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In this Update, we combine lessons from top-level over-the-board play with a couple of intriguing battles between Stockfish and LCZero including a rare look at From’s Gambit!

Download PGN of November ’20 Flank Openings games

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From’s Gambit 1 f4 e5 [A02]

It has been quite a while since we looked at From’s Gambit, namely 1 f4 e5!? A recent Top Chess Engine Championship (TCEC) battle between the two leading engines did, however, feature this rare but complex opening. This provides us with a good opportunity to review the theory and practice in the From’s.

If White just wants to get a game, he may be tempted to avoid the sharp mainlines. That brings us to the move 2 d3!? which was played in Bimiev, R - Pogosyan, S.

Declining the gambit does indeed take the game off the beaten path, but is not a realistic attempt for an opening advantage. After 2...exf4 3 Bxf4 d5 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 Qd2 Nc6 Black is already doing well. I think this supports the view that is worthwhile for 1 f4 players to book up on a response to 1...e5, especially as White seems to have good chances for an edge by meeting the From’s head on.

In LCZero - Stockfish, the engines were given the position after 1 f4 e5 as the starting point for two games where they took turns to play White. So we get to see what two 3500+ players do from here on! Following 2 fxe5 d6 3 exd6 Bxd6 4 Nf3, Black reaches a crossroads:

From this position, 4...g5 is the traditional mainline, and more in the old-school gambit spirit. Black has various tactical tricks in his toolkit, but with accurate play, White is in good shape, as I discuss in the notes. Instead both engines (when playing Black) chose the alternative 4...Nf6. Here Black goes for piece play, aiming to prove compensation by means of restraining pressure against White's big pawn centre. In this line, both engines assess the early middlegame position as better for White, but Black managed to hold the draw in the end! While Black’s “containment” strategy is instructive, I believe it is harder for human players to adopt, since Black has little margin for error and White’s position is easier (for people) to play.

Reversed King’s Indian 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 0-0 e5 5 e4 [A04]

In the Norway Chess super tournament, Alireza Firouzja adopted a 1 Nf3, 2 g3 move order against both the World No. 1 and No. 2.

Firouzja, A - Carlsen, M opened with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 0-0 e5, whereby Black aims for a full pawn centre and a reversed King's Indian Defence structure. White’s 5 e4 has been the focus of recent high-level games, featuring here in two Updates earlier this year. Following 5...d6 6 c3 White aims to quickly open the centre:

Here Carlsen deviated from the 6...Nxe4 of Giri-Leko (see the August 2020 Update) with the solid 6...g6 7 d4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Bg4. White had some chances for a small pull, but was too quick to simplify, with 15 Bg5 and 16 Bxf6 giving up the bishop pair. After that, Black was pressing for most the rest of the game, ultimately being rewarded with a win after an endgame blunder.

Reversed Grünfeld 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 0-0 g6 5 d4 [A08]

The game Firouzja, A - Caruana, F began with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 0-0 g6 5 d4, leading to a fianchetto Grünfeld with reversed colours. This setup has been championed for Black by Vishy Anand, particularly in recent rapid and blitz games.

A key position arises after 5...cxd4 6 Nxd4 Bg7 7 Nb3 Nc6 8 Nc3 e6, when White chose the logical pawn lever 9 e4. Black simply ignored the threat to his d5-pawn with 9...0-0!, and after 10 exd5 Nxd5 11 Ne4, White’s prospects for an opening advantage were diminishing. This setup looks sound for Black, and White likely needs to explore some earlier deviations.

King’s English, 2 Nf3 e4 3 Nd4 Nc6 [A20]

The provocative 1 c4 e5 2 Nf3 has been championed by GM Rakhmanov over the last several years, although a few other strong GMs have given it an outing in 2020. Rakhmanov, A - Khismatullin, D, from the Russian Higher League continued with 2...e4 3 Nd4 Nc6 4 e3. White’s 4th move is the latest try, but also a move favoured by the likes of Réti and Tartakower back in the 1920s!

After the subsequent moves 4...Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 6 Qb3 a5 7 a3 Nxd4 8 exd4 Bxc3 9 dxc3 White had a big pawn mass on the queenside, but Black's counter-chances are based on his kingside space advantage and pawn majority on that wing. Things escalated quickly after 12 g4!? was answered by the piece sacrifice 13...Ng4 and 14...Nxf2. Black actually had a forced draw in hand, but miscalculated and went down to a quick defeat.

King’s English, 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Qb3 [A21]

After 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4, the move 3 Qb3!? leads to an offbeat line that has been tried from time to time by 2700+ players such as Artemiev and Eljanov. White hits the b4-bishop and avoids doubled c-pawns:

Rozum, I - Nesterov, A continued 3...Nc6 4 Nf3 d6 5 e3 Nf6 and now 6 d4!? was a double edged decision, grabbing space, but opening the position before securing his king. Later on, White left his king further exposed, and Black took over the initiative. There are several alternatives to explore, including the more flexible move order 4 e3 which keeps the g1-knight's options open.

Symmetrical English, 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Qb6 [A30]

In the position after 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4, Artemiev, V - Alekseev, E, saw Black employ the slightly unusual move order 4...Qb6. This often transposes to mainlines, but also introduces a few unique options for both sides:

Following 5 Nb3 e6 6 Nc3 Bb4, White has the option of getting back into mainstream theory with, for example 7 g3 Ne5 8 e4 Nf6 9 Qe2 d6. Instead, Artemiev chose the ambitious 7 e4 trying for a Maroczy bind structure. In response, however, Alekseev chose the accurate 7...Nf6 8 Bd3 Ne5 9.0-0 Qd6! forcing play into a queenless position where he appears to be fine.

Symmetrical English, 3...d5, 5 e4 [A34]

One of the sharpest lines of the Symmetrical English arises after 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 e4, which has been somewhat out of the spotlight for a couple of years. The TCEC engine battle Stockfish - LCZero was based on the following theoretical position starting after Black’s 12th move:

It should be noted that this position is already somewhat better for White and indeed, in the engine mini-match, White won 2-0. The featured game shows us instructive ideas in this variation, where White is a pawn down but needs to build on his extra kingside space and activity.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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