Not quite the Russian System!
In Alekseev-Kamsky (Game 1) the move order employed by White is noteworthy. Firstly Alekseev played 4 Qb3 (rather than 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Qb3) and then on move seven he again avoided playing his knight to f3:
His idea is to avoid certain Black defences to the Russian System, such as ...Bg4. It's worth checking if this move order can affect your own repertoire.
Kamsky in reply stuck to solid ground but it took him quite some time to finally equalize. At move nine however Black has a couple of more vigorous approaches that may better suit players seeking a lively game.
In Game 9 Damljanovic plays a pseudo-Russian System where he induces the extra move ...Bd7 from Black. This unsettled Ivanovic who decided against playing into normal theory with ...Bg4 - perhaps he was afraid that this was exactly what White was seeking. Instead the innovative plan with 8...Na6 didn't impress, as Black's position proved to be the more difficult to handle. White won in a seemingly effortless manner as Black never quite co-ordinated his forces.
The Russian System, Hungarian variation
The more conventional opening sequence of Berkes-Sutovsky is theoretically important. In Game 10 the main line of the Hungarian Variation sees White employ a novelty on move 18(!) and win a nice controlled game, although I think that I've found a satisfactory improvement for Black (see move 21). I have mixed thoughts about this whole variation however: Theoretically he seems to be fine but Black often seems in difficulties in practise. Maybe it's just more difficult to find good defensive moves!
An early Bf4
Timofeev-Smikovski became very sharp indeed. Black gave up a piece, and then another exchange for a wild attack (in Game 2), but eventually ran out of steam. The line has been seen on a few occasions but I haven't discussed it before, the key position being the following:
The game continued with 16...Rfe8 (novelty) 17 Nd1 Rxd1+ 18 Rxd1 f3 19 Rd3.
Can Black get away with such an aggressive sacrificial line? Although White has been scoring well from this point, Smikovski's 16...Rfe8 deserves a closer look. In my opinion if he had played the simplifying 19...Qxe2+ (instead of the inadequate 19...f2+?) he could have obtained a decent position. So perhaps 16...Rfe8 is an important improvement (that is if White players can't come up with anything better along the way) which, if proven sound, would resuscitate 9...Bg4!?.
In Game 3 Smikovski is again on the receiving end! Sakaev plays a really fine game, involving sacrificing material for positional compensation, particularly in the form of a strong centre. I think Black's fourteenth move is to blame.
The opening with ...Qa5 and then ...cxd4 followed by ...Qxd2+ leads to a queenless middlegame where slight differences in the structure and piece disposition can lead to radically differing assessments. So this line is best studied at the same time as analogous variations in order to get a better feel for the right way to handle these positions.
The 8 Rb1 variation is always one of the most critical, the game Kovacs-Vovk being no exception. Black plays a well-known manoeuvre involving ...Bxe5-c7-a5, which can definitely be described as 'provocative'. In Game 4, where Black won, and the notes, both suggest that he is doing OK in this particular line, but he will need to know his theory.
In the traditional exchange variation with Bc4, many top players have been reacting with ...Na5 and ...b6. One of the most recent examples is Wang Yue-Navara, see Game Five. In fact both of these players have been willing to play this line with either colour!
In this hard-fought draw White pressed at first, but probably didn't have anything concrete. For his over-ambitious efforts he ended up having to defend a pawn-down rook ending. Theoretically, developments have been coming thick and fast and my best advice is therefore to keep reading this column, but that's hardly a surprise is it?
Another way of avoiding the heavy theory of 10...Bg4 is the solid 10...Qc7 line. In Game 6 Mchedlishvili employs an old line that Spassky once used to beat Fischer in 1970. Sometimes using a half-forgotten line has as much surprise value as a novelty, but in this particular case Villamayor reacted well and obtained the better of an entertaining draw.
In Game 7 Ivanchuk took the game out of the book by reacting to 10...Na5 with 11 Bb5:
A curious move that is almost unknown, but the idea of provoking 'a potentially weakening' ...a6 crops up in a number of recently-developed Grünfeld lines. After 11...Bd7, Ivanchuk dropped his bishop back with 12 Bd3 leaving Black with 'the extra developing move' ...Bc8-d7 over normal lines, another typically modern interpretation (see Game 9). This cunning manoeuvre changes the position sufficiently to take Black out of his comfort zone and so Morozevich had to find a way at the board to make Black's position work, (rather than 12...Bg4 leading play back into the main line which he clearly wanted to avoid!). Morozevich decided to employ the topical 'centre challenging' idea ...e5, but Ivanchuk seized the advantage after 13...e5?! and never let go. A good technical performance by the Ukrainian.
I'm not sure what to suggest for Black if he wants to avoid 12...Bg4 with standard but serious theory. I'm sure Ivanchuk's idea will be copied and several strong players are already working on a subtle move-order for Black, so we'll no doubt find out soon, maybe 13...Qc7 would have been better.
Peralta-Llaneza Vega in Game Eight was a fascinating struggle in the Exchange Sacrifice variation. Although Black eventually won, it seems that for most of the middlegame it was White who was pressing as he had more than enough compensation, but he blew it in time trouble.
Here after 17 Qd4 Black played 17...Bd7, but if I had to make a conclusion it would be that 17...Bf7 is more trustworthy. Anyway, the really top guys all seem to prefer 17...Bf7, perhaps with good reason!
Till next month, Glenn Flear