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In this Update, we explore games from top team events, as well as the recent US Championship. In several games, players explored lines that were popular 20-30 years ago, but went out of fashion for one reason or another. Rediscovering old theory, with the help of modern engines, can be a useful approach to opening preparation these days. Subscribers to get the benefit of a huge archive of annotated games (over 20+ years), so there is no need to reinvent the wheel!

Download PGN of November ’22 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, Polish System 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 b5 3 Bg2 Bb7 4 Na3 [A05]

Firat, B - Alekseenko, K opened with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 b5, a popular way for Black to mix things up against the Réti. If White is well prepared, however, this line doesn’t promise Black an easy life. In last month's Update, for example, we explored 4 0-0 e6 5 d3 Be7 6 e4 d6 7 Nd4!?. In this month’s game, White continued 3 Bg2 Bb7 4 Na3 to put pressure on Black's queenside:

From here, played continued 4...a6 5 c4 b4 6 Nc2 e6 7 d4, but now after the routine Be7?!, Black was hit with the novelty 8 d5!. White had an excellent version of a Queen's Indian, and after 8...0-0 9 Nh4 Qc8 10 e4, was dominating the centre. In this game, Black out-rated his opponent by more than 200 points, but probably got more than he bargained for, being on the brink of defeat by move 20! Later on, however, White over pressed and had to settle for a draw.

Neo-Catalan, 4...dxc4 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 6 Qxc4 a6 7 Qc2 c5 8 Nc3 [A13]

One the key variations of the Neo-Catalan arises after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 dxc4 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 6 Qxc4 a6 7 Qc2 c5 8 Nc3 Qc7, reaching a position that has been hotly debated in recent years:

Here the mainline 9 0-0 b6 10 d4 Bb7 was reviewed in the July 2022 Update. In Mikhalevski, V - Esipenko, A, White instead played the natural 9 d4. Now Esipenko revealed a move order nuance, playing the more ambitious b-pawn push 9...b5!. After 10 Bf4 Qa7, White could enter murky waters with 11 d5, but after 11 0-0 Bb7 12 dxc5 Bxc5 13 Rad1 Rc8, Black had an ideal Catalan and was at least equal.

King’s English, Keres System 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4 Bb4+ [A20]

Carlsen, M - Harikrishna, P, from the European Club Cup, started with 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 d4, and here 3...e4 is the mainline, while 3...Bb4+ is an uncommon move in modern times. 3...Bb4+ does have its own body of theory, however, and's earlier coverage of this line spans games in the years 2000-2011!

The game continued 4 Bd2 Bxd2+ 5 Qxd2 d6 6 Nc3 Nf6. White now constructed a full centre with 7 e4 0-0 8 Nge2, while Black went for queenside counterplay with 8...b5. Black’s follow-up was a little slow, however, and Carlsen secured a slight positional advantage out of the opening, which he expanded in instructive fashion.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 a5 [A21]

Shankland, S - Yoo, C explored the topical line 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 a5. Here both sides have multiple options over the next few moves, but the game continued 4 Nf3 d6 5 e3 Nf6 6 a3 Nxd5 7 cxd5 Bc5 reaching the diagram position:

Here, the structure with the doubled d-pawns after 8 d4 exd4 9 exd4 appears to be White's best chance for an edge. After 9...Bb6 10 Bg5 f6 11 Be3 0-0 12 Bd3 f5 13 Qc2, the move 13...f4 varied from earlier high-level games. After 14 Bxh7+ Kh8 15 Bd2, however, Black didn’t get enough for the pawn, and the follow up 15...Qe7+ left Black in trouble. Instead, Yu Yangyi’s move 13...Nd7 is the critical test of this system.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 Nc3 c6 [A23]

Following 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2, the move 3...Bc5 (with ...c7-c6 to follow) is a popular try which is featured in two games this month.

The encounter Kjartansson, G - Erigaisi, A continued with 4 Nc3 c6 5 e3. White avoids the sharp complications that arise after 5 Nf3 e4 6 Nh4 d5, and goes for the logical setup involving Ng1-e2 and an early d2-d4.

Black used to play 5...d6 here, but this is a little passive, while the subtle 5...Bb6 anticipates White's d2-d4 push, and keeps options open for either ...d7-d5 or ...d7-d6. Following 6 d4 exd4 7 exd4 0-0 8 Nge2, Black should be fine after 8...d5, but Erigaisi kept more tension in the position 8...d6. On the other hand, this does cede White more space, and likely a slight edge with accurate play. The game itself gravitated towards equality, as Black was a bit cramped but had no real problems.

Van Wely, L - Hracek, Z varied from the previous game with 5 e4:

White improves control of the d5-square, while aiming to cope with the hole left on d4-square by means of Ng1-e2 followed by d2-d4 and/or Nc3-a4 to chase the c5-bishop away. In this position, Anand’s idea 5...d6 6 Nge2 Ng4 7 0-0 h5 looks most challenging for White. Instead, Black chose the combative 5...d5, the very move White was aiming to prevent! After 6 exd5 cxd5 7 cxd5 Bf5 8 d3 Qb6, White can continue 9 Na4, but instead got into difficulties starting with 9 Qe2 0-0 10 Nf3 Qa6. The pressure on the d3-pawn forced White into some contortions, although he later managed to escape with a draw.

Symmetrical English, 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 [A34]

In the later rounds of the US Championship, Fabiano Caruana, playing Black, twice went for a reliable setup in the Symmetrical English involving an early ...d7-d5.

The game Yoo, C - Caruana, F opened with 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 g3 d5. Here the move 5 d4 precipitates an immediate central clash:

Early simplification ensued, with 5...cxd4 6 Nxd4 dxc4 7 Nxc6 Qxd1+ 8 Nxd1 bxc6 9.Bg2 Nd5 10 Ne3, leading to a queenless middlegame that was particularly popular in high-level games during the 1990s and early 2000s. After 10...e6 11 Nxc4 White's hopes are based on his superior pawn structure and the strong g2-bishop. In the featured game, the players revisited old theory, and only deviated from a vintage Kramnik game at move 21, with Black remaining rock solid throughout.

The game Shankland, S - Caruana, F began with the move order 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 g3 Nc6 4 Bg2 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Nc3 g6. Now, normal development with 7 0-0 leads to a well-known setup where Black's space advantage ensures a sound position. White instead essayed the comparatively rare 7 Qa4, aiming to put pressure on Black's construction before he has completed development.

In this position, the most common continuation is the natural 7...Bg7, but Caruana (perhaps to avoid potential preparation) varied with 7...e6. After 8 Ne5 Bd7 9 Nxd7 White secured the bishop pair, but after 9...Qxd7 10 d3, went for a restrained setup, after which Black should in principle be OK. There were some interesting moments later on, with a draw being the logical result.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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