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This Update takes games from a wide range of events including the super-strong Isle of Man Open. In particular, we look at some novel and sneaky ideas in the Symmetrical English.

Download PGN of November ’18 Flank Openings games

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Réti Double Fianchetto vs. QGD setup, 9...Qc8! [A14]

In Artemiev, V - Kramnik, V, one of the main tabiyas of the double fianchetto Réti arose after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 b3 b6 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 Be7 6 Bb2 0-0 7 0-0 c5 8 Nc3 d5 9 e3. Here Kramnik essayed 9...Qc8!, a nuanced move which was brought to prominence by Sam Shankland in a game analyzed in the May 2016 Update:

Black enables a quick ...Rf8-d8, and supports ...Bb7-a6, attacking White's queen should it move to e2. In some circumstances, the queen can also go to the b7-square to form a battery down the long diagonal. Black was doing well out of the opening, prompting White to go all-in on the kingside. An up-and-down battle ended in a draw.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon, 5 Nf3, 7 d4 [A20]

In Howell, D - Burg, T, White employed the move-order 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Nf3, aimed at circumventing mainlines after 5...Nc6 6 0-0 Be7 with 7 d4. The key position for this variation arises after 9 moves:

White aims for pressure on the c-file and play against Black's weak c-pawns. On the other hand, Black has gained space on the kingside and blocked in White's "Dragon" bishop. Overall, White has scored quite well from here, but, as Burg showed, if Black plays actively, he has fair chances.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 bxc3 [A28]

The 4 e3 Four Knights 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e3 continues its surge in popularity among top players. After 4...Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3, high-level games over the last few months have focussed on 6 Qxc3 (see Caruana-Ding Liren in last month’s Update), but So, W - Sevian, S varied with the also topical 6 bxc3. The recapture with the pawn generally leads to a complex game, with a fluid pawn structure and a range of possible plans for both sides.

The diagram position is a key crossroads for Black, as he has to choose from a number of potential setups. Sevian chose 8...h6, going for straightforward plan with ...Bc8-e6, ...Qd8-c8 and trading bishops with ...Be6-h3. In the early middlegame, White went for a risky idea, and eventually had to scramble to hold a draw.

Symmetrical English, 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5 g3 e5 [A31]

The game Liu, Y - Zhou, J, opened with 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 and now 5 g3, varying from the far more common 5 Nc3 and maintaining flexibility with regards to the b1-knight. Now Black unleashed 5...e5!?, a concrete attempt to take advantage of White's move-order:

After the critical 6 Nb5 Black continued with 6...Bb4+. His play in this line is based on rapid development, trying to generate activity before his potentially weak pawn structure (with a backward d-pawn) begins to tell. As theory stands, and this game confirmed, Black appears to be in good shape in this variation.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nb3 [A33]

One of the traditional mainlines of the Symmetrical starts 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6.g3 Qb6 7 Nb3 Ne5 8 e4 Bb4. Here in Bruzon Batista, L - Swiercz, D, White uncorked 9 c5!?, a sharp pawn sacrifice:

Since this has only been played in one over-the-board game (5 years ago) it no doubt came as a big surprise for Black. He went astray with 14...Ba6?! and White was soon on top.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, 5 Qa4+ [A34]

After 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5, the direct move 5 Qa4+ is only White's 5th most popular try. Black should be able to equalize with care, but needs to avoid a couple of traps.

In the Rapid game Timofeev, A - Paravyan, D Black erred early on with 5...Nc6 6 Ne5 Qd6?. Black's queen defends both his knights, but after 7 Nc4 White wins material!

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, 5 e3 Nxc3 6 dxc3 [A34]

In the line 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e3 Nxc3, the move 6 dxc3 heading for a queenless middlegame, came into vogue in 2017. See, for example Carlsen-Vachier-Lagrave in the August 2017 Update. After some early successes for White following 6...Qxd1 7 Kxd1, the move 6...Qc7 became a kind of 'antidote' by avoiding the trade of queens:

The seemingly most promising plan for White involves bring the queen around to the g3-square, "insisting" on the exchange of queens. Several games have seen the manoeuvre Qd1-d2-g5-g3, while in Matlakov, M - Lagarde, M, White instead went for Qd1-g4-g3. After Black continued to avoid the queen trade, he was bested in an opposite side castling scenario.

Symmetrical English, Three Knights 3...g6 4 e3, 8...Nxc3 [A35]

A highly theoretical position arises after 1 c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 g6 4 e3 Nf6 5 d4 cxd4 6 exd4 d5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Qb3. In recent Updates, we have focussed on 8...e6, while Svidler, P - Shankland, S featured the equally important 8...Nxc3:

From the diagram position, the move 10...Bd7 has held up well for Black in recent games. Black intends to push White's queen back and contest the queenside light squares with ...Nc6-a5 and ...Ra8-c8. Now Svidler came up with the fresh idea 11 Bb5!?, provoking 11...a6, and containing a clever idea which bamboozled his opponent.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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