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The remaining rounds of the Candidates saw no fewer than three decisive games in what many people might term ‘boring’ lines, but I have annotated all of them. In other developments, an early ...h6 push is starting to become fashionable in different guises against the Catalan, cutting out any ideas of Bg5.

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

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Tarrasch Defence: 6.dxc5 d4 7.Na4 Bxc5 8.Nxc5 Qa5+ 9.Bd2 [D32]

I found the games from the Polish Championships interesting to watch, and definitely not lacking in theoretical relevance. In this month’s game Wojtaszek, R - Gajewski, G Black essayed 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6, perhaps with a view to getting a Dubov Tarrasch. White reacted with 6.dxc5 and Black played 6...d4:

This is the most direct approach, 6.g3 is the theoretical main line. There followed 7.Na4 Bxc5 8.Nxc5 Qa5+ 9.Bd2 Qxc5 when White has a choice between the hyper-aggressive 10.b4, and the more restrained 10.Rc1 which might still obligate Black to snatch a hot pawn in a couple of moves’ time.

Queen’s Gambit Declined: 4...Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.c5 Nh5 [D37]

En route to salvaging his tournament, Chinese super-GM Ding Liren played a nice positional squeeze in the QGD in the closing days of the Candidates. In the line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.c5 Nh5 8.Bd3 Nxf4 9.exf4 b6 10.b4 a5 Black generally tries to generate play on the a-file to counteract White’s central clamp:

Over the course of a manoeuvring game Black certainly had his chances to do so in Ding, L - Grischuk, A, however, after 11.a3 c6 12.0-0 Ba6 and now the rare 13.Ne2!? White placed his opponent under some pressure that never really abated.

Queen’s Gambit Declined: 4...h6!? [D37]

The game Makarian, R - Esipenko, A featured a test of the prophylactic line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 h6!? which has been tried recently by several strong players, right up to the world champion. My feeling is that 5.g3 is White’s best reaction, and I’ve analysed this in some detail. Instead, the game saw 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 Bd6 7.e3:

This moves invites Black to cause the doubled f-pawn structure that is so common in the London System (among other openings). White handled it rather well, keeping his knight on e5 and initially remaining calm as Black accepted an IQP and tried to make the play more dynamic. Sadly for Makarian, 20 good moves after the diagram position he misplayed it and his elite-level opponent grabbed the full point.

Queen’s Gambit Declined: 4...a6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Be6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 [D37]

Adding to a discussion from last month, I refer, once again, to the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 a6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Be6 7.Bxf6 Qxf6 8.Qb3 Ra7 9.a3 Qd8 10.h4. In this month’s game Vidit, S -Mamedyarov, S Black played the most combative move possible, 10...c5!?:

The rook on a7 looks rather strange for the moment, but Black’s plan is to extricate it with ...b5 in one of the ensuing complicated positions. This stuff is great fun to analyse and I won’t pretend to have all the answers yet, but my conclusion is that White’s most testing answer could be 11.dxc5 Bxc5 and now 12.0-0-0, a novelty according to my database.

Catalan Mainline 4...Be7, 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6 10.Bf4 [E05]

The game Giri, A - Wang, H was essentially a lesson about not combining the moves ...a5 and ...c5 in the Open Catalan. After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6, I have revisited a lot of the theory behind 10.Bg5 and concluded that in many lines White benefits from playing a flexible 9.Rd1 before developing the queen’s knight. Instead White chose 10.Bf4 Bd6 11.Nc3 Bxf4 12.gxf4:

For the second time in this month’s column White took on the doubled f-pawns and installed a knight on e5, seemingly permanently. Black’s best reaction to all of this is to play 12...a5, but then just nonchalantly place their own knight on b4 and manoeuvre the major pieces. In the game Black chose a plan based on ...c5 instead, which came unstuck and yielded the expected result, despite a remarkable resource that could have saved the Chinese player at the eleventh hour.

Closed Catalan with 3...h6 [E10]

As far as I am aware, the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 h6!? has no name in chess literature, but it is easily deduced that Black is looking to play ...d5 in a couple of moves’ time (having cut out White’s ideas of Bg5), so after 4.g3 the line belongs with the (closed) Catalan. We already saw, of course, a related idea tried by Esipenko in the QGD. This month’s game continued 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 d5 (we’re back!) 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6:

Normally this position occurs with Black having castled in place of playing ...h6. My opinion is that White may be able to utilise the slight difference by playing 9.Rd1 0-0 10.Bf4, when the move ...h6 could be of questionable utility compared with a queenside developing move like ...b6. Instead White chose 9.Nc3, which was met by the principled 9...dxc4, and the game hardly left the range of equality thereafter. See Goryachkina, A - Alekseenko, K.

Closed Catalan/QID: Main Line with 8.Qc2 b6 9.Rd1 [E15]

A more mainstream kind of Closed Catalan was seen in Li, D - Zhao, J. The critical position of the opening arose after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 c6 8.Qc2 b6 9.Rd1 Ba6 10.b3 Nbd7:

Some really interesting complications arise after the possible 11.a4, which I have tried to analyse in some detail. Instead, 11.Bf4 Rc8 12.Nc3 occurred, when Black declined the pawn sacrifice (I also checked the acceptance of it) in favour of setting up a Stonewall Dutch structure with ...Nh5 and ...f5. This sharp strategy nearly paid dividends in the end, but in the moves leading up to the time control it was ultimately Black’s king that suffered worse from the heat of battle.

Closed Catalan/QID: 4...Bb4+ 5.Nd2 [E16]

Notwithstanding that this game didn’t even start with 1.d4 and ultimately transposed into a position more commonly reached via the Queen’s Indian, the crossover line has been checked in this column before (by Max) and I thought I would take a fresh look at it. The game Giri, A - Alekseenko, K started 1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 e6 3.Bg2 d5 4.d4 Bb4+ 5.Nd2. Note that 5.Bd2 almost certainly transposes back into the Closed main lines after White goes Nf3 next. Now after 5...0-0 6.Ngf3 b6 7.0-0 Bb7 we get our QID crossover:

Black’s position is extremely solid here and probably neither 8.Ne5 nor the game move 8.b3 really leads to any advantage. However, both are good attempts, and certainly Black has to watch out for the twin dangers of i) losing the bishop-pair and then being ground down, and ii) leaving himself with an isolated queen’s pawn. Alekseenko navigated the nuances extremely skillfully and then seized his chance when Anish was perhaps a bit too lax about allowing outposts near his queenside pawns.

Till next time, Justin

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