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This month has a heavy Slav and Semi-Slav focus, which are interesting to me personally, as they form a part of my main repertoire. I recall an interview with Caruana last year in which he mentioned that openings tend to go in and out of fashion, sometimes quite mysteriously, and he explicitly mentions the Slav Defence as an example. Well, if it ever did lose popularity, perhaps it is seeing a revival! I also cover the rare 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c5, the QGA and the QGD Harrwitz Attack. Enjoy!

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

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Unusual Defences: Symmetrical Defence 2.c4 c5 [D06]

The rapid game Dubov, D - Carlsen, M opened with the rare defence 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c5!? The engines claim that White is better here, but when you go a bit deeper, and use slightly better engines, the assessment becomes less clear. It's one of those lines, I think, where White has a slight pull but Black is close to equalising with best play. 3.Nf3 cxd4 4.cxd5 Nf6 5.Nxd4 Qxd5 White is better after this provocative move. Instead, 5...Nxd5 is the most reliable option and comes close to equalising. 6.Nc3 Qa5:

At this point, Dubov, true to his style, played the pawn sacrifice 7.e4?! which is objectively incorrect, but we ought to take into account the element of style/creative license. Better is 7.Nb3 Qc7 8.Nb5 Qe5 9.e4! See my notes for further details.

Slow Slav Defence: 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Bg6 [D12]

Donchenko, A - Dubov, D featured a more normal opening: 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Bg6 7.Be2 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Nxg6 hxg6 10.Qb3 White doesn't have such good chances of an advantage after this move because of the manoeuvre that Black carried out in the game.

10...Qc7 11.Bd2 Nbd7 12.Rac1 Nb6! This forces White to clarify the situation in the centre. 13.cxd5 exd5= Having equalised comfortably, Dubov went on to take the initiative, and won a model game.

The same manoeuvre was carried out in Rodshtein, M - Fedoseev, V where White deviated with 7.Qb3. However, as in Donchenko, A - Dubov, D, this queen sortie is unthreatening. 7...Qc7 8.g3 Nbd7 9.Nxg6 hxg6 10.Bg2 Be7 11.0-0 Rd8 12.Bd2:

12...Nb6! 13.cxd5 exd5 14.Rad1 Qd7 15.f3?! g5!? 16.Bc1 g4 and Black developed a kingside attack.

QGA: 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qa4+ Nc6 [D23]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qa4+ Nc6 was played in Rapport, R - Dominguez Perez, L. I like this response, as it cuts out the need to learn the Slav theory that arises after 4...c6. 5.Qxc4 e5! 6.Nxe5 Nxe5 7.dxe5 Ng4 8.Bf4 c6 9.e3 g5! 10.Bg3 Qa5+ 11.Nd2 Be6 12.Qc2 0-0-0 13.0-0-0 Bb4:

Black clearly has enough play here for the pawn. The game continued 14.a3 Bxd2+ 15.Rxd2 Bb3! 16.Qf5+ Be6 17.Qc2 Bb3 18.Qc3 Qxc3+ 19.bxc3 Rxd2 20.Kxd2 Rd8+ 21.Ke2 Rd5= which eventually ended in a peaceful result.

QGD: Harrwitz Attack: 5...0-0 6.e3 b6 [D37]

English FM Marcus Harvey clinched the IM title this month, which was always bound to happen! However, his shift toward highly inventive opening preparation certainly contributed to his strong performances of late. The game Harvey, M - Murphy, C featured 1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 b6 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Nxd5 Qxd5 9.Bd3 Qa5+ 10.Kf1!? 10.Nd2 is more common, but the king move has been played by some strong players, including Caruana.

10...Ba6 11.Bxc7 Bxd3+ 12.Qxd3 Na6 13.Be5 (13.Bg3 was played in Caruana, F - Nakamura, H). 13...Nb4 14.Qe2 Rac8 15.a3 Qa4 16.Kg1 At this point, Black was supposed to find the resourceful 16...Na2! 17.h4 Nc1 18.Qf1 Nb3, but failing to see this, he played the inaccurate 16...Nc6?! which did not exert enough pressure on White’s queenside. This was quite successful opening preparation from the IM-elect, as the chances of his opponent finding the key move proved to be limited.

Semi-Slav, Slav Triangle: 5.Qd3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 b5 7.Qd3 a6 8.g4!? [D43]

Another bold idea from Harvey was seen in Harvey, M - Roberson, P, 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Qd3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 b5 7.Qd3 a6 8.g4!?:

This pawn sacrifice is a new move for our site, but one which has picked up a lot of traction recently from strong GMs. The most critical line is of course 8...Nxg4, but it has never been played before! The line continues with 9.Rg1 Nf6 10.Bf4 Bb7 11.e4. My analysis indicates that Black holds the balance with some precise counterattacking moves. Instead, the game continued 8...c5 9.g5 c4 10.Qe3 Nd5 11.Nxd5 Qxd5 12.Bg2 Bb7 with an unclear position. For the record, I believe White has reasonable chances of an advantage after 13.0-0.

Semi-Slav Defence: Meran Variation with 8...b4 [D47]

Another deviation from the usual Semi-Slav lines was seen in Lima, D - Can, E: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 c6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 b4!?:

Black very quickly gained the initiative after White played the harmless 9.Na4. I focus instead on the theoretically testing move 9.Ne4 Nxe4 10.Bxe4 Bb7, which has some sort of long history but hasn’t really been analysed for a while. I’ve found that Black is doing OK here, even though some positions might look difficult to play at first glance. One of my findings is that Black should often respond to a3 with ...a5, keeping the tension (whereas ...bxa3 is seen in most of the old games).

Semi-Slav Defence: Meran variation with 8...a6 9.e4 c5 10.e5 cxd4 11.Nxb5 [D49]

Finally, the wildest game this month was the exciting match-up Mamedyarov, S - Rapport, R in which 8...a6 was played instead of 8...b4 (as in Lima, D - Can, E) Rapport’s idea was revealed 4 moves later: 9.e4 c5 10.e5 cxd4 11.Nxb5 axb5 12.exf6 Qb6!?:

So far, all the games we’ve analysed on our site continued with the main move 12...gxf6, which seems to hold up. Rapport’s move is a daring alternative which leads to a huge mess after the critical variation 13.fxg7 Bxg7 14.0-0. I have tried to find the lines which Rapport was most likely to enter here, but this is not an easy task, as he is famously unpredictable! Mamedyarov must have been concerned about falling into Rapport’s preparation, as he chose the non-critical 13.0-0 Nxf6 14.Nxd4. He eventually won the game, although there were some ups and downs from both ends - presumably exactly the kind of game that Rapport was aiming for!

Until next time, Justin

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