Leningrad with ...Qe8 (Games 1-4)
Black played the early phase in Game one with great flair but later, probably in time trouble, lost the plot. One noteworthy point was that he followed up typical Leningrad play with an original tactic:
Here Dzhumaev played the surprising 16...Bf5!? and obtained a satisfactory game.
In Game 2 Harikrishna didn't play the opening very well as White. In this particular line the early Nb1-d2 just didn't gel. The experienced Ehlvest then demonstrated how to use a Black-Leningrad initiative, combining patience with attacking flair.
A model for Black.
Pia Cramling has played her own little system on various occasions with good results against the Leningrad. She fianchettos her queen's bishop before placing the knight on d2 (unlike in Game 2, here it's OK!) obtaining a solid set-up, as in Game 3. Akesson reacted with ...b5, which in principle should be fine, but Cramling at least demonstrated that these positions are slightly easier to play with White.
Here I suggest 13...Qxc4 14 Nxc4 Ne4 as the best chance to equalize.
In Game 4, Plesec-Gurevich, Black was able to obtain a good opening and was soon pressing. White managed to resist long into the ending but was always struggling. Another demonstration of how to gain winning chances with the Leningrad against a poorly prepared (or unambitious) opponent.
Leningrad with 7...e6 (Game 5)
In Game Five Anna Muzychuk shows that playing an early ...e6 is playable. Essentially White is dissuaded from playing d4-d5, but if Black plays ...e5 in the near future 'he' might arguably be losing a tempo. Black often follows up with ...Qe7 and ...Nc6 and possibly ...e5 anyway, especially if White hasn't been able to do anything particularly dramatic in the meantime. Various themes are reminiscent of analogous lines of the Leningrad, or other Dutch variations such as the Stonewall (if ...d5 comes in) or even the Classical.
Jankovic, playing White, didn't find a way to obtain any advantage out of the opening, so all-in-all this often forgotten line needs to be taken seriously. Perhaps 7...e6 may encourage those looking to escape the beaten track, without going too far from civilization!
Leningrad with ...c6 (Games 6-7)
In Game 6 I get the impression that Nezar's slightly unusual 8 b4 induced Christian Bauer to go his own way in the opening. In fact despite 'making it up as he went along' Black's 'Stonegrad' set-up turned out to be very robust. Then it was a question of the stronger player outplaying his opponent and eventually eking out the win, although along the way Nezar may have missed a draw in the rook ending.
Although playing 7...c6 is not that fashionable these days, the Netherlands perhaps makes an exception to the rest of the world as Nijboer has often employed this line and here Reinderman takes up the mantle. Black's solidity is more or less accepted as evident in these lines, but 7...Qe8 is generally preferred by most leading players as it gives greater strategic complexity. In Game 7 Black's 10...Re8 is not a bad nuance and he obtained full equality:
Not very exciting but a tough line to obtain anything for White. Maybe this is stronger than the standard move 10...Na6, see the notes.
Leningrad with 7...Nc6 (Games 8-10)
I think many a Leningrad fan has eyed up the line with 7...Nc6 8 d5 Ne5 and become excited by Black's attacking chances on the kingside. However after a more sober moment of reflection, many have sadly had to accept that White's queenside chances seem to give him the edge. This sharp line however deserves an occasional outing if one picks an unprepared opponent:
In Game Eight White may have won, but the opening phase was far from clear and 10 c5 e6 may indeed be just about playable, but 10 Qb3 is more precise in my opinion.
In Games 9 & 10 Black chooses 8...Na5 which I believe to be a better chance of obtaining 'equality'. In Game 9 White actually played the opening quite well and managed to keep a slight initiative but this was kept within manageable proportions and Black took over once White had over-committed himself.
I had looked through Game 10 some weeks ago when I was preparing to play Thomas Rendle. Despite the rather sad outcome for him in this game, I was quite impressed with his idea and feel that Black's whole approach with 11...Ne4 is quite decent for Black. In the diagram position I also believe that 11...Kh8 is quite good, so maybe Black has two distinct ways of getting a good game. Hence my upbeat feelings in general about 8...Na5:
So in a nutshell, thumbs up for 11...Ne4 and 11...Kh8 but thumbs down for 11...Qa5 and 11...Bd7.
Till next month, Glenn Flear