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There was a wealth of material to choose from this month, and I have focused on games from the European Teams and FIDE Grand Swiss, including several dramatic miniatures from the Isle of Man event.

Download PGN of November ’19 Flank Openings games

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Bird’s Opening 1 f4 d5 2 Nf3 Bg4 3 Ne5 h5 [A03]

After 1 f4 d5 2 Nf3, the move 2...Bg4 is an interesting alternative to the reversed Leningrad Dutch setups which often occur after 2...g6 3 g3 etc. After the bishop foray, 3 e3 is now a solid choice, but Dardha, D - Lagarde, M continued with the double-edged 3 Ne5 h5!?:

In this little explored position, 4 d3 was already a novelty, but after 4...Nd7 5 Nxg4 hxg4, control of the h-file allowed Black to seize the initiative. White was soon in big trouble but, amazingly, escaped with a draw from the ensuing tactical maelstrom.

Réti Opening, Anti-Slav Gambit 4...dxc4, 8 Ng5 [A11]

Amin, B - Sadhwani, R provides a good opportunity to catch up with developments in the Anti-Slav Gambit 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6 4 c4 dxc4. Following 5 0-0 Nbd7 6 Na3 Nb6 7 Qc2 Be6 the players reached a mainline position:

Now both 8 Ne5 and 8 Ng5 are important options, but Amin chose the latter. In the sharp position after 8...Bg4 9 Nxc4 Bxe2 10 Ne5 Bh5 11 Re1, the move 11...e6? looks natural, and has been played by a number of strong players, but it loses! Amin was ready with the killer blow 12.Bf3! and finished the game in sparkling fashion. A cautionary tale!

Neo-Catalan 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 6 Qxc4 [A13]

In the Neo-Catalan after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 dxc4 5 Qa4+, Black has three sensible ways of parrying the check. 5...Bd7 is solid, while 5...c6 6 Qxc4 b5 is more double edged, but the most popular overall is 5...Nbd7, which we study in two games this month.

After 6 Qxc4, Ganguly, S - Saduakassova, D continued with 6...c5:

Black's idea is to quickly play ...b7-b6 and ...Bc8-b7 in order to neutralize the "Catalan" g2-bishop. Now 7 Qb3 aims to slow down that plan and has scored well in recent years, although theoretically Black is in good standing. In the game, White introduced an interesting new idea with 10 Na3!?, skipping the typical a2-a4 thrust. Black’s position was solid but a little passive, and Ganguly eventually broke through.

Recently, the alternative 6...a6 has been a topical move at the highest level, largely due to Sergey Karjakin's adventures with this line, which continued in Maghsoodloo, P - Karjakin, S.

Usually, White chooses between 7 Qc2 and 7 Qb3 but Maghsoodloo instead essayed the rare 7 a4!?, followed by 7...Bd6 8 a5 attempting to restrain Black's queenside. The course of the opening suggests that Black is able to deal with this plan, although both sides had chances later on.

Mikenas Attack, 3...c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 d4 cxd4 7 Nxd4 Nxe5 8 Ndb5, 13 Qb4 [A19]

In the Mikenas after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4, the move 3...c5 was eclipsed for a long time by 3...d5, but has come back into vogue through a number of recent high level games. Matlakov, M - Thybo, J entered the “long” pawn sac line, continuing with 4 e5 Ng8 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:

From the diagram position, 14...Qe7 15.0-0-0 d6?! (holding onto the extra pawn and keeping the queens on the board) turned out badly for Black in a recent Ding Liren-Radjabov game. Black is better advised to return the pawn in order to complete development and free his position. Thybo followed this strategy, starting with 14...d6. He appeared to be well prepared for this game, creating play with the space gaining 17...g5 and 18...h5, and eventually scored an upset win in the endgame.

King’s English 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 Nc3 c6 [A23]

The topical line 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 has been featured in the last two Updates, and further developments unfolded this month in Anton Guijarro, D - Grischuk, A. After 4 Nc3 c6 the most direct move is 5 Nf3, provoking a fight for the centre:

From the diagram, 8...Ng4 9 0-0 g5 further sharpened the play, and here Anton unleashed the novelty 10 d4!?, which was suggested in the notes to Lagarde-Gozzoli in the September 2019 Update. The resulting position is far from clear, but White was better prepared for the complications, and won a striking victory in 24 moves.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 Bc5 5 Nxe5 [A28]

Carlsen, M - Caruana, F opened with 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4, and was the 5th time that Carlsen has played 4 e4 (in 2 classical and 3 blitz games) since December 2018. After the forcing sequence 4...Bc5 5 Nxe5 Nxe5 6 d4 Bb4 7 dxe5 Nxe4 8 Qf3 Nxc3 9 bxc3, the move 9...Ba5! is an important refinement, which we also examined in the September 2019 Update.

After 10 Bf4 0-0 11 0-0-0!? was a new move, and a good practical try, since any slip from his opponent would leave White on top. Caruana's response was very accurate however, and showed that Black has sufficient resources in view of White's rather exposed king.

Symmetrical English, 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 b3 [A30]

Maghsoodloo, P - Vidit, S began with the comparatively rare 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 b3. White’s 3rd move is 5th in popularity after 3 Nc3, 3 d4, 3 g3 and 3 e3 but, notably, it is Demuth's interesting recommendation in his Réti repertoire book.

In the featured game, Black went for a reversed Maroczy-bind structure with 3...Nf6 4 Bb2 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Nc3 e5. White inflicted doubled c-pawns with 9 Bb5 and 10 Bxc6+, giving him a strategic theme to work with, later turning this into an impressive win. Black should look for earlier improvements, notably 9...Bd7 to prevent the aforementioned static weakness.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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