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It's often hard to talk about 'trends' when lumping together many different variations. However, in recent months, we've noticed White's delight in playing an early h2-h4 in many diverse lines, a move that often heightens the tension and can easily destabilize an opponent. It's not just about the attack, the idea of playing the cramping h5-h6 is becoming more commonplace. Another theme of note, as you'll see this month, is that there are several games involving Bb5, with or without check. This move enables quick castling, but also, by not allowing an opposing knight to install itself for long on c6, the pressure is reduced on d4. Is this just a passing phase or are we going to see more and more of these ideas in coming months? Watch this space!

Download PGN of April ’23 Daring Defences games

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Grünfeld 4.h4 c6 [D80]

A sharp position arose early on in the opening of Hesham, A - Salem, A:

This strange position seems to combine elements from other openings such as a Slav where the pawns on h4 and g6 look out of place. The fact that it's already 'unclear' could inspire many a dynamic defences player to seek such murkiness!

However, along the way, instead of 5.Bg5, White could have opted for 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Bf4 with a sort of Exchange Slav where Black's dark-squared bishop is often a little 'quiet' when heading for g7. This is certainly less fun as it makes counterplay hard to come by. So my preference is 4...c5!? (instead of Salem's 4...c6) which coincidently scores so much better than the main alternatives.

Exchange 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.0-0 0-0 [D85]

This annoying check on b5 continues to trouble black players, as in Harika, D - Abdumalik, Z where at one point the attack became dangerous.

This is another version of the opposite-bishop middlegame (where White gives up a pawn for lively play and dark-squared threats) which we have often seen via 12...Bg4 13.Ne5 Qxd4 etc. Essentially, Black is fine, but has to be careful as one slip and his king gets into trouble on the weakened dark squares, whereas, on the other hand, if White goes astray and the attack goes nowhere, the endgame a pawn down is probably tenable anyway. From the diagram, following 13.Nxd4 Qxd4 14.Bb2 Black introduced a novelty with 14...Qb6 but I'm not sure that it's that significant. Still, the engine thinks that it's more or less as good as the alternatives.

Exchange 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.Rb1 [D85]

In Hakobyan, A - Antipov, M White's 9.Rb1 was met by the relatively unusual 9...Qa5 (instead of 9...0-0).

There are some arguments for this move, no doubt, but White seems to have a few options that are not evident for Black. In the game, for example, (after the natural 10.0-0) once White plays N-e5 Black doesn't have the option of grabbing the d4-pawn and the game is even harder to cope with than in the Harika - Abdumalik encounter above. So I would personally stick to 9...0-0 or (if this doesn't appeal) try an alternative on move eight, but (be careful!) 8...Nd7 and 8...Bd7 are not without problems of their own. In the featured game, Hakobyan's attack proved to be too strong, which should be a warning for anyone who intends exchanging off their dark-squared bishop in such lines!

Exchange 7.Bb5+ c6 8.Ba4 b5 9.Bb3 a5 [D85]

In Van Foreest, J - Maghsoodloo, P we see another version of the check on b5, but when it's played on move seven Black can (and did) opt for advancing his pawns on the queenside.

In reply to 10.Ne2, there is a wide choice, but Maghsoodloo's 10...Na6 seems interesting, as with ...e5 coming (see 12...e5!) there is pressure on d4 without allowing White to create a wedge with e4-e5. As far as I can see, the Iranian solved his opening problems, but then let things slip slightly on moves sixteen and seventeen (see the famboyant but flawed 17...0-0-0).

Still, he was still perfectly fine until he overlooked something quite serious when playing his 23rd move.

Exchange with Bd2, 6.e4 Nb6 7.Be3 0-0 8.Be2 c6 [D85]

The game Korobov, A - Plat, V was a one-sided affair, with Black not solving his opening problems particularly well. He was more or less asphyxiated and humiliated.

