update. In Lenderman - So, after 3...Bg7 4 d4 exd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 Nc3 0-0 7 Be2 Re8 8 f3 c6, we arrive at a Maroczy Bind vs King's Indian structure:

One advantage of Black's move-order is that he can play ...d7-d5 in one go, not having spent a tempo on ...d7-d6 as in a regular KID. In this encounter, Wesley So showed some deep preparation and won the opening battle (although not the game). Unless a significant improvement can be found, White should stick with 3 d4.

Réti Opening 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 c6 4 c4 g6 5 b3 [A11]

Aronian - Carlsen opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 c6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 g6, and Aronian entered the double-fianchetto set up with 5 b3. After 5...Bg7 6 Bb2 0-0 7 0-0 Carlsen chose 7...dxc4!? 8 bxc4 c5 - a rather rare continuation, which has nevertheless been played by Svidler, Gelfand, So and others:

As Black gives his opponent a central pawn majority, it is strategically committal but Black had scored reasonably well in earlier high-level games. A few moves in, however the position was already a little awkward for Black, and things went downhill surprisingly quickly in the early middlegame.

Réti Anti-QGD System [A13]

After Karjakin's critical Candidates win over Anand, (covered in last month's Update), it is not surprising that other players would explore Karjakin's new idea involving an early h2-h4. Indeed, Adhiban - Gagare started 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 b3 Be7 5 Bb2 0-0 6 Nc3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Qc2 Nc6 9 a3 b6 10 h4:

This is the position where Anand played 10...f5, ruling out a kingside attack but creating some static weaknesses. After that game, there was a lot of speculation around what would happen if Black varies here. After Gagare's 10...Bf6, we get some more insight into some of the possibilities. In fact Adhiban built up a raging attack, and narrowly missed out on scoring a quick win. So Black is still looking for the antidote to this new variation!

Neo-Catalan 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 dxc4 4 Qa4+ Nd7 [A13]

Aronian - Eljanov opened with 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 dxc4 4 Qa4+ Nd7 5 Qxc4 c5 6 Nc3 Ngf6 7 d3 Be7 8 Nf3 b6:

This and related neo-Catalan lines have proved to be a tough nut for White to crack, with Eljanov himself scoring well here. The lack of immediate pressure on Black's centre means that he can get easier development than is possible in the mainline Catalan. In this game Black emerged from the opening with a promising position and chances to push for an advantage. Eljanov missed some opportunities around moves 19-22 however, and Aronian gradually took over.

Romanishin Gambit [A13]

Kramnik - Harikrishna started with 1 Nf3 e6 2 g3 b5 3 e3 - a remarkable (almost) new idea at move 3!

Kramnik wanted his pawn on e3 to support a later d2-d4, and playing it now gains a tempo by forcing 3...a6. In fact, after 4 Bg2 Bb7 5 0-0 Nf6 6 b3 c5 7 c4 Be7 8 Nc3 the game transposed into the Romanishin gambit, which normally opens 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 a6 4 Bg2 b5 etc:

After 8...0-0 9 d4 a Catalan-style position was soon reached where Kramnik had just enough to work with and managed to outplay his opponent.

Réti Double Fianchetto v QGD setup [A14]

Robson - Shankland, reached a well known tabiya after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 b3 0-0 6 Bb2 b6 7 c4 Bb7 8 e3 c5 9 Nc3 but here Black essayed the almost unknown 9...Qc8:

Black enables a quick ...Rf8-d8, and supports ...Bb7-a6, attacking White's queen should it move to the e2-square. In some circumstances, the queen can also go to the b7-square to form a battery down the long diagonal. With this fresh idea, Shankland managed to equalize remarkably easily. White will need something new to fight for an advantage in this line if others follow Shankland's lead.

Symmetrical English 3...d5, 5 e4 [A34]

Wang Yue-Salem started with the topical line 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4 6 Bc4 Nd3+ 7 Ke2 Nf4+ 8 Kf1 Ne6. Here the modern mainline starts with 9 b4 while 9 Ne5 is the older move. Instead Wang Yue unleashed the remarkable 9 h4!?:

Essentially this is a prophylactic move, cutting across Black's preferred development plan of 9...g6 followed by ...Bf8-g7. Wang Yue scored a smooth victory, squeezing his opponent on both sides of the board. This reinforces the trend towards an early h4 in all kinds of Flank Openings, and gives White a new weapon in this important variation.

Pure Symmetrical 5 e3 e6 [A36]

In the Pure Symmetrical English with 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 g3 g6 4 Bg2 Bg7 5 e3 e6, although White's setup looks harmonious, this line has a very drawish reputation, simply because Black can copy everything White does!

In Guo Qi-Yuan Ye however, White played a nuanced move-order, while Black continued to simplify according to the standard recipe. In the game, the following position was reached after 16 moves:

This is definitely a position that Black should avoid, as the powerfully centralized d5-knight dominates the board. After further mistakes, White won quickly from here. Although Black should be fine in this opening, knowledge of the subtleties is needed. A cautionary tale!

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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