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Given the solid reputation of the Slav Defence these days a number of White players try to avoid it via an English Opening move order of 1.c4 and after 1...c6 head towards a Panov Attack against the Caro Kann with 2.e4. And rather than have White dictate the agenda like this Black can try a few move order tricks of his own; it's some of these I want to look at in this month's column.

Download PGN of October '10 Flank Openings games

English Opening 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c6 3.e4 d5 4.cxd5 cxd5 5.e5 [A16]

One possibility is to meet 1.c4 with 1...Nf6 and after 2.Nc3 then play 2...c6. White can still transpose into a Panov Caro with 3.e4 d5 4.exd5 cxd5 5.d4, but the early commitment of his knight to c3 means that he loses options such as 1.c4 c6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.cxd5 Nf6 5.Bb5+ or 5.Qa4+ plus Gundaram's 4.d4 Nf6 5.c5 (not that he should necessarily want this option!). So some White players might not be prepared for having their knight on c3, which leaves them with 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c6 3.e4 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.e5:

Black seems to have several playable options here, the most active knight move is Shamkovich's 5...Ne4. White is probably best advised to decline the pawn offer with 6.Nf3, Polugaevsky - Shamkovich, rather than take it with 6.Nxe4 (Kopinski - Orzech). In either case I don't see a problem for Black.

Black's other knight move is 5...Nfd7 which risks getting into a passive French Defence type position:

Lautier - Van Wely is a graphic example of the problems Black can contract in this line. It seems Black might do better with 6...Nb6 (Chermyshov - Malykin) though this is hardly exciting for Black.

5....d4 is much more lively, after 6.exf6 dxc3 White's most testing line is 7.bxc3:

I think that Black should meet this with 7...exf6 rather than the usual 7...gxf6, not least because he'd then have a safe king. In Poldauf - Pezerovic Black captured in the recommended 'towards the centre' style and was lucky to survive.

I don't think that 7.fxg7 offers anything for White, the 'proof' being in the game Kuznetsov - Petrov.

English Opening 1.c4 c6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 Nf6 [A10]

If Black wants to get trickier still he can try 1.c4 c6 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 Nf6!? or 3.cxd5 Nf6!? offering a pawn sac in either case. 3.exd5 Nf6 4.Nc3 cxd5 once again leads to a Panov with White's knight committed to c3 whereas 3.cxd5 Nf6 4.Nc3 cxd5 5.e5 transposes into the lines we've already looked at. But what if White takes the pawn?

To me it looks like good compensation for Black after 4.dxc6 Nxc6 as what we have is a kind of Morra Gambit reversed but with some extra weaknesses for the pawn snatching side:

There are very few games to have gone like this but in Dezelak - Galeev and Claesen - Hovhanisian Black seemed to be doing well.

Note also that Black used the shocking move order of 1.c4 d5!? in both these games, though this might run into more trouble if White plays the modest 2.cxd5 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nxd5 4.d4. This, however, is not my department!

See you next month, Nigel Davies


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