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In this Update, we look at one of Ian Nepomniachtchi’s victories at the Candidates, as well as a range of instructive ideas in the English.

Download PGN of May ’21 Flank Openings games

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Neo-Catalan, 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 6 Qxc4 a6 7 Qc2 c5 8 Nc3 [A13]

In the Neo-Catalan after 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 dxc4 5 Qa4+, Black has three sensible ways of blocking the check. 5...Bd7 is a solid choice, while 5...c6 is examined in the next game below. In Nepomniachtchi, I - Alekseenko, K, Black played the most popular move 5...Nbd7, leading to the following position after 6 Qxc4 a6 7 Qc2 c5 8 Nc3:

The rule of thumb here is that Black is OK if he can secure his c8-bishop on the long h1-a8 diagonal. In the February 2021 Update, I included the game Donchenko-Esipenko where Black achieved that by means of 8...Qc7! 9 0-0 b6 10 d4 Bb7. Instead Alekseenko’s 8...Be7?! is a natural developing move, but White has scored heavily from this position. After the further inaccuracy 10...cxd4?!, White achieved a dream Catalan-style position, where the g2-bishop rules the board and it is hard for Black to develop his queenside pieces. The game looks one-sided, but Nepomniachtchi had to show accurate calculation to finish it off.

Neo-Catalan, 4 Qa4+ c6 5 Qxc4 b5 6 Qc2 Bb7 7 Nc3 a6 8 a4 [A13]

The Neo-Catalan with ...c6-c6 and ...b7-b5 has fallen out of the limelight, but remains a respectable choice for Black, as demonstrated in Christiansen, J-S - Le Quang Liem. The following typical position arose after 1 c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3 Bg2 dxc4 4 Qa4+ c6 5 Qxc4 b5 6 Qc2 Bb7 7 Nc3 a6 8 a4 Nd7 9 Nf3 Ngf6 10 0-0 Rc8:

Now White claimed some central space with 11 d3 and 12 e4, while Black expanded on the queenside with 13...Qb6 and 14...c5. In fact, White had a chance to put pressure on Black’s queenside with 16 axb5 axb5 17 b4, but instead opted for kingside action starting with 16 g4. It turned out that Black’s forces were well placed to deal with the opponent's oncoming kingside pawns, and Black gradually took over the initiative.

Anti-King’s Indian 3 b4, 5 e3 [A15]

Artemiev, V - Dubov, D featured an interesting anti-King's Indian (and anti-Grünfeld) system, that is quite rare at the top level. The position after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 b4 Bg7 4 Bb2 0-0 5 e3 is new to this site. It allows both players to engage in a strategic struggle while avoiding mainstream theory.

Black has a wide choice here including moves such as 5...b6 and 5...c6, but 5...d6 is Black's most popular approach, following standard KID development patterns.

After 6 Be2 e5 7 d3 Re8 8 0-0 Black went for the thematic 8...e4 break. While the resulting pawn structure arguably slightly favours White, Black generated enough activity to hold the balance.

Mikenas Attack, 3...d5 4 cxd5, 7 d3 [A18]

One of the modern mainlines in the Mikenas is reached after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 d5 4 cxd5 exd5 5 e5 Ne4 6 Nf3 Bf5 7 d3, and So, W - Aronian, L now proceeded with 7...Nxc3 8 bxc3 c5 9 d4 Qa5. This is the sharpest option at Black’s disposal, leading to the following critical position after 13 moves:

Here 14 cxd5 was a new move, but not one that should trouble Black. After 14...Bxd5 15 e6 White tried to open up Black's king, but fell well behind in development. On move 20, Black managed to force the trade of queens and was out of danger. From the diagram, 14 Ng5! is the critical test, and the latest games are examined in the notes.

King’s English, Keres System 3 Bg2 c6 4 Nf3 e4 5 Nd4 Qb6 [A20]

In the Keres System after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6 4 Nf3 e4 5 Nd4, the move 5...Qb6 leads to a topical line that was pioneered by Fabiano Caruana. Black puts immediate pressure on White's construction with ...a7-a5-a4 kicking White's knight around, and ...Bf8-c5 hitting the f2-pawn:

From the diagram, the mainline is 9 0-0 e3 which is very concrete and looks scary if White hasn’t prepared this line at home. In Markowski, T - Piorun, K, White instead chose the most common move 9 e3?!, but after 9...exd3, the problem for White is that it is hard to even regain the d3-pawn, and without that White cannot develop harmoniously. Black soon built up a commanding position and went on to win.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 Bc5 5 Nxe5 0-0 [A28]

Following 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4, the move 4...Bc5 is Black’s most principled reply, provoking the sharp 5 Nxe5. Now the mainline is 5...Nxe5 6 d4 Bb4 which we have looked at in previous Updates. In Vakhidov, J - Vokhidov, S, Black chose the rare gambit line 5...0-0!?, that has perhaps been underestimated.

After 6 Nf3 Nxe4 7 Nxe4 Re8 8 d3 f5 9 Be2 fxe4 10 dxe4 Qe7, Black remains a pawn down but gets compensating piece pressure on White’s centre. There may be a path to a slight edge for White, but in the game he didn’t prove it - Black was doing fine until erring in the endgame.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, 5 e4, 6 Bb5+ [A34]

In the line starting with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4 Nb4, the move 6 Bc4 (allowing 6...Nd3+) is a sharp option, which we have examined many times in earlier Updates. Instead Heberla, B - Tomczak, J continued with 6 Bb5+:

More often than not, this leads to the queenless middlegame reached after 6...N8c6 7 d4 cxd4 8 a3 dxc3 9 Qxd8+ Kxd8 10 axb4. Although this involves a pawn sacrifice, White gets full compensation, so it is a relatively low-risk approach for the first player. Instead of accepting the pawn with 10...cxb2, Black experimented with 10...g6?! but ended up defending a worse position, without having an extra pawn to show for it.

Symmetrical English, 7 d3 d5 [A38]

Radjabov, T - Jones, G opened with the Symmetrical English line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 g6 3 Bg2 Bg7 4 c4 c5 5 Nc3 0-0 6 0-0 Nc6 7 d3 d5 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 Nxd5 Qxd5 10 Be3 reaching this well known position:

Now 10...Bd7 is the mainline, which is known to be solid but rather dry. Instead, Black tried the more ambitious 10...Qd6. After 11 Rc1 Nd4 12 Nxd4 cxd4 13 Bd2, however, White secured a small but nagging advantage. The g2-bishop, combined with White's heavy pieces, put significant pressure on Black’s queenside.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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