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This Update focuses mainly on the English Opening, and features several novelties and creative ideas for both sides. White was by no means always better out of the opening, but somehow won all eight games!

Download PGN of May ’22 Flank Openings games

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Reversed Benoni, 8...Bd6 9 Bg5 [A13]

In Aronian, L - Robson, R, the players entered one of the mainlines of the Reversed Benoni after 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 d4 4 Nf3 c5 5 0-0 Nc6 6 e3 Nf6 7 exd4 cxd4 8 d3 Bd6. Now with 9 Bg5, White is happy to trade the c1-bishop and cause Black to lose some time moving the queen around. The following typical position was reached after 9...h6 10 Bxf6 Qxf6 11 Nbd2 Qe7 12 Re1 0-0:

White has a variety of ideas in these structures, but Aronian introduced an interesting "knight dance" concept to put pressure on Black's queenside, starting with 13 Nb3 Qf6 14 Nfd2 followed by 16 Nc5, 17 Na4 and 18 Nb3. This elaborate scheme culminated in White winning the d4-pawn with 19 Bxc6 and 20 Nxd4, although Black’s unopposed light-squared bishop should have given Black compensation. After an inaccuracy from Robson, however, White got a firm grip on the centre, and went on to win.

Mikenas Attack, 3...c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 Nf3, 13 Qb4 [A19]

In the Mikenas after 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 e4 c5 4 e5 Ng8, we have recently looked at the topical move 5 d4, but Keymer, V - Haria, R instead revisited the old long main line involving a pawn sacrifice, namely 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 d4 cxd4 7 Nxd4 Nxe5 8 Ndb5 a6 9 Nd6+ Bxd6 10 Qxd6 f6 11 Be3 Ne7 12 Bb6 Nf5 13 Qb4 Nc6 14 Qc5:

Now Black decided to give back the extra pawn immediately with 14...d6 15 Bxd8 dxc5 16 Bb6 Ne5 17 Bxc5. In return, Black established a well centralized knight pair supported by kingside expansion with 17...g5 and 18...h5. Black’s construction did a good job of neutralizing White’s bishop pair. Black was doing fine for most of the game, and only lost after slipping up late in the endgame.

King’s English, Keres System, 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 cxd5 6 e3 [A20]

After 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5, White usually continues 6 Nc2, when after 6...Nf6 7 Nc3 Qe5 8.Bg2 Na6 9 0-0 Be7 we reach a tabiya which has been debated in a number of top games (see the February 2022 Update, for example). This month, Iturrizaga Bonelli, E - Yuffa, D instead continued with the lesson common 6 e3 Bc5 7 Nc3 Qe5:

Now 8 f3 was a fresh idea that set Black some practical problems. After 8...Bxd4 9 exd4 Qxd4 10 Qe2 Nf6 11 fxe4 we reach a double-edged position, but in principle Black shouldn’t be worse. In the game, however, Black misjudged his king safety after 14...0-0-0, and was soon in trouble.

King’s English, Keres System, 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 4 Nc3 d5 5 Nh3 [A20]

The game Hjartarson, J - Niemann, H varied from the previous game with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4. Now following 3...e4 4 Nc3 d5, White essayed 5 Nh3, which is only the 3rd most popular try in this position.

Black answered with 5...h6, preventing White from achieving his ideal setup with Bc1-g5, followed by Nh3-f4. Following 6 cxd5 cxd5 7 Qb3 Nf6 8 Nf4 Nc6, White’s best option is to enter a concrete, forcing line starting with 9 Nfxd5. Instead, just defending the d4-pawn with 9 e3 led to a weakening of the light squares in White's camp. Black gradually established a commanding position, but faltered on move 20-21, allowing the former Candidate to turn the game around as Black’s setup collapsed.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Nd4 5 Bg2 Nxf3+ 6 Bxf3 Bc5 [A29]

In the Four Knights with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3, Black's main moves are of course 4...d5 and 4...Bb4. The alternative 4...Nd4 was particularly popular in the early 2000s, but is less fashionable these days. It still looks like a solid choice, however, and was featured in the game Caruana, F - Aronian, L which reached this position after 5 Bg2 Nxf3+ 6 Bxf3 Bc5:

Here White can start a fight for the centre with e2-e3 and d2-d4, while 7 d3 continues with quiet development, although this is less challenging for Black to deal with. Black equalized out of the opening, but later entered an endgame which ended up favouring White.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon, 5...Nb6, 8 b3 [A29]

In Robson, R - Aronian, L, the players entered a well-explored tabiya in the Reversed Dragon after 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e5 3 Bg2 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Nc3 Nb6 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 0-0 Be7, and here Robson’s 8 b3 is one of a number of valid setups for White. Following 8...0-0 9 Bb2 Re8 10 Rc1 Bf8 11 Ne4, Black should bolster the e5-pawn with 11...f6, while 11...a5 gave White a window of opportunity:

White seized the chance to play a thematic exchange sacrifice with 12 Rxc6!, which was all the better since White immediately picked up the e5-pawn as well. White was on top and won after further adventures.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nbd5 Ne5 8 Bf4 Nfg4 [A33]

The game Caruana, F - Dominguez Perez, L revisited the sharp variation arising after 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Ndb5 Ne5 8 Bf4 Nfg4 9 e3 a6. In this position, 10 Qa4 was examined in Predke-Vachier-Lagrave in last month’s Update, while a key alternative is 10 h3 axb5 11 hxg4 Nxc4:

From the diagram, 12 Rc1 is Giri's double-edged idea, while 12 Qb3 leads to a quieter endgame position. Instead, and it turned out that Fabiano had a surprise prepared for his opponent with the challenging novelty 12 g5. Among other things, White aims to tie up Black's kingside so that he can't safely castle there. Likely taken by surprise, Black responded with 12...d5, and after 13 a4 bxa4 14 Bxc4 dxc4 15 Rxa4 Rxa4 sought to resolve the tension by trading major pieces. This led, however, led to an endgame where White could play for two results.

Symmetrical English, Rubinstein Variation, 7 d3 e5 8 0-0 Be7 9 Nd2 0-0 [A34]

One of the mainline positions of the Rubinstein Variation arises after 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 Nc6 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Nc3 Nc7. There is a lot of theory to this line, although a lot of it dates back many years. The Rubinstein is less fashionable these days, so it was interesting to see it feature in this month’s Niemann, H - Ganguly, S.

From the diagram, the move is 10...Bd7 is a well-tested pawn sacrifice played by Kasparov back in the day, while Ganguly’s 10...f6 is a new move to this site. White decided not to go for the pawn-doubling 11 Bxc6, but instead chose 11 f4 exf4 12 Bxf4. After 12...Be6 13 Qb3 Rb8, however, the move 14 Bxc7 relieved the pressure on Black's position. Middlegame chances were finely balanced, but White eventually managed to outplay his opponent in the endgame.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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