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My attention was caught by a game in the 8.a4 Anti-Marshall I was sitting next to in London last week, and I managed to find some other interesting games there from the recent European Team Championship to make that the focus of this month’s update. Elsewhere we see a miniature win for White in the Petroff no less, and a corresponding quick win for Black in the Italian.

Download PGN of December ’23 1 e4 e5 games

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Bishop’s Opening: 3...Nf6 4.d3 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.0-0 Nb6 [C24/50]

In the September Update I covered the option 6...Be7 7.Re1 f6, but if the player with the white pieces knows what they are doing there then Black has few winning chances. Instead Brunello, M - Tsolakidou, S saw 6...Nb6!?:

On reflection I find this option much more appealing for Black and the game was certainly a good example, with the Greek player scoring a crushing 21-move victory with the black pieces.

Petroff: 3.d4 Nxe4 4. dxe5 Bc5 [C43]

The choice Black faces on move 4 here is a difficult one, since 4...d5 is solid and leads to typical Petroff-style positions whilst the 4...Bc5 of the game is objectively a cleaner equaliser but requires heavy knowledge from the Black side:

Following the forced line 5.Bc4 Nxf2 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Qd5+ Kg6 8.Qxc5 Nxh1 there are various options for White, but the game Theodorou, N - Radjabov, T saw a shocking loss for one of the world’s top players with the black pieces, as he was completely lost after move 11.

Italian Opening: 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.Re1 [C50]

The huge number of move orders continues to make these positions difficult to analyse exhaustively, but one that always interested me was 6.Re1. In Kadric, D - Martirosyan, H the dangerous White player tempted his higher-rated opponent to enter the complications after 6...Ng4!?:

Just like the previous game this seems like an unnecessarily sharp attempt to force matters when the simple 6...d6 is likely to transpose back to main paths. Martirosyan quickly landed in trouble in this game but conjured up a resourceful attack to steer the game towards a draw.

Spanish, Anti-Berlin: 4.d3 Bc5 5.Nbd2!? [C65]

I was recently playing a strong round robin event in London with a 2500 average rating, won convincingly by Polish GM Szymon Gumularz. In the penultimate round he made short work of his opponent’s Berlin Defence with the interesting 5.Nbd2!?:

In Gumularz, S - Davtyan, A the player with the white pieces succeeded in reaching a more double-edged position than one would usually expect when facing the Berlin, and notched up a convincing victory.

Spanish, Yurtaev Variation: 6.c3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.d4 [C78]

In this trendy system for Black, I have tended to start 8.a4 with the white pieces to force Black to react on the queenside immediately and take the sting out of any ...Bg4 lines. Of course 8.d4 remains the main move but here Black reacted unusually with 8...Ba7!?:

There are some subtle differences here compared to the more natural bishop retreat to b6 but in Yao, L - Milliet, S the game entered a forcing line which can occur in either case, which equalises nicely for Black and she went on to make a solid draw.

Spanish, Anti-Marshall 8.a4 d5 [C88]

Finally we move onto the main focus of this month’s update, with a complete overview of this system. Firstly in McShane, L - Ali Marandi, C the player with the black pieces tried the somewhat dubious 8...d5?!:

Really this Marshall-style option has been prevented and 9.axb5! leads to a significant advantage for White, but McShane only achieved a small edge after 9.Bxd5?!, albeit he later went on to win regardless.

Spanish, Anti-Marshall 8.a4 Bb7 9.d3 [C88]

Next we examine the most popular 8...Bb7, where White is encouraged to play more conservatively with 9.d3. Thereafter the game Moussard, J - Andersen, M saw the rare 9...Re8!?:

Black definitely has more room to be creative here than in the other lines covered and his position remains solid, although he had to defend for a long time in the game before eventually holding a draw.

Spanish, Anti-Marshall 8.a4 b4 9.d4 [C88]

Finally the game that originally drew me to cover this line was Girel, J - Davtyan, A which saw the modern option 8...b4!? This allows White to make the play more dynamic after 9.d4 d6 10.dxe5 Nxe5 and now the French IM played the rare 11.Nbd2!?:

A few moves later the player with the black pieces sank into an incredible 53-minute think but ended up completely lost before making a miraculous hold in the endgame. In any case this seems like a dangerous line for Black to face over-the-board.

See you next month, Harry

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