Black had differing fortunes in the two games featured from the Kaupthing open.
In Gupta - Bauer (Game 1) White's rather uninspiring opening was met solidly by ...b6-expert Christian Bauer who achieved a satisfactory position. However White later managed to generate some play and an advantage, due to a couple of imprecisions by Black.
However the key question is - why did Christian Bauer play the 'routine' 7...Nf6 when the dynamic 7...Qh4 was available? In fact analysis by Ilia Odessky (in his Chess University book 'English Defence') suggests that 7...Qh4 even leads to a Black advantage:
The leading French GM hadn't actually forget that he himself had recommended 7...Qh4 in his 2005 book (which covers the English Defence), but basically mis-analyzed the consequences at the board and so persuaded himself to desist. I suppose that this shows that even 2600+ players are human after all!
Game Two on the other hand led to a quick win for Black which suggests that 4 e5 is not that great. However if you have a close look at the notes I have come to the conclusion that 4 e5 is just-about-playable and it was only White's seventh move that led to his debacle.
Ponomariov decides to play 9 Nd2 in the Benko Accepted against Tregubov in Game 3:
The knight on d2 has two useful functions: recapturing on f1 (thus enabling White to eventually castle) or being ready to occupy a useful outpost on c4.
In the game Tregubov struck back with ...e6 which didn't really work against Ponomariov's precise play. With Black coping on the queenside White was able to switch to a dangerous kingside attack before blundering a rook. Neither side could have had more than a few seconds at the end as Tregubov became confused and was unable to win with two extra pieces.
Of course for those players who enjoy such technical positions such as Bishop and Knight versus bare King (or perhaps feel that they need to improve this phase of their game), then it would be an idea to turn to more specialized literature.
I could recommend Practical Endgame Play - Beyond the Basics (Everyman 2007) written by yours truly, but one could then argue that I was using this column to promote my own books!? As if I'd do a thing like that!
In Game 4 the Fianchetto variation is employed by Sebastien Feller who actually introduces an important new move, 13 Qd3:
There are subtle differences between this and the hitherto standard 13 Qc2, the main point being that the d5-pawn is now better defended. In the game Gunnarsson managed to find an adequate plan involving ...Qd7-f5-g6 and ...f5. However this whole idea could do with a closer look.
In Game Five Ponomariov plays 2 Nc3, 3 Bg5 and 4 Bxf6 and follows up in a sound positional manner. He is later able to exploit a tactical opportunity to obtain a great, if not decisive advantage.
However if we look carefully at Black's play, it seems that up to move 15 he had played correctly. Leningrad specialist Valeri Beim could then have obtained dynamic counterplay with a timely 16...g5 (or even 17...g5 one move later) when he wouldn't have been worse. This counter-punch is instructive and would have taken the sting out of White's set-up.
In Game 6 the 3 Bf4-system (bearing down on the e5-square) has a good reputation for White but here Ilincic's dynamic play rendered it completely inoffensive. The manoeuvre ...Nc6-d8-f7 proving to be rather promising and Black was soon better.
Later on White's cunning positional pawn sacrifice may have muddied the waters but Black shouldn't have lost:
Here White played the dynamic 20 Ne5!, his best chance of fighting back.
Games 7 and 8 feature one of White's better anti-Leningrad systems with an early b2-b4.
If Black doesn't aim for an early ...e5 then there is a danger that, such as in the game, he will just end up with less space and no counterplay. How Dzhumaev managed to resist in Game 7 and even take a nominal advantage is instructive. Indeed this should remind us all that even in difficult circumstances good defensive play can save rubbish positions, even against top-flight opposition.
Berg was rather lucky to win in Game 8 but his whole strategy deserves thinking about. In the opening, meeting b2-b4 with ...a5 and ...d5 changes the nature of the position into a manoeuvring game. White has some space but pawn breaks are hard to organize. The fight for squares continued into the middlegame as White was trying to press, especially on the kingside. Black's access to the d5-square and weak white pawns compensated for Iotov's dangerous kingside play.
When the position really opened up zeitnot was no doubt the biggest factor, but White missed a clear win just before the time control.
Games 9 and 10 involve the Leningrad with 7...c6:
Gustaffson wins an interesting encounter against Vallejo in the Leningrad with 7...c6 in Game 9. The early-jockeying for position seemed to be superficially fairly reasonable for Black until the German GM (playing White) came up with an inspired pawn sacrifice. Essentially he obtained long-term potential plus attacking chances with the bishop pair, so Vallejo naturally hurried to exchange queens but this didn't completely equalize.
As for the opening phase: Not that theoretical and not totally clear, but I prefer White as Black didn't fully cope with White's space preponderance.
In Game 10 however I think that I can safely conclude that White was better out of the opening. Bologan's 8...c5 didn't work out very well and he was on the defensive all game:
The word 'defensive' is relative, as even being a clear exchange down didn't stop him keeping his pieces as active as possible giving White a hard technical task.
So it seems that 8 b4 should be met with another pawn break i.e. ...e5, and probably immediately. So 8...e5 (although 8...Qe8 intending 9...e5 is plausible) is the most convincing antidote.
In Game 11 Black experiments with the slightly offbeat Leningrad variation 7...Nc6 8 d5 Na5!?. Valeri Beim, wrote 'Understanding the Leningrad Dutch' for Gambit in 2002, but didn't cover the 7...Nc6 lines, perhaps he will in a later edition!
The early middlegame proved to be solid enough for Black justifying his choice of 9...b6:
The big idea seems to be to delay ...c5 a couple of moves so that White has less interesting ways of reacting (that is, than against the immediate and better known 9...c5). If this subtlety catches on then I'll keep you informed in future updates.
Till next month, Glenn Flear