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This month’s Update features several lines where Black grabs central space in ambitious and principled fashion, with varying results. I have also included a fun practical try for White, involving a piece sacrifice on move 9 in a Symmetrical English!

Download PGN of October ’21 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening, 1 b3 d5 2 Bb2 Bf5 3 d3 [A01]

In Larsen’s Opening after 1 b3 d5 2 Bb2 Bf5, 3 d3, teasing an early e2-e4, is a trendy move, that has been played many times by Nepomniachtchi in online games. In Romanov, E - Bluebaum, M, Black went for an ambitious setup with 3...Nf6 4 Nd2 c5 aiming to build a big pawn centre:

Now a principled idea is to break in the centre with 5.e4!?, but in the game White continued with quiet development. After 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 g3 Qc7 7 Bg2 e5 8 e4, White finally challenged Black's centre, but it already looks like Black has a comfortable position. Black did well from the opening and eventually prevailed.

Réti Double Fianchetto vs. QGD-setup, 2 c4 e6 3 b3 b6 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2 d5 6 0-0 Bd6 [A13]

Santos Latasa, J - Kryvoruchko, Y opened with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 b3 b6 4 g3 Bb7 5 Bg2. Here Black most often plays 5...Be7, but in this game Black opted to develop the f8-bishop on the d6-square with 5...d5 6 0-0 Bd6:

Black's setup has been tried several times recently. After 7 Bb2 0-0, the straightforward 8 Nc3 Nbd7 9 d4 looks quite promising, but the game continued with 8 cxd5 exd5 9 Nc3 a6 10 d3. White keeps the option of d3-d4 a few moves down the line, but hopes to extract some concessions before doing so. As it turned out, after 13...b5?!, weaknesses appeared in Black’s camp, and White went on to score a nice positional victory.

Réti Opening, Reversed Benoni, 6 b3 d4 [A14]

The reversed Benoni setup that arises after 1 c4 e6 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 Be7 5 0-0 0-0 6 b3 d4 is an ambitious approach for Black, which raises the stakes for both sides:

From the diagram position, Pantsulaia, L - Abasov, N, continued with 9 d3 Nc6 10 Re1, and now 10...Bb4 aimed to disrupt White’s development. The next few moves were instructive, as the evaluation swung back and forth. After 11 Bd2 Bd6 12 Qc2, White's piece coordination was not ideal, and Black could have established a grip on the queenside dark squares. Instead, after a trade of the dark squared bishops, White started to generate Benoni-style queenside play, and took over the initiative.

King’s English, 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5 Be7 [A21]

After 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Bb4 3 Nd5, Black’s main replies in recent years have been 3...Bc5 and 3...a5, but Nepomniachtchi, I - Tari, A featured 3...Be7, which was Shirov's favourite move in the early days of this variation. In the featured game, White decided not to grab the bishop pair, and prepared a kingside fianchetto setup with 4 Nf3 d6 5 g3 Nf6, followed by the tempo-losing 6 Nc3 to keep his structure intact. Tari now uncorked the new move 6...c5:

Black prevents the space-gaining thrust d2-d4, and reckons that the weakness of the d5-square can be dealt with. After a series of natural developing moves, 7 Bg2 h6 8 d3 Be6 9 Nd2 Qd7 10 0-0 0-0, Black appears to be well placed to meet the knight jump 11 Nd5 and the ensuing structural transformation with 11...Nxd5 12 cxd5 Bh3 13 e4 Bxg2 14 Kxg2 f5. Now with 15 f4, White perhaps underestimated Black’s kingside chances in the absence of light-squared bishops. After 15...exf4 16 gxf4 Bf6 White's king was becoming exposed, which Tari exploited to the full in a well played game.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 e4 [A29]

The position after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4 5 Nd5 e4 6 Nh4 0-0 7 Bg2 d6 is one of the most critical in the Reversed Rossolimo complex. It has often featured is top level games, such as Caruana-Esipenko from the February 2021 Update.

The position can get very sharp if White provokes an early ...g7-g5, trapping the h4-knight. In Navara, D - Keymer, V, though, White continued in simpler fashion, with 8 Nxb4, securing the bishop pair. After 8...Nxb4 9 a3, Black usually plays 9...Nc6, but Keymer instead essayed 9...Na6!?, aiming to re-route the knight to the active c5-square. After 10 d3 exd3 11 Qxd3 Nc5 12.Qc2 a5, Black was just in time to create counterplay on the queenside. A tense encounter ended in Black’s favour.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nb3 [A33]

David Navara was also behind the White pieces in another game featuring an important line of the English, namely 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nb3 Ne5 8 e4 Bb4 9 Qe2 d6 10 Bd2. Here 10...0-0 was analyzed in Caruana-So in last month's Update, while Navara, D - Bjerre, J varied with 10...a5, whereby Black initiates immediate queenside counterplay. Now 11 0-0-0 is move already featured in Navara's practice and analyzed on this site through the 2020 game Navara-Grandelius.

Black came well prepared, and after 11...a4 12 Na1, 12...Bc5! was a novelty, putting immediate pressure on the f2-pawn. The resulting position was a tense, Sicilian-style affair with opposite side castling. Black was fine from the opening, but 16...Nc7 was a little slow, and Navara outplayed his opponent in the subsequent battle.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 g3 Qb6 7 Ndb5 [A33]

After the opening moves 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 g3 Qb6, the move 7 Ndb5 is White's other top choice, along with 7 Nb3 from the previous example. Following 7...Ne5 8 Bf4 Nfg4 9 e3 a6, 10 h3 has become topical again, after Anish Giri played it in the 2020 Candidates. The following position was reached after 10...axb5 11 hxg4 Nxc4:

Now 12 Rc1 d5 13 b3 Bb4 was the continuation of Giri-Nepomniachtchi (see the April 2020 Update), but in Fridman, D - Steingrimsson, H continued with 12 Qb3, the most popular, and solid move. After the forcing sequence 12...d5 13 Bxc4 dxc4 14 Qxb5+ Qxb5 15 Nxb5 we reach an endgame, where objectively Black can equalize. The featured game is a good illustration, however, of how White can get to play for "two results" if Black doesn't follow up accurately enough.

Symmetrical English, Reversed KID vs. Botvinnik setup [A37]

We looked at the structure arising after 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nc6 3 g3 e5 4 Nc3 g6 5 Bg2 Bg7 6 d3 Nge7 in last month’s Update, where White won a strategic masterpiece in So-Svidler. This month, we look at something completely different. The game Schitco, I - Fawzy, A continued with 7 h4 h6 8 h5 g5:

Now the piece sacrifice 9 Nxg5!? is a fun way to liven things up, with the game going 9...hxg5 10 Bxg5 f6 11 h6 fxg5 12 hxg7 Rxh1+ 13 Bxh1 Kf7 14 e3 Kxg7 15 Qh5. As a spoiler alert, the resulting position is dynamically balanced, with Stockfish (of course!) evaluating it as 0.00. Still, I'm sure there are many players who would not be expecting this when playing Black. After 15...Qh8 16 Qxg5+ Ng6?! Black started to lose his way in the unusual position, and went down to defeat.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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