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Hi everyone!
This Update focuses on battles from the recently concluded Olympiad in Batumi. It includes important theoretical updates, instructive setups, and even a brilliancy prize winning king march!

Download PGN of October ’18 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening 1 b3 a5 [A01]

I looked at the offbeat 1 b3 a5!? in the June 2018 Update, and was surprised to see it pop up again in the Olympiad top board clash Jobava, B - Sulskis, S. White has a wide range of options, and has yet to converge on a single convincing setup. Perhaps because of this wide choice, as well as the surprise value, Black has scored fairly well in practice. In the game, Jobava decided to go for 2 a4:

At first sight, this appears to justify Black's a-pawn move, but Jobava nevertheless got a good structure out of the opening. Sulskis, however, generated strong counterplay with multiple sacrifices and eventually won a tumultuous game.

Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System 4 h3, 7 Qe1 [A07]

An important tabiya in Capablanca's ...Bc8-g4 system against the Réti arises in the following position after 8 e4:

Black has most often gone for a fixed pawn structure with 8...dxe4 9 dxe4 Bc5, but the recent trend is to maintain the central tension with 8...Bd6. This is a slightly provocative choice that often leads to double-edge positions. In Howell, D - Brunello, S, White went for the principled 9 exd5 Nxd5 10 Nxe5!?. The complications eventually led to a dynamically balanced game with Black having two minor pieces for rook and pawn.

Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6 4 c4 g6 5 b3 [A11]

Hillarp Persson, T - Laurusas, T opened quietly enough with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 g6 4 c4 c6 5 b3. Black has gone for a solid setup that can transpose at many points to the theory of the symmetrical Grünfeld, should White play d2-d4. The advantage of White's Réti move order is that he maintains flexibility, sometimes opting for d2-d3, or eventually going ahead with d2-d4, depending on circumstances.

Black chose 7...a5 8 Nc3 Ne4 seeking exchanges. What started as a positional struggle took a different turn after 17 Qd2!?, when White spotted an attacking opportunity and sacrificed a pawn to activate his major pieces. The game will be remembered for a classic attacking king march that won Tiger the Olympiad brilliancy prize!

Anti-QGD System, Nepomniachtchi’s 8 h4 [A13]

The rise of this anti-QGD line 1 Nf3 d5 2 e3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3 can be traced back to the game Karjakin-Anand from the 2016 Candidates (see the April 2016 Update), and it continues to feature in the games of top players. The game Nepomniachtchi, I - Bacrot, E, continued with 4...Be7 5 b3 0-0 6 Bb2 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 and now Nepo unleashed the novelty 8 h4:

Previously, White had delayed this thrust for one or two moves, usually starting with 8 Qc2. Instead, White maintains flexibility with his queen's position, a point which was quickly revealed after 8...b6 9 Qb1!. Now Bacrot’s 9...h6?! offered White a hook for his kingside attack, and after 10 g4 Bb7 11 Rh3! Black was already faced with a tricky defensive task.

Mikenas Attack, 3...d5 4 cxd5, 7 d3 [A18]

Over the last couple of years, the line 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 d5 4 cxd5 exd5 5 e5 Ne4 6 Nf3 Bf5, has become one of the most fiercely debated lines of the Mikenas among top players. Now the apparently modest move 7 d3 is the current mainline. Black’s latest try is 7...Nxc3 8 bxc3 c5 9 d4 and now 9...Qa5!?, first played by Ding Liren. The game Nepomniachtchi, I - Anand, V featured the new and critical move 11 c4:

The play immediately becomes very sharp, and both players appeared to be well prepared. After 17...Kf7?!, however, White drummed up a serious initiative, only to let his advantage slip some ten moves later.

King’s English, Reversed Closed Sicilian [A25]

Aronian, L - Duda, J-K, featured a King's English setup that is typical of the Closed Sicilian, with colours reversed. In this game, White uses his extra tempo (compared to the reverse colours scenario) to quickly gain space on the queenside.

From the diagram position, the sequence 10...g5!? 11 f4 results in a clash of the two sides' pawn fronts, leading to some tricky pawn structure decisions. Aronian was smoothly outplaying his opponent until he allowed some powerful counterplay after 24 Nxc6?. Duda found some brilliant sacrifices to hold a draw in amazing fashion.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 Qxc3 Qe7 7 d4 [A28]

After 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e3 Bb4 5 Qc2 Bxc3 6 Qxc3 Qe7 several recent Updates have examined 7 b3, but in Caruana, F - Ding Liren White instead chose 7 d4:

This move has seen a sudden flurry of top-level games, indeed Caruana tried it in this critical last round Olympiad clash, only two days after facing the same line as Black against Duda! Compared to the traditionally more popular move 7 a3, White claims the centre without wasting any tempi, and aims to exploit the long term asset of the bishop pair. In return, Black can insert an early ...Qe7-b4+, depriving White of castling rights. Later, after the natural looking move 15 Re1, Ding's reacted sharply with 15...Qh4+ and 16...Rf6! and was soon able to force a draw! In the notes, I look at White’s earlier options and other recent games in this line.

Symmetrical English, 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 g3 g6 4 d4 [A38]

One of the ideas of this move order 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 from Black’s viewpoint, is to reduce White's flexibility in the event that he wants to play d2-d4 in conjunction with the g3-g3 fianchetto. In the game Bu Xiangzhi - Safarli, E, however White decided to go ahead with this anyway. After 3 g3 g6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Bg7 White has to step back with 6 Nc2 but still hopes to make something of his slight space advantage.

With 8...Qa5 and 9...Qh5 Black swung the queen across to the threatening h5-square, which in turn prompted a trade of queens. This gave White a platform to squeeze his opponent with little risk and he was rewarded when Black missed a tactical shot in an apparently quiet position.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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