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This update features fresh ideas in the English and Réti, and practically a new opening from Alexander Grischuk!

Download PGN of September ’19 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening 1 Nf3 d5 2 d3 [A06]

The rarely seen 1 Nf3 d5 2 d3!? is an offbeat idea that Alexander Grischuk has used in a number of recent rapid and blitz games. This move order can transpose to the Réti or King’s Indian Attack, but also has the virtue that fresh positions are often reached very early in the game. In addition, White avoids 2 g3 g6, which is a common answer in high-level games these days. There is no established theory here, but Grischuk, A - Anand, V and some other recent encounters, give us a few pointers.

Anand played 2...Nc6, a principled reply planning the immediate 3...e5. Now 3 Bf4 gave the game its own unique flavour. In reply 3...f6 is perhaps the critical try, but instead 3...e6 was already a new move! Out of the opening, Black had a solid position, but still had some work to do to equalize, and Grischuk eventually prevailed.

Réti Opening, Capablanca’s System, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 Nd7 4 c4 e6 5 Qb3 [A07]

With the move order 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Bg4 3 Bg2 Nd7, Black is ready to play a quick ...e7-e5 if allowed. In the game Tukhaev, A - Triapishko, A, White answered with 4 c4, and after 4...e6 uncorked the interesting idea 5 Qb3!?:

The double attack on the b7- and d5-pawns prompts the slightly unnatural 5...Nc5, and then 6 Qe3 puts pressure on the centre. The manoeuvre Qd1-b3-e3 is known from some other lines of the Réti, and here one of the main points is that after 9 cxd5, Black is forced to recapture with the c-pawn. In the game, after a typical sequence and a trade of queens, White was slightly better due to his extra space and Black’s offside light-squared bishop.

Nimzo-English, 4 g4 h6 [A17]

In the Nimzo-English with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4, the aggressive 4 g4 was all the rage in the early 2000s, but gradually fell out of the limelight as Black found some reliable responses. It remains a useful surprise weapon, however, and is featured in the game Indjic, A - Socko, B. Now 4...h6 is Black's most popular answer, holding up g4-g5. The game continued with 5 Rg1 b6 6 h4:

Despite White’s kingside expansion, Black’s king is relatively safe. Following 9...Bxc3 10 dxc3, the position bore some similarity to a Nimzo Indian, but with both sides castling long. A complex strategic battle ensued, where both sides had their chances.

King’s English, Keres System 3 Bg2 c6 4 Nf3 e4 5 Nd4 Qb6 [A20]

So, W - Caruana, F was an important theoretical battle between two elite players. After 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6, Wesley So essayed 4 Nf3, varying from the 4 d4 of So-Anand in the July 2019 Update. Now following 4...e4 5 Nd4, the move 5...Qb6 is less common than 5...d5, but is a Caruana favourite:

Fabiano varied from his earlier games with 8...Bc5, which was met by the novelty 9 0-0, but both players appeared to be well prepared, and continued moving quickly. In a very sharp position, Wesley chose a sacrificial attacking continuation which was met by accurate defence and a well played draw. The position arising around moves 15-16 is critical, and I expect future games to explore this line further.

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

After 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2, the move 3...Bc5 is only Black's 4th most popular move, but was recently essayed by World #3 Ding Liren. Now with 4 Nc3 c6 Black makes an immediate challenge for the centre:

In Lagarde, M - Gozzoli, Y, White got a pleasant "semi-Maroczy" structure with 5 Nf3 d6 6 0-0 0-0 7 d4 exd4 8 Nxd4. White can gradually build up his position, while Black doesn't have any direct source of counterplay. Instead, the critical test is 5...e4 when 6 Nh4 is rare but looks like White’s most promising try.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 e4 Bc5 [A28]

A key position in the Four Knights with 4 e4 arises after the forcing sequence 1 c4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 e4 Bc5 5 Nxe5 Nxe5 6 d4 Bb4 7 dxe5 Nxe4 8 Qf3 Nxc3 9 bxc3:

Here the natural 9...Be7 10 Qg3 g6 11 Bh6 leaves Black in trouble, as in Carlsen-Giri, analyzed in the January 2019 Update. In Iturrizaga Bonelli, E - Vaibhav, S, Black instead played 9...Ba5, which is a key improvement recommended in earlier Chess Publishing Updates. The a5-bishop maintains the pressure on the c3-pawn, making it harder for White to generate an initiative, and White has yet to prove an advantage in this position.

King’s English, Four Knights 4 g3 Bb4, 6 Nd5 [A29]

Giri, A - Karjakin, S opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e5 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 g3 Bb4. The Reversed Rossolimo has been somewhat overshadowed by 4...d5 in recent high level games, but of course remains a major variation. Karjakin in particular has favoured it in the last year or so. The following position was reached after 5 Bg2 0-0 6 Nd5 Bc5:

Here Giri unleashed the near-novelty 7 b4! which changes the structure and asks Black some tricky strategic questions. After 7...Nxb4 and 9...d5, White got a 2-0 central pawn majority, which was enough for an edge out of the opening. If Black wants to avoid Giri's 7 b4 idea, he should now play (for example) 5...d6, bolstering the e5-pawn.

Symmetrical English, 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 5 Nc3 d5 [A31]

In the Symmetrical English with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 5 Nc3 the Grünfeld-style thrust 5...d5!? A, is new to this site. This move is much less common than 5...Bg7 and 5...Nc6, but has been played by several strong players.

Now 6 cxd5 is most common but usually leads to a balanced queenless position. Ortiz Suarez, I - Leenhouts, K instead saw the interesting try 6 Nf3!? putting immediate pressure on the d5-pawn. Now 6...Be6 is Black's best response, although after the ensuing Nf3-g5xe6 imposing doubled e-pawns, Black needs to play sharply and accurately. In the game, Black went wrong early on, and fell to a quick defeat.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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