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Despite the brilliant calculation abilities of today’s elite players, the plethora of recent online rapidplay and blitz events inevitably produces a lower move quality in comparison to classical chess, plus some blunders with various degrees of entertainment and despair. However, I’ve found that opening creativity hasn’t been adversely affected. Indeed, it’s quite refreshing to see some ideas being tried which perhaps wouldn’t see the light of day in classical games.
This update includes a couple of games in the Nimzo-Indian Saemisch involving Magnus Carlsen, an imaginative strategic idea for White in the Karpov Variation, and a hack attack option for White in a supposedly solid line.

Download PGN of July ’20 Nimzo and Benoni games

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Nimzo-Indian Saemisch: 4...Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 c5 6 e3 Nc6 [E26]

4 a3 Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 c5 6 e3 Nc6 7 Bd3:

It’s noticeable that Magnus Carlsen has played the Saemisch Variation on a number of occasions in the past year or so, albeit in rapid and blitz games. I’m curious to know what Carlsen has in store in the traditional main line 7...0-0 8 Ne2 b6 9 e4 Ne8 10 0-0 Ba6, but so far his opponents have avoided this.

In the Legends of Chess event, Vishy Anand chose the main alternative, a dark-square set-up: 7...e5 8 Ne2 0-0 9 0-0 d6 10 Ng3!:

10 e4 and 10 d5 are both possible, but 10 Ng3 doesn’t commit the pawns just yet and is more flexible. After 10...Re8 11 d5 e4!? 12 Nxe4 Nxe4 13 dxc6 bxc6 14 f3 Nf6 15 e4, the first new move in the game was 15...d5, but opening the position favoured the bishop pair and Carlsen obtained a significant advantage. See Carlsen, M - Anand, V for details.

Three weeks earlier, in the final of the Chessable Masters event, Anish Giri tried a similar set-up, but with a slight twist: 7...d6 8 Ne2 e5 9 Ng3 h5!?:

Black’s idea is ...h4, but Carlsen’s 10 h4! is a convincing response - the insertion of the two h-pawn moves seems to favour White. See Carlsen, M - Giri, A for analysis.

Nimzo-Indian: Karpov Variation [E54]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 d5 6 Nf3 c5 7 0-0 dxc4 8 Bxc4 cxd4 9 exd4 b6 10 Bg5 Bb7 11 Qe2:

Anton Korobov is an expert on the 11 Re1 Nbd7 12 Rc1 Rc8 12 Bd3 variation, but recently he’s turned his attention to the 11 Qe2 line and has enriched it with a fresh idea. Against Anish Giri, at the Mr Dodgy Invitational, the game continued along a normal path with 11...Bxc3 12 bxc3 Nbd7 13 Rac1 Qc7. Here White normally plays 14 Bd3 or more critically with 14 Nd2!, as we’ve seen before. Instead Korobov played 14 Rfe1!?:

This natural move has hardly ever been seen before, and this is almost certainly because it gives Black the opportunity to play shatter White’s kingside pawn structure with 14...Bxf3 15 gxf3, an offer which Giri decided to accept. However, the resulting imbalanced position is by no means clear and needs careful handling by Black.

To break up White’s pawn structure, Black has been forced to exchange his best minor piece and is left with some light-squared issues on the queenside. Giri soon erred and Korobov reached a very promising position before drifting and eventually losing the endgame. See Korobov, A - Giri, A for analysis.

Undeterred, a few weeks later Korobov tried the same strategic idea in a similar position, this time with greater success: 11...Nbd7 (instead of 11...Bxc3 12 bxc3 Nbd7) 12 Rac1 h6 13 Bh4 Rc8 14 Rfd1!?:

Just like Giri, Gukesh was unable to resist 14...Bxf3 15 gxf3 but thereafter he immediately went astray and Korobov won easily - see Korobov, A - Gukesh, D.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 c5 6 Nge2 [E48]

4 e3 0-0 5 Bd3 c5 6 Nge2 cxd4 7 exd4 d5 8 cxd5 Nxd5 9 Bc2!?:

White nearly always castles on move 9, but delaying it in favour of preparing kingside action is an underrated option and quite dangerous for the unaware opponent. I find it surprising that it’s not seen more often, but Alexander Grischuk did recently play 9 Bc2 against Levon Aronian at the Clutch Chess Showdown. Following 9...Nc6 10 Qd3!, White’s ideas after 10...g6 include a quick attack with h2-h4-h5. Perhaps wishing to avoid this possibility, Aronian chose 10...Qh4? Although the queen move is a typical idea for Black in this line, it doesn’t seem to work well here. Grischuk’s forcing response 11 Bg5! Qh5 12 g4! Qg6 13 Qd2 f5 14 Rg1:

looks strong and leaves Black in some trouble - see Grischuk, A - Aronian, L for details.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Nge2 Re8 [E46]

4 e3 0-0 5 Nge2 Re8 6 a3 Bf8 7 Ng3 d5 8 Bd3:

5...Re8 is continuing to gain followers at the elite level, and Ding Liren has played it in three of his recent games. One of the attractions of 5...Re8 is that it leads to a wider variety of positions and pawn structures than 5...d5, with Black deciding on a course of action only after White commits with the e2-knight.

In the diagrammed position Black can play 8...c5 or 8...b6, but Ding’s straightforward 8...dxc4 9 Bxc4 c5 looks logical too. After 10 0-0 cxd4 11 exd4 Nc6 12 Be3 we reach a decent IQP position for Black.

Without the usual protection of a knight on f3, the d4-pawn is a little more vulnerable than normal. White can easily eliminate the problem by arranging a quick d4-d5, but in the resulting open positions Black’s pieces are just as active as White’s. See Caruana, F - Ding Liren.

Nimzo-Indian: 4 e3 0-0 5 Nf3 d5 6 Bd2 [E51]

4 e3 0-0 5 Nf3 d5 6 Bd2:

This Bd2 line has become more and more popular, and is all the rage at the moment. Checking an online database, I noticed that during the first half of July, this position was reached as many as thirteen times.

One of the attractions for those playing White is the possibility of reaching positions with a small but safe edge, where you can play for two results. This seems to be the case after 6...c5 7 a3! Bxc3 8 Bxc3 Ne4 9 Rc1 Nxc3 10 Rxc3 cxd4 11 Nxd4:

Although this position isn’t scary for Black, the best case scenario of boring equality isn’t much fun either. In the recent game Artemiev, V - Abrahamyan, T, Black went astray with 11...b6?, whereupon 12 cxd5! Qxd5 13 Be2! exploited a small tactic to gain a clear advantage and White won a nice endgame.

Till next time, John

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