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A varied selection of openings and several exchange sacrifices this time. A couple of wins with the English Defence are followed by mixed fortunes in the Benko. A rather neglected line of the Leningrad (with 7...c6) is featured in Games 5-6. A loss in the Nimzowitsch rounded off by three different Grünfelds should give you plenty of thought-provoking material this month.

Download PGN of March '06 Daring Defences games

English Defence

In Game 1 Speelman had too much mastery for Neil Berry. Already in the opening Speelman seized the initiative with 5...c5! (which has already been seen in this update) and the new 6...Qe7:

White's lack of development cost him dear whereas the advanced centre didn't seem to stop Black's pieces springing to life. So this game reinforces my view that Qc2 with Nd2 isn't a particularly strong system for White.

White's opening doesn't look that impressive in Game Two and yet he obtained a promising middlegame. Black could have simplified on move 9 to equalize but instead played the whole game in a rather cavalier style sacrificing his b-pawn and then the exchange. It paid off as he won, but anything could have happened!

Benko Gambit

In Game Three White rather bluntly decides to seek action on the kingside, a plan that feels wrong but still needs to be given due care and consideration. It's instructive how Vajda firstly consolidates his king before capturing White's b5-pawn. Then his opponent's attack duly runs out of steam. In the notes I mention the alternative plan with 7...Bb7 and ...e6 (to exploit White's backward development), which offers the second player a dynamic alternative to the typical ...a6, ...axb5 and ...Na6-b4.

The old 5 e3 line hasn't much bite these days and it was surprising to see a player as high-ranking as Vitiugov trying it out:

The opening phase in Game Four gave him no advantage but Nepomniachtchi was perhaps unfamiliar with the resulting positions and gradually went astray. An interesting point is whether or not Black's centralized knight on d4 offers him 'equality' against White's bishops plus a-pawn. I suspect not entirely as his only active plan (as tried in the game) failed tactically, so better are my suggested improvements on move 13 or 16.

Leningrad Dutch

When talking about the Leningrad it's the fashionable 7...Qe8 variation that springs to mind. However a generation or so ago 7...c6 was the most popular move which may surprise younger readers. One of the advantages of 7...c6 is that Black can still consider a plan based on ...Qe8, but can wait to see how White intends to develop first:

In Game Five for instance, against the standard 8 b3 Na6 9 Bb2 Danielsen could have employed ...Qe8, ...Bd7 and if necessary ...Nc7 to get himself ready for hitting back at White's centre. In fact Ivanisevic preferred 9 Ba3 against which 9...Qa5 with a quick ...b5 seemed more to the point. The early skirmishes led to a middlegame with opposite bishops which was far from drawish.

From the diagram, after 8 d5, Nijboer could have continued with 8...Qe8 in Game Six but preferred the old and half-forgotten 8...e5:

The resulting positions leave White with slightly more space and time in this variation but it's hard to see what he can do with them. Not exactly ultra-dynamic for Black, but the type of variation to get your opponent frustrated and then uncoil the spring when the time is right.

In the game the natural-looking 16 Ba3 lost the a-pawn(!) ...strange but true. Nijboer probably took into account his opponent's time trouble to revert to the fancy-stuff in order to win quickly but he could have no doubt taken his time.

Nimzowitsch Defence

The idea behind ...Nc6, ...d6 and ...Bg4 is that Black can then be flexible as to how he continues, the disadvantage is that he may not get enough space or counterchances for the bishop pair:

In Game Seven things soon heated up when White decided to castle long and both sides then had chances before White obtained the upper hand.

Grünfeld Defence

A fairly peaceful draw in the popular D80 line starting with 4 Bg5 Ne4 5 Bh4 is the synopsis for Game Eight. However, the tension involving 14...e5 15 d5 Nd4 is important for the assessment of the whole queen exchange idea:

White seemed to have a slight pull throughout but it didn't prove to be enough.

In Game nine featuring the Classical Exchange Variation Svidler tried to vary from the beaten track...

Although 12...e5!? isn't technically a novelty it's virtually unknown in this position. Topalov took the pawn and returned it later for a positional edge, Svidler's imaginative exchange sacrifice probably would have been good enough to earn a draw against ordinary opposition but Topalov's technique was top-class.

If Black has difficulties with 10...Na5 and 11...b6, and bearing in mind that 10...Bd7 has revealed most of it's secrets, Grünfeld players need a new idea or two if they want to avoid the mainstream 10...Bg4.

In Game ten the quiet opening is essentially a Tarrasch-reversed. White's only chance for an edge was the exchange sacrifice for a dangerous passed pawn against which Black had to soon give back the material.

White went astray when recuperating the material and could have better defended the rook ending.

Till next time,

Glenn Flear

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