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In this Update we look at a number of surprising dynamic ideas in the English for both White and Black.

Download PGN of May ’19 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening, 1...e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3 g6 [A01]

We last looked at 1 b3 e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3 g6 in the March 2019 Update, when Wei Yi used it to score a convincing win playing Black. To balance the coverage, we now find out how he handles it from White's perspective! That earlier game featured 4 h4?!, while Wei Yi - Xu Yi instead saw 4 f4:

White’s 4th move is a logical idea, exploiting the pin on the e5-pawn. After a later trade of pawns on the e5-square, the players reached an unusual structure and a lightly explored position. Despite Wei Yi’s attempts to mix things up, Black managed to equalize, and only lost after misplaying a level endgame.

English Defence, 1 c4 b6 2 Nc3 Bb7 3 e4 e5 [A10]

The game Naiditsch, A - Meier, G opened with 1 c4 b6 2 Nc3 Bb7 3 e4 - the English Defence to the English Opening! Now Meier essayed 3...e5!?, a comparatively rare but tricky line, played a number of times by Morozevich. Play soon left known theory and escalated into a wild encounter.

Initially, White adopted a Botvinnik-style set up with 4 Nge2, 5 g3 and 6 Bg2, to which Black responded aggressively, first with 6...h5 and later with 9...f5. The early opening of lines played into White’s hands, however. With Black’s king caught in the centre, Naiditsch’s 15 Ne6 established a powerful knight in the heart of Black's position.

Symmetrical English, Anti-Hedgehog System 5 e4 [A17]

1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 c5 3 g3 e6 4 Nf3 b6 5 e4 is an anti-Hedgehog idea that we examine in Ding Liren - Jakovenko, D. After 5...Bb7 Ding Liren had played 6 d3 against Kramnik at the 2018 Candidates, but this time varied with the more direct 6 Qe2:

After some move order nuances, the players reached a typical Hedgehog structure, but with two pairs of minor pieces exchanged. This made it harder for Black to achieve the typical dynamic breaks ...b6-b5 and ...d6-d5, while Black’s kingside was also slightly weakened by the move ...g7-g6. Ding Liren exploited these factors to tip the balance in his favour.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 Qxc3 Qe7 7 d4 [A28]

The variation 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 Qxc3 Qe7 7 d4 is a topical line in the 4 e3 Four Knights, see for example Caruana - Ding Liren from the October 2018 Update. Until recently, however, almost no-one had thought of playing 7...e4!?:

Black’s 7th is a strategically ambitious move. Black claims a space advantage on the kingside, while allowing White a freer hand on the queenside. White immediately has to make an important decision on where to place his f3-knight. A few recent games (referenced in the notes) saw 8 Nd2, while So, W - Liang, A continued with 8 Ng1!?, followed by re-routing his knight via e2 to the f4-square. A double-edged battle eventually swung in favour of the younger GM.

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

The line 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Bc5 was tested twice in the Carlsen-Caruana World Championship match (see the December 2018 Update). In Carlsen, M - Giri, A, after 7 0-0 0-0 8 d3, Black was the first to vary from those games with 8...h6, preventing Bc1-g5 ideas. After all the knights were traded, Black seemingly has a solid position, but Carlsen created dynamic chances with the surprising 17 f4!?:

Starting with this thrust, and after sacrificing the e3-pawn, Carlsen conjured attacking chances seemingly out of nowhere and won a great game.

Reversed Dragon Mainline 8 d3 0-0 9 Be3 Re8 [A29]

Ding Liren - Harikrishna, P varied from the previous game (after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2) with 6...Nb6, the traditional mainline of the Reversed Dragon. White most common plan involves queenside expansion with a2-a3 and b2-b4, but in this game Ding Liren instead went for an early Bc1-e3 and play on the c-file.

It is usually in White's favour to provoke ...f7-f6 as it slightly weakens the light squares in Black's camp, and from the diagram position White invested a whole tempo to make this happen with 11 Bg5!? f6 12 Be3. Still, Black reached a balanced position in the early middlegame. Ding Liren nevertheless managed to outplay his opponent in instructive fashion, starting from an endgame where he started with only the faintest of edges.

Symmetrical English, Double Fianchetto Mainline 14...Ba8 15 g4 b5 16 g5 [A30]

1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 b6 3 g3 c5 4 Bg2 Bb7 5 0-0 g6 is the starting point of the Double Fianchetto defence in the Symmetrical English. Here, if White wants to steer the game into quieter waters, the mutual double fianchetto can be played, starting for example with 6 b3 Bg7 7 Bb2. Instead Erdos, V - Livaic, L, started with 6 Nc3 Bg7 7 d4 and entered one of the most deeply explored theoretical lines of this opening.

This variation peaked in popularity around 5-6 years ago, but Erdos showed that there is some merit in revisiting such "unfashionable but complex" variations. His 22 Nf5!? was the first new move of the game, and a good practical try that threw Black off balance.

Symmetrical English 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2 Nxc3 [A34]

After 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 g3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2, the most common choice is the traditional Rubinstein Variation with 5...Nc7. Matlakov, M - Rodshtein, M instead continued with 5...Nxc3. In this line, Black simply trades knights and goes straight for a reversed Maroczy Bind structure with 6 bxc3 e5. Now Matlakov’s 7 Qa4+ is a rare move, but it makes some sense to force Black to make a difficult choice right away.

Here 7...Nc6!? was a new move, but a risky choice that leaves Black with a weak pawn structure in return for the two bishops following 8 Bxc6+ bxc6. White got the initiative with 10 d4, opening the centre while Black lagged in development, although Black managed to hold the resulting position.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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