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This month’s Update includes games from the Sinquefield Cup and the European Championship, with interesting theoretical developments in several key lines of the Réti and English Openings.

Download PGN of September ’21 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nd7 3 d4 Nb6 [A07]

After 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3, the move 2...Nd7 continues to be a trendy answer to the Réti, and now 3 d4 is White's main try for an opening advantage. Rapport, R - Svidler, P continued with 3...Nb6 4 a4 a5 5 Nc3 Nf6 6 Bg2, and here 6...Bf5 varied from the move 6...h6, which we looked at in Firouzja-Wojtaszek from the February 2021 Update.

White now grabbed the bishop pair with 7 Nh4 e6 8 Nxf5 exf5, after which his aim was to achieve the e2-e4 break under favourable circumstances, while Black had to fight for control of the e-file. A complex game exploded into a kingside battle after Rapport sacrificed a pawn for the initiative, and White eventually broke through.

Réti Opening, Anti-Slav Gambit 4...dxc4, 7 a4 a5 [A11]

The Anti-Slav Gambit, which occurs after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 c6 4 c4 dxc4 is one of the sharpest lines in the Réti complex. The first major branching point arises after 5 0-0 Nbd7 6 Qc2 Nb6:

White has to choose whether to play 7 Na3 immediately, or insert 7 a4 a5 and then play 8 Na3. The differences between the two are subtle, and often only become apparent quite far down one forced line or the other. In Shankland, S - Swiercz, D, White decided to test his opponent with the move order 7 a4 a5 8 Na3 Be6 9 Ng5. Black responded with 9...Qd7 10 e4 and now the good novelty 10...Bg4!. Black returns the c4-pawn but is able to complete development and avoid the crazy complications that sometimes happen in this variation. Although White secured the two bishop pair, Black was very solid, thanks in no small part to his grip on the b4-square.

King’s English, Keres System 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 [A20]

Another topical line is reached by 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nc2 Nf6 7 Nc3 Qe5 8 Bg2 Na6 9 0-0 Be7, leading to an emerging tabiya which has been the subject of several recent high-level battles:

From the diagram position, in earlier Updates, we have looked at 10 Nxe4 and 10 Ne3, while in So, W - Shankland, S, White essayed 10 d4. After 10...exd3 11 Qxd3 0-0, Wesley uncorked the subtle novelty 12 Rd1. Following 12...Qh5 13 Qe3 Re8 14 Qg5 White’s aim was to trade queens and play the queenless middlegame. White's kingside majority is more mobile than Black's queenside, and in fact White got a tangible edge before seemingly letting his opponent off the hook.

Symmetrical English, Kasparov Gambit 3 d4, 4...e5 [A31]

The combative Kasparov Gambit, arising after 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 d5 6 cxd5 Bc5, was featured in Plat, V - Mamedov, R. Following 7.e3 0-0 8 N5c3, the old main line starts with 8...e4, but Mamedov’s 8...Bf5 is the modern treatment. Black goes for quick development and restricts White's activity:

The game continuation 9 Be2 Nbd7 10 Nd2 Bb4 allowed Black to win back the d5-pawn, with comfortable equality. Black pushed for more, and was eventually rewarded when his opponent erred in a sharp endgame.

Symmetrical English, 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e5 5 Nb5 Nc6 [A33]

Nagy, G - Paravyan, D, varied from the previous example with 5...Nc6 6N1c3 d6, quite a rare move order leading to a setup resembling the Sveshnikov/Kalashnikov Sicilian:

From the diagram, White could profitably explore 7 e4 (directly transposing to a Sicilian) or 7 g3 aiming for control of the h1-a8 diagonal. Instead, 7 Bg5 is White's most common answer, but the resulting position looks very playable for Black. After 7...a6 8 Bxf6 gxf6 9 Na3 h5!?, Black gained kingside space with 10...h4 and 11...f5. A few moves later, it was clear that Black's opening had been a success, as it was not easy to come up with an active plan for White.

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

The top notch encounter Caruana, F - So, W saw one of the traditional mainlines of the Four Knights Symmetrical English, opening with 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6 6 g3 Qb6 7 Nb3 Ne5 8 e4 Bb4 9 Qe2 d6 10 Bd2 0-0:

White's most popular continuation here is 11 0-0-0, but with the less common 11 Bg2 White keeps his options open. The response 11...Bd7 12 f4 Ng6 could have been strongly met with the space-gaining thrust 13 e5!. After the more circumspect 13 Rc1, a back-and-forth battle eventually ended peacefully.

Symmetrical English, 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 d4 [A34]

After the fairly standard moves 1 c4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 d4, Bluebaum, M - Van Foreest, L immediately left well-trodden paths with 5...Qa5!?, a near novelty on move 5!

Despite the surprise value, White secured a comfortable game after 6 Bd2 cxd4 7 Nxd4 e5 8 Nb3 Qd8 9 g3. Following a trade of queens, White’s development advantage persisted, and Black ended up in trouble.

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

The game So, W - Svidler, P reached the diagram position after 1 c4 g6 2 Nc3 c5 3 g3 Bg7 4 Bg2 Nc6 5 Nf3 e5 6 a3 a5 7 d3 Nge7. There are very few forced lines in these structures, and it is always fascinating to see the battle of ideas play out when two top players face each other in such variations.

After castling short, White usually re-routes with Nf3-e1-c2-e3 to further control the d5-square. In this game, White showed a nice alternate route with 8 Nd2 d6 9 Nf1 0-0 10 Ne3. After protracted manoeuvring, Black lost the game without making any obvious mistakes, so definitely a Wesley So performance worth studying.

I hope you enjoy this Update!

Until next month, David.

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