Bad news for fans of the English, especially those who likes to play with the same dashing style as Dmitri Bunzmann.
In the following position in Game One Likavsky came up with a strong novelty that rather tips the balance in White's favour, that is in a variation that was previously considered to be playable:
Black then never looked like having enough compensation so he may have to seek an earlier improvement. I haven't myself found anything convincing for the second player, but let's keep looking! Watch this space.
Benko Gambit: Declined
In Game Two, one of the livelier lines against 5 b6 is given a testing. Black's opening turned out to be quite solid and he had a good position going into the late middlegame/early ending. Then things turned sour as Nestorovic overestimated his chances and Rajkovic playing White turned the tables. I haven't been able to find any continuation for Black that gives serious winning chances despite him being somewhat better.
Game 3 features 5 e3:
This move has lost it's sheen as Black seems to be able to get a good position without too much trouble. White's ninth move 9 a4 is historically rare, but has generated some recent interest so is worth a closer look.
Jovanic varies from Vitiugov-Tseshkovsky with 19 Qg4, but this doesn't work out that well. Black soon took total control.
In Game Four White plays 4 a4. The advantage of this move is that Black has few choices; he must either block the wing with 4...bxc4, or allow the knight to come safely to c3 after 4...dxc4. Braun chooses the latter option and the game develops along typical lines where Black using his knights to restrain any White central advance. In such positions, White has some extra space but if he ever tries e4-e5 there is a risk that the d5-pawn may become weak, which is exactly what happened here!
Benko Gambit: Accepted
In both of these games White fianchettos his light-squared bishop.
In Game Five a certain Magnus Carlsen plays the Benko Gambit against Van Wely. Black won this game but frankly the opening turned in White's favour and it was only in time trouble, due to three consecutive errors, that White threw the game away. Carlsen's amazing result in this whole tournament would have been less impressive with a point less, but one could argue that if you play a dynamic opening in a dynamic style you generate practical chances and deserve whatever luck that comes your way!
Theoretically, the line with 10 Rb1 is still the most awkward for Black in the whole of the Benko Gambit:
Another tussle in which both sides had chances was Hera-Drazic, Game 6. White won Black's queen and pressed as much as possible but Black defended well and held out. In fact Drazic even missed a win at the end.
The opening, after a noteworthy transposition from the King's Indian, is another of these Benko lines where one gets the impression that White has chances for an advantage, but in practise things are less clear.
In Game 7 we see some interesting ideas in the Bxf6 variation. Black advances his h-pawn followed by his 'g' and f-pawns to gain space and improve his bishop's prospects on the kingside, whereas White's Rfb1, b2-b4 and Nf4-d3-c5 is also worthy of note. The resulting middlegame can best be described as unclear, but White had the better nerves.
Irina Krush decides to play aggressively right from the start in Game 8 by first playing the Staunton Gambit and then following up with a sharp idea... 6 Qe2!?:
...as if to say 'early complications please!'.
This idea is not as well known as 6 Qd4 and is often described by commentators as 'dangerous'. The game was very complex with White sacrificing the exchange for some interesting play against Black's clumsy pieces. Grivas decided to hit back with a counter sacrifice which led to a middlegame where White was favourite, but only slightly. White's play then became more-and-more erratic (I'd bet on time trouble!) and the advantage passed to Black.
Theoretically speaking 6 Qe2 is 'not so dangerous' if Black knows his stuff but I prefer 8...cxd5 (or 8...Nxd5 which comes to the same thing) to 8...Qa5 as then I don't really believe in White's 'compensation'.
Original-thinker Yandemirov has his own way of handling a number of lines of the Grünfeld. However after falling victim to a blistering attack in Game 9 he may have to go back to the drawing board. The danger for Black in not getting central/queenside play in quickly enough is that he may have nothing to distract White from aggressive kingside intentions, as here! A superb (and original to boot) attack by in form Riazantsev.
In Game 10, two of the world's top 'young guns' test out 7...c6 against the Russian system. Mamedyarov sacrifices a pawn but soon regains it and the game fizzles out to a draw. Mamedyarov seems to believe that the move is OK, will others follow? Is 7...c6 set to come back into fashion after this?
Finally, I received an e-mail from Jean-Michel Mandoloni who has obviously done some serious analysis on a critical line in the Grünfeld. It seems that he has found an important improvement on last month's game Zhou Jianchao-Sutovsky, so that the whole line may (after all!) be acceptable for Black.
I've put the whole game in again but with additional and updated notes so that other subscribers can share in this key discovery! So, Game 11 features a repeat performance of Sutovsky's loss from January. This time around I have to admit that I think that Black's position, and thus the whole line, is playable. What do you think?
Can Black obtain a decent position after 18...Qd8 (Modoloni) rather than Sutovsky's unsuccessful 18...Nb7?
That is the question!.
Till next month, Glenn Flear