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One variation not yet covered on here is 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3!?, which is sometimes known as the Romanishin System. I dare say that our d-Pawn Specials experts have considered it, not unreasonably, to be more of a 'd4 and c4' system. Indeed, it pretty much is for after 3...b6 4 Bg2 Bb7 5 0-0 Be7 6 c4 play enters the old main line of the Queen's Indian, while 3...d5 4 c4 is a Catalan. Meanwhile 3...c5 4 c4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 reaches a line of the English, although here White can also keep Black guessing with 4 Bg2!?. However, there is a dynamic, independent approach which keeps play within the bounds of this section, namely 3...b5!?.

Download PGN of November '10 d-Pawn Specials games

Romanishin System [A46]

The system 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 b5!? will, indeed, be the focus of this update:

Some subscribers may nod knowingly upon seeing this radical-looking advance; others may shake their heads in confusion. I certainly can't do any better than quote what John Cox had to say back in 2005 when recommending 3...b5 in his excellent Dealing with d4 Deviations:

'Another of those little twists known to GMs but not always exploited by amateurs. This extended fianchetto is very respectable (played over 1,000 times with lots of GM games and a black score of 53%), and White really hasn't shown anything much against it; in fact Alterman declared that Black had already equalized.'

I've had 3...b5 in my repertoire for several years now, ready for those sneaky people who try and trick you into a main-line Catalan, having avoided certain sharp variations, especially if White delays c4 for a move or two after 3...d5. Cox is certainly correct, though. Look around a weekend tournament hall and while an outing for 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 will be rare, seeing 3...b5 in response will likely be a pretty rare spectacle indeed. That said, this system was also recommended for Black in another 2005 repertoire work, Alburt, Dzindzichashvili and Perelshteyn's Chess Openings for Black, Explained (hereafter referred to as COFBE), and it's surely time for an update here based on some recent games.

The main line after 3...b5 used to be considered 4 Bg2 Bb7 5 0-0 c5 6 c3:

Here both Cox and COFBE advocate 6...Na6, but 6...Be7 was the choice of a member of the elite in Adly - Aronian. The Egyptian tried to exploit Black's move order with 7 a4, but Aronian was always comfortably placed after 7...b4 and prevailed in a complex middlegame.

In Belov - Slavin we take a look at the important position which arises after 6...Na6 7 Bg5 Be7:

Traditionally White continued 8 Nbd2, but after 8...0-0 it's not clear that giving up the bishop-pair on f6 to advance with e4 is actually so good for him, although Ansell's idea after 9 e3 deserves further testing. Belov, however, preferred 8 Qd3!? and after 8...Qb6 broke with 9 a4!, obtaining a definite pull.

The ball is definitely in Black's court after Belov's approach, whereas it isn't if White prefers the Colle-like 6...Be7 7 Nbd2, after which 7...cxd4! 8 cxd4 0-0 9 Re1 d5 gives Black a very solid position and easy equality in Cordova - Delgado.

A better alternative for White to a Bg5 approach is 6 Na3!?:

We round up some 6th-move alternatives in Burmakin - Kniest, but there the knight leap to the rim is our main focus. This approach has been employed by Romanishin, Andersson, Davies and Wells, which is some pedigree! After 6...a6 7 c4! the Russian Grandmaster seizes the upper hand, eventually emerging triumphant after an exciting, if slightly topsy-turvy game, but both 6...b4 and 6...Qb6 surely represent stiffer challenges.

With Black under pressure from Belov's 8 Qd3 and possibly also to a lesser extent 6 Na3, he might prefer to keep a lid on White's early central activity with the solid 4...d5 5 0-0 Nbd7:

White has tried a number of approaches here, but while both 6 c3 and 6 a4!? b4 7 c4 deserve further attention, he is yet to demonstrate a definite route to a plus, as we'll see in Popov - Panarin.

Perhaps the solidity of 4...d5 helps to explain the interest in 4 Qd3!? at 2600+ level in 2010:

Black usually responds with 4...a6 5 e4 Bb7 6 e5 Nd5, which takes play into a curious hybrid of the Nimzowitsch Sicilian (2...Nf6) and the St George. White's bishop might not be eyeing up h7 from d3, but I quite like its presence on g2 and his chances in general. Important points to note after 7 Bg2 are 7...c5 8 0-0! and 7...d6 8 0-0 Nd7 9 a4!; the latter being a strong if logical novelty from Svidler - Gashimov. Perhaps in a bid to avoid such lines, Black prefers 4...Ba6 in Hubner - Janssen, but this is likely asking just a little too much of his position, rather uncharted though the resulting waters are.

The tricky move order 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3 might not be especially common at club level, but even there Black should have an inkling of how to respond. 3...b5!? isn't too hard an approach to take up and theory's view of it is still far from crystallising, leaving plenty of paths for both sides to explore and experiment with.

Till next time, Richard