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The FIDE Online Olympiad was another highly competitive online event where the players didn’t hold anything back opening-wise. This Update covers some important developments from that event, as well as the multi-game debate in the Reversed Dragon from the Carlsen-Nakamura clash.

Download PGN of September ’20 Flank Openings games

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Larsen’s Opening 1 b3 e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3 d5 [A01]

After 1 b3 e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3, the sequence 3...Nf6 4 Bb5 Bd6 has become established as the mainline, but in many ways 3...d5 is the most principled, classical riposte to Larsen's Opening. Black grabs the centre and challenges White to justify his setup. Noritsyn, N - So, W continued with 4 Bb5 Bd6 and now 5 f4 is a sharp option, but Noritsyn’s developing move 5 Nf3 has also been played by b3-guru Jobava. So responded with the logical 5...f6, bolstering the centre:

The players soon reach a reversed French structure after 6 c4 a6 7 Bxc6+ bxc6 8 d4 e4 and now 9 Ng1 was an interesting novelty. In a curious turn of events, Black’s dark-squared bishop was trapped on the queenside after 10...Bb4!? and 14 c5. A piece down, Wesley went all-in on the kingside, where the light squares were weakened by the absence of White’s light-squared bishop. It is tough to defend against such a strong initiative in Rapid, and Black eventually crashed through.

Neo-Catalan, 4 cxd5 [A12]

The next three games look at different setups that can arise after the common introductory moves 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 d5.

In Duda, J - So, W, White went for the exchange 4 cxd5 exd5, which is an uncommon choice in high-level games:

Now if White continues with d2-d4, he will be left with a rather harmless Queen's Gambit/Catalan hybrid. Instead, Duda set up a more modest pawn structure with b2-b3 and d2-d3, with the goal of a later e2-e4 pawn break. Both players made the natural developing moves, but 11...Bxf3?! appeared to be a concession, ceding the bishop pair. White managed to drum up some kingside play and eventually won after the game opened up into a tactical battle.

Neo-Catalan, 3...dxc4 4 Qa4+ Nd7 [A13]

Jones, G - Enchev, I opened with 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 dxc4 4 Qa4+ Nd7 5 Qxc4 a6 6 Qc2 Ngf6 7 Nf3 c5, leading to a popular setup in the neo-Catalan:

Black’s first aim is to solve the problem of his c8-bishop by developing it on the long diagonal, which he achieved after 8 0-0 b6 9 Nc3 Bb7. Black is normally doing well if he can achieve this fianchetto without making any significant concessions, although he has to be alert in the central piece play that follows. Jones sharpened the play with 10 Rd1 Be7 11 d4 and later outgunned his opponent in the resulting battle.

Réti Opening, Reversed Benoni 4...d4 [A13]

1 c4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 d5 4 Bg2 d4 is a positionally ambitious response to the Réti. Black opts for a reverse Benoni structure, and if he plays a later ...e6-e5, he will even be two tempi down on White's position in a regular Benoni.

From the diagram position, Black’s usual choice is 8...Bd6 or another move of this bishop. In Kollars, D - Huschenbeth, N, however, Black chose the rare 8...h6!? which is new to this site. Black uses another tempo to prevent White's thematic Bc1-g5. After 9 Bf4, Black was able to react with 9...Bd6, not losing any time with the bishop. The early middlegame saw some typical Benoni themes, with Black holding his own. On move 24, White made the fateful decision to enter an endgame with queen vs. two rooks, in which he was eventually ground down. Perhaps the players were just happy to be back playing in an over-the-board event, as the game continued for another 120 moves!

King’s English, Reversed Dragon 7 b3 [A20]

One of the mainlines of the Reversed Dragon occurs after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 0-0 Nb6 7 b3. Now 7...Be6 is only Black's 4th most popular try, but was Hikaru Nakamura's chosen battleground for his Chess Tour final match with Magnus Carlsen:

Black's ideas include ...Qd8-d7 and ...0-0-0. In contrast to the Sicilian Dragon proper, it is unusual to see long castling for Black in the reversed Dragon setup. In this online match, the players contested three games starting from the diagram position. 8 Qc2 was Carlsen's initial reaction but he got a bad position out of the opening. In the second game Carlsen, M - Nakamura, H, White varied with 8 Nc3 Qd7 and now went for the direct 9 d4, blasting open the centre immediately. After 9...exd4 10 Nb5 d3 11 Bb2 f6?! White was given time to generate activity, and eventually reached a favorable endgame.

Black could have improved on that game, but the World Champion varied again in Carlsen, M - Nakamura, H with 8 Bb2 f6 9 Nc3 Qd7 and now essayed the fresh concept 10 Qc1:

Here both 10...0-0-0 and 10...Nd5 looks reasonable, but Black’s 10...Nd4 allowed White to generate attacking chances with 11 Nxd4 exd4 12 Ne4 0-0-0 13 a4!.

White was soon much better, but was unable to land a winning blow against Nakamura’s tenacious defence.

King’s English, 3...f5, 5...Be7 [A21]

In Amin, B - Bosiocic, M, the players reach a kind of reversed Grand Prix Attack Sicilian, with Black’s bishop developed on the e7-square:

From the diagram, Black continued with 7...c6 8 b4 Qe8 with the simple and well known plan of ...Qe8-h5, ...f5-f4, ...Bc8-h3 and checkmate! This does seem overly ambitious in this situation, given that White’s queenside play proceeds quickly. White didn’t react optimally to the kingside pressure, however, and the game was finely balanced until White went wrong on move 25.

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

Esipenko, A - Nihal, S was a key game in the final of the online Olympiad, and became rather infamous, since Black lost his internet connection after 25 moves. Nevertheless, the game is of theoretical interest in a key line of the English so I decided to include it this Update. After the opening moves 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Ndb5 Ne5 8 Bg2 a6, Esipenko ventured the topical line 9 Na4, which involves a gambit of the c4-pawn in return for a lead in development:

Following 9...Qa5+ 10 Nbc3 Nxc4 11 0-0 d5 12 b3, the engines claim Black has equal chances, but White has a heavy plus score in practical games. Esipenko outplayed his opponent over the next few moves to maintain the initiative and was much better, although his advantage had dissipated by the time the game was terminated.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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