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The Slav with ...a6, Triangle Slav, and QGD Alatortsev are three variations that are all recognized as attempts by Black to steer the game away from the traditional main lines (and the opponent's pet systems!). Instead the chosen move orders are geared to coaxing the opponent into the types of position where decent preparation can give the second player a psychological edge. Of course, players of the white pieces are these days accustomed to such an approach, so a further surprise is often required to really take the opponent away from his homework. Those who want to beef up their own weapons, would do well to read on...there are quite a few this time!

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

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Exchange Slav 6...a6 7.Be2 [D10]

In the match Santos Latasa, J - Shirov, A Alexi Shirov played the rare 7...b5 (three times!).

Black seeks queenside expansion earlier than usual and generally hopes for a more complex struggle than one often expects from an Exchange Variation. The idea of using the ...a6 move in a positive way is certainly attractive, but the danger is that the opponent will try and exploit this queenside advance in one of two ways: Hitting back with a2-a4, or instead by simply opting to occupy the c5-square.

The game and notes demonstrate the various tries for both sides. Shirov obtained two decent openings out of their three meetings, including the featured game. Here, his over-optimism and insistence on activity got him into difficulties, before he managed to turn things around only to go down after a blunder at the end.

Exchange Slav 6...a6 7.Bd3 [D10]

Another fighting game in the Exchange Variation, although it looks like time trouble affected the quality of Howell, D - Forcen Esteban, D especially towards the end.

Here Black mainly replies with 11...Nd7 to survey the c5 and b6 squares, but in the game 11...Rc8 was employed. Over the following few moves, one's impression is that Black is not far from equality, but is not quite there yet. On move sixteen, 16...a5 turns out to be an error, whereas going back to d7 this time (with 16...Nd7!) was definitely the right way. Later, anything could have happened before the players had to settle for a draw, but David Howell was definitely the closer of the two to winning.

Chebanenko with ...g6 [D15]

If Chebanenko players want solidity rather than heavy theory then the 5...g6, as played in Ftacnik, L - Balog, I, might be of interest. It's then a typical counter-plan to include b2-b3 and Bc1-b2 at some point as the c1-h6 diagonal is closed (how else to develop the dark-squared bishop?). However, the potential weaknesses along the long diagonal enable Black to obtain good play with ...c5, as duly occurred (see 8...c5!).

In this example, Black's opening was so comfortable, I'm wondering if should White avoid b2-b3 altogether, or at least early on? Maybe, but that's something to think about and compare with analogous positions arising from the Schlechter System (D94). For now, I'll just conclude that Balog's approach is certainly viable.

Chebanenko 5.Qc2 dxe4 6.e4 b5 [D15]

The young German GM Denis Wagner opted for a sharp approach in Wagner, D - Erdos, V as you can see in the diagram:

For his pawn, White obtains the centre and free-flowing development. In the game, the principle variation occurred where Black gives the pawn back for a type of double-edged French with a bad bishop on b7, an open h-file, and a few questions about the king's best shelter. I quite liked White's 15.Bg5 as after that I think that the middlegame proved to be more difficult to handle for Black, although I suspect that there is no objective advantage when the king hides on d7.

Chebanenko 5.e3 b5 6.b3 Bg4 [D15]

The encounter Sarana, A - Lintchevski, D involved a long endgame which proved to be tenable, albeit a shade unpleasant, for Black. However, going back to the opening, we noticed that White's superiority arose early on due to Sarana's use of a sideline involving 13.e6 and Black's failure to equalize.

The revival of this move (which was used eleven years ago by Wesley So and then forgotten by the world!) creates a few questions as to where any improvement can be found. If the game continuation after 13...fxe6 doesn't inspire, then 13...Ra7 might be worth investigating.

Marshall Gambit 6.Nc3 e5 [D31]

Mamedyarov uses a dynamic counter-weapon as early as move six in Fedoseev, V - Mamedyarov, S:

Well, it seems that as this already opens up the diagonal for the light-squared bishop, White needs to react quickly. In earlier games, 7.Be3 has been shown to lead nowhere (but equality) and 7.dxe5 to decent compensation for the pawn for Black. So this brings us to the game where 7.a3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 Qa5 occurred. I don't know if it was preparation, or OTB inspiration, but the novel 9.Qc2 led to complications and a fascinating struggle, whereas the previously encountered 9.Bd2 hasn't dented Black's idea. So 6...e5 definitely has potential.

Marshall Gambit 8.Ne2 [D31]

In Gorodetzky, D - Deac, B the following position arose:

How should one react? In the game, 9...a5 occurred, Black's best scoring move in practice. Triangle expert Bulgarian IM Semko Semkov instead prefers 9...Qe5, which may be a respectable alternative, despite a disappointing percentage. After 9...a5 the bishop drops back with either 10.Bc3 (as in the game) or 10.Ba3 (with which White has had more success), but it's not evident to me which of these is better. Deac managed to equalize and later on, rather fortunately, won a blunderful endgame.

Slav Stonewall 3.Nc3 c6 4.e3 Bd6 5.NF3 f5 [D31]

The Stonewall via the Slav is a way to create a different set of problems than those arising from the more theoretical open lines of the Marshall Gambit or Noteboom. In Yilmaz, M - Nisipeanu, L Black took over once the tactics began, but before that there was a suspicion that White had the better chances, despite Black seeming to do all the right things.

One discovery I made when examining this game is that an early Nf3-e5 by White should probably be met by ...b6 before ...Nbd7. The point is to solve the problem of the light-squared bishop early whether White continues with f2-f4, f2-f3, or neither of these. Nisipeanu's 9...a5 feels like the principled move after 9.Rb1, despite the fact that the resulting middlegame was difficult to judge, and might even prove to be a shade better for White.

QGD Alatortsev 3...Be7 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bf4 [D31]

One of those games where White was pressing as if he had an advantage, but for much of the game Black wasn't doing too badly in Donchenko, A - Fridman, D. Maybe just having a lion's share of the centre spurred on Donchenko to keep pushing. A key moment for the theory being the following:

Here, Fridman played a move originally suggested by Max Illingworth (writing for ChessPublishing!) i.e. 10...Nf6 (and went on to obtain a reasonable position). The knight retreat may well ultimately prove to be best at this point, although 10...0-0 was played in the stem game, almost a decade ago, and has so far been the most popular.

Later on, the rook endgame was heading for a draw before Fridman overlooked something big.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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