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This month there are a combination of my own games (one win and one loss); new and old Ragozin ideas (even when White did not commit their knight to f3!); Semi-Slav debates; and new trends in the Catalan, which looked a lot like mouse slips apart from the fact that they were all played in serious over the board events!

Download PGN of April ’22 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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QGD: 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Qf3 Bg6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 9.Qxf6 gxf6 [D35]

I was not especially excited to see the solid variation 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Bf5 played in my game Tan, J - Murphy, C as I had prepared mainly for 6...Be7. Luckily, I had checked some ideas before the game, but I knew that it would not be easy to crack Black’s defences. 7.Qf3 Bg6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 9.Qxf6 gxf6 10.Nf3 Nd7 11.Nh4 Be7 12.g3 12.Ne2 is awarded an exclamation mark by Illingworth and I think I would agree that it is more accurate (even if 12.g3 is the main line!). 12...a5!?:

I went into a deep think after this active move and in principle, I felt it was a strong defence! I had only looked at 12...f5 which seems like an unnecessary concession compared to what my opponent achieved in the game. 13.Ne2 At this point, I expected the less committal 13...Nb6 14.Nf4 Bd6 15.Rc1 Kd8 with a fighting game, but my opponent played 13...a4 14.Rc1 Nb6 15.Nf4 Bb4+ 16.Kd1 and I eventually managed to squeeze a win out of this very slight edge.

QGD: 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Bb4 [D35]

Bok, B - Abdusattorov, N featured a new trend 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Bb4 Black has so much faith in the Ragozin that he plays it even before White committed his knight to f3! 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 It would be great to make this variation a winning attempt for Black, but White does have the solid alternative 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Qb3 Qd6 9.a3 Bxc3+ 10.Qxc3. 7...g5! A concrete theoretical idea. 8.Bg3 Ne4:

9.Nge2 The most natural option. White has various other options which will probably become theoretical debates in the future. I did my best to map out the area for the reader, covering 9.Qb3, 9.a3!? and 9.Qc2!? as well. The game continued 9...h5 10.h4 Nxg3 11.Nxg3 gxh4 12.Nxh5 c6 with a complete mess that I think Black should be happy with if they enter this variation.

Ragozin Mainline: 5.Bg5 Nbd7, 13.Bxd7 [D38]

After 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bg5 we last covered the move 5...Nbd7 in 2011 and it has indeed dropped out of fashion as 6...h6 is far more common these days. 6.e3 This is probably a more precise move order than 6.cxd5 exd5 7.e3 as my analysis shows that the latter move order allows 7...h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Ne4 (although 6.cxd5 exd5 7.Nd2!? is worth considering). 6...c5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Bd3 c4 9.Bf5 (9.Bc2!?) 9...Qa5 10.Qc2 0-0 11.0-0 Re8 12.Nd2:

At this point, I believe the most reliable defence is 12...Qa6, with the idea to follow up with ...h6, ...Qc6 and ...Nb6. Ding stuck to the absolute main line 12...g6 13.Bxd7 Nxd7 but in my opinion Black does not completely equalise after Kramnik’s move 14.h4!?. See my notes to the game Bai, J - Ding, L.

Semi-Slav: Botvinnik Variation with 10...Be7 [D44]

In Nguyen, T - Nesterov, A the sharp Botvinnik Variation of the Semi-Slav was debated: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Nxg5 hxg5 10.Bxg5 Now Nesterov chose the sideline 10...Be7 which was popular a few years ago. My analysis shows that it still holds up as a less theoretically built-up alternative to 10...Nbd7. Play continued 11.exf6 Bxf6 12.Bxf6 Qxf6 13.g3 (I analyse several alternatives to this in my notes 13...Bb7 14.Bg2 Na6 15.Ne4 Qe7 16.0-0 0-0-0 17.h4 c5 18.a4 Rxd4 19.Qe2 b4:

It was easy for Black to mix up the line here. No doubt Nesterov knew that 20.Rfd1 Bd5 was OK for Black, but against Nguyen’s 20.Rad1 it was a mistake to play Bd5?! due to 21.Ng5! and after 21...Re8 the key difference is that White has 22.Rfe1! when both rooks have a strong influence against Black’s pieces in the centre. Black played 21...Bxg2 22.Kxg2 Qb7+ 23.Kg1 and although Black was in big trouble by this point, White did not managed to convert the advantage and even lost. It should be noted that Black equalises not with 20...Bd5?! but with 20...Qc7.

