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This month’s update contains a mix of rather boring games on the one hand, and very sharp games on the other. There are updates in the Slav Exchange, the Slav Triangle, the Catalan, Ragozin and Semi-Tarrasch. There are also two of my own games, one of which was rather too passively played by me, while the other featured a bold double exchange sacrifice!

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

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Slav Defence: Symmetrical Exchange Variation 7.Qb3 Na5 8.Qa4+ Bd7 9.Qc2 [D14]

I have seen that Swiercz, a strong theoretician, has played a few Exchange Slav games from the white side, so I wondered if there were any updates to be aware of. The game Swiercz, D - Van Foreest, J featured the standard moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bf4 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bf5 7.Qb3 Na5 8.Qa4+ Bd7 9.Qc2 e6 10.e3:

Here, most of my theoretical analysis investigated the move 10...Nh5 where I discovered that there is some merit to testing the opponent’s nerves with 11.Bg5 f6 12.h4!? with the aim of trapping the enemy knight on the side of the board and creating some initiative in the process. The main line 11.Be5 was also quite interesting and could have transposed to the game. 10...Rc8 11.Bd3 Bb4 12.0-0 Nh5. The game itself was not highly significant in terms of the theory, but I added some of the recent games in the Exchange Slav for both White and Black to be better updated.

Slav Triangle: Marshall Gambit 8.Be2 Na6 9.Bd6 Qxg2 10.Qd2 [D31]

Much sharper was Navara, D - Anton Guijarro, D: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Qxd4 7.Bxb4 Qxe4+ 8.Be2 Na6 9.Bd6 Slightly less popular than the main line 9.Ba5. 9...Qxg2 10.Qd2 Qe4!?N:

A novelty which was clearly prepared by Anton. It caught Navara off-guard slightly although even so, he responded effectively. 11.Nf3 e5 12.Rg1 A fine move, but not the top line of the engine so most likely it was overlooked in Anton's preparation. Here Anton erred immediately with 12...g6?? (it was necessary to play 12...Bg4) 13.Ng5 which allowed 13.Bxe5 f6 14.Bc3 Bg4 15.Rxg4! Qxg4 16.0-0-0+- when Black's position falls apart. Navara chose 13.Ng5 which was not as strong. There were many mistakes thereafter, indicating just how difficult those types of positions are in practice.

QGD, Ragozin System: 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Ne4 8.e3 [D38]

The strong Indian Grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta has recently been employing the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Ne4 8.e3 as White in the Ragozin, and he’s had some success:

However, in Gupta, A - Sadhwani, R, his young opponent had clearly prepared against Gupta’s pet line and came up with a solid solution: 8...Nxc3 9.Qc2 Ne4 10.Bd3 Nd6 11.Nd2 Na5 12.c5 Nf5 There were many ways to play for Black but I like this one a lot as it's difficult to see where White is going to create his play after this move. As you’d imagine, the game became quite sharp and it was more or less a three result game throughout, although it generally looked more promising from the black side.

Semi-Tarrasch Defence: 5.e3 Nc6 6.a3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 a6 [D40]

In the Candidates, we did not see many QGD games, but when we did, they were usually very solid for Black. For example Ding, L - Nakamura, H opened with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c5 5.e3 Nc6 Transposing to a very reliable QGA position has been the most popular option at this juncture, especially at the highest level. 6.a3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 a6 8.Bd3 I covered 8.Ba2 b5 9.0-0 Bb7 in Aronian - Grischuk, 2021. Since then there have been some developments, particularly with the move 10.Qe2 which can actually become quite sharp, as Dubov showed in a few games. Ding’s move was perhaps less ambitious. 8...b5 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.b4 Be7 11.0-0 Bb7 12.Bb2 0-0 and Black had no problems out of the opening, though eventually he made some errors in an equal ending and lost.

Semi-Tarrasch Defence: 5.cxd5 cxd4 6.Nxd4 [D41/A32]

I myself dabbled in this system in my Bundesliga game Pechac, J - Tan, J. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c5 This was obviously a surprise for my opponent, as I deviated from my main repertoires (the Semi-Slav, Ragozin and Vienna Variation). 5.cxd5 cxd4 6.Nxd4 This line should be harmless, but I played such a sub-optimal defence that the line looked very plausible from a cursory glance at the game. 6...Nxd5 7.Bd2:

7...Nxc3 Already a slight misstep, but especially because my next move was far too laid-back. This was based on some vague knowledge of Wesley's games in this variation but he had started with 7...Be7 8.e4 Nxc3, which makes a lot more sense! Other moves that are fine for Black are 7...Bb4 and even 7...Nf6. 8.Bxc3 a6?! I could have justified my previous move with a concrete solution, but this was not really my intention at all... 8...e5 9.Nb5 Qb6 10.Qd5 Nc6 11.Nd6+ Bxd6 12.Qxd6 Bf5 13.e3 Rd8 14.Qa3 Black is doing OK, although it is not straightforward as the king is prevented from castling for the time being. 9.g3 I have to admit that I hardly considered 9.g3 and, after some thought, I realised that my intended 9...e5 was not such a simple equaliser. Well, it was clearly the move I wanted to play, so I should have tried harder to make it work! I reluctantly played 9...Be7, with a passive position, although later I resolved the issues and even had chances to win.

Catalan Main Line: 7.Ne5 Nc6 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Na3 [E05]

I do not remember the last time I offered a draw in a much better position, thinking that I was on the verge of losing! This occurred in Townsend, P - Tan, J. It was a fascinating game, and I was happy that my play turned out to be, on the whole, correct but a lack of confidence was evident in my uncertain evaluation of the double exchange sacrifice (which hovered between "this could be OK for me?" to "this could just be +5 to my opponent"!). Let's see it: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Nf3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Ne5 My opponent had never played this before, but I was beginning to become too predictable with my somewhat dubious 7...c5 line so I responded with 7...Nc6 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Na3 Bxa3 10.bxa3 I was not unhappy to see this line as it created an obvious imbalance. 10...Ba6 11.Qd2 Rb8 12.Qa5 Qc8 13.a4 Rd8 14.Ba3 Rxd4 15.Rfb1 Rb6 Following So - Nakamura, 2016 which was analysed by Illingworth in the archives. 16.Bc5 Rd5!?!?:

I vaguely remembered this idea in a footnote to my analysis and thought I would give it a crack! I was not certain at all that my memory served correctly, but I wanted to put myself through the challenge of being two exchanges down for positional compensation, as it was not something I had any experience in, until this point. The game continued 17.Bxd5 cxd5 18.Bxb6 axb6 19.Qb4?! Nd7 20.Qe7? Ne5 and Black had a winning advantage, whereas at the time I still felt totally unsure about it!

Catalan Main Line: 6.Qd3 [E06]

Firouzja, A - Caruana, F was meant to be a big match-up, but with Firouzja in bad form, it turned out to be a rather shaky game from his side: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Qd3:

A new move for the site. I don’t really know what to make of it. In the game, he could have achieved a slight pull if he had followed the much older game Grischuk, A - Lysyj, I but if Black had chosen 6...b6! at this point, it would have been a fairly comfortable defence. Caruana chose the logical 6...c5 7.0-0 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.cxd5 Nxd4 10.Qxd4 Nxd5 and here Firouzja opted for 11.Rd1 but a more testing approach (as in the aforementioned game) would have been 11.Nc3 (although even this is fine for Black).

Catalan: 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6 9.Bf4 b6 10.Nbd2 [E10]

Finally we have a game which was just as much schematically as theoretically relevant, Giri, A - Topalov, V: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6 9.Bf4 b6 10.Nbd2 A speciality of Giri's in the past year or so. 10...Nh5 11.e3!?:

Giri has been a major trendsetter for this structure and it has worked out quite well. It is also frequently seen in the recommendations of the engines which is useful to know. The positions after 11...Nxf4 In the Armageddon rapid game, Topalov deviated first with 11...Bb7 12.cxd5 exd5 13.h4 but Giri outplayed him very nicely there. 12.exf4 Bb7 13.cxd5 cxd5 14.Rfc1 Rc8 Black turned out to be solid, but generally speaking, the structure could be investigated further by Catalan players as a way to unbalance the position a little bit. There have been some games in which White was able to develop an initiative.

Until next time, Justin

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