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I'm focusing this month on those lines where White fianchettos his light-squared bishop. In the Catalan, I always find it amazing how this 'quiet' opening can become so sharp so quickly, especially if the players insist on playing principled moves. There are also a couple of Bogo/Catalan hybrids, where Black plays ...Bb4+; Bd2, Be7; a popular theme. At times, the players indulge in a series of 'useful but non-committal' semi-waiting moves before one of the players decides on a clear strategy. It helps to have good general experience in the traditional Closed Catalan lines and the Stonewall Dutch (for the latter you'll have to switch your attention to the Daring Defences to 1.d4 column), plus some patience (which often helps!).

Download PGN of November ’19 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Open Catalan 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 Bd7 6.Ne5 Nc6 [E04]

In Halkias, S - Nabaty, T Black played the opening in a rather creative way, starting with the unusual 6...Nc6 and then after 7.Nc4 with 7...b5:

Well, although Halkias may have been surprised by this, he reacted well and obtained an advantage and went on to win a crushing game. There aren't many positives in this for Black, and I'm having to conclude that 6...Nc6 is insufficient for equality. As to the better known (and better!) 6...Bc6, see the notes for some of the latest developments.

Open Catalan 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 a6 6.Ne5 [E04]

In Bluebaum, M - L'Ami, E the Dutch GM chose the wrong pawn-break to try and liberate his light-squared bishop, as 13...b5 would have been superior to 13...e5.

If however Black wants to obtain full equality, then I think that 9...Nbd7 is more precise than 9...0-0 posing the question to White's e5-knight before he has the time to organize a recapture on c4. The game was overall a very one-sided affair.

As to the opening, 6.Ne5 is a distant second to 6.0-0 in terms of popularity, but scores about the same percentage. Maybe it's less well-known, and could destabilize an unprepared opponent, as it leads to very different play.

Open Catalan 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 c5 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Qa4 [E04]

Here it was with the time control approaching that White made the difference in Vitiugov, N - Can, E and only after a serious error from Black. Before that, Can had managed to navigate a tricky opening phase and overall keep level-pegging.

After White's slightly unusual ninth move (9.Qc2 is more common) there are all sorts of subtleties revolving around the queenside tension. How should Black aim to pick off the c-pawn? Should White angle for b2-b4 and, if so, when?

It doesn't look like White's ninth move is a serious theoretical challenge, but certainly has practical surprise value.

Catalan Mainline 4...Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Ne5 Nc6 [E05]

In Predke, A - Ganguly, S White's eleventh move looks quite promising to me:

In a number of alternative lines White seeks to pick off the c4-pawn, but comes under pressure. Here, instead of being materialistic, he is more interested in getting properly developed. Ganguly's 11...e5 is new, but I don't rate it that highly. The main alternative 11...c5 leads to rather dry positions where only White has any (albeit slight) winning chances. Maybe Levon Aronian's 11...Rd8 12.Qa4 a5 is Black's most dynamic and best practical response, but more games need to be played before one can make any well-founded conclusions.

Catalan Mainline 4...Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Rd1 [E05]

Black has a difficult decision to make after 12.Nc3, as in the game Dragnev, V - Kovalev, V:

There have been some games involving 12...Qe8 that seems to lead (almost!) to a forced draw at 2700+ level, but there have been plenty of decisive results lower down! The featured game involved the alternative queen deployment 12...Qe7 which I think is equally playable. Following 13.e4 g6 14.d5 I think that Black can equalize by simply capturing on d5.

Closed Catalan with Qd3 [E07]

White got into a mess as he underestimated the danger in his slightly artificial set-up in Xiong, J - Tabatabaei, M. In the game, Xiong's 10.Ne5 leap is quite rare, and perhaps not too bad despite what happened. Romanishin (who was first to have this position) played 10.Ng5 (with a later N-h3-f4) in the seventies before switching to 10.Bf4 a decade later. Anyway, a theoretical backwater doesn't mean that, in a one-off game, an unprepared opponent will know what to do, so an early Qd3 (on move seven or eight) shouldn't be taken too lightly.

Closed Catalan 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Nf3 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6 [E11]

In these Closed lines, both sides have many options with the emphasis on steering play into the sort of middlegame where one feels comfortable. The 9.Rc1 of Ding Liren - Alekseenko, K is relatively new to this column, but I can't claim that it's 'better' than the alternatives, just different.

Usually, Black will opt for either a set-up based around ...b6 or ...f5, but Alekseenko avoided both (trying to cross his opponent's preparation perhaps?), instead finding a good moment to counter with ...e5.

The game was a fine scrap with both players finding some ingenious moves in the middlegame.

Closed Catalan 4...Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Nf3 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Bf4 [E11]

It's amazing how quickly Black's position fell apart in Hansen, S - Alekseenko, K.

After 11.d5 the erstwhile 'Closed' variation had sharpened up and had all the signs of a typical 'Open' variation where both sides had opted for the principled moves. In the game, the centre was liquidated and play seemed easier for White even though Black's position is probably not too bad (although I'm not sure I would claim it to be full equal). For ordinary mortals, it strikes me that investigating 11...Qb6 or 11...b4 will make White's life more complicated that 11...cxd5, though there is no guarantee that at the end of the day these options will turn out to be objectively stronger.

Glenn Flear

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