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Hi everyone!
In this month’s Update, we look at some really early move order tricks, the merits of 2...g5 against the Réti, and Kramnik’s Hedgehog!

Download PGN of November ’16 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Reversed Grob 1 Nf3 e6 2 g3 g5!? [A04]

Firouzja, A - Bernadskiy, V opened with the outlandish 1 Nf3 e6 2 g3 g5!?. It is always interesting to see what happens when this kind of move gets played in a game between two strong players. Will White get confused or provoked into playing something sub-standard, or will Black's experiment blow up in his face?

The game continued with 3 h3, which can't be bad, but does seem rather tentative. Black’s reply 3...Bg7 is already a new move! A few moves later, Black got a good version of a French Defence setup, so his risky opening could be considered a success.

Larsen’s Opening 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 b3 d5 [A06]

In the game Grischuk, A - Tomashevsky, E , Grischuk essayed a delayed Larsen Opening starting with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 b3. This avoids 1 b3 e5, and leads to less explored positions. Tomashevsky adopted a typical setup with 2...d5 and 3...Bf5 which was met with the rather abstract-looking move 4 Nh4:

Black is not forced to allow the bishop for knight trade, although Tomashevsky saw no reason to avoid it, playing 4...Bg6. The game evolved into an interesting strategic tussle between White’s two bishops and Black’s two knights.

Réti Opening 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nd7 [A07]

En route to winning the Russian Championship, Riazantsev showed a cunning move order for Black against the Réti. Goganov, A - Riazantsev, A started with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 and now 2...Nd7 is an unusual choice, being only the 9th most popular second move for Black in the database. If White is hoping to play a stereotypical Réti setup, it is actually a rather tricky move to face, and Goganov indeed stumbled early on. After 3 c4 dxc4 4 Na3?! Black played the alert move 4...e5!:

In this position White is, surprisingly, already struggling, as his knights get kicked around in the centre.

King’s English, Botvinnik System with 7...c6 [A24]

Jones, G - Adhiban, B opened with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 d6 3 Nc3 g6 4 Bg2 Bg7 5 d3 Nf6 6 e4 0-0 7 Nge2 and now starting with 7...c6 8 0-0 a6, Adhiban demonstrates an interesting system for Black against the Botvinnik setup. Black goes for queenside play with ...b7-b5:

Adhiban’s 12...Nbd7! is an important move for the theory of this line. Black offers a temporary pawn sacrifice in return for quick development. In the game Black equalized comfortably.

Hedgehog 7 d4 cxd4 8 Qxd4 0-0 9 Rd1 d6 10 Bg5 [A30]

Kramnik played the Hedgehog no less than three times in the Tal Memorial, against Svidler, Aronian and Nepomniachtchi. Two of those games reached the well known position after 7 d4 cxd4 8 Qxd4 0-0 9 Rd1 d6 10 Bg5 and now 10...Nc6:

This was Kramnik's chosen battleground, which used to have a slightly sketchy theoretical reputation, but has held up well in recent games. Here Svidler chose 11 Qd2, while the later game Nepomniachtchi, I - Kramnik, V varied with 11 Qf4. Both sides were well prepared, with the game gravitating to a complex but balanced endgame, which eventually swung in Nepomniachtchi’s favour.

Symmetrical Four Knights 6 Bg5 Be7 7 e3 Qa5 [A33]

In the Four Knights variation 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6, the move 6 Bg5 is still comparatively rare but has had some success in the last year. Now Ladva, O - Ponkratov, P continued 6...Be7 7 e3 Qa5:

Ponkratov’s active 7th move may be Black's best try, since 8 Bh4 allows a simplifying tactical sequence starting with 8...Ne4. In the game, Black was fine, so White needs to dig deeper to find a path to a potential edge.

Symmetrical Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nc2 [A33]

Dubov, D - Gabrielian, A reached the position after 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6 5 Nc3 e6 6 g3 Qb6 and here Dubov tried 7 Nc2!?, a rare move that has likely been underestimated by theory. White is forced to move the d4-knight anyway, so why not discourage Black's typical move 7...Bb4?

With 7...Ne5, Black continued as he would have done if White had played 7 Nb3 instead of 7 Nc2. The danger for Black is that if he doesn't generate specific counterplay, White will get his central pawns rolling, as Dubov showed.

Symmetrical English 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Nxc3 [A34]

So, W - Eljanov, P opened with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 and now instead of the most common tries 6...Nc7, 6...g6 or 6...e6, Eljanov came prepared with 6...Nxc3. This is played with a simple idea in mind, which is just to follow up with 7...e5 and then develop normally.

Perhaps taken by surprise, So went for the simple solution 8 0-0 Be7 9 d4, although Eljanov managed to parry this effectively.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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