Here it's necessary to immediately put pressure on the centre. This can be done by attacking the d-pawn with either 8...e5 (which isn't bad, but may not quite equalize) or 8...Nc6! which is by some way the main choice here. The passive choice in the game of 8...c6 enables White to build and retain a big centre with 9.f4!, and at this level it's hard to untie the bind. If you prefer something sharper, then 8...f5 (as played by Mamedyarov, Shirov and before them, Spassky) might appeal, but whatever you do, hit back at the centre!

Exchange 5.Bd2 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6 [D85]

In Lobanov, S - Fier, A White won a long endgame which should really have been a draw, time shortage no doubt taking its toll.

Earlier, in the opening, Black 'got away' with a slightly offbeat choice where he opted for 6...Nc6 instead of the more flexible 6...0-0.

An early ...Nc6 allows the plan of B-b5xc6 which is objectively a shade better for White, but the bishop pair certainly gives Black hope of fighting back. Indeed, after 7.Bf4 Bg7 8.e3 0-0 Lobanov's choice of 9.Bb5 Be6 10.Bxc6 was along the right lines, but a little later 12.Ne5 wasn't precise, as Fier was then able to find the time and space to use his forward c-pawn as a battering ram to equalize. Instead, with the precise 12.Qc2! White would have kept his nose ahead.

Exchange 7.Bc4, 10...b6 11.h4 [D87]

A 'natural novelty' occurred in Theodorou, N - Antipov, M:

We have seen 13.Qc1 on these pages quite recently, but here the new move 13.Qd2 was tried. Theodorou was in a mood to gambit his e-pawn angling to create the momentum for an attack. The engine may not be convinced, but it certainly created some practical problems for Antipov. Still, in a complex position Black firstly missed a way to be better and then was in danger of losing for a few moves. Later he missed a win himself, so perhaps a draw was a fair result.

As to the novelty, it's easy to see with an engine's help that it shouldn't be anything special, but Black needs to be ready to dodge and weave with his queen.

Exchange 7.Bc4, Seville Variation, 14...Qd6 15.e5 Qd5 [D88]

In Chandra, A - Mikhalevski, V a novelty in the Seville Variation, and quite a noteworthy one, was introduced by the Israeli GM:

Carlsen met 16.Ng1 with 16...Nc4 in a game versus Giri, but Mikhalevski preferred to improve a different one of his pieces with 16...Rc8!?. Then after 17.Nf3 cxd4 18.cxd4 Rc3 his position looks visually fine (with human eyes!) although the engine seems to prefer White's chances following 19.Qe2, something that could do with testing in a future theoretical debate. The game eventually turned in White's favour, but was far from clear until Black mistimed his kingside pawn moves.

Russian 7.e4 Nc6 8.Be3 Ng4 [D97]

In Indjic, A - Agopov, M White employed a pet line 8.Be3 Ng4 9.e5 where he willingly allows the exchange of his dark-squared bishop for a knight.

When faced with this position against Nepomniachtchi, Vachier-Lagrave captured on e3 straight away. Here, Agopov delayed this release of tension and followed an earlier Indjic game with 9...Be6 10.Qc5 a5 and obtained a good game. So despite the value of his experience in playing this line on several occasions, it doesn't seem that White is really winning the theoretical battle. In fact, as things panned out it was Black who was closest to winning this particular game.

Russian e4 with ...Bg4 [D98]

In Roshka, Y - Blohberger, F the young Ukrainian was able to sacrifice the exchange which led to him dominating the proceedings. However, there was a phase earlier on where matters were far from clear.

In the diagram position, the move that feels the most natural is 13.0-0-0, as Bologan played many years ago against Eljanov (but still didn't get very much). Roshka instead opted for 13.Rd1, but I'm not sure that the white king is any more secure on the kingside. In the complex middlegame that followed, Black missed his chances (see 15...Nxd5 instead of 15...Nf6) and again with another inaccurate knight move later on (see move 24). So it looks like the immediate 10...Bxf3, as played by Blohberger is actually perfectly reasonable.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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