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The conclusion of the Candidates was gripping and the return of 6+ hour playing sessions reminded chess fans of just what we’ve been missing for the past year. The Champions Chess Tour has plenty of drama, but just isn’t the same thing, at least unless you’re a child of the internet! That said, the current event, the New in Chess Classic, has managed to serve up some fine games, and from the 157 games which had been played at the time of writing, some 27 were in our favourite openings. That’s a whopping 17% of all the games being d-pawn specials, with the vast majority of those that popular modern system, the London.

Download PGN of April ’21 d-Pawn Specials games

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The London: 2...e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 e3 Qb6!? [A46]

As subscribers may be aware, 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 (2 Bf4 can easily lead to the same thing, but we’ll also take a quick look at 2...Nh5!?, which So has also had to face) 2...e6 3 Bf4 c5 4 e3 Qb6!? hasn’t always enjoyed the best of reputations on these pages:

I’ve quite liked 5 Nc3 for White, but have always accepted that a well-prepared black player should be OK after 5...Nc6!?. Instead, 5...cxd4 6 exd4 Qxb2? 7 Nb5 was quickly a disaster then rapid victory for Black in So, W - Duda, JK.

White’s alternatives are the Eric-approved 5 Na3 and 5 Qc1, with the solid latter seen in Firouzja, A - Duda, JK, where 5...Nc6 6 c3 Nh5! already appeared quite comfortable for Black, who went on to win a powerful and instructive game thanks to a white knight being stuck on h4.

The London: 2...d5 3 Nf3 c5 4 e3 Qb6 [D02]

A related but no less risky approach for Black is 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Bf4 c5 4 e3 Qb6. Here 5 Nc3! is worthy of its exclam in my opinion and Black must tread carefully:

5...Bd7 had been thought to be one of the better defences, but after the outwardly calm 6 Rb1 e6 7 Be2 Nc6 8 0-0 White was ready to go Na4 and quickly obtained a Jobava-Prié style edge in Firouzja, A - Aronian, L.

The London: 2...d5 3 Nf3 c5 4 e3 Nc6 5 Nbd2 Qb6 [D02]

We continue our tour of Black’s various ...Qb6 options with another Aronian game and 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Bf4 c5 4 e3 Nc6 5 Nbd2 Qb6:

This remains a critical test of White’s modern move order, but after 6 dxc5 Qxb2 7 Rb1 Qc3 8 Bb5 Black needs to know his stuff. 8...g6!? may well be quite viable, but after 9 e4! Black needs to do much better than he managed with 9...Bg7? in Aronian, L - So, W.

The London: 2...d5 3 Nf3 c5 4 e3 Nc6 5 Nbd2 cxd4 6 exd4 [D02]

If Wesley So didn’t appear quite at his best in that game, it was likely because he was already 1-0 down in the first set of his quarter-final with Aronian - and in another London no less. This opening game began 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Bf4 c5 4 e3 Nc6 5 Nbd2 cxd4 6 exd4 whereupon Aronian introduced 6...a6!? into top-level practice:

Black gives up a tempo to prevent Bb5, which isn’t such a bad practical decision, but after the 7 c3 e6 8 Qb3 of So, W - Aronian, L I’m far from certain that he can claim equality.

The London: 2...d5 3 Nf3 c5 4 e3 Nc6 5 Nbd2 e6 6 c3 cxd4 7 exd4 Nh5 [D02]

Wesley So was one of the first to deploy the line 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Bf4 c5 4 e3 Nc6 5 Nbd2 e6 6 c3 cxd4 7 exd4 Nh5 and I’m not too sure why he isn’t still wheeling it out from time to time. An important line is the aggressive 8 Be3 Bd6 9 Ne5 g6 10 g4! Ng7! 11 h4!?:

This has been known since the 2017 U.S. Championship encounter Kamsky, G - Nakamura, H, and it’s still not at all clear that Black can’t snaffle the pawn on e5, as Nakamura did. Instead, 11...h5 12 Bg5 Qb6 13 Bf6 was seen in Aronian, L - Duda, JK, when I don’t think that Black should put his rook on h7.

The London, Anti-Nimzo: 2...d5 3 Nf3 c5 4 e3 e6 5 c3 Bd6 [D02]

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Bf4 c5 4 e3 e6 5 c3 Bd6 usually just leads to the main line after 6 Bg3, but White can attempt to cut across Black’s move order with 6 Bb5+!? Nc6 7 Bxc6+ bxc6 8 Bxd6 Qxd6 9 Qa4:

This is far from ridiculous, especially when compared with the 6 Bg3 Nc6 7 Nbd2 0-0 8 Bb5 variation, and White soon found himself with an ideal good knight against bad bishop endgame in Aronian, L - So, W.

Let’s hope we can feature more games from the ever creative Levon Aronian next month!

Until then, Richard

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