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The highlight of February 2020 was the Prague Masters (won by Firouzja), Aeroflot Open (won by Suleymanli), Graz Open (won by Shevchenko), Cairns Cup (won by Koneru), Roquefort Open (won by Duboue), Montevideo Open (won by Acosta), Cuban Championship (won by Albornoz), Cappelle la Grande Open (won by Moussard), Go-Makkah Masters (won by Lagarde), Cannes Open (won by Gukesh).

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

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Slow Slav: 4.e3 Bg4 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.Ne5 Bh5 [D11]

3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bg4 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.Ne5 Bh5:

Is a non-standard retreat for the bishop that intends to make it difficult for White to achieve the kind of endgame he is looking for (See the game L’Ami, E - Smirnov, A, Tata Steel GpB 2020 in the archive) since it will not be so easy to trade off the light-squared bishops. The drawback is that Black loosens his grip over e4. See the game Werle, J - Shirov, A, Bundesliga 2020.

Exchange Slav: 6...a6 [D13]

3.Nf3 Nf6 4.cxd5 cxd5 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bf4 a6 7.Rc1 Bf5 8.e3 e6 9.Be2 Qb6?!:

A move unlikely to be repeated any time soon in a position that is otherwise quite satisfactory for Black. The queen has no business on the queenside and in the diagram position White has more than one road towards the advantage. Instead, 9...Bd6 or 9...Rc8 are better. See the game Vidit, S - Firouzja, A, Prague Masters 2020.

Queen’s Gambit Accepted: 3.Nf3 & 4...Bg4 [D25]

2...dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bg4 5.Bxc4 e6 6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.0-0 Be7!?:

A rare but solid idea that I suspect will be taken up by others after this game. One would think that Black’s position might end up being too passive, but this is not necessarily so. After White pushes e3-e4, Black will play ...c7-c6 and contain the center. Eventually, Black will find counter play thanks to the maneuver ...Qb8!, preparing to strike at White’s dark-squares with ...e6-e5. See the game Navara, D - Harikrishna, P, Prague Masters 2020.

QGD Vienna: 5.e4 b5 [D37/D24]

3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.e4 b5 6.e5 Nd5 7.Nxb5 Nb6 8.Be2 Be7 9.0-0 Nc6 10.Be3 0-0 11.Nc3 Rb8 12.b3!:

Not a new idea, but certainly the most convincing execution of it. White does not give up on trying to swing the queen over to the kingside, but takes the time to put some pressure on Black’s queenside. Later, the queen may reach e4 via b1. See the game Sargysyan, S - Magshoodloo, P, Aeroflot Open A 2020.

QGD Ragozin System: 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.e3 [D38]

3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.e3 Bd7!?:

An old and very solid idea that seems to have fallen by the wayside over the years. However, the logic behind it is quite compelling. Black intends to make a serious dent on White’s control over the light-squares by pushing the pawn all the way to a4 before capturing on c4. After this the real question becomes whether Black will be able to trade off the light-squared bishops. I think he will. See the game Wagner, D - Magshoodloo, P, Aeroflot Open A 2020.

Semi-Slav/Anti-Meran: 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.b3 [D45]

3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.b3 0-0 8.Be2 b6 9.0-0 Bb7 10.Bb2 Qe7 11.Rad1 Rad8 12.Rfe1 Rfe8 13.Bf1 e5 14.dxe5 Nxe5 15.Nd4:

This move is the only way White can pose serious problems for Black. The positional threat of Nf5 is quite real and Black must decide whether to stop it with ...g6 (and embrace an IQP) or to enter the complications by snatching up the c4-pawn (and allow the trade). In the game Black chose the latter and this proved to be the correct decision. Black later lost because of a silly blunder, but he should have held without any major inconveniences. See the game Tabatabei, M - Delchev, A, Bundesliga 2020.

Open Catalan: 7.Qc2 b5 [E06]

6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 b5 8.a4 b4 9.Nfd2 Nd5!:

In the archive the moves 9...c6 and 9...b3 had been previously discussed. However, I believe this to be best. Black intends to highlight the misplacement of the white queen by opening up the c-file by means of ...c7-c5 and then put pressure on both the queen as well as the knight (by means of ...Ba6). White must play with great caution. After 10.Nxc4 c5 11.dxc5 Ba6 the knight is coming to d7 and the rook is coming to c8. White must be careful, but in any case I don’t see any advantage for him. See the game Cordova, E - Riazantsev, A, Aeroflot Open A 2020.

Open Catalan: 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 [E06]

6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6 10.Bg5 Nbd7 11.Nc3 a5 12.Rfe1:

White’s attention seems to have completely shifted away from the ”open“ position that arise after 8.Qxc4 and top-lever competition now seems to focus exclusively on finding out whether White can actually make something of his space advantage in these lines. White’s two ideas are to try to expend all the way to e4 (as in this game) or to keep the pawn on e3 and maneuver with the pieces instead. Even though Black eventually won this game, his position was unsettling after the opening. He should not have allowed White to relocate the knight to c4, hence the key move was 16...Nd7! Nevertheless, there does seem to be some room for improvement for White. See the game Sadhwani, R - Indjic, A, Aeroflot Open A 2020.

Till next month, Robert

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