In Game 1 Nakamura's innovative opening didn't really work and a tense middlegame arose where Black had an extra pawn and no particular problems. Fluvia actually played a dramatic combination which led to Nakamura's king being forced up the board. There seemed to be a draw or two on offer for Black but nothing more, although in this wild sort of position anything could have happened in mutual Zeitnot.
Although Game Two isn't particularly fashionable it's very instructive. Vallejo chose to play 4 Bf4, perhaps hoping that Mikhalevski would try the risky lines, but after preferring to play solidly, a queenless middlegame arose which is generally considered to be fine for Black.
Both sides tried a few critical moves until it became clear that Vallejo had been tricked and had to shed the exchange. So Black's play was fully vindicated and this line can thus still be considered fine for the second player.
Yet another good variation for Black can be examined in Game 3 and the notes. Despite White exchanging queens and keeping some central preponderance, Black has plenty of possibilities to hit back and create counterplay. It looks as if White's set-up with a3, Kc2 and g4 is too slow, and it's hardly a surprise that Black can find a way to challenge White's grip.
In the Exchange Variation with an early Be3, the line with 9...cxd4 10 cxd4 Qa5+ is the height of fashion:
Mamedyarov played it recently to neutralize Van Wely and Topalov and there have been other strong GMs giving this line a go. After 11 Bd2 the most solid is 11...Qd8 (Mamedyarov's choice), but the big drawback for many readers will be simply 12 Be3 repeating, which is OK against the big guys but not against a lower-ranked player who you quite fancy beating.
So Black could try 11...Qh5, but it's a moot point as to whether the queen is really well-placed here. In Game Four L'Ami improves on the oft-quoted game Kaspi-Avrukh and obtains an edge, i.e. after 12 0-0 0-0 and then the new 13 Bc3!, as in the diagram:
After 13 Bc3 White's position proves the easier to play in our featured game. My look at alternatives for Black hasn't found a magic formula for equality, but some years ago Atalik proposed 12...Bxd4!? (instead of 12...0-0) but apart from requiring tests this leads to a position which Black cannot hope to seriously win. If that is Black's best he may as well play 11...Qd8.
In Game Five Sargissian produces a magnificent performance. He first sacrifices a piece for a big centre, and then adds the exchange but his central pawn phalanx still gave him the advantage. Impressive stuff. This game represents another hammer-blow for 10...Bd7 which hasn't been faring well of late.
This is the position after 34 Qxb6. Even after counting rooks, White is winning!
Beliavsky tries the unusual 12 Bd5 in order to vary from the main line of the Classical Exchange Variation in Game 6. He had actually played this before, so his fifteenth move should be considered as an attempted improvement, although it was Shirov who steered the game into novel pastures with the pawn sacrifice resulting from ...b6, ...Qa6-c4. This diffused any White central pressure and once the position had simplified Black was left with the better pawns and the superior knight, enough for the whole point.
This whole line doesn't look that dangerous as Black probably has more than one way to equalize.
Beliavsky seems to be facing the Grünfeld all the time at present. In Game 7 he plays an unusual idea but was soon on the defensive after Sutovsky's vigorous riposte, and I doubt that we'll see this fianchetto plan again at GM-level.
In the game Black may have had some winning chances in the ending but I can't see anything clear.
In Game 8 White plays virtually the same variation and again fianchettoes the light-squared bishop. White's minority attack was countered by Black obtaining control of c4 with a tense middlegame position. Everything suddenly fell to pieces as White got his pieces tangled and allowed the strong piece sacrifice ...Nxe3. It was nevertheless surprising to see White's position collapse so quickly.
In the Hungarian Variation, Beliavsky (yet again!) with White tries a rare idea but his opponent reacted dynamically and soon obtained the better of the struggle. Maybe he has run out of 'good' anti-Grünfeld ideas and is having to resort to 'surprising' ones.
White's last move, 10 a4!?, turns out to be suspicious after Black's fine reply 10...c5!. As they say, 'an attack on the wing is best countered in the centre'. Here in Game 9 we have an example of this holding true. Black emerged from the opening with an extra pawn, but couldn't convert.
The double-rook ending that occurred in Game 10 is quite interesting but the fact that Black seems to have adequate resources has an important consequence for the opening. Yes, White does retain some initiative; No, it's not enough to be that dangerous for Black.
Naiditsch has the defensive technique to be able to accurately hold such a position, but ordinary mortals would be wise to vary earlier, such as with 13...b4 which I recommended in September and which still looks the most dynamic option to me.
Game 11 is very instructive. Playing 7...c6 against the Russian System has it's plus side: it's less theoretical and can be played solidly or dynamically. Mamedyarov plays true to his style and handles the position quite actively when a tense early middlegame arises. Then the Azerbaijani sacrifices the exchange. At first this is hard to understand but the further course of the game shows why: despite the limited material Black's pieces are every bit as effective as White's.
I think the way that Mamedyarov played for a win despite his material deficit is remarkable. Perhaps he wouldn't have played this way if the team situation was different but I still think that it's worth quoting Kasparov 'It's not the quantity of material that counts, it's the quality'.
Till next time, Glenn Flear