The first e-mail question concerns Black's handling of an early Nh3 followed by h2-h4 against the Leningrad. I suppose that facing an early h-pawn push can be off-putting, but Game 1 shows how Black should react with determination in the central arena.
In the Grünfeld Defence, right into the meaty theory of the ultra-theoretical Exchange Sacrifice variation, the correspondent has found that Black is indeed OK in an important line.
Theoreticians have hinted that White is better here, but some rudimentary analysis from myself and Fernando Semprun suggests that he isn't. The position seems 'equalish', which would render 20...Bb5 distinctly playable (again!).
See the notes to Game 2 for my analysis of a critical ending which (in the opinion of yours truly) should be OK for Black.
In e-mail bag 3 I've given some pointers to my thinking in a number of key areas in the English Defence. When reading through these notes it would be a good idea to compare with material from previous updates where some of these ideas are given in greater detail.
First of all a fantastic tussle between Vallejo Pons and Svidler. Svidler looked to be in trouble after grabbing a pawn, but running out of space for his knights. However he found some great resources to keep himself in the game despite losing a piece. Later on he outplayed his opponent to have four good pawns for a bishop in the ending and all the winning chances, only to 'forget' about White's bishop and blunder a rook in one move. In blindfold chess this type of strange oversight does happen occasionally.
The opening in Game four hasn't been played very often and later commentators will no doubt label the early phase with 'White has compensation for the pawn' but Black can probably obtain a satisfactory game with 7...Nxc4 instead of the more risky 7...dxc4.
Vokac has played 4 Bg5 Ne4 5 Qc1 on several occasions, the latest being in Game five:
The queen on c1 not only defends the bishop on g5 but also prepares Bg5-h6. Black's best defence has yet to be worked out, and the pawn grab in the featured game won't appeal to all tastes, although it wasn't directly responsible for him getting crushed.
I suggest (from the diagram) that after 5...Nxc3 6 bxc3 Black should instead try 6...c5 7 Nf3 Nc6, logically chipping away at the centre and trying to get White to commit himself to e2-e3 before continuing with ...Bg7.
Milov employs Volkov's 'quiet' 7 Qa4+ and obtains some pressure against famous Grünfeld-writer Jonathan Rowson. Game Six illustrates an important practical point: In such tense positions White's pressure in the centre isn't enough for anything concrete in itself, it's just that once time gets short the player with the most vulnerable king is the most likely to crack. The opening suggests that 8 Qb3 isn't that easy to equalize against (I've suggested improvements for Black on moves 17 and 21, but I'm not sure that they 'equalize'), so perhaps Milov's next opponent will try 7...Nd7.
In Game 7 Agrest shows his teeth with both 12 h4 and 31 Rd6. Nevertheless he should have lost the game which suggests that the ambitious middlegame plan based on c3-c4 and Rb1-b6-d6 was erroneous. This in turn shows us that Svidler had navigated the tricky opening phase well, although I'm not sure that a lesser mortal would have handled Black's defence so effortlessly.
Here is the position after 12 h4. Although Agrest's novelty didn't cause too much distress, it probably cost Black sufficient time on the clock to provoke Svidler to miss his way in the time scramble.
I don't consider Game Eight to be very theoretical as nothing particularly new cropped up. However the late-opening and early-middlegame part of the game was instructive, revealing various possibilities in the 10...Qc7 variation. I felt that Black was doing all the right things except for some reason avoiding ...f6, when he would have had no worries.
I've looked at the opening in Game Nine before and Pelletier has since written a survey in New in Chess. However I suspect that the reason he decided to publish (and thus reveal some opening secrets!) is the fact that 14...Bxf3 15 gxf3 Qd7 gives Black an easy game and basically puts White's system out of commission. I felt that in January 2004, following Pelletier-Sutovsky, and I feel it even more strongly after Savchenko-McShane which again turned out in Black's favour.
The variation chosen in Sulava - Grischuk is interesting. Nenad Sulava had already used it in an earlier round of the same competition and so Grischuk was ready and chose to play 8...Bg4, following Sutovsky and Kasparov:
However I believe that the Croatian GM was better in the featured encounter and furthermore his win over Bertholot (against the alternative 8...Bd5) wasn't entirely convincing, see the notes. So to be honest I'm not sure which is the best move: 8...Bg4 or 8...Bd5. Theory has up to now considered Black's game to be (for want of a better word) 'comfortable' in both cases but it seems that it's not so easy.
Finally, in Game 11 veteran Jansa defends a variation that he's employed since the seventies. Black's play is a model for snuffing out any White prospects and gradually taking over. This variation doesn't give White anything at all and Markos would have done better to have tried it out against someone with less experience!
Till next time,