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The line 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.g3 is one of the sharper lines of the English that also features in the games of some top players (notably Levon Aronian). So an update of some recent developments seems to be in order.

Download PGN of November '10 Flank Openings games

Symmetrical English 4 Nxd4 e6 [A32]

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.g3 Bb4+:

I can understand why many Black players would want to play this way. White's best reply may well be 6.Nc3 which transposes into a Nimzo-Indian Defence. The 'standard' move order would be 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 c5 5.g3 cxd4 6.Nxd4.

Besides 6.Nc3 White has two other options in 6.Bd2 (Fluvia Poyatos - Iturrizaga) and 6.Nd2 (Aronian - Carlsen). Both of these lines suffer from the fact that White is slightly misplacing a piece and I doubt he can count on much. But Aronian's 10.Ne4!? deserves some more tests:

he certainly didn't lose because of the opening.

5...Qc7 also invites White to misplace a piece by protecting his c4 pawn with a knight on d2. I find it difficult to believe that this should really trouble Black so the most dangerous line must surely be the pawn sacrifice with 6.Nc3 a6 7.Bg2!?:

Dominguez Perez - Short looks solid for Black on the surface but White missed some great opportunities with 23.e4! and 25.e4!. This certainly doesn't look easy or particularly pleasant for Black to play.

I really don't believe in 6.Nd2 but Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son - Wang Hao saw an interesting new twist with 9.Nf3!?:

When Black took the pawn with 9...Qxc4 the critical line must surely be 10.Nd2!?. Frankly I would avoid this possibility with 9...Ne4.

Symmetrical English 5...Nc6 [A32]

Vadim Zvjaginsev seems to have trouble playing normal moves in the opening, and against Khismatullin (Khismatullin - Zvjaginsev) adopted the rare plan of 5...Nc6 6.Bg2 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 0-0 8.0-0 Qe7!?:

In this case it also has Nigel Short's blessing and actually it doesn't look too bad. But Black was suffering later on when he decided the a-file was more important than the c-file.

Symmetrical English 5...d5 [E01]

The move 5...d5 is certainly Black's sharpest and most ambitious line:

and there have been some interesting recent games. Note that this can come from a number of other move orders, most notably a Catalan, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 c5 4.Nf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 d5, but also Benoni move orders where White refrains from pushing d4-d5.

Miton's 17.Qh5! (Miton - Ulibin) appears to be a powerful innovation and has the whiff of Rybka about it:

Romanov - Levin features a new move for Black in his 16...Bd7 though the passive follow up with 17...b6 makes me doubt that Rybka was responsible for this one!

Black's sharpest 9th move option (9...d3) is featured in the game Kulaots - Nyback and looked pretty good for Black after his novelty with 17...Bf5:

Actually I doubt that White has anything against the older 17...Rd8, either, so he needs something better if he wants to achieve much here.

I'll try to do some more on the Symmetrical English next month, but this time with the 2.g3 g6 lines.

See you next month, Nigel Davies


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