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Hi everyone!
This month saw a flurry of super tournaments, where we get to see the results of top players’ preparation. In this Update, we turn the spotlight on Levon Aronian, by featuring two of his wins that were instrumental in him dominating the Grenke Chess Classic.

Download PGN of May ’17 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System, 5 h3, 6 d4 [A07]

First of all, we continue on from last month’s exploration of Réti structures and move-orders. After 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Nf6 and now the idea 5 h3 Bh5 6 d4 has been played several times by Maxime Vachier Lagrave. White's setup with an early d2-d4, coupled with the inclusion of 5 h3 Bh5, is new for this site. Vachier-Lagrave, M - Bluebaum, M continued with 6...Nbd7 7 c4 c6 8 cxd5 exd5:

The position is sharper than it looks, and with 9 Qb3 Qb6 10 Qe3+, the pressure on the e-file means that White can hope to profit from Black's slight lag in development.

Meanwhile in Eljanov, P - So, W, the same setup was employed following 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 c6 4 0-0 Nd7 5 h3 Bh5 6 d4 e6 7 c4, but now Wesley So varied with 7...Be7, avoiding MVL’s line above.

Eljanov appeared to be well prepared for this, however, and with 8 Nc3 dxc4 9 b3!? offered an interesting positional pawn sacrifice.

Réti Opening, Anti-Slav Gambit, 4...dxc4 [A11]

In contrast to some of the quieter lines of the Réti, with the move-order 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 c6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 White is allowing, or inviting, the sharp anti-Slav gambit 4...dxc4. In Adams, M - So, W the players entered one of the mainlines with 5 0-0 Nbd7 6 Na3, and now 6...Nb6 7 Qc2 Be6 8 Ne5. White’s last move has been scoring well recently:

Here Black essayed 8...h5!? - an uncommon move, but one which Wesley So had played in a 2016 rapid game. Adams replied with the new move 9 b3, again (as in the Eljanov-So game above) offering a real gambit in order to open lines.

In Dubov, D - Anton Guijarro, D, following 4...dxc4 5 0-0 Nbd7 6 Na3, Black varied with 6...b5!?. This is a very rare move, hanging onto the pawn for now, and provoking White to take action along the h1-a8 diagonal:

Dubov responded with 7 Nd4 a6 8 d3, preferring open lines over material. White followed up aggressively with 11 Nxb4!?, sacrificing a piece to try and exploit Black's backward development.

Neo-Catalan 5 0-0 Nbd7 6 Qc2 [A13]

Aronian, L - Naiditsch, A opened with the Neo-Catalan 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 Nf3 dxc4. This approach has proven to be quite solid for Black in recent high-level encounters, especially when White spends time going after the c4-pawn with 5 Qa4+. Aronian therefore tried 5 0-0, which is a tricky move, hinting at a 'real' gambit and/or angling to regain the c4-pawn with Nb1-a3xc4.

Indeed, after 5...Nbd7 6 Qc2 c5 7 Na3 White could recapture the c4-pawn with the knight, without worrying about ...Bf8xa3. Black was outplayed over the next few moves, giving Aronian a clear lead in development which he exploited in instructive fashion. Black should look to more flexible earlier moves such as 5...a6.

Symmetrical English 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 e5 4 e3 Nf6 [A34]

1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 Nc3 e5 is an important variation which has been championed by Vachier Lagrave, Grischuk and others from the Black side. In Aronian, L - Vachier-Lagrave, M, play continued 4 e3 Nf6 5 d4 and now 5...e4 is the move of choice at the top level. With 6 d5 exf3 7 dxc6 dxc6 8 Qxd8+ Kxd8 9 gxf3, MVL repeated the line that secured him a comfortable draw against Aronian at the 2015 London Chess Classic.

The earlier Aronian-MVL game (and the engine evaluation) had given the impression that Black was comfortably equal. Aronian had looked deeper, however, and found that the position is a little easier for White to play. Starting with the improvement 13 Ne4!, he managed to outplay his opponent in the subsequent struggle.

Symmetrical English 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 d5, 7 Ng5 [A34]

In the common symmetrical line 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 g6, Black is very solid in typical mainlines, so White has been looking for ways to generate more dynamic play. One of these is the move 7 Ng5 which is met by 7...e6, asking White to justify the tempi spent move the knight around.

Now a topical continuation is 8 d3 Bg7 9 Nge4 which was introduced by Svidler in the 2016 Candidates. The current mainline there, however, leads to a forced draw (!) that has been played out in several games (see the June 2016 Update on this site), including Svidler-Gelfand in this month’s Zurich tournament.

Instead, in the game Nepomniachtchi, I - Anand, V, White tried the immediate 8 Nge4!? but this was met with the principled 8...f5, leading to a space advantage for Black. Nepomniachtchi nevertheless managed to generate some play, and even went on to win the game.

Pure Symmetrical, 5 e3 e5 Botvinnik System [A36]

Nakamura, H - Svidler, P began with 1 c4 g6 2 Nc3 c5 3 g3 Bg7 4 Bg2 Nc6 5 e3 and now with the setup 5...e5 (rather than the tame 5...e6) 6 Nge2 Nge7 7 0-0 0-0, Black signifies his intention to go for a fighting game:

This clash of structures is more often seen at club/master level than at the elite level, and so this is a good chance to see how the top players proceed. The game contained instructive moments connected with good vs. bad bishops, and some surprising tactical points.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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