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With top-level OTB chess back in full swing, this Update includes games from the US and Russian championships, as well as leading team competitions. We also look at four different systems for Black after 1 c4 e5, where White follows up with g2-g3.

Download PGN of November ’21 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nd7 3 d4 Nb6 [A07]

Efimenko, Z - Kovalenko, I opened with the topical Réti line 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nd7 3 d4 Nb6. In the September Update, we looked at 4 a4 a5 5 Nc3 in the game Rapport-Svidler. This month’s game continued with the more conventional-looking 4 Nbd2 supporting a later c2-c4 or e2-e4. After the logical 4...Bf5, White started to chase down the bishop with 5 Nh4 Bg4 6 h3 Bh5:

Here White uncorked 7 Ng2!, which is a nice idea, utilizing the delayed fianchetto. White aims to "trap" the h5-bishop without extending his kingside pawns. Following 7...e6 8 Nf4 Bg6 9 Bg2 c6 10 e4 dxe4 11 Nxg6 hxg6 12 Nxe4 White secured a pleasant edge, with the bishop pair in a fairly open position. Black's structure is solid, however, and as the game proved, hard to break down.

Réti Opening, Reversed Benoni 9 Ne5 [A14]

In the Reversed Benoni setup after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 c4 0-0 6 b3 d4 7 e3 c5, the early knight jump Nf3-e5 has been getting some exposure. We looked at 8 Ne5 in the February 2020 Update, while in Rakhmanov, A - Fedoseev, V White chose the move order 8 exd4 cxd4 9 Ne5:

Following 9...Nfd7 10 Nxd7 Qxd7 White has conventional options such as 11 Ba3 and 11 d3, while 11 f4 is more unusual. In response, Black initiated an instructive plan to fight for the queenside squares, starting with 11...a5 12 d3 a4 13 Na3 Bc5. White went for a radical solution with 17 Bxc6!?, giving up the light squared bishop to force through the b3-b4 break. This, however, created long term weaknesses around White's king, which Black eventually exploited.

King’s English, Keres System, 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 3 Nc3 Bb4 [A20]

Following the opening moves 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 e4 4 Nc3, one of the Keres System mainlines is reached after 4...d5 5 Bg2 Nf6 6 cxd5 cxd5 7 Bg5 etc. Instead, 4...Bb4 is a rare idea, but one that looks promising for Black on current evidence. After 5 Qb3 a5 we reach the diagram position:

Glud, J - Saric, I, continued with the offbeat novelty 6 Bh3!?. White lines up the light-squared bishops for exchange, which is a double edged idea. After 6...d5, White could have made sense of the 6 Bh3 concept with 7 cxd5 cxd5 8 Bxc8 Qxc8 9 Kf1! making the threat to the d5-pawn real. Instead after 7 a3 Bxc3+ 8 Qxc3 Ne7 9 Bg5 f6 10.Bd2 0-0 White is struggling to complete kingside development.

King’s English, 2...Nc6, 3...f5 [A25]

The reversed Grand Prix Attack setup that occurs after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nc6 3 Bg2 f5 4 Nc3 Nf6 is one of Black's more ambitious setups against 1 c4 and 2 g3. After 5 e3 Black has several "normal" moves here such as 5...g6 and 5...Bb4 as well 5...e4. In Santos Ruiz, M - Nestorovic, N, though, Black went for the sharp 5...d5!?:

Black’s 5th move has scored well but is not fully endorsed by modern engines. After 6 Nxd5 Nxd5 7 cxd5 Nb4 8 d3 Nxd5 9 Nf3 White got a decent reversed Open Sicilian style position, and emerged from the opening with a slight edge.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Bg2 0-0 6 Nd5 [A29]

Caruana, F - Swiercz, D opened with the line 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 which has featured in Caruana's practice on a fairly regular basis over the last few years. After 4...Bb4 5 Bg2 0-0 the move 6 Nd5 is an attempt to sharpen the play, when the complex 6...e4 7 Nh4 d6 8 0-0 g5 is critical. Instead 6...Bc5 tries to keep things solid:

In this position, however, White can secure a central pawn majority with 7 b4! Nxb4 8 Nxb4 Bxb4 9 Nxe5. After 9...Re8 10 Nd3 Ba5 11 0-0 c6 12.e3 d6?! White soon enjoyed a big positional advantage, which he converted despite facing stern resistance.

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 6...Bc5 [A29]

The position after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Bc5 arguably represents the modern mainline of the Reversed Dragon. Following 7 0-0 0-0 8 d3, the move 8...Re8 is a sound answer, featuring for example in the 2018 World Championship match. Instead, 8...h6 has come into vogue, and was played in Esipenko, A - Matlakov, M.

Play continued in logical fashion with 9 Nxd5 Qxd5 10 Bd2 a5 11 Bc3 Qe6 12 a3 a4 13 Rc1 Rd8 14 Nd2. As often happens in this variation, despite a theoretical verdict of equality, the position is strategically complex with plenty of scope for both sides to play. In this encounter, the advantage swung both ways before the game ended in a draw.

Symmetrical English, Hedgehog 6 Re1 d6 7 Nc3 Be7 8 e4 e5 [A30]

With the move order 1 Nf3 e6 2 c4 b6 3 g3 Bb7 4 Bg2 c5 5 0-0 Nf6, Black offers to play a Hedgehog setup should White go for a quick d2-d4 and recapture with Qd1xd4. In the setup with 6 Re1, however Black often decides to cut across White’s plan of e2-e4, d2-d4 and Nf3xd4, which leads to a sharp Open Sicilian style position. One reliable method is the line 6...Be7 7 Nc3 d5, which has a very solid reputation. Instead, Michalik, P - Socko, B continued with 6...d6 7 Nc3 Be7 8 e4 e5!?, where Black chooses to block the centre:

In this position, 9 d4!? (anyway!) is a dynamic solution which has scored very well for White. Nevertheless, Black appears to be OK, provided he continues accurately. In the game, White instead opted for a protracted manoeuvring game, starting with 9 a3 Nc6 10 Rb1. White argues that he has several small positional advantages and the more realistic pawn breaks, and indeed emerged with an edge.

Symmetrical English, 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nf3 e5 4 e4 f5 [A35]

The game Nguyen, T - Tomczak, J opened with 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nf3 e5 4 e3 and now Black essayed 4...f5. Black grabs space and declares some aggressive intentions. This move has been played by the likes of So and Grischuk, and is Black's 2nd most popular choice after 4...Nf6.

The issue for Black is that the semi-forced line 5 d4 e4 6 d5 exf3 7 dxc6 dxc6 8 Qxd8+ Kxd8 9 gxf3 leads to a queenless middlegame where Black has scant winning chances, and can sometimes live to regret loosening his structure with ...f7-f5. In the game, White gradually cranked up the pressure, and eventually won convincingly.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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