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This month we examine some of the most interesting Queen’s Pawn games from the World Cup. The Slav, Semi-Slav, Ragozin and Catalan were the themes of the month, with several innovative ideas in the openings. I would argue that the highlight of the whole event so far has been the game Andersen, M - Salinas Herrera - an absolute brilliancy!

Download PGN of July ’21 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Slav Defence: Chebanenko Variation with 5.g3 dxc4 6.Bg2 g6 [D15]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6 5.g3 was a typical start for both players in Dubov, D - Malakhov, V. Dubov is well-known to play the g3-systems against both the QGD and the Sla. Malakhov, on the other hand, is the leading expert on the Chebanenko Slav. 5...dxc4 6.Bg2 It is critical at this point for Black to play 6...b5 7.Ne5 e6, transposing into Semi-Slav territory. However, Malakhov probably understood that his opponent is highly experienced in those types of positions, so he chose 6...g6 7.0-0 Bg7 8.e4 0-0 9.Qe2 b5 10.a4?! There was an interesting subtlety in first playing 10.Rd1! Nbd7 11.a4, which I explain further in my notes. 10...b4 11.Nd1 a5 12.Re1 Ba6 13.e5 Nd5:

I would be somewhat uncomfortable here with White, being a pawn down with no clear way to make progress. However, I believe Dubov was not unhappy here, as he enjoys these tense and complicated positions. Indeed, although the position is equal, both players must play accurately in order to maintain the balance. Malakhov did not manage to find the best defence, letting Dubov create an AlphaZero-like masterpiece.

MainSlav: Dutch Variation with 8...Nbd7 9.Qe2 Bg6 10.e4 Bxc3 [D18]

Gareyev, T - Fedoseev, V featured a line which has faded away from high-level practice: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0-0 Nbd7 9.Qe2 Bg6 10.e4 Here the main move is, of course, 10...0-0, for which the theory has not progressed much in recent years. However, I did find an unusual idea there which deserves further analysis. Instead, Fedoseev chose the provocative move 10...Bxc3?! giving away the bishop pair for White's e4-pawn. After 11.bxc3 Nxe4 12.Ba3:

White has excellent compensation for the pawn. I would argue that Black’s idea was too risky to be repeated, although it made for an interesting game when Black castled long.

QGD: Tarrasch Defence with ...Nf6, 6.g3 Nc6 7.Bg2 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 [D33]

In Anton Guijarro, D - Idani, P, Black revived an old line of the Tarrasch Defence: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.g3 Nc6 7.Bg2 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5:

The Iranian players are usually very well-prepared, and this game was no exception. Black holds up well against 9.Nxc6 bxc6 as played in the game, while the other important move 9.Nb3 leads to double-edged but balanced play. It should be added that 6.Bg5 is another serious try for White, and has scored tremendously well; a preliminary analysis has shown that Black is doing OK there too.

QGD: Ragozin Variation with 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.a3 [D38]

In Grischuk, A - Pichot, A, White chose the following sideline of the Ragozin: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Black has a few moves here, with the most critical line being 7...Ne4. My notes are mainly concentrated there, with an update to Glenn’s extensive analysis of the game Carlsen, M - So, W. Instead, Pichot chose 7...Bd7 8.cxd5 exd5 9.Qc2 0-0 10.Bg5 h6 11.Bh4 g5! 12.Bg3 Ne4 13.e3 h5?!:

The critical line, but after 14.c4! the resulting complications were difficult for Black to navigate.

Semi-Slav: Botvinnik Variation with 11.g3 [D44]

A rare idea was tested successfully in Vitiugov, N - Shirov, A: 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Nxg5 hxg5 10.Bxg5 Nbd7 11.g3 Bb7 12.Bg2 Qb6 13.exf6 0-0-0 14.Qg4!?:

Practically a novelty, as it had only been played a few times before by lower rated players. 14.0-0 is the main line. One of the points is to meet 14...c5 with 15.Bxb7 Qxb7 with 16.0-0-0! Or 15...Kxb7 16.Rd1! Instead, Shirov played 14...b4 15.Ne4 Qxd4 16.Qe2 Ne5 17.0-0 Qd3 18.Rfe1 c5! with an unclear game.

Semi-Slav Defence: Anti-Meran Variation [D45]

Some commentators have already pegged the game Andersen, M - Salinas Herrera, P to be the game of the year. Black offered his queen three times in order to deliver mate. White was forced to accept the queen sacrifice on the third go, but this came at the price of allowing a beautiful smothered mate! 1.Nf3 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3 Bd6 6.d4 0-0 7.Qc2 Nbd7 8.Be2 b6 9.0-0 Bb7 10.Bb2 Qe7 11.Rad1 Rad8 12.Rfe1 Rfe8 13.Bf1 c5 14.cxd5 exd5 15.g3 Rc8! A powerful change in direction, since White has temporarily left the c-file open for the rook. 16.Bh3 cxd4! 17.Nxd4 17...Bb4 18.Nde2?? This was too passive, and some five moves later, we reach the following position:

23...Ng4!! The queen cannot be taken because 24.Bxe3 Nxe3 is mate. 24.Rd3 d4! The second invitation! Again, a pseudo-sacrifice as Black threatens mate on h2. 25.Red1 25...Qg1+! Fantastic! This third sacrifice must be accepted. 26.Nxg1 Nxh2# Black is a whole queen down, but mates with almost the entire army of pieces!

Catalan Opening: Main Line with 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 c5 [E05]

A fairly rare continuation in the Catalan mainline was seen in Goryachkina, A - Badelka, O: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 c5 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Nbd2 b5!? 11.Ng5 11.axb5 Bb7! is difficult to assess, but Black has good compensation according to my analysis. 11...Ra7 12.Nde4 Nxe4 13.Nxe4 Bd4 14.Ng5 g6 15.axb5 axb5 16.Rxa7 Bxa7 17.Ne4 Bd4?!:

White now gains a comfortable advantage with 18.Bh6 Bg7 19.Bxg7 Kxg7 20.Qc3+ f6 21.Qb4 Qb6 22.Nd6 Bd7 23.Rd1 However, a highly complicated endgame ensued in this game, which took up the majority of my analysis!

Catalan Opening: 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 [E11]

Finally, the game Krasenkow, M - Alekseenko, K featured a mainstream variation of the Catalan: 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6 and here White played 9.Rc1:

White’s setup is aimed dissuading the standard move 9...b6. This has already been played a couple of times by Ding Liren, who also employed it against Alekseenko at the Candidates (see the archives). I do not think White pretends to play for an advantage here, but simply looks for some fresh positions. This approach worked out for Krasenkow, as he managed to gain a solid advantage out of the opening. Later on, White bravely sacrificed his rook to get closer to the opponent’s king. This should have led to a draw, but Alekseenko blundered into a surprising knight sortie that ended the game instantly.

Till next time, Justin

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