In Game 1 Wojtaszek rather made a mess of Bezold's set-up. Although this isn't a particularly good advertisement for the Owen's, it's worth remembering that lines involving ...g6 (called either the Double-fianchetto or Hippo) score quite well in practise. From White's point of view I recommend the c2-c4 played, when White tends to keep some control and a space advantage.
An improvement for Black is to avoid the ugly ...f6 here, so keeping the long-diagonal open. So 5...Qc8 (keeping out of harm's way) is a better try with sporting chances of obtaining a playable game.
In Game 2 Rakhmanov took a prize scalp in beating Nepomniatchi. Black quickly got into hot water after White's novelty:
White's 18 Rd2 (instead of 18 Qd2) requires a fairly vigorous response which wasn't forthcoming in the game. See the notes where I suggest 18...Rbb8 as the best antidote.
In Game 3 Black manages to win against the 10 Rb1 Fianchetto variation. Another example that seems to demonstrate that this line has been largely pacified, thus enabling many to confidently ploy the Benko again with the black pieces (hence the renewed popularity of this opening?). Turov demonstrates that Black has plenty of resources in the 10...Nb6 and 11...Bb7 defence, pressurizing the d5 point. The latter stages were played well by Black but Mohota should have exchanged rooks with drawing chances.
In the 'Main line of the Benko Accepted' White dreams of stifling out Black's compensation and going on to cash-in the extra pawn, but this rarely happens in practise. In Game 4 Feller more or less achieves this aim, although his opponent managed to complicate the issue towards the end. However Feller's opening set-up looks like a slightly annoying approach for Black who is often reduced to 'playing for a draw'. I believe that 'just pressing on the queenside' isn't quite good enough for Black so I prefer 14...h6, with a quick ...e6 in mind. At least Black gets some play that way!
In the notes to this brace of games I have brought to the reader's attention some recent developments in the Albin. The only line which I found where Black has difficulties can be found in the notes to Game 5, see my comment to White's seventh move. Otherwise Black seems to be happy enough, even in the main lines.
Here we have another example of the point I made in the introduction. The two Albin games reach the same position after White's eleventh move:
but the first is classified as D08 and the second as D09. In fact in the Albin, in a number of lines, the differences are subtle.
In Game 5 full marks to Iuldachev for his 11...f5! which seems to make the whole line palatable for Black. I particularly liked his 29th move which obtains '!!' a label which I only give once in a blue moon. However the exciting rook ending was then badly played by him and he was fortunate to win as Sachdev's 40th move let her down.
However in Game 6 (played earlier), he blundered on move 11 and soon had a lost position. Perhaps the moral of this tale is that the Albin can bring out the best and worst in one!
Theoretically, the adventure with 10 h4 is over in the main line, but in Game 7 we can see certain reasons for choosing 10 e5!, and then after 10...Nb4 11 Nh3, we reach the following position:
Svidler chose 11...Be6 here and won a complicated game against Motylev a couple of years ago. This needs a close look but should be the right way to play even if Svidler himself wasn't totally convinced that Black equalizes (in his notes in Informator). One thing however seems clear is that the game continuation of Gustafsson-Gopal was better for White, especially after Black's gift of a pawn.
Inarkiev badly outplayed Kurnosov in Game 8, a one-sided encounter, but Black probably wasn't prepared for 9 Qb3 (take note!). In the notes I've suggested several ways for Black to improve, but in essence he needs to bring his queen's bishop out earlier than move 17 as seen in the actual game. One idea that could interest players seeking a dynamic solution could be the immediate and surprising 9...Be6!. This pawn sacrifice could be a simple solution, and if further analysis proves its soundness, may in fact completely put into question White's early queen deployment.
In Game 9, Vallejo Pons wins convincingly against Malakhatko, who in fact had previously lost another game with White only a few months back in the same line. The plan in the Accepted with N-c3 and e2-e4 has been tested quite a few times in recent months and Black has been doing quite well, however things are not so clear in the diagram position:
If White now plays 11 f4 Be7 and only then 12 Nce4 (rather than the immediate 11 Nce4 which I don't rate) he might have chances for an advantage. Have a look at the notes and see what you think!
Peng-Robson in Game 10 also features White accepting the pawn, but this time Black countered with the Benko-style 6...a6. Then there followed a combative phase with both players fighting for the initiative with further pawn sacrifices. In the middlegame White missed a win (see her twenty-first move), but this can't be put down to the opening variation which looks quite unclear if Black had made a different capture on move eleven. Nevertheless, I somehow feel that 6...d5 (as in Game 9) is more reliable than 6...a6, but this may just be a matter of taste.
Both sides made some questionable moves in this game but this led to an entertaining struggle with Black taking control towards the end.
Till next month, Glenn Flear