Semi-Slav: Anti-Meran Variation with 6.Be2 [D45]

I experienced a cold shower in Tarun, K - Tan, J after coming out of the opening comfortably: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Be2 Bd6 7.0-0 0-0 8.b3 b6 9.Bb2 Bb7 10.Bd3 A move which Flear touched upon, and one that has been fairly trendy among strong players. One interesting point is that it evades the equalising line 10.Qc2 Rc8! which I analysed a couple of months ago. 10...Re8 A sensible move. 11.Qe2?! But this was clearly illogical as the queen puts itself into the indirect firing line of the rook on e8. 11...dxc4 12.bxc4 e5?! [12...c5 was obviously the other move I wanted to play. 13.d5 exd5 14.cxd5 Ne5 15.e4 I was uncertain of this structure. It turns out to be a good transformation of the structure for Black in general, although the evaluation is only equal. 13.c5?! 13.Qc2 would have been slightly better for White:

Now the healthiest option was 13...Bc7. I chose the confrontational 13...exd4 14.cxd6 dxc3 15.Bxc3 Ne4?! But after 16.Bxe4 Rxe4 17.Nd4! White had a surprising initiative and won quickly after a few more inaccuracies from both sides.

Open Catalan: 5...a6 6.0-0 Nc6 [E04]

We now come to the two “mouse slips” in the variation 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.Nf3 a6 6.0-0 Nc6 The first of these was 7.Qd2!? played in Yuffa, D - Areshchenko, A:

To my surprise, this has been played by opening experts Wojtaszek and Gelfand, but the champion of the line is Igor Lysyj who has played it six times already! White’s point is to play 8.Qc3 next, capturing on c4 without having to sacrifice the pawn on d4. Black’s two equalising moves are therefore 7...Rb8 and the game continuation 7...Bb4 8.Qc2 b5 9.Ne5 Nxe5 10.dxe5 Nd5 11.Rd1 Bd7 12.Nc3 Bxc3 13.bxc3 Qe7 14.a4 0-0 15.a5! White threatens 16.e4. 15...b4 16.cxb4 I believe this was all preparation from Yuffa. At this point, however, his opponent went badly astray with 16...Bb5?? and after 17.Bxd5 exd5 18.Rxd5+- Black had no compensation for the pawn.

The second “mouse slip” in this variation was 7.Be3!? as in Korley, K - Steingrimsson, H:

The point of this one is simply to play 8.Nbd2 next and try to claim a stable advantage. Once again, the overarching point is to overprotect the d4-pawn. 7...Nd5 (7...Rb8 is another defence) 8.Qc1 Nxe3?! Instead, 8...Be7 9.Qxc4 Nxe3 10.fxe3 0-0 11.Nbd2 a5 must be objectively fine, but White can definitely be content with the outcome as well.] 9.Qxe3 Nb4?! Clearly taken aback by White's innovative opening preparation, Black continued to go wrong: 10.Qc1! b5 11.Ne5 Rb8?! 12.a3 f6 and now instead of White’s blunder 13.Nxc4?? White could have gained a decisive advantage with 13.Bc6+! Nxc6 14.Nxc6 as Black would not have enough compensation for the exchange.

Catalan: 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bb4+ 5.Nd2 0-0 6.Ngf3 dxc4 [E04]

Finally, another creative idea from Yuffa was seen in Yuffa, D - Kollars, D: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bb4+ 5.Nd2 0-0 6.Ngf3 dxc4 7.Qc2 a5 8.a3 Bxd2+ 9.Bxd2 b5 10.a4 c6 Here Yuffa comes up with 11.h4!?:

This is a new move for the site, although it has already been tested in 10 games, with a tremendous score. Amusingly, out of those 10 games, there have been no fewer than seven tries in this position! The best defence, in my opinion, is 11...Bb7. Kollars chose 11...h6 12.g4! Nxg4 13.axb5 f5! A common theme in this variation is that White’s b5-pawn is taboo due to 14.Qe4. Kollar’s move, though, puts ...cxb5 back on the agenda. In any case, White gained an advantage with 14.Ne5 Nxe5 15.dxe5 Qb6? 16.Rg1! Qxb5 17.Bxh6! and Black was in trouble. Nevertheless, the game was very up and down all the way until the end when the players agreed a draw in a completely winning position...for Black!

Until next time, Justin

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