I received an e-mail from Roland Montignac concerning an awkward line for followers of Owen's Defence. He feels that he has found a strong idea for White in the line 1 e4 b6 2 d4 Bb7 3 Nc3 e6 4 Bd3 Bb4:
I have in the past recommended 5 Nf3 here (which I still believe to be quite promising), but the e-mail concerns the continuation 5 Nge2 c5 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 Nxc3 cxd4 8 Nb5! d6 9 Qg4! which (I have to agree with the subscriber) is better for White.
My conclusion is that Black needs an improvement as early as move 4 or 5, see Game One.
Vallejo varies from the usual fare as early as move 3! In fact I quite like 3...c5, exploiting the fact that White's 3 a3 won't be that much use in a Benoni-like position:
This gets away from the usual lines, which many White players know quite well these days. Then the question arises, who is feeling most at home in a Modern Benoni (with an extra a2-a3 by White and ...b7-b6 by Black)?
Game Two wasn't a great success for the Spanish star, but don't blame the opening!
Yours truly went down as White in the Benko against the Benko-specialist Pavel Tregubov in Game 3. Neither of us was in the greatest of form as, after being completely outplayed, my opponent let me back into it and I even missed a couple of chances to draw. The opening move order is of interest, and with hindsight it seems that Black doesn't quite equalize. However if White wants to profit from his theoretical edge he has to be ever-so-careful, which I wasn't!
Game 4 features one of those annoying systems where White just places his pieces on good squares and has good positional compensation for the bishop pair. White was able to keep a certain grip on the position, but it was only in the time scramble that he made the difference, i.e. after losing control and the advantage, only to again take the ascendance with some back rank tactics.
In Game Five Bartel employs one of his pet-systems involving ...Na6 with ...c5. Dziuba reacts in a logical way (Rb1, a3 and b4) and keeps a pull, although Black could have tried to handle his position differently, particularly at move 10:
White goes on to win a convincing game, so it will be interesting to see what Bartel does next time in the Leningrad.
Berelovich is able to win a pleasant game by employing an early ...Bb4+ in Game 6, a practical choice favoured by open tournament specialists Glek and Naumkin. The exchange of a pair of minor pieces eases Black's space woes and the thematic advance ...e6-e5 comes earlier rather than later in this line. Although Black later won a piece by a nice combination the star move of the game was 18...f4 a rather nice positional pawn sacrifice:
The theoretical line 4 Bg5 Ne4 5 Bh4 Nxc3 6 bxc3 dxc4 has received lots of attention in the last two or three years. I'm not quite sure why myself, as it is a risky line where Black seems to obtain a good score in practise.
Game 7 leads to a particularly murky position where White only has two pieces for the queen:
Two pieces for the queen, but not that clear!
In my experience the player with the queen can easily overestimate his chances as unless all Black's heavy pieces are in play he may not be able to demonstrate any advantage. Mikhalevski (playing Black) won this bizarre struggle but only after Hillarp Persson blundered.
All results are possible from the diagram and 'unclear' is probably a fair judgement, but if I had to pick a colour I would go for Black.
Game 8 was quite a theoretical battle with Irina Krush introducing the novel 17 f4 (immediately, rather than preparing it with 17 h3 or 17 Qd2) against Ushenina:
Black played the principled line which involved snatching a pawn at the cost of allowing a central pawn expansion. White then obtained plenty of compensation but Black diffused the danger with some accurate play.
Krush's novelty seems like an interesting try but 15 Be3 is still critical.
Games 9 and 11 feature 'Grünfeld' games that arose from other openings: respectively the English opening and the Slav defence. In master play it's commonplace to see one player trying to fiddle the move order in order to avoid certain lines and induce others.
Young Nechepurenko must have been frustrated by the outcome of Game 9. He sacrificed a piece for a massive passed pawn but never quite found a way to convert his advantage. In time trouble he allowed White to place a rook behind the c-pawn after which the tables were turned.
Black was able to dominate and win in Game 10 despite playing with an early ...c6, which has the reputation of being somewhat passive. I quite like 7...Ne4!? as this leads to an exchange of minor pieces (reducing the problems of space) and provoking an asymmetric pawn structure (to offer some tension); perhaps not enough to equalize against 8 Bd3 but it probably gets close:
In the game, Black snatched a pawn but was left with ugly doubled a-pawns. These weren't as weak as they looked and they cost White dear who underestimated their positive side!
In Game 11 White reacts to the Slav with an early Q-b3. Then play leads, via the backdoor, into Grünfeld territory, in fact a slightly unusual type of Russian variation, but one that I have toyed with myself.
The game was an interesting struggle where White missed a couple of winning opportunities just before the time control.
Till next month, Glenn Flear