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Classical Makogonov 6.h3 e5 7.d5 Nh5 8.g3 [E90]
The encounter Gledura, B - Mamedov, R is probably quite important for understanding the 'castling queenside quickly' plan introduced by 11.Qd2. A few moves later the following position arose:
In this tense position, Mamedov improved on a previous game with 14...Bh6! and then seemed to have a reasonable middlegame following 15.h4 Bf5, but perhaps overestimated his chances by meeting 16.Ng5 with 16...Nb4? which went badly wrong. He could instead have continued with 16...Bxg5 17.hxg5 Bg6 with decent chances.
In the game, Black's erstwhile 'active' knight was pushed back to a6 where it was locked out of play, the prime cause of his downfall.
Classical 6.Bg5 [E90]
MVL won his encounter after experimenting in the opening in Vachier Lagrave, M - Naroditsky, D but was rather fortunate.
A new position for ChessPublishing, although of course there are other lines where Bg5 gets played quite early and there are indeed a number of transpositional possibilities. When facing such a move, the first couple of decisions are: to flick in ...h6 or not, and whether to go for ...c5 or ...e5. There seem to be several routes to full equality and Naroditsky found one of them by choosing 6...c5 and going for ...h6 (on move nine), but only when the central structure had crystallized.
The French star blundered at one point, but neither player noticed an amazing refutation of his play (see the notes on move twenty), and even after that Black was still doing quite well until deep into the game.
Classical - Gligoric 7.Be3 Ng4 8.Bg5 f6 9.Bc1 [E92]
The 'hundred-mover' battle Mishra, A - Liang, A was an entertaining fight until the bitter end, where both sides missed their chances.
In the diagram position, with all this tension in the centre, it might surprise some readers that Liang calmly played 10...Kh8 moving his king away from potential danger. A semi-useful waiting move (top players like this sort of thing!) just to put the ball back into the opponent's side of the court. It's noticeable that certain sharper lines subsequently work for him if White is denied a check, plus you never know when g8 will be a handy square for something other than the king! In a number of the notes (and the main game for that matter) Black is objectively a shade worse, but with a 'reasonable enough' game. If you want to seek full equality, then the alternatives on move ten might be a good place to start searching.
Classical - Gligoric 7.Be3 exd4 8.Nxd4 Re8 9.f3 c6 [E92]
In Mishra, A - Iturrizaga Bonelli, E play followed a well-known hybrid in the Gligoric/Sämisch Variations for some time:
Here White has tried knight retreats in the past, but here 16.Nxc6 was played and then 16...bxc6 17.a3 led to a tense middlegame. In this type of position, the difference between being on the right or wrong side of equality often resides on a small detail. Here for example, on move nineteen, White chose the wrong direction for his knight and his position quickly went downhill.
Classical 7...exd4 8.Nxd4 Re8 9.f3 Nc6 [E94]
In Petrov, N - Teterev, V Black fell for a neat trick:
A capture on c6 looks rather tame, and was probably what Teterev was expecting. However, Petrov unleashed 17.e5! and Black had nothing better than giving up the exchange with 17...Rxe5 18.Rxe5 Bxa4 after which he has insufficient compensation. White had the necessary technique to convert his advantage. This shows that Black's play leading up to the diagram position must have been at fault.
In fact, this whole opening system seems to be more difficult to handle for Black and one shouldn't enter it without proper preparation. On move twelve, he has actually tried twelve different options and I doubt that at the final judgement 12...Nf6 will be considered as best. I would probably go for 12...c5.
Classical 7...Nbd7 8.Be3 Qe7 [E94]
In Mica, M - Smirin, I one can enjoy a race between opposite flank attacks, so typical of the Classical Variation.
Smirin was able to come crashing through first after 14.Qc2 Rg6 15.c5 Ndf6 16.cxd6 cxd6 17.Rfc1 g4 etc. Furthermore, this was the second time that he had launched this dangerous attack in the same tournament. So it seems that White's play is too slow, hence my suggestion of 14.c5. This thrust either speeds up the process, or at least distracts the opponent from his build-up on the other flank. If this pawn sacrifice isn't to one's taste, there are other ways to deviate earlier, by radically changing the structure with 11.exf5 or later with 13.g4 for example, so there is some choice of approach from White's point of view. Nevertheless, Black's set-up is certainly competitive if White closes the centre with 9.d5.
Classical 7...Nbd7 8.Be3 Qe7 [E94]
In Niemann, H - Amin, B White opted for 9.dxe5, leading to one of those lines involving a symmetrical structure where the dynamism is removed from the centre. However, in principle, I think that the Q/e7 and N/d7 pieces are well-placed to be able to cope with the typical manoeuvring that follows:
A few moves later, Niemann came up with a novelty 12.Rab1, with the idea of supporting b2-b4 which came next (13.b4). There was no resulting advantage, just a playable game with balanced chances. White's victory only came about when his higher-rated opponent tried 'a bit too hard and overdid it' towards the end.
Classical 7...Nbd7 8.Re1 exd4 [E95]
In Gukesh, D - Smirin, I Black's plan involving 12...a6 was noteworthy.
The idea is to threaten ...b5 and this works fine after a move such as 13.Qd2. More subtle is 13.Kh1 avoiding any awkward checks, thus rendering ...b5 unsound, so then 13...c5 seems to be the way forwards. In the game, 13.a4 was also met by 13...c5 and after the retreat 14.Nc2 simply 14...Be6 and Smirin had already equalized. Later he probably should have won, but Gukesh showed great defensive creativity in saving the game.
Although this way of handling the King's Indian is not widely known, it might well catch on due to games like this.
Classical Bayonet 9.b4 Nh5 10.Re1 f5
In Navara, D - Shevchenko, K the following familiar position occurred:
There have been thousands of games from this point, but less than a hundred with 11.a4 where White continues his queenside advance. Black has to decide whether he wants to hop to f4 or simply drop back to f6. In the archives, you can find an example of 11...Nf4, but here Shevchenko chose the latter option, but combined with the prudent 11...h6 to cut out any Nf3-g5-e6 options. After 12.a5 Nf6 Navara chose 13.Nd2 and was probably doing quite well, but the alternatives 13.Ra3 and 13.exf5 also look troublesome for Black. So, despite the result here, it looks like 11.a4 has some sting to it.
Classical Bayonet 9.b4 a5 10.bxa5 [E97]
In Navara, D - Piorun, K Black managed to do without the usual rook retreat to a6.
Here 12...Ra6 has been de rigeur up to now, but Piorun with 12...Kh8 13.Ra3 Nfg8 14.Qb1 Bh6 completed an attractive manoeuvre to trade off his previously under-employed dark-squared bishop. Despite this innovative way of playing, a few moves later he had a difficult decision to make: Sit still (and hope that his 2700+-opponent can't find a breakthrough) or go for some activity (at the risk of weakening himself). He (rather naturally) chose the latter option and duly gifted the e4-square to his opponent, which Navara gladly exploited in the later play. So there was no success for Black here, but what is troubling is that 12...Ra6 hasn't been scoring very well either, so we can understand why lots of elite players are playing 9.b4 these days.
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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