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In this month’s Update, we look at some World Championship level preparation, alongside more improvised lines designed to throw the opponent off balance.

Download PGN of May ’23 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 g3 Nc6 [A09]

After the opening moves, 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4, 3 b4 is generally regarded as being critical, but the flexible 3 g3 is of course a typical Réti plan. In Indjic, A - Huschenbeth, N, Black continued in principled fashion with 3...Nc6 4 Bg2 e5 5 d3 Nf6 6 0-0 a5, controlling the dark squares and preventing the thematic b2-b4 push:

The question is whether White can take advantage of his lead in development. After 7 e3, 7...Bc5 would allow Black to recapture with the bishop on the d4-square, but in the game, after 7...Be7 8 exd4 exd4 9 Na3 0-0 10 Nb5, White had some pressure, since the b5-knight cannot easily be dislodged. In the middlegame, the advantage went back and forth, before White emerged with a victory.

Neo-Catalan, 4...dxc4 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 [A13]

In Neiksans, A - Gajewski, G, the players entered one of the mainlines of the Neo-Catalan starting with 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 Nf3 dxc4 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 6 Qxc4 a6 7 Qc2 c5 8 Nc3, which featured in important games in both the 2021 and 2022 Candidates tournaments.

From the diagram, the main move is 9...b6, but this month’s game saw the more ambitious 9...b5. Black grabs extra space on the queenside, but there is some strategic risk involved, since after 10 a4 b4 Black’s pawn structure becomes fixed. White was nursing a small advantage, until allowing Black to take over the initiative in the middlegame. Black was then pressing, although the game ended in a draw.

Réti Double Fianchetto vs. QGD setup 7 cxd5 [A14]

One of two games in this Update from the Ding Liren - Nepomniachtchi, I match opened with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 c4 0-0 6 b3 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Bb2 Nc6 9 d4 cxd4 10 Nxd4. This line is an attempt by White to squeeze out an edge in a symmetrical pawn structure, where White is ahead in development and the g2-bishop is better than the c8-bishop. White has scored over 60% from this position, including a decent share of wins at 2600+ level, but in this game Ian demonstrated strong preparation and precision.

From the diagram, 12...Nf4 is a tactical shot that secures the bishop pair and gives White doubled f-pawns. By move 22, White had entered a rook and bishop endgame with an extra pawn, but Black was able to hold with accurate play.

Anti-QGD System 4...Bd6 [A17]

Dardha, D - Tomczak, J opened with 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 b3 Bd6 5 Bb2 0-0 6 Nc3. Last month we looked at 6...Re8 7 Nb5, but 6...a6 prevents any Nc3-b5 sorties. In response, White lashed out with the aggressive 7 g4:

In the 2017 stem game for 7 g4, Anand grabbed the pawn with 7...Nxg4, while 7...dxc4 is a good approach for Black. In the game, after 7...Nc6 8 g5 Ne4 9 h4 Bb4 10 Qc2 Bxc3 11 dxc3 f5 12.0-0-0, White was doing very well, with better development and a big space advantage on the kingside.

King’s English, Keres System 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 Bb4+ [A20]

After 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4, Black most often continues with 3...e4 or 3...exd4, but 3...Bb4+ has been coming back into view. The position after 4 Bd2 Bxd2+ 5 Qxd2 d6 6 Nc3 Nf6 was reached in Yakubboev, N - Hovhannisyan, R:

Here, White has almost always castled short, usually choosing a setup involving either e2-e3 or e2-e4. Instead, 7 0-0-0 was an aggressive and rare choice. After 7...Nbd7 8 dxe5 Nxe5 9 e4 Be6, White can just capture the d6-pawn, while after 10 b3 Qa5 11 h3 b5 Black quickly drummed up play against White’s exposed king. Nevertheless, Black didn’t follow through as forcefully as possible, and White took control of the position.

King’s English 1 c4 e5 2 g3 d6 3 Nc3 f5 4 d4 [A21]

Svidler, P - Erigaisi, A began with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 d6 3 Nc3 f5. Now, the most common choice is 4 Bg2 followed by quiet development, while 4 d4 fights for the centre right away:

After 4...Be7 5 Nf3, Black reacted with the 5...e4 push, since now White is forced to spend time getting the knight to its optimal square. The game continued logically with 6 Nh4 c6 7 Ng2 Na6 8 h4 Nc7 9 Qb3 Nf6 10 Bg5 0-0 11 e3 Rb8 12 Nf4. Now 12...Ne6 actually loses the exchange by force. The odd thing is that this has all been played before, including a blitz game Svidler-Caruana, where Black held a draw through a kind of full-board fortress! In this month’s game, Black allowed some open lines on the queenside. This enabled White to gain traction with the extra material, and eventually bring home the full point.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 Bc5 [A28]

The game Ding Liren - Nepomniachtchi, I started with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4, and now the sharp 4...Bc5, instead of 4...Bb4 which leads to a more positional struggle. The diagram position was reached after 5 Nxe5 6 d4 Bb4 7 dxe5 Nxe4 8 Qf3 Nxc3 9 bxc3:

Now 9...Be7 is known to be problematic for Black, but 9...Ba5 10 Bf4 0-0 11 0-0-0 is the trendy line. Instead, 9...Bc5 was the start of more impressive preparation by Nepomniachtchi, and for a while followed an online game that he lost as White in 2020. 10 Qg3 forced a 10...Kf8 concession from Black, but it turns out that Black has a path to an acceptable/holdable position. After 11 Be2 d6 12 Bf4 Qe7 13 Rd1, 13...h5 was an important move, generating counterplay by hassling White's queen. By move 17, White had entered an endgame with an extra pawn, but only slim winning chances which didn’t grow into anything more.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 d4 [A28]

In the Four Knights with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6, the move 4 d4 retains some surprise value, certainly when compared to the more mainstream 4 g3, 4 e3 and 4 e4. Fedoseev, V - Xu Yi then saw 4...exd4 5 Nxd4 Bb4 6 g3:

Now the immediate capture with 6...Bxc3+ leads to an interesting strategic battle where Black has the long-term structural advantage, while White has a short-term initiative with open lines for the bishops. After 7 bxc3 Na5 8 Qd3 b6, chances are roughly balanced, but White needs to apply some pressure, or he risks drifting into a worse position - which is what happened in the game. Black was on the way to a win deep into the endgame, before allowing his opponent to escape with a draw.

Until next month, David.

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