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This month’s Update highlights new ideas in several key lines of the English, as well as a top-level clash with Larsen’s 1 b3.

Download PGN of May ’18 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening 1...e5, 4...e4 [A01]

In Larsen’s Opening after 1 b3 e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3 Nf6 4 Bb5, the move 4...Bd6 represents the mainline, which we have of course covered many times on this site. Nakamura, H - Shankland, S, however, featured the fresh move 4...e4!?:

Rather than defending the e5-point, Black gains space and hopes to probe the light squares in White's setup. The trade-off is that White’s b2-bishop is given more scope, so an unbalanced fight is in prospect. This used to be a very rare choice, but has been featured in some recent rapid and blitz games involving top players. Given Nakamura's decision to play 1 b3 in this critical encounter at the US Championship, we now get to see it played in a high-level classical game. As the game unfolded, White castled queenside, but Shankland was able to build up a powerful attack against White’s king.

Anti-QGD System, 1 c4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e3 Nf6 4 b3, 6...dxc4 [A13]

The anti-Queen’s Gambit line 1 c4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e3 Nf6 4 b3, together with the related 4 Nc3 followed by 5 b3, has been getting a lot of airtime in recent practice, and indeed was seen three times at the Grenke Classic! Black has a range of possible responses, and the theory of the line is still in its formative stages. In Naiditsch, A - Bluebaum, M, Black chose 4...Be7 followed by 6...dxc4, thereby avoiding positions where he has to defend an Isolated Queen's Pawn.

In these systems White faces a choice of whether to play normal developing moves and castle kingside, or go for double-edged attacking ideas. From the diagram position, Naiditsch continued with 8 Rg1!?, making is clear that he wanted to stir things up with an aggressive approach. After Bluebaum faltered in a complex position, White indeed got a big attack before the game ended in a highly eventful draw.

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

A topical line of the Mikenas is 3...d5 4 cxd5 exd5 5 e5 Ne4 6 Nf3 Bf5 and now the move 7 d3 is a recent addition to White's armoury. White clarifies the intentions of the e4-knight before developing further. In response, Levon Aronian introduced a new idea in his game against Carlsen at the Grenke Classic in April, with 9...c4!? leading to this position:

Black prevents the natural Bf1-d3, leaving his own f5-bishop in control of key central light squares. On the other hand, releasing the central tension should in theory strengthen White's hand, but in the stem game Levon was fine out of the opening. In the later game Tomashevsky, E - Aronian, L, Tomashevsky deviated from Carlsen’s 10 g3 with 10 a4, clamping down on Black’s queenside ambitions. Black held in both games, but there are a number of nuances examined in the notes.

King’s English, Keres System, 3 d4 e4 4 d5 [A20]

Lenderman, A - Xiong, J began with the well known 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 but took an original turn early on. First, with 4 d5!? White aimed to separate Black's e4-pawn from the rest of his structure. Then after 4...Bb4+ 5 Bd2 Black opted for an interesting pawn sacrifice with 5...e3!?:

In the game Black got decent compensation for the pawn, with a firm grip on the e5-square. White is in need of improvements, since the position proved easier for Black to play and he gradually took over the initiative.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e3 [A28]

Carlsen, M - Topalov, V featured the 4 e3 English, and after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3, the World Champion chose the recapture 6 bxc3. This has also been endorsed by Aronian (see the October 2017 Update), and appears to be taking over mainline status from the traditional move 6 Qxc3.

White hopes to make something happen with his two bishops and flexible pawn structure. The line is still sparsely explored, and the players were breaking new ground from move 10 onwards. Objectively, Black was fine out the opening, but Carlsen was able to outfox his opponent and finally bring the point home.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon mainline, 8 a3 a5 [A29]

In Giri, A - Carlsen, M, Carlsen won another game in the English, this time as Black, starting with a mainline Reversed Dragon. He steered the game in a sharp direction with the sacrificial 11...a4!?:

If White doesn't accept the offered pawn, he will have ceded significant queenside space, and Giri soon took the plunge. Black got compensation in the form of the two bishops and pressure against White's centre and kingside, which eventually proved too much for White to handle.

King’s English, Four Knights 5 Bg2 0-0 6 0-0 d6 [A29]

Ding Liren - Wojtaszek, R opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 and now Black avoided the critical mainline 5...0-0 6.0-0 e4 by playing the solid 5...d6 6 0-0 0-0 7 d3 Re8:

White had failed to demonstrate anything substantive here in recent games. Ding Liren, however, continued 8 Bd2, quietly picked up the two bishops and gradually improved his position. Although the win eluded him, his approach gives Black cause for concern in this setup.

Symmetrical English, Rubinstein Variation, 8 b3 [A34]

Maghsoodloo, P - Sethuraman, S, started with a Réti move-order but soon transposed to the Rubinstein variation of the English, where White goes for play against Black’s Maroczy Bind structure:

After 10...Be6, White went for the double-edged 11 Bxc6 bxc6, leading to a typically unbalanced scenario. White has a far superior pawn structure but his king is exposed due to the missing light-squared bishop. In the game, White outplayed his opponent on his way to winning the Sharjah Masters.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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