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Modern Benoni: Fianchetto Variation
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 g3 Bg7 8 Bg2 0-0 9 0-0 a6 10 a4 Nbd7 11 Nd2 Re8 12 h3 Nh5!?:
The popularity of the Catalan is showing no signs of flagging, and as a side-effect the Fianchetto Variation of the Modern Benoni is also being seen quite a lot, especially via the Catalan move order 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3, and now 3...c5, which is played by some Queen's and Nimzo-Indian players who possibly wouldn't normally go down other lines in the Benoni.
12...Nh5!? is an interesting, albeit less sharp alternative to the much more theoretical 12...Rb8. A key point behind this move is that in some lines - usually those involving Nc4 and ...Ne5 - Black is able to benefit from saving a tempo on the "usual"...Rb8, and this tempo can often be used to accelerate Black's play on the kingside. This makes 12...Nh5 a useful practical option, because if White plays on auto-pilot he might suddenly find himself having to defend uncomfortably on the kingside.
In Iskusnyh - Ponkratov, St Petersburg 2010, White plays 13 Nce4. This hasn't been White's most common choice, but I feel it could well be the most challenging.
Wojtaszek - Gajewski, Warsaw 2006, sees the most popular response 13 Kh2. This move protects g3 so that f2-f4 becomes an option, but Black has scored quite well against this with 13...f5! followed by typical kingside counterplay. The old game Timoscenko-Kindermann (in the notes) is well worth checking out as it's a model way for Black to play this line.
In Golichenko - Panarin, Pardubice 2010, White chooses the typical move 13 Nc4, after which 13...Ne5 is similar to the main line, but again Black is able to exploit his "extra" tempo gained by avoiding ...Rb8.
Finally, in Carstensen - Nielsen, Copenhagen 2010, White plays 13 e4. This invites Black back into the main line with 13...Rb8 14 Nc4 Ne5 15 Na3, but there is an independent option with 13...Ne5!? in order to utilise the fact that the d3-square is now available, thus leaving the knight on e5 with more options.
Nimzo-Indian/Queen's Indian Hybrid
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3 b6 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bh4 g5 7 Bg3 Ne4 8 Qc2 Bb7 9 e3 Bxc3+ 10 bxc3 d6 11 Bd3 f5 12 d5 Na6 13 Nd4 Nac5 14 0-0:
In the June 2010 update we covered Rashkovsky's 14 0-0, and very recently this line was played in Bacrot - Topalov, Nanjing 2010. Topalov chose 14...Qe7!? instead of the usual 14...Qf6. This looks like a subtle idea which allows Black the possibility after f2-f3 to swap off White's d3-bishop rather than the one on g3. Indeed, in the game this concept works to perfection and after only a few more moves it was clear that Black was in control. It was generally thought that 14...Qe7 was a novelty, but in fact it had already been played earlier this year, in the correspondence game Sciarretta-Holroyd. I'm indebted to Kenneth Holroyd for pointing this out and also kindly supplying his game, which is in the notes.
Nimzo-Indian 4 Qc2
Yet another interesting and sharp possibility for Black, in the trendy 6...d5 line: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5 7 Bg5 h6 8 Bh4 c5!? 9 dxc5 g5!?:
as played in Akobian - Friedel, USCL 2010.
Black plays a kind of hybrid of the Romanishin and the main line (PCA Variation). My first impression was that it looked a bit too loose, but it's actually quite dangerous (see the note to White's 12th, for another game with Friedel playing Black) and even with Akobian's improved play (12 b4!) White's advantage doesn't seem that significant.
Nimzo-Indian 4 e3
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 b6 5 Bd3 Bb7 6 Nf3 Ne4 7 0-0 f5 8 Qc2 Bxc3 9 bxc3 0-0 10 Nd2 Qh4:
I've always had a soft spot for Black in this line, ever since I was enticed by tricks such as 11 g3 Ng5! and 11 Ba3 Nxd2 12 Qxd2 Bxg2!.
Of course White should play 11 f3 instead, as he does in the recent game Wang Yue-Gashimov, Nanjing 2010. This game caught my eye because it isn't the first time a strong GM has chosen 11...Ng5?! ahead of the much more natural 11...Nxd2, and I began to wonder whether there was something I was missing. I've always considered the position after 11...Nxd2 12 Bxd2 to be perfectly acceptable for Black. Indeed, if it wasn't there would be something seriously wrong with the whole ...b6 and ...Ne4 concept. Looking at it again, maybe White can sneak a slight edge after 11...Nxd2, but I feel he can expect a whole lot more after Gashimov's choice, and the game continuation seems to confirm this.
Till next time, John