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Hello from Australia! This update is a Semi-Slav special, where Black is currently in great shape, and I also cover the Short endgame in the Exchange QGD, which puts a damper on White's aspirations to an advantage in this line. One consistent feature of all the lines I cover here is that they will appeal to those seeking a complex strategic battle. Anyway, please send in your requests for what lines you'd like me to cover, and enjoy the update!

Download PGN of March '15 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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The Exchange QGD, Short System [D35]

The Short System with 5...c6 6.e3 Bf5 is a new one for us, but has been quite popular among Grandmasters of late as a drawing weapon, based on defending the following position:

I admit, Black's structure leaves a lot to be desired, but it's one thing to call the pawns weak and another to effectively attack them. In Ding - Kramnik White tried 10.Nf3 with the intention of blockading the f5 square, but Black was in time to bring his knight to the ideal d6 square and achieve ...f5, with sterile equality the result.

The other major approach is to harass the bishop with 10.h4 and h5, but Vitiugov - Ponomariov saw that also lead nowhere, with Black going for the standard ...a5 (then ...a4) to prevent White making progress on the queenside. The fundamental problem for White is that any pawn break either exchanges Black's weak pawns or opens the position for Black's bishop pair. While this system won't do for a must-win game, from a theoretical perspective it makes the Exchange Variation rather innocuous, as subscribers will remember I neutralised the alternative 6.Qc2 in an earlier update.

The Moscow Semi-Slav with 7...g6! 8 e4 [D43]

A trendy variation that's been on my list of things to cover is the extremely fashionable 7...g6 in the Moscow, and after examining the games we can see why - Black gets very harmonious play and the long-term advantage of the bishop pair provides ample opportunity to outplay the opponent. Our first game, Jobava - Saric, quickly reached a crazy position:

However White's alternatives to 8.Bd3 and 8.Be2 don't really impress and you probably won't need to look at them again for some time after studying my notes.

The Moscow Semi-Slav with 7...g6! 8 Be2 [D43]

Next up is the 8.Be2 of Postny - Kasimdzhanov, where the Uzbek GM demonstrated that Black doesn't have to release the central tension in response to the e4 break:

Black has just sacrificed a pawn with 10...Nd7!?, but he gets good compensation in the style of the Grunfeld if White accepts. That's still probably his best option as in the game White tried to play normally but ultimately the bishops proved their worth once the centre blew up.

The Moscow Semi-Slav with 7...g6! 8 Bd3 [D43]

After 8.Bd3, White is not forced to play e4 and in Andreikin - Giri we consider White's approaches without this early break:

Black isn't in any particular danger here - he will simply play ...b6, ...Bb7 and prepare the ...c5 break, when the position will resemble a Tartakower QGD, with the bishop pair in tow. It's worth pointing out that a transposition to the 7...Nd7 main lines is possible after 10.Re1 dxc4 11.Bxc4 Nd7 12.e4, but I fill you in on the details there too.

The other model example for Black also features Giri:

This position arose in Bacrot - Giri and on a first glance you may prefer White, but Black's bishop pair and the target on e5 are serious long-term factors and in the game Black successfully caught up in development, going on to outplay his esteemed opponent. So the theoretical conclusion is that White has absolutely nothing in the 7.e3 g6 Moscow and needs to look elsewhere.

The g3 Semi Slav [D43/E01]

I discussed this variation at length a couple of months ago, but with Giri - Ivanchuk I complete the picture on this line:

This 6...Nbd7 variation can be recommended to those happy with solid equality, which Black can achieve most simply by playing ...a5 after developing the king's bishop and castling. The practical advantage of such an approach is that you won't have to stay up to date all the time as you would for the sharper alternatives.

6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bd3 Anti-Meran [D45/D47]

Partly because of White's difficulties to prove anything in the Moscow and Anti-Moscow Variation, a lot of top players have turned to the Anti-Meran, and the game Nepomniachtchi - Korobov from the recent European Championship gives some indication as to why:

White has just met 10...a6 with 11.Ng5!, intending in many cases to sacrifice the pawn for a strong initiative and long-term compensation. This has been rigorously tested in engine games and I've summarised the key points from those games and shared some of my own ideas in the notes. Ultimately I don't think 10...a6 equalises for Black, and he should stick with the standard 10...Bb7.

Happy Easter in advance and I will be back with some more fresh opening ideas next month! Max

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