We start off this time with the unfashionable 5 f3 versus the Benko:
Ten years ago this was all the rage whereas now it's a surprise to see a 2600-player give it a whirl. Black can more or less equalize with ...e6 as Game One seems to illustrate.
It's rare to see Black play the daring 5...e6 (in reply to 5 bxa6) rather than 5...Bxa6. When he does he's then quite close to Blumenfeld territory (a flavour of the month!) but the danger is that we get the worst of both worlds. I mean that Black may end up with nothing much down the 'a' and b-files, no central grip and a pawn less (see the notes after 9 e3).
However in Game Two Annageldyev was able to get at least equality, so it seems that 9 e4 is not White's best. I can't really recommend 5...e6 but it might have surprise value as a one-off.
White employs a quiet system in Game Three that hasn't really impressed theoreticians in the past. However after this experience it should no longer be underestimated. It's surprising to see how comfortably Sherbakov gets outplayed by Poobesh Anand, a largely unknown Indian almost 200-rating points less. The reason is at least partially due to the new move 18 Rb1:
, which enables White to consolidate his queenside better than the alternatives and as a result he can look forward to the next phase with confidence.
The Dutch Defence
Only one game this time, but what the October update lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. An unmissable game featuring a terrific attack by Williams against a surprisingly lacklustre Agrest. The young English IM chops up his 2600+ opponent in grand style, see Game 4.
The Grünfeld Defence
Five games this time as there have been some noteworthy developments recently.
The Exchange Variation with 5 Bd2 was popular two or three years ago, but has lost it's topicality. In Game 5 Black plays the recommended counter involving the notable move 8...Be6 and achieves a fair game:
Only later did he err and White then missed a clear win before Black's active king saved the game. As for the opening, 8...Be6 can be met by 9 d5 but I doubt if White can prove more than a nominal advantage.
Ruck achieved a good position against Graf in Game Six by improving on one of Graf's German Internet Championship games. Black even got the better of things as the bishop pair proved to be more significant than a slight weakness in the pawn structure. The ending was well defended by Graf.
In Game Seven Yandemirov shows just how promising his pet light-squared plan against the Classical Exchange Variation is. If he is able to win against 2550+ players by simply playing ...Nc6-a5, ...Be6-c4 and a timely ...f5 then why learn so much 8...c5 theory? I recommend 8...Nc6 for those who want to play the Grünfeld Defence rather than replay 30-odd moves from a database:
Compare Game 7 with Game 8 for instance!
In Game Eight we review a couple of games in the very theoretical Exchange Sacrifice Variation.
In the following position:
Black has tried both 20...Bb5 and 20...Ba4. In the former (20...Bb5) Holzl finds a way to defend against the continuation 21 Qe1 Nd6 23 Bb1 which was analyzed by Sakaev and successfully introduced into practise by Zhukova. On the evidence of this game 23...Qc7 (or 23...Bxf1 24 Nxg6 Qc7 transposing) renders the move 20...Bb5 playable, although White can probably keep an edge in the resulting unbalanced endgame. The two central pawns certainly seem to offer enough compensation for White's lack of rooks (he's two exchanges down) but the line requires more testing before a final conclusion can be made.
In comparison, 20...Ba4 seems safe. Black can force the drawish endgame that is covered in the notes to Game 8 where Carlsen varies from what's previously known with a slack 33rd move. Kobalija's 33 Rxb7 doesn't lead to an advantage in my opinion, and nor does anything else, so perhaps this whole line is played out to a draw. Or am I jumping to a conclusion too quickly?
Game Nine features another long sequence going past move 20 before anything new happens. Kiriakov renovates a forgotten move (24 Ba6) with an improvement (25 Rh1) and thus obtains a simplified position where the open position favours his bishop rather than young Howell's knight. Even so, Black had several ways to improve with excellent chances to hold the ending.
If he wishes, and as I've recommended before, Black can avoid all this forcing theory with the solid 8...h6.
After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 d5 b5, many feel that 5 Bg5 is the way for White to seek and obtain an edge. After 5...Qa5+ however:
White has various tries but I can't get that enthusiastic about any of them, see the notes to Game ten. If it really is the case that 5 Bg5 doesn't give White anything special then he should probably try getting manly and accept the Gambit.
The Blumenfeld is not exactly the height of fashion, but could be due for a revival if 5 Bg5 gives White zilch.
I've finished this time with a few questions sent in by varying strengths of players, just look in the attached games file for games 11, 12 & 13 containing the questions, and my thoughts.