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The empire strikes back this month, and Black scores well. The Fianchetto system and the ‘Lesser Averbakh’ continue to be popular choices for White, but black players were up to the tasks they faced.

Download PGN of December ’17 KID games

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Fianchetto Variation 6...Nc6 7.Nc3 e5 8.dxe5 [E62]

8.dxe5 remains popular, and we look at a couple of theoretical developments. In Vidit, S - Naiditsch, A Black plays the normal 8...dxe5 9.Bg5 Be6:

Here Vidit played the uncommon but interesting 10.Qc1!? It looks like Avrukh will recommend this move in his upcoming GM Rep book, so we’ll get a head start and take a look. I do doubt that Naidtisch’s 10...Qb8 will find many followers even though he held - perhaps he was just trying to dodge preparation.

8...Nxe5 is a less common alternative. In Shengelia ,D - Fedorov, A White essays 9.b3!? which was recently tried by Avrukh. After 9...Nxf3+ 10.exf3 is a strategically risky move, 10.Bxf3 is normal and we look at that in the notes. In the game Fedorov quickly gains the upper hand, but he is gradually overwhelmed by his tempting choices and White miraculously survives.

Panno 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.0-0 a6 8.e3 Rb8 9.Qe2 [E63]

In the Panno the lack of immediate conflict means that almost anything is possible, but 8.e3 Rb8 9.Qe2 is not a very common line. After 9...b5 10.Rd1 Black goes for the flexible 10...e6 in Tomashevsky, E - Nakamura, H:

I like this move and I believe I recommended it in my book. Black quickly gets a good position, but perhaps the American superstar was atypically not aggressive enough.

‘Lesser Averbakh’/Karpov Variation 5.Be2 0-0 6.Be3 [E73]

After the traditional 7.d5 a5 8.g4 Na6 9.h4 Nc5 10.f3 h5 11.g5 Nh7 which we saw just last month, the Spanish super-GM plays 12.Kd2?! instead of 12.Qd2. This just looks too extravagant and it's hardly necessary:

After 12...Bd7 13.Nh3 c6 14.Nf2 cxd5 15.exd5 f5 Black made it look easy in Vallejo Pons, F - Radjabov, T.

I have stated before that I prefer 6...c5 This is the main move against the Averbakh, so it makes sense here too, especially as the analogous continuation to the Averbakh 7.e5 looks healthy for Black after 7...Ne8! 8.dxc5 Bxe5!:

This is the difference compared to the Averbakh - there is no pawn hanging on h6. Following 9.Nf3 Bxc3+! is an interesting approach. In Williams, S - Jones, G Black got the upper hand, but the creative Williams stayed active and created enough trouble to secure the draw.

7.d5 looks more critical. Then 7...e6 8.Nf3 exd5 9.cxd5 Bg4 looks like a decent Modern Benoni - the ...Bg4 line of the classical is very respectable. Here White has played Be3 instead of castling:

After the thematic 10.Nd2 Bxe2 11.Qxe2 Re8 12.0-0 in David, A - Fedorov, A Black played 12...Na6!? instead of the more common 12...Nbd7. I like this idea - it is concrete as we shall see.

Averbakh 5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5 Na6 7.Qd2 [E73]

In the 7...Na6 line, 7.Qd2 is the most common move, but we have looked at the sharp 7.f4 a lot more in recent years. Following 7...e5 8.d5 c6 9.f3 cxd5 10.cxd5 Bd7 11.Bxa6!? has gained some traction in recent years:

White 'naively' gives up the bishop pair to double Black's pawns and gives himself a convenient square for the knight. After 11...bxa6 12.Nge2 Qb6 13.Be3 Qb7 14.0-0 Nh5 (Black has also tried 14...Ne8) 15.b3 was played in Vidonyak, R - Naiditsch, A. Then 15...f5 16.Rac1 f4 17.Bf2 g5 Black's play is certainly straightforward and Black won easily. However 15.g4! must be critical.

Classical - 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Be3 c6 [E94]

8...c6 is the old line, which has been overshadowed by the modern idea 8...Re8 9.d5 Nh5 10.g3 Bf8. After 9.d5 c5 10.Ne1 Ne8 11.g4! The critical plan made famous by the game Kramnik - Knaak:

The point is that after 11...f5 12.gxf5 gxf5 13.exf5 White's pawn structure looks ugly, but the e4-square and g-file will give him good chances of seizing a powerful initiative. I was curious to see what the veteran had prepared in Zude, E - Kozul, Z, but White got a winning position rather easily. It gradually melted away and Black held, but Black’s position still looks shaky to me, despite some possible improvements in the notes.

Until next month, David

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