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In this Update, we see top players experimenting with 1 b3 and 1 f4 in big classical games, while there are important theoretical developments in the English and Réti.

Download PGN of September ’18 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening 1 b3 e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3 g6 [A01]

After 1 b3 e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3, the move 3...g6 is Black's 4th most common try, but is a logical alternatives to the mainlines 3...Nf6 and 3...d5. Black simply goes for a King’s Indian setup, with hopes of exploiting White’s relatively slow queenside expansion:

Fedoseev, V - Vitiugov, N continued with 4 c4 Bg7 5 Nf3 d6 6 d4 when Black has an important decision to make. He can go for kingside space with 6...e4 or try and neutralize White’s centre with 6...exd4. Vitiugov chose the latter path, but ended up on the worse side of Maroczy Bind formation where Black didn’t get enough counterplay.

Bird’s Opening, 1 f4 Nf6 2 Nf3 b6 [A02]

1 f4 is a very rare guest in elite tournaments. The Carlsen-Kramnik Bird encounter was featured in the July 2017 Update, although that was a rapid game. This month’s game Grischuk, A - So, W, however, was played at classical time controls, and it appeared both players were in the mood for an original fight. Instead of the usual 1...d5 reversed Dutch setup, So went for 1...Nf6 2 Nf3 b6 to which Grischuk replied with 3 b3:

In the early stages, both sides had a lot of potential development plans. Black showed ambition with 11...d4, creating an unbalanced, reversed Benoni setup. Grischuk played aggressively with the doubled-edged 17 f5!?, but things went wrong for White and he had to defend a worse position.

Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6 [A07]

Zvjaginsev, V - Kozionov, K opened with 1 g3 d5 2 Bg2 g6 3 Nf3 Bg7 and now with 4 0-0 White allows Black to set up the big centre. The main alternative is 4 c4 when 4...dxc4 has held up well for Black, as we have seen in earlier Updates.

From the diagram, White went for the semi-open position with 6 e4 0-0 7 exd5. Black’s 13...a4 was a new move, clamping down on White's queenside expansion plans. Black was doing fine out of the opening, but went wrong later in the game.

Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 b4 g6 [A09]

1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 b4 is one of the modern mainlines of the Réti. Now Black has a wide choice, including the main moves 3...f6 and 3...Bg4, as well as the wacky 3...g5 which we looked at in the June 2018 Update. The game Horton, A - Ruck, R, however, continued with 3...g6:

With this fianchetto system Black aims for quick development, rather than spending time on constructing a big pawn centre. Ruck followed up with a second fianchetto after 4 d3 Bg7 5 g3 b6. The b7-bishop neutralizes White's own light-squared bishop, but Black needs to pay careful attention to White’s a2-a4-a5 pawn lever. An interesting line that deserves more attention.

Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System 5...dxc4 [A11]

Akopian, V - Kuybokarov, T began with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 c6 4 c4 e6 5 0-0 dxc4. The use of an early ...Bc8-g4 with the ...dxc4 capture is a rare combination, but Black followed up with the even more unusual idea 6 Ne5 h5!?:

Black goes for a quick ...h7-h5-h4xg3 to loosen White's kingside, arguing that it will take White a lot of time to create play in the centre. White’s reaction was perhaps a bit too aggressive, which gave Black dynamic counterchances.

Mikenas Attack 3...d5 4 e5, 7 d4 b6 [A18]

In the Mikenas mainline after 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4 d5 4 e5 d4 5 exf6 dxc3 6 bxc3 Qxf6 7 d4 the move 7...b6 has fared well in recent high-level games, so White continues to search for new ideas. 8.h4 was Aronian's novelty in the first round of the 2018 Candidates, while in this month’s battle Dubov, D - Oparin, G, White uncorked the near novelty 8 Nh3:

White prepares 9 Bg5 without allowing the knight to be attacked with 8 Nf3 Bb7 etc. This led to a fresh position, in which Black started to go astray with 13...Bc6 and 14...Ba4?!, after which Dubov seized the initiative.

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

The line 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Bg2 Bc5, introduced by Grischuk in mid-2017, continues to spark interest at the elite level. Nakamura, H - Aronian, L was notable for the pawn structure arising after 12 moves:

Black has sacrificed a pawn in return for saddling White with the tripled isolated e-pawns. Somehow Aronian didn’t quite get enough compensation, however, and Nakamura was able to consolidate into a better endgame.

Symmetrical English, Botvinnik vs. KID setup [A36]

Maghsoodloo, P - Aryan, C featured an evergreen line of the Symmetrical English. White plays the Botvinnik system while Black uses a King's Indian setup with ...c7-c5.

As often happens in such lines, this instructive game slowly built up into a state of maximum tension. Black was doing very well for most of the game, before allowing Maghsoodloo to strike out of nowhere!

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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