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Nimzo 4 Qc2 d5
We kick off with 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 c5 7 dxc5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 Bxb8:
Even though this move led to a crushing victory for Black in a famous game between Ivan Sokolov and Levon Aronian (Turin Olympiad 2006), it's noticeable that recently some strong grandmasters have been willing to play it as White. Already this year Dreev has tried it, and more recently it was played in Jakovenko - Gelfand, Jermuk 2009. Gelfand avoided the critical line and chose 10...Bxc3+. He drew fairly comfortably, although it's possible at some stage that White might have had a slight edge.
Shen Yang-T.Kosintseva, Sochi 2009, provides more fun, with Kosintseva taking up the challenge by playing Aronian's 10...Qf6. It proved to be a great decision, as Shen Yang faltered pretty quickly and was soon lost. There are certainly improvements for White here, but I can't find anything stunning and it remains to be seen what the intentions were of Jakovenko and Dreev.
There's a similar line where White takes on b8, 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 d5 5 cxd5 exd5 6 Bg5 c5 7 dxc5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Bg3 Ne4 10 e3 Qa5 11 Nge2 Bf5 12 Bxb8 Rxb8 13 Nd4:
Now 13...Bd7 was Van Wely's novelty from 2006, and it's supposed to be pretty safe for Black. I still think it is, but in Krush - Hou Yifan, Ningbo 2009, White attempts to prove otherwise. If nothing else Black probably has to be a little more careful than previously thought.
4 Qc2 0-0
Looking at a couple of recent games I came across the old and nearly forgotten line 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 b6 7 Bg5 c5 8 dxc5 bxc5 9 e3 d6:
I'm not entirely sure why this went out of fashion, and to me it seems like a reasonable practical option for Black, especially if he is happy to avoid theory and play positions which aren't particularly forcing.
One recent game is Bu Xiangzhi-Vitiugov, Sochi 2009, in which White pressured d6 with 10 Rd1 and gained an edge after 10...a5 11 Bxf6! gxf6.
I wonder if Vitiugov knew of the older game Scherbakov - Goldin, Moscow 1994, where Black demonstrated that the threat to d6 wasn't real by playing 10...Nbd7!, the move that 10 Rd1 was supposed to prevent! This has proven to be a strong move for Black, and in view of this many White players have forgone 10 Rd1 in favour of 10 Bd3 followed by Nf3 and 0-0. In the notes to Gustafsson - Postny, Ermioni 2006, I've tried to outline the typical plans for both White and Black.
Finally, at some point I want to look at 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 0-0 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Qxc3 d5 7 e3 b6 in a bit more detail, as this is getting more fashionable and the line can arise from more than one move order. For the moment, here's Kornev - Motylev, Ulan Ude 2009. After 8 Nf3 Bb7 9 b4 c5 10 dxc5 Black was successful with the active 10...Ne4!? over the more usual 10...bxc5.
Till next time, John