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In this month’s Update, we look at various attempts (from both sides of the board) to create an imbalance in the opening - whether through a pawn sacrifice, a provocative move, or a surprise weapon. All eight games were decisive, although the result was not always what you would have guessed after the opening!

Download PGN of September ’23 Flank Openings games

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Réti Opening, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 g6 3 c4 [A07]

In the Réti after 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3, the move 2...g6 has become one of Black's most important tries, especially at the top level. Now 3 d4 leads to a symmetrical Grunfeld, while 3 Bg2 Bg7 4.0-0 allows Black to occupy the centre with 4...e5. Grigoryan, K - Andersen, M continued with 3 c4 dxc4 4 Qa4+ Nc6:

Now 5 Bg2 Bg7 6 0-0, aiming for tactics after 6...e5 7 Nxe5, leads to forcing sequence that has proven to be fine for Black. This month’s game continued with the simple 5 Qxc4 Bg7 6 Bg2 e5 7 d3 Nge7. The problem with this setup, from White’s viewpoint, is that Black has a typical space advantage, while White's queen is more of a target than an active piece. Although White eventually won the game, Black is doing very well theoretically, and White needs to look for earlier deviations.

Neo-Catalan, 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 [A13]

Gumularz, S - Erigaisi, A also featured an early Qd1-a4+xc4 sequence, but in a more challenging form for Black. In the Neo-Catalan line 1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 Nf3 dxc4 5 Qa4+ Nbd7 6 Qxc4, the mainline starts with 6...a6 7 Qc2 c5, while 6...c5 attempts to save the ...a7-a6 tempo.

Now 7 0-0 b6 and 7 Qb3 Rb8 8 0-0 b6 allow Black to activate the c8-bishop, while 7 d3 (enabling a quick Bc1-f4) makes it harder for Black to develop. After 7...a6 8 Qb3 Bd6 9 a4 cramps the queenside, and later on 12...b5 13 axb6 leaves Black with split pawns, after which White can claim a slight edge.

Reversed Benoni 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 Be7 5 0-0 0-0 6 b3 d4 [A14]

Theodorou, N - Raja, H opened with 1 c4 Nf6 2 g3 e6 3 Bg2 d5 4 Nf3 Be7 5 0-0 0-0 6 b3, and now Black went for the ambitious reversed Benoni setup 6...d4:

The trendy line here is 7 e3 c5 8 Ne5, while 7 d3 is a slightly unusual move order. Black could now consider 7...Nc6, since after 7...c5 8 e4, White gets a favourable structure in the event of 8...Nc6 9 e5. Black instead played 8...dxe3 9 fxe3, giving White a central pawn majority. Having said that, White didn’t squeeze the maximum out of the position, and Black managed to equalize out of the opening.

Anti-Grünfeld, 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 e5 [A16]

Indjic, A - Djukic, N revisited the interesting gambit line 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 e5 5 Nxe5 0-0 6 Nf3 Re8:

In recent years, much of the theoretical focus has been on the move 7 Bd3, where White returns the pawn immediately, and aims for a low-risk, small edge. Instead, 7 d3 is the principled continuation, aiming to hold on to the gambit pawn. after 7...d5 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 Bd2 Bg4 10 Be2 Bxf3 11 gxf3 Nb4 12 Be3. White’s king may have to stay in the centre, but is relatively safe there, while White has the bishop pair and can attack with ideas such as f3-f4 and h2-h4-h5. Indjic came well prepared, and showed that Black doesn't have an easy time of it.

King’s English, 1 c4 e5 2 g3 g6 3 d4 [A20]

After the opening moves 1 c4 e5 2 g3 g6, the central break 3 d4 is an important option which we first looked at in 2022. In Esipenko, A - Sarana, A, the following position arose after 3...exd4 4 Qxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bg7:

Now White can aim for a queenless middlegame with 6 Qe3+, and after 6...Qe7, maintaining the tension with 7 Bg2 looks promising. Instead after 7 Qxe7+ Kxe7 8 Nh3 d6 9 Bg2 c6 10 0-0 Be6 11 b3, Black should play a quiet move, but was tempted by 11...Ne4, leading to interesting tactics that should favour White.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 Bf4 Bb4 [A33]

In the Four Knights with 1 Nf3 c5 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 e6, White has many valid 6th moves. 6 Bf4 remains one of the less common tries, and so is not a bad surprise weapon. In Cordova, E - Stearman, J, Black answered with the natural 6...Bb4 which was answered by 7 Ndb5:

In this position, the mainline is 7...0-0, when White can explore 8 Bd6 or 8 Bc7. Instead, Black went astray immediately with 7...Ne4?. After 8 Qd3 Nxc3 9 bxc3 0-0 10 cxb4 Qf6 11 Rb1 Qxf4 Black had material parity, but was way behind in development, and it only got worse from there.

Symmetrical English, Four Knights 6 Bf4 d5 [A33]

Staying with the 6 Bf4 theme, Lagarde, M - Dorfman, J varied from the previous game with 6...d5 which is Black's most popular, and principled response:

In past Updates, we have looked at 7 e3 Bb4 8 Be2, maintaining the central tension. In this month’s game, play continued 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Nxc6 bxc6 9 Bd2. White has created a weak c6-pawn, but needs more time to complete development. Black should be able to equalize with accurate play, but in the game White got a nagging edge, which eventually paid off in the endgame.

Symmetrical English, 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 c4 d5 [A34]

An important tabiya arises after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 c5 3 Bg2 Nc6 4 c4 d5 5 cxd5 Nxd5 6 Nc3 g6:

Now the traditional line 7 0-0 Bg7 8 Nxd5 Qxd5 9 d3 is very solid for Black, so White has tried a variety of ways to create an imbalance, including 7 h4, 7 Ng5 and 7 Qa4.

Praggnanandhaa, R - Keymer, V instead featured 7 Qb3 which is new to this site. Black answered with the combative 7...Ndb4 8 Ne4 and now 8...Bg7, giving up the c5-pawn for rapid development. Black got an initiative and good compensation, although (as is typical for Rapid) the game started to swing back and forth before Black finally prevailed.

Until next month, David.

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