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These last few months, with the only chess around being online at Rapid or Blitz, have perhaps changed some people's habits. Certain openings have come to the fore, especially those where you can get a good game without having to remember too much! The Ragozin/Vienna repertoire has become especially popular of late at GM level. Black hopes for the inherent solidity of a Queen's Gambit, but with more punch, due to the Nimzo-style pin involving ...Bb4 along with a timely Semi-Slav influenced ...dxc4 or just activity with ...Ne4 and/or ...c5. Some of the elite are even getting these positions with both colours.

Download PGN of August ’20 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Ragozin System 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.e3 0-0 7.Qc2 [D38]

A cautious waiting game eventually became much sharper in Nakamura, H - Grischuk, A with the Russian GM improving on David Navara's play (see move seventeen) from another recent online encounter. Both sides could have varied much earlier as there are many possibilities, but the game moves are very logical when neither side wants to commit themselves early. One conclusion from this game is that Grischuk's choice of 11...Bd7 is a good choice as none of White's twelfth moves, including Nakamura's 12.Be2 offer White very much, if anything.

Ragozin System 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Qa4+ [D38]

One of the main lines in the Ragozin, involving an early exchange of queens, was tested in Sarana, A - Bluebaum, M:

In reply to 13.Nb5, they formerly used to go 13...Rd7, but such tangled pieces offer White chances to keep some pressure. Bluebaum instead played the rarer (and, in my opinion, stronger) 13...Bd7! which seems to more or less solve any opening problems. Capturing on c7 is at best risky, whereas if White develops more routinely then Black completes development without any fuss. This game only really livened up towards the end where Sarana must have been close to winning the double-rook endgame.

Ragozin System 5.Qb3 c5 6.dxc5 Na6 [D38]

A pretty attacking game, Yu Yangyi - So, W also featured a novel opening idea after 7...Nxd5:

The Chinese star introduced a novelty 8.c6 to mess up Black's structure. Frankly, with Black having a lead in development one feels that there shouldn't be any serious issues, but Wesley So didn't find a route to full equality. A close look suggests that 10...Rb8 (instead of the immediate capture on c3) is the right way, as you can see in the notes. Dont forget to play through this game to the end, as the attack was excellent.

Ragozin System 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 Ne4 [D38]

A rare loss from the World Champion in Carlsen, M - Giri, A, but he had nevertheless obtained a decent opening and early middlegame.

Here, after 12...Bd6, the unexpected move 13.Rg1 creates an unusual position where White's king is going to be stuck in the centre, but might prove to be the safer monarch anyway! The loss could be attributed to a blunder, but Carlsen had already lost the thread with a slightly dodgy rook manoeuvre (16.Rb5?! instead of 16.c4!).

Ragozin System 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 0-0 [D38]

Once Carlsen had won a pawn there was little doubt as to the result of Carlsen, M - Firouzja, A but in the first half of this game his young opponent showed plenty of spirit and at one point could have been better (see moves 24 and especially 29). Although 9.Nh4 was a novelty, Firouzja managed to avoid any major problems and was even competing for the initiative. Surprise value aside, maybe White has more chances for a pull with the alternatives 9.Bg5 or 9.Be2.

Ragozin System 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.e3 0-0 8.Rc1 dxc4 9.Bxc4 c5 [D38]

In one of the main lines, White obtained a 'grindable' mini-edge in Harikrishna, P - Wojtaszek, R.

Here 13.Bd3 and 13.Qh5 are both reasonable moves, but Harikrishna's 13.a3 might be best. The reply 13...Ba5 gives White the possibility of 14.Qh5 (which looks like a better version than when played one move earlier) or the Indian's 14.Nb3 Bb6 15.Qd6. The Polish GM may have got close, but never really equalized and was duly outplayed, so it looks like Harikrishna's queen swap is actually quite a good idea.

In Kozul, Z - Brkic, A White's 12.Ne4 was worthy of note:

Zdenko Kozul has been around quite a while but still plays with the dynamic provocative style of his youth. Here he was quite willing after 12...Bb4+ to move his king with 13.Ke2 and it did prove to be a clever ploy: White's attacking chances outweighed any downsides of having a centralized king. As a possible improvement for Black, 12...Bb6 would transpose to an idea that Matthieu Cornette has recommended, with the same careful retreat being possible one move earlier.

Vienna Variation 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 h6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Bxc4 c5 9.0-0 [D39]

Placing the queen on d3 is quite unusual in this line, but that's what the Russian GM did in Nepomniachtchi, I - Ding Liren:

White often delays recapturing the d4-pawn, hoping to gain time (and even use it as a shield) to generate attacking chances on the kingside. If Black has his wits about him he should be fine and indeed Ding Liren avoided any real problems early on. It's a good idea to compare analogous positions (such as those following 12.Qe2) in order to get a feel for the balance between attack and defence. The Chinese GM quite correctly wasn't worried about returning the pawn for a good game, but then he went too far and sacrificed a pawn of his own. Although this gave a 'computer-edge' to Nepomniachtchi, at this time limit is was hard to maintain any advantage.

Vienna Variation 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e3 b5 [D39]

The early play in Zwardon, V - Sanikidze, T soon involved a novelty, 8.Be2!?:

Not for the last time in this encounter, White offers a second pawn, but on each occasion the complicated play that would follow gave him good practical chances. In fact, Zwardon even went further with a piece sacrifice, but unfortunately his follow-up was woefully inadequate. Still, White's ambitious play could have got him a significant advantage if he had been more vigilant. My suggested improvement for Black to avoid such difficulties is 10...Qc7 instead of 10...g5.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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