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Exchange Slav, Symmetrical line 4.Bf4 Nc6 5.e3 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bf5 7.Qb3 [D10]
In Santos Latasa, J - Nyzhnyk, I a sharp line was tested involving ...Bb4 combined with ...Nh5.
13.Bxh7 is one of four moves, all of which lead to a more dynamic struggle than is often associated with the Exchange Variation. The idea of capturing on h7 isn't new, but was analyzed a few years back by Boris Avrukh, and indeed even six years later the Israeli GM's work still seems to indicate best play. Nyzhnyk varied from his analysis on move nineteen and had certain difficulties, but was able to salvage the draw.
Exchange Slav 4.Bf4 Nc6 5.e3 Nf6 6.Nc3 a6 7.Rc1 [D10]
The attractive plan of advancing the kingside pawns early on, as seen in Plat, V - Matuszewski, Mi comes with the risk that White might end up having the weaker king. If, however, he can keep control then his space advantage and potential for a well-timed expansion can be annoying for Black. I think that the second player should be able to cope, but he has the more difficult decisions to make, for example, in the game, Black handled the opening well, but then slipped up (a first time) with 17....Na5? (whereas 17...Nb6 would have avoided anything nasty happening) allowing a sacrifice that could have been highly dangerous. An illustration that Black has to be constantly ready to meet kingside action.
If the positions arising from 8...Bh5 aren't to your taste then I suggest 8...Bd7 9.g4 e6 10.Bd3 Rc8! as a reasonable alternative, where the light-squared bishop stays out of harm's way.
Slow Slav/QGA 4.Qc2 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bf5 [D23]
Another elite test for the fashionable plan of 'Q dropping back to b3 followed by Nbd2-c4', in Vachier-Lagrave, M - Caruana, F, has me slightly mystified. MVL was surely prepared, but his attempt at varying from an earlier Caruana game didn't achieve the desired effect and Black obtained comfortable equality without doing anything special. Maybe this suggests that the whole concept has run out of steam? So the novelty 12.Bg5 is for the record and will perhaps be quickly forgotten. The game later turned in the Frenchman's favour, as Caruana was a little slack allowing White to gain a slight pull before a snowball affect crept in. It's rarely a good idea to give MVL the initiative!
Main Slav 5.a4 e6 6.e3 c5 [D16]
The 5...e6 variation of the Slav is another one with QGA undertones. In the Ding Liren - Svidler, P match the Chinese star managed to win with both sensible recaptures on d4, however in the main featured game, this was due to a blunder, not the opening.
Here Black has tried several moves and my conclusions suggest that 12...a6 and 12...Qb6 are the most trustworthy. In the game 12...Qb8 was Svidler's choice against which I think that 13.e5! is quite promising, as once played by Gyimesi.
In the notes, you'll see their other encounter in the Slav where White preferred 9.exd4 to 9.Nxd4. In that case, handing White the opportunity to blast open the game with d4-d5 wasn't wise (but certainly shouldn't have been catastrophic) as it's generally inadvisable for Black to allow this when he is less well developed.
Mainline Slav 5...Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 8.e3 [D17]
A great fight occurred in Sarana, A - Fedoseev, Vl which was ultimately decided late on, no doubt when time was running low. Both sides had their moments, but from our point of view the fact that White was able to keep an edge out of the opening is significant. In fact, I can't see a way to full equality after 9.Qb3, so I envisage that this line has a future. Maybe the big point is that although White retains an opening pull according to the engines, the type of middlegame occurs that Slav players are accustomed to i.e. rock-solid for Black, even if he often has to wait to see what his opponent undertakes before angling for counterplay.
Mainline Slav 5...Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 8.Ne5 [D17]
The position on move eleven from Grischuk, A - Giri, A is worth pointing out:
Many club players opt to play the Slav in order to resolve the future of the 'problem piece' early on. So the fact the bishop is on d7 in the diagram, blocked by its own pawns, may look odd! However, a few moves later when Giri had achieved 16...c5, and consequent equality, the bishop awakens and becomes quite a useful piece after all. The moral here is not to be too dogmatic about 'good' and 'bad' bishops. Later on, Grischuk went astray and Giri kept control to obtain the full point.
Mainline Slav 5...Bf5 6.Ne5 Na6 [D17]
Either Ding Liren is tactically vigilant or just well prepared in the encounter Ding Liren - Jobava, B.
Here 17.Nxf7! introduced a strong combination that eventually led to a win. Curiously, Jobava had previously had an almost identical position against Aronian who failed to play this strong blow. So as the queen on e7 seems to be a problem in a number of cases where White can get his bishop to h4, my recommendation is to handle these positions with the queen on c7. So please check out the alternative 13...Qc7!.
Mainline Slav 5...Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0-0 0-0 9.Nh4 [D18]
The experienced Ukrainian was able to keep the better game throughout the encounter in Ivanchuk, V - Giri, A. I remember analyzing a QGA game of his where he also employed the B-d2-e1 manoeuvre not so long ago. The bishop may not look that dynamic here, but it was able to snatch a pawn on b4 a few moves later!
I think that Black's best chance to obtain equality was with 15...c5 rather than Giri's plan that involved pushing his b-pawn first. In the rook endgame, there was perhaps one chance to draw with 43...g5 rather than 43...Ra2?!.
Mainline Slav 5...Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0-0 0-0 9.Qe2 [D19]
Black came out on top in So, W - Caruana, F with the game being decided in a sharp Queen endgame which was more difficult to handle for White.
Here Caruana was able to liberate with the e-pawn push 16...e5! and then even obtained the better of equality as his lively queen and knights gave White some practical problems.
In such opening variations, Black has two big decisions to make: where to place his queen and which pawn breakthrough to angle for.
Caruana got it right in this case, but with slightly different white set-ups, the case for ...Qa5 or ...Qe7 (instead of ...Qc7), and then ...c5 (rather than ...e5) can be strong. So be aware of these alternative approaches.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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