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This month I dive into some theoretical battles that emerged from the Superbet Chess Classic, which featured a good number of relevant games for my column. Openings included were the Ragozin, the QGA, the Semi-Tarrasch, the Catalan and the Semi-Slav. In most of the games, I noticed a trend that White was often allowing Black to reach either a very dry ending or even a dead drawn position. However, in a number of cases their adversaries did not spot the best defence, or perhaps they fell for the bluff!

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

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Queen’s Gambit Accepted: 7.Nc3 a6 8.Ne5 [D26]

The QGA has been a part of Caruana’s repertoire for a while now, and it will always remain a tough nut to crack. In Aronian, L - Caruana, F, White essayed the direct line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bxc4 e6 5.Nf3 c5 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Nc3 a6 8.Ne5:

Objectively, this is not a serious try and verges on bluff territory, but it did throw the world No.2 off-guard, which is quite telling. Black is comfortable after 8...Nxe5 in this position; however, Caruana chose the more complicated line 8...Qc7 9.Nxc6 Qxc6 10.d5 exd5 11.Nxd5 which was slightly preferable for White.

Ragozin System: 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd2 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Bd6 9.Qc2 e5 [D38]

In this super GM event, there were two games that featured the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd2 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Bd6 9.Qc2 e5 10.dxe5 Nxe5 11.Nxe5 Bxe5:

In the first of these, So, W - Aronian, L, White opted for 12.0-0-0 However, as Aronian showed with his simple neutralising defence 12...Qe7 13.Kb1 Be6, Black can liquidate into a drawn ending if they so choose, and I even offer some ways for Black to play more ambitiously.

Instead, the move 12.f4 in Mamedyarov, S - Aronian, L was slightly more testing and paid off in the end. However, here too, Black could have reached a drawn ending, which, surprisingly, Aronian did not enter into. 12...Bxc3 13.Bxc3 Ng4 14.Bd4 c5! This pawn sacrifice is necessary to prevent White from castling long. 15.Bxc5 Re8 16.0-0 Nxe3 (16...b6!?) 17.Bxe3 Rxe3 18.Rfe1 Rxe1+ 19.Rxe1:

19...Bd7? My analysis shows that 19...Qd4+ leads to a draw. The game continuation is refuted by the simple 20.Qb3 and Mamedyarov converted without trouble.

Vienna Variation: 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 h6 [D39]

Another major line of the Ragozin 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bg5 was played in Radjabov, T - So, W. Black chose the topical 5...dxc4 6.e4 h6!? A popular alternative to the main line 6...c5. 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Bxc4 c5 9.e5 Qd8 10.0-0 cxd4 11.Ne4 0-0:

This could be considered an important tabiya of the 6...h6 system. In my analysis, I devote special attention to the move 12.Nxd4 which Flear examined previously in the game Nihal, S - Sonis, F. The line remains dangerous, but I managed to find a defence for Black against White’s sacrificial play. Radjabov chose the calmer 12.Qe2 Be7 13.Rad1 Qc7 but failed to come up with anything inspired and the game ended peacefully.

Semi-Tarrasch Defence: 5.e3 Nc6 6.a3 [D40]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c5 5.e3 Nc6 6.a3 was seen in Aronian, L - Grischuk, A 6...dxc4 7.Bxc4 a6 8.0-0 b5 9.Ba2 Bb7 10.d5 exd5 11.Nxd5:

Aronian was lucky enough to reach this structure in two of his white games (as the Caruana game above was similar). In general, these positions are easier to play for White, even if Black should be OK. In this position, Black erred with 11...Be7?! After which, White retained serious pressure in the centre with the move 12.e4!

Semi-Tarrasch with 5...cxd4 6.Qxd4 exd5 [D50]

A more technical but no less interesting struggle was seen in Grischuk, A - Deac, B which opened with 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 cxd4 6.Qxd4 exd5 Here the move 7.e4 is the most popular move, leading to a well-known queenless middlegame after 7...Nc6 8.Bb5 dxe4 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Ng5 Be6. Instead, Grischuk keeps the tension with 7.Bg5 Be7 8.e3 0-0 9.Be2 Nc6 10.Qd3 h6 11.Bh4 Be6 12.0-0 Qb6 13.a3 Rfd8 14.Rfd1:

At this point, my engine indicates that the simplest solution is 14...d4! 15.Nxd4 Nxd4 16.exd4 Rac8 with active play for the pawn. Deac chose 14...Ne4 which is a less direct but solid alternative. There arose a typical conflict between White’s structural advantage and Black’s active piece play that ultimately wound up in White’s favour, although Deac was extremely tenacious throughout.

Semi-Slav: Anti-Moscow Variation with 10.Qc2 [D43]

Deac, Bogdan-D - Giri, A was definitely the sharpest encounter of all the games I examined this month, starting with the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5 9.Be2 Bb7 10.Qc2 The main move here is 10...Nbd7, but Giri played the more nuanced 10...Nh5 11.Rd1 Nxg3 12.hxg3 and now 12...Na6 This is the big point of delaying the knight's development:

White now has at least three promising continuations, 13.a4, 13.b3 and the game continuation 13.a3 all of which I analyse to high depth. In all cases, play is incredibly unclear, and I do not know which side to prefer in a practical game. In our archives there is a predecessor game Johansson - Nizky in the line 13.b3 which illustrated the dangers to Black’s position even in correspondence chess. At the same time, lines could be blurring between correspondence and high-level preparation so it is possible that Black can navigate their way through the complications in practice too. Nevertheless, Giri himself ended up in a precarious position which was difficult to defend. He was on the verge of collapsing before Deac blundered away his winning advantage at the very last hurdle. An entertaining game, but gut-wrenching for the young Romanian GM!

Catalan: 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 c5 6.0-0 Nc6 7.dxc5 Qxd1 8.Rxd1 Bxc5 [E04]

Finally, the most solid game this month was definitely Giri, A- Aronian, L which featured one of the main lines of the Catalan 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 c5 6.0-0 Nc6 7.dxc5 Qxd1 8.Rxd1 Bxc5 9.Nbd2 c3 10.bxc3 0-0 11.Nb3 Be7 12.c4 Bd7 13.a4!?N:

Finding no real prospects after 13.Bb2, Giri presses on the queenside. Black should now play the natural move 13...Rfd8 which I am sure Giri analysed extensively with his seconds. Having said this, it was no easy task trying to determine what he wanted here. I employed Lc0 in the hope that it would illuminate any potential ideas, but everything appears equally as ...equal! I suspect that after this game, Giri will search for a different try because Black shouldn’t have any problems if they do their homework. Aronian played the less prudent 13...Rad8?! 14.Bb2 Bc8 15.Nfd4 after which, his queenside was under some typical Catalan pressure, although Giri missed the chance to capitalise on this a few moves later.

Till next time, Justin